May 23rd, 2014
Arch McDonald was the original voice of the New York Yankees. The three original New York City MLB franchises were the last three to permit radio broadcasts of their games. They all caved together in 1939. Brooklyn hired Red Barber for their booth and the thrifty Yankees and Giants decided to share an announcer. Since the two teams never had home games scheduled on the same day and had both agreed to blackout broadcasts of road games, it was possible that one person could do play-by-play for both teams. That person turned out to be McDonald.
Born in Arkansas but raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was a country music DJ in that town when the local minor league team reached a deal to have their games broadcast by the station that employed him. McDonald became the play-by play announcer and the listening audience loved him. In 1932, Sporting News conducted a contest, inviting readers to vote for the best baseball announcer in the country and surprisingly, McDonald beat out several big league microphone jockeys to win the honor. Two years later, when Clark Griffith was looking for a radio announcer to do Senator games, he did the same thing he did when he needed a player. He reached down into the broadcast booth of Washington’s Chattanooga affiliate and brought up McDonald. During the next five seasons, he built a loyal following of listeners in our Nation’s Capital with his relaxed southern speaking voice and homespun charm. McDonald was credited with coining the phrase “ducks on the pond” to describe “men on base.” When a Senator hit a home run, McDonald would call it by saying “There goes Mrs. Murphy.”
When the Yankees finally went on radio, the sponsor of their broadcasts, Wheaties Cereal lured McDonald to New York with a big salary. The first ever radio broadcast of a Yankee game took place on April 17, 1939, with McDonald doing the play-by-play. During that first season, a young CBS announcer by the name of Mel Allen was also hired as McDonald’s assistant. In addition to being the first radio voice of the franchise, McDonalds’ next most significant contribution to Yankee history was coming up with the nickname of “Yankee Clipper” for slugger, Joe DiMaggio.
It would end up being Barber and Allen who did the best job at capturing and keeping the attention of Big Apple baseball fans.Those two injected their calls with a lot more enthusiasm and a lot more words than McDonald, who preferred to describe a play and then stop talking until there was another play to describe. The silence in between proved deafening for radio listeners and McDonald was let go after just one season in New York, leaving Allen to take over the Yankee booth as number one announcer.
McDonald ended up going back to Washington, where he became a sports broadcasting institution, doing both Senator and Redskins games. In 1946, President Harry Truman, a regular listener, convinced the announcer to run for congress. He ended up losing the election.
He kept doing both Senator and Redskin games right up until he died in 1960, of a heart attack, during a train ride back to D.C. after a Giants Redskins football game. He was 59 years-old.