Jack Brickhouse was more Chicago than deep-dish pizza.
The voice of Chicago sports for more than four decades, Brickhouse called games for the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Bears during his legendary career. Brickhouse was the first voice ever heard on WGN-TV when it signed on in 1948 and became a household name across America when it became television’s first superstation three decades later.
Chicago’s most enduring play-by-play man called the Cubs from 1941 to 1981 and the White Sox from 1940 to 1967 on WGN Radio or TV. For more than two decades, he called home games for each of the cross-town rivals, as they rarely played home games at the same time. Brickhouse covered the Chicago Bulls from their inaugural 1966 season until 1973 and worked alongside Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Irv Kupcinet calling Bears games on radio for 24 years.
Jack Brickhouse worked alongside some of the most legendary broadcasters in sports history. He called the 1959 World Series with Vin Scully, the 1952 Rose Bowl with Mel Allen and worked two NFL Championship Games with Chris Schenkel.
A true broadcast journalist, Brickhouse covered national political conventions and interviewed four U.S. presidents. He wrote a column for the Chicago American newspaper, helped pioneer televised golf, and once interviewed Pope Paul VI. In a career that spanned six decades, Brickhouse called pro wrestling, Notre Dame football and college bowl games.
Like legendary Boston Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most, Jack Brickhouse was a “homer.” But, unlike Most, he was never critical – ever. Brickhouse projected a sunny optimism when the Chicago sports landscape was its most barren. Short on criticism and long on hope, he remained upbeat, even in 1969. That summer, the Cubs held a five-game lead on the New York Mets with one month remaining in the season, then lost 18 of 26 to finish eight games back. That fall, the Bears posted a franchise-worst 1-13 record before losing a coin flip with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the rights to draft Terry Bradshaw.
Brickhouse always took the positive approach, which is remarkable given the woeful baseball played in the Windy City between 1940 and 1981. While the White Sox were bad, capturing only one pennant during Brickhouse’s 37 years behind the mike, the Cubs were atrocious. In the 42 seasons that Brickhouse called Cubs baseball, they finished above .500 only nine times. The “Lovable Losers” hoisted one pennant — in 1945 – and finished below .400 in six seasons.
“Any team can have a bad century.” – Jack Brickhouse, explaining the Cubs agonizing championship drought.
Born in Peoria, Illinois, January 24, 1916, John Beasley Brickhouse was the only child of a mother who worked as a hotel cashier and carnival barker father. His father died when Jack was three and, although his mother remarried, money was always tight. At Peoria Manual High School, Brickhouse played basketball, was editor of the school paper, served as vice president of his senior class and was selected to the National Honor Society.
Brickhouse played baseball as a Bradley University freshman but dropped out when he could no longer afford school. He began his broadcasting career at 18, at Peoria radio station WMBD, and started calling Bradley basketball games. Brickhouse moved to Chicago in 1940, where he began his 41-year association with WGN and broadcast more than 5,000 baseball games.
The voice on the audio track of the famous Willie Mays catch in the 1954 World Series belongs to Jack Brickhouse. He called Ernie Banks’ 500th career home run as well as the 1949 heavyweight title fight between Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott.
“Brick” allowed the pictures to speak for themselves. Rather than over-describing the action on the field, he added flavor with childlike enthusiasm. An old-fashioned Midwesterner, he’d say “Whew, boy!” following a close play that favored the home team, or “Oh, brother!” when it went the other way. As the Cubs came to bat in the bottom of ninth during games at Wrigley Field [which Brickhouse referred to as The Friendly Confines], the ever-optimistic Brickhouse would remind viewers that “Any old kind of run wins it for the Cubs.”
His best-known expression was “Hey-hey!” for an outstanding play by the home team. After Bears defensive back Dave Whitsell returned a pick-six to beat Detroit and clinch the Western Conference: “Picked off by Whitsell!…He’s gonnago!…Touchdown!…Hey-Hey!” Perhaps Jack Brickhouse’s most famous call came in May 1970, when Atlanta’s Pat Jarvis faced “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks. “Jarvis fires away…That’s a fly ball, deep to left, back, back, back…Hey-Hey! He did it! Ernie Banks got number 500!”
The only criticism of Brickhouse is that he was too positive, cheerful and optimistic. He sugar-coated a parade of bad teams.
After stepping away from White Sox play-by-play duties in 1967 and the Bears in 1976, Brickhouse worked only Cubs telecasts until retiring in 1981. He was replaced by Harry Caray. On February 27, 1998, Brickhouse fell ill while preparing for Carey’s funeral. Following brain surgery on March 3 to remove a blood clot, he quickly improved and made a few on-air appearances in spring and early summer. Mr. Brickhouse died in Chicago August 6, 1998, of cardiac arrest. He was 82.
Jack Brickhouse carried the flag for WGN-TV as it established itself as the first superstation. He has been inducted into ten halls of fame, including the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. Mr. Brickhouse covered five baseball All-Star Games and, in the mid-1970s, helped assemble the ownership group that kept the White Sox in Chicago. While his signature “Hey-hey!” adorns the foul pole at Wrigley Field, the voice of Chicago sports reached the pinnacle of his profession in 1983, when he received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On this date in 1956, Jack Brickhouse called the 24th NFL Championship Game with Chris Schenkel and Red Grange for NBC. The New York Giants, champions of the Eastern Conference, played host to the Chicago Bears, winners of the Western Conference. The game was played before 56,836 patrons on the frozen turf of Yankee Stadium, with the Giants prevailing 47-7 to win their first title since 1938.