How Sweet It Is: A Century of Bob Prince and the Bucs
He even occasionally served as a substitute Sunday school teacher at Westminster Presbyterian.
One Sunday Prince pulled out a $100 bill and threw it to the ground in front of his class, asking the children what they would do if they found that much money. The class gave their answers, but only one said that they would spend some of the money on other people.
That was the subject of Prince’s lesson: sharing. Prince shared his talents and knowledge, not only with anyone who tuned in to a KDKA Pirates broadcast from 1948 to 1975, but also with other young journalists in the area.
That’s why on July 1, 2016- the 100th anniversary of his birth- he is still remembered and his impact is still felt in Pittsburgh.
PRINCE AMONG MEN
Jim O’Brien, a local sports writer and and author of the Prince biography “We Had ‘Em All The Way: Bob Prince and his Pittsburgh Pirates,” said that Prince had a great impact on broadcasting in Pittsburgh. He has plenty of stories about “the voice under the covers.”
They range from tales of Prince’s personal life, like the Sunday school lesson and when he jumped from the third floor of the Chase Hotel into a swimming pool on a dare from third baseman Gene Freese, to what he meant to fans, like a man whose father, born in Czechoslovakia, learned English listening to Prince’s broadcasts.
“I think when so many people think of Bob Prince, they mention transistor radios and a lot of kids who were told to go to bed and not listen to games on the west coast who defied their parents by putting the transistor under the pillow,” O’Brien said.
“I think if you were in the dark at night listening to a Pirates game, you weren’t alone.”
O’Brien and Prince would later go on to co-emcee a Curbstone Coaches luncheon later in his life, and even though Prince was the master of ceremonies, he was not afraid to share the spotlight.
“He wasn’t a turf guarder,” O’Brien said. “He did not worry about the competition, especially the young competition. There are different guys in the media who are afraid of young people and afraid to open the door for them because they’re afraid they’re going to steal their jobs. Prince was never like that… he opened the door.”
Nobody knew that more than Prince’s replacement on KDKA: Lanny Frattare. After Prince’s departure in 1975 for what O’Brien called a “failure to recognize we all have bosses,” Frattare was one half of the replacement broadcast team.
While he had huge shoes to fill, Prince’s encouragement and advice made Frattare feel like he “was walking in his shoes.”
“He taught me that being a Pirates broadcaster is more than just being a voice on the radio. It required you to go out and meet Pirates fans,” Frattare said, adding that it was because of Prince that he would recognize birthdays and say hi to shut-ins while on the air.
MAY 3, 1985
Frattare would go on to pass Prince and call the most games in Pirates broadcast history, but he would eventually have to do some sharing of his own when the Gunner returned to the broadcast booth in 1985.
When KDKA proposed the idea of bringing Prince back, they first ran it by the Pirates and their marketing team, which included current broadcaster Greg Brown.
“When they said it, I have vivid memories of chills running up and down my spine,” Brown said on the meeting where bringing back Prince was proposed.
“I think KDKA felt the need to ask for permission, and the Pirates had to go and ask permission by our general manager -- Joe Brown at the time -- to make sure it was OK, and Lanny Frattare had to sign off on it because he had taken over as the voice of the team.”
For Frattare, the decision to share the microphone was an easy one, but not because he thought that KDKA wronged Prince and they needed to bring him back towards the end of his life when he was suffering from mouth cancer.
“I, from a selfish standpoint, wanted to sit by him and learn from him...pick his brain every day,” Frattare said.
Prince did return to the booth on May 3, 1985 to call the middle innings of the Pirates and Dodgers game. In his first inning back, the Bucs scored nine runs. It was the undisputed highlight of a 104 loss season.
“I’m just delighted to return. Other than my family, you’ve given me back the only other thing I love in the world,” Prince said upon his return to the booth as documented in “We Had ‘Em All The Way.”
A few weeks later Prince became sick after waiting through a long rain delay. He never returned to the press box and passed away on June 10.
STILL AROUND TODAY
Myron Cope had the Terrible Towel. Prince had the Green Weenie: a pickle shaped rattle. While just about every sports team hands out towels now, the rattle did not catch on in the same fashion.
But in the same way that Cope coined phrases, Prince’s lingo is still referred to today. A pop fly remains “a can of corn.” A base hit followed by a home run -- a “bloop and a blast” is how a team erases a two run deficit. When a play was close, it was “by a gnat’s eyelash.” If it was even closer, it was as “close as fuzz on a tick’s ear.”
The Pirates honor Prince with the Gunner’s Lounge: a private terrace that overlooks the field, but there are not a lot of physical tributes for the man in the outlandish jackets.
Still, Brown still feels his impact today.
“I don’t see, physically, Prince around Pittsburgh,” Brown said.”But seldom do you go the course of a homestand where someone doesn’t refer to him and what his presence was like. You can’t go a week without someone referring to him.”
Brown never got the chance to be on the same broadcast team as Prince, but he did benefit from his talents and the groundwork he laid, including bestowing nicknames on players.
“He allowed us to be homers. It’s OK.” Brown said. “There was no bigger homer than Bob Prince.”
That homerism resonated with people. It’s why O’Brien still runs into fans who claim there will never be another Gunner. Brown and Frattare share the same sentiment.
“He set a standard,” Frattare said. “He wasn’t the first, but he set the standard.”