Brickhouse, John Beasley ("Jack")

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BRICKHOUSE, John Beasley ("Jack")

(b. 24 January 1916 in Peoria, Illinois; d. 6 August 1998 in Chicago, Illinois), broadcaster best known for covering Chicago Cubs baseball; he also covered several national political party conventions and interviewed four U.S. presidents and Pope Paul VI.

Brickhouse was an only child of John William "Will" Brickhouse, a sideshow barker and booking agent for motion pictures, and Daisy James, a Welsh immigrant who worked as a hotel cashier and hostess. Brickhouse's father died when he was three and his mother married Gilbert Schultze. Brickhouse grew up in a household where every penny was needed. After school at Lincoln Grammar School, Brickhouse would often help his grandmother deliver food trays at Proctor Hospital in order to have access to a little extra food. Brickhouse also demonstrated his entrepreneurial streak as a newspaper vendor and a golf caddie.

While attending Peoria Manual Training High School from 1929 to 1933, the gregarious Brickhouse played basketball, served as a reporter and editor for the school paper, was elected senior-class vice president, qualified for the National Honor Society, and played the lead in the senior class play. In the fall of 1933 Brickhouse enrolled at Bradley Polytechnic Institute (now Bradley University) in Peoria, hoping to become a lawyer. The six-foot, three-inch Brick-house played on the freshman basketball team, but he had to leave college late in 1933 for financial reasons.

While working at a distillery, Brickhouse entered an announcing contest held by Peoria radio station WMBD. Though he did not win, he accepted a job as a half-time switchboard operator and radio announcer, broadcasting news, weather, barn dances, variety shows, and local sports. Brickhouse became known for his "Man on the Street" interviews, during which he approached pedestrians for comment on issues of the day.

During the 1937–1938 basketball season, Brickhouse convinced WMBD to broadcast Bradley Braves games. The Braves were a national contender compiling a 52–9 record from 1936 to 1939. Brickhouse accompanied the team on the road and broadcast the first two National Invitational Tournaments from New York City's Madison Square Garden. He also covered Big Ten football, minor league baseball, and boxing, and initiated shows of his own such as Here's How They Did It, a series of interviews with successful businessmen.

On 7 August 1939 Brickhouse married Nelda Teach; they had two daughters, one of whom died after birth in 1947. Brickhouse and Teach divorced in 1978, and he married Patricia Ettelson on 22 March 1980.

In the spring of 1940 Brickhouse was hired by WGN in Chicago as an assistant to legendary broadcaster Bob Elson. He helped out on Cubs and Chicago White Sox broadcasts, broadcast big band concerts, and continued his "Man on the Street" interviews. That fall he began broadcasting Notre Dame football games. Brickhouse caught a break in midsummer 1942, when Elson joined the navy. Brickhouse finished out the baseball season announcing both Cubs and White Sox games. When neither team was at home, Brick-house would recreate the away games from ticker-tape accounts, using the updates that came out of a machine on a moment-to-moment basis. Brickhouse himself joined the U.S. Marines after the 1943 baseball season but was discharged two months later due to complications of childhood tuberculosis.

WGN did not cover baseball in 1944, and Brickhouse found himself reporting on the first of many Republican and Democratic national conventions. The next January he was in Washington, D.C., to cover President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration. He covered White Sox games for WJJD in 1945 until Elson returned from the navy. In 1946 Brickhouse journeyed to New York City to broadcast New York Giants baseball on WMCA.

"Anybody who could see beyond his nose knew that television would be important someday," Brickhouse reminisced, and so he returned to Chicago in 1947 to experiment with baseball coverage on television station WBKB. That same year Brickhouse became the radio voice of the Chicago Cardinals professional football team.

Brickhouse rejoined WGN in Chicago in 1948 as sports service manager and broadcaster, on both radio and television. The station covered all Cubs and White Sox home games, with Brickhouse as the broadcaster. According to historian Curt Smith, Brickhouse and WGN "began a continuum—an intimacy between ball club and viewer—that decades later, in the wake of cable and thus, WGN's intrusion into millions of American households, fostered for the Cubs an enormous national sect." WGN played a pioneering role in the radio broadcasting of baseball at a time when team owners worried that broadcasts of games would hurt attendance, and the owners took the same view of the new medium of television.

During the late 1940s Brickhouse continued broadcasting Cubs and White Sox baseball and professional and college football. Still a jack-of-all-trades, he also originated a radio show called Marriage License Romances, in which he interviewed couples applying for marriage licenses at City Hall. Beginning in 1948 and continuing for nine years, Brickhouse also broadcast professional wrestling, an assignment he initially disliked but came to see as theatrical entertainment.

In the 1950 baseball season Brickhouse covered his first of five All-Star games, this time as the national announcer for the DuMont network. During that same year, he began publishing the annual "Jack Brickhouse's Major League Record Book" (which he published until 1971), helped to pioneer televised golf, and was on the national broadcast team for the first of four World Series. From 1953 to 1976 Brickhouse was the radio voice of the Chicago Bears National Football League (NFL) franchise.

In 1962 a portion of a Cubs-Phillies game with Brick-house at the mike was included in the first satellite television broadcast to Europe. In 1963 Brickhouse began several years of writing the "Jack Brickhouse Says" column for the Chicago ' s American newspaper. In 1964 he was elected to the Cubs board of directors, resigning in 1975 to forestall any concerns about his journalistic objectivity. Brickhouse broadcast his last White Sox game in 1967, when the team transferred to another station, and began announcing all Cubs games, both home and away. In 1971 he narrated the successful Great Moments in Cubs Baseball record album.

In 1975, with the White Sox in danger of leaving Chicago, Brickhouse helped assemble investors for an ownership group headed by Bill Veeck, which kept the team in town. On 5 August 1979 he broadcast his 5000th baseball game, thought to be many more than any other announcer at the time. He retired from Cubs baseball in 1981, though he remained at WGN in a vice-presidential capacity. The Wrigley Field broadcasting booth was named in his honor in 1982.

Although Brickhouse was eventually named to ten halls of fame, his selection as the 1983 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, given by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for career excellence in broadcasting, was a personal pinnacle.

Brickhouse carried the flag for WGN as it established itself as the first cable superstation and televised almost all Cubs games from the 1950s through the 1990s. His voice was well known in Midwestern households from the mid-1930s to the early 1980s, and his famous home run call of "Back, back, back … Hey Hey!" is still remembered fondly. The only criticism of Brickhouse is that he was a bit too positive, too cheerful, and too optimistic for some viewers, sugarcoating a parade of terrible Cub teams throughout his career. "I like some Gee-Whiz enthusiasm in broadcasting sports," Brickhouse said. He died at age eighty-two of cardiac arrest at Saint Joseph hospital in Chicago and is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Lincolnwood, Illinois.

The library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame maintains a biographical clipping file on Brickhouse. Brickhouse's autobiography, Thanks for Listening! (1986) , is a substantial source of information on his career, though it can be criticized for the same reason as his broadcasting style; it contains no "juicy stuff." Janice A. Petterchak, Jack Brickhouse: A Voice for All Seasons (1996), is not only a biography but also a history of early Chicago broadcasting, which served as a template for sports broadcasting in general in later decades. Obituaries are in the New York Times and USA Today (both 7 Aug. 1998).

Tim Wiles