Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Sounds of Baseball's Past

 Jennifer Gish; Times Union, Albany, NY
Published April 15, 2010

"Just the start of things, so pull up a comfortable chair. If you want to take your shoes off, go ahead, wiggle your toes, and we hope you'll have a cold Schaefer or two throughout the evening. Dodgers and Cubs opening the homestand ..."

"The runners go, the 3-2 is cut on and fouled away down the right-field line on top of the roof and out of the ballpark. So the kids that are listening to the ballgame on the soda-pop stands outside, you'll run that one down, almost to Bedford Avenue."

-- Vin Scully's broadcast of the June 4, 1957, Dodgers-Cubs game at Ebbets Field

It's a time before DVR, or even the VCR. And Major League Baseball wasn't bothering to save it for the baseball fans to come, all those kids raised on ESPN who think the Dodgers have always been in Los Angeles.

But Pat Rispole snagged it. He was in the Schenectady house he shared all his life with his parents, his reel-to-reel recorder with the built-in radio winding away, drawing in every glorious word of a game-calling art that has all but faded with so many of its legendary broadcasters.

Rispole would file the recording with countless others, packed up with a clipping of the box score, articles on the game and likely a scoresheet he tallied himself.

A lifelong bachelor, Rispole died in 1979, just shy of his 53rd birthday, the victim of a bad heart. But his name is fresh on the Internet after Stan Opdyke, a baseball-lover from Tacoma, Wash., wrote an article about him for the Baseball Analysts Web site. Opdyke hoped it would be just the beginning. Maybe, as people learned how significant Rispole's hobby of recording and cataloging sports and entertainment broadcasts was to baseball, the man who never accumulated his own stats but recorded the calls would get his due.

After all, Rispole managed to salvage games from the Dodgers' final season in New York, Roger Maris' 61st home run and the opening game of the Mets' dismal 1962 inaugural season.

"They save everything now, but even up into the 1990s, there's a lot of stuff that just hasn't been preserved, and Pat was responsible (for saving it)," Opdyke says. "Without him, there would be an awful lot of stuff that just wouldn't be around."

Maybe the good Lord's a baseball fan because he benched Rispole early in the game with a childhood case of rheumatic fever that sent him into convulsions and touched off a heart murmur. The heart murmur led doctors to advise Rispole not to play sports, so his love was funneled away from the field and onto miles of tape.

He'd plant himself on the sidelines, keeping score at his younger brother Joe's ball games. He'd sit in the family's living room as a boy, two radios cranking at once in a pitch-count induced haze as he scribbled on a scorepad, one ear to the Dodgers and the other on the Yankees. Back then, he'd mark the home runs with a red pencil so he could spot them right away. Rispole loved the home runs.

Joe knew not to talk to his big brother during games. He wouldn't hear you. But any other time, the kid, and later the man, would chatter about baseball endlessly, and when he wasn't talking it -- or boxing, or football or his old radio shows -- he would pull out his meticulously labeled footage and listen. Echoes of a sun-soaked ball diamond melted away the winter gray in the offseason.

The recording started in 1957, his Dodgers' last season in Brooklyn. While a lot of "audio collectors" went after highlights and special moments, Rispole captured and kept full games, the action punctuated with ads for Schaefer beer and Lucky Strikes. He had a pretty fancy recorder -- several of them actually, and his nephew has memories of Uncle Pat letting him play around with the broken ones. His recorders had timers so he wouldn't miss the late games when he went to work, studying fingerprints for the state Division of Criminal Justice.

Rispole swapped tape of radio programs or East Coast games with other collectors for match-ups in the West. That's how it is with collectors, says his friend John Furman, a fellow hobbyist from Glenville. It's a little bit of a sickness, and you can't help but want to keep acquiring.

Good thing there wasn't a cure, or Stan Opdyke wouldn't be able to sit back in Tacoma in 2010, listening to Scully share memories of the Polo Grounds during the last Giants-Dodgers game played there.

And John Miley, president of the Miley Collection, wouldn't be in Indiana with Rispole's efforts adding to one of the largest sport audio collections in the world. Miley bought a large part of Rispole's collection after Rispole died. He pulled a U-Haul packed with 2,500 boxes of tapes back to Indiana and spent about 15 years sorting it all out so he could sell the audio footage to fans. Rispole recorded about 20 games from the Dodgers' last season in Brooklyn. Miley's released about a dozen of them to the public.

"He is the No. 1 person for the fact that a lot of former sporting events have been saved," Miley says. "I would not have had the time or the inclination to do what he did. I would love to know exactly why he taped, and why he saved everything that he taped. It's amazing what Pat Rispole did."

And now you know. Opdyke got what he hoped for. Rispole's contributions to the sport won't ever make it into Cooperstown, but you can't deny what he gave back to baseball. Circle it in red, because this one's a home run.

Jennifer Gish can be reached at 454-5089 or

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