To legions of Houston Astros fans, Milo Hamilton is the voice of their youth. To me, he’ll always be The Thank You Guy.
The oft-underrated greatness of Hamilton’s incredible baseball broadcasting career came through in all the tributes offered in the wake of his death in Houston on Thursday at age 88. But his rare old-school class should not be forgotten, either. It’s one trait of his I’d love to somehow impart to my own baseball-loving son.
Which brings us back to the thank you. I’ve been covering Houston sports figures for the past five years, and Hamilton is the only one who went completely out of his way to thank me for writing a story. You’ll get the occasional nice note and people who take the time to send an email, but the Astros broadcasting legend tracked down my phone number and took the time to call and leave what must have been a five-minute message detailing his gratitude.
And then, he called back later so he could tell me again personally and not just leave it to voice mail.
That’s not just rare; it’s practically once in a lifetime. From a once-in-a-lifetime human being. And the thing was, I completely did not deserve it. The story Hamilton thanked me for technically was about the gala honoring a retiring Hamilton back in 2012 — though in reality, Milo never truly retired — but I mostly wrote in that piece about home-run legend Hank Aaron making a rare appearance in Houston.
Still, Hamilton went on about how he enjoyed how I captured Aaron’s personality and the spirit of the night. It was both completely too much and one of the greatest moments of my journalism life (it’s not often you have a Hall of Famer on the phone, complimenting you). Then, Hamilton brought the story up again the next few times I saw him at Minute Maid Park.
That’s Milo Hamilton, too. If I have a story like that, you know there are hundreds (and maybe thousands) of stories like it. Through all his stops, broadcasting for seven different Major League teams and in a remarkable (and record) 59 different ballparks, Hamilton never lost his joy or his real sense of gratefulness. Even toward the end, Milo always looked happy to be at the stadium, and he had a way of making everyone he came across smile or chuckle. The old World War II veteran couldn’t move the way he used to, but he always found a way to get there regardless. Until he truly couldn’t these last few months.
You get the sense this is why Aaron went out of his own way to get to Houston for that Milo Hamilton gala a few years ago. Sure, Hamilton made the immortalized call of Aaron’s record-breaking 715 home run. Clips of his “There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all time! And it’s Henry Aaron!” will still be played when all of us are gone. But that’s not what made Aaron beg forgiveness from his wife Billye while regrettably informing her that she’d be spending her 76th birthday without him because he needed to jet to Houston for Milo Night.
“Sweetie, thank you so much,” Aaron said on stage that night.
Aaron liked to tell Hamilton, “Your voice goes with me all over the world.” Milo’s friendship did, too, and that’s what brought arguably Baseball’s Greatest Living Player back to Houston. That’s worth more than a thousand shouts of “Holy Toledo!” Hamilton truly cared about people and their stories — whether they were The Home Run King or a reporter making his way in a new city at a start-up website. Boy, did Milo ever love to share stories.
When word of Hamilton’s death hit, I wished I’d done a better job of saving that voice mail through moves, job changes and happy-kid chaos. The Thank You Icon sticks with me, though. I still don’t thank people as often as I should, but when my oldest son and I listened to the Astros game the other night during one of those late I-need-a-book-for-school runs to Barnes & Noble, I told him about Milo Hamilton and the power of a thank you.
That alone would be an unbelievable legacy. Milo Hamilton left so much more.