Bay says goodbye to radio legend Lon Simmons
“Tell it goodbye.”
Lon Simmons’ famed home run call was a centerpiece to the longtime play-by-play announcer’s dramatic, knowledgable commentary that accompanied many a milestone in Bay Area sports history.
Simmons passed away peacefully on Sunday at the age of 91, the San Francisco Giants announced in a statement.
Simmons started calling games with broadcast partner Russ Hodges in 1958, when the Giants moved out West. Larry Baer, Giants President and CEO, said in a statement:
“Like many fans, my earliest Giants memories were listening to Lon and Russ on my transistor radio. … Hearing his broadcasts ignited my and thousands of others’ passion for Giants baseball. He will be deeply missed by all of us.”
Simmons lent his voice to nearly five decades worth of Giants, A’s and 49ers games before his retirement in 2002. His words are forever etched into fan-favorite moments: From Joe Montana’s game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII to the 1989 Bay Bridge World Series, taking over for A’s play caller Bill King, to Steve Young’s turbulent touchdown run against the Vikings.
Former Giants and current 49ers Ted Robinson once said:
“The Steve Young play is one of the great calls of all time because it’s pure emotion.”
Simmons grabbed viewers, calling the play with every ounce of emotion the fans felt with him, but he kept his cool. With partner Hodges, Simmons could paint any picture with his words. The pair dictated to perfection on the radio a brawl between the Mets and Giants in 1962. Simmons favorite call? Willie Mays’ 600th home run.
49ers CEO Jed York said in a statement:
“Much more than an iconic voice in the great history of Bay Area sports, Lon shared his passion for this region’s teams with generations of fans. …Whether it was a game-winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana to John Taylor or the miraculous scramble by Steve Young against the Vikings, he brought some of our greatest moments to the world. The 49ers organization is honored Lon Simmons played such a special role in our history.”
Though a fixture in Bay Area sports lore, Simmons kept humble. In 2004, he received the Ford C. Frick Award and was inducted in the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Simmons was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2006. Simmons, reportedly, felt undeserving:
“I had felt, and still feel, I don’t rate up there with people like (Vin) Scully, (Ernie) Harwell and Russ Hodges…People can tell you things and make statements about how you do your job, and that’s gratifying. But I’d finish broadcasts and be driving home and be really upset with myself because of something I didn’t say or some mistake I made. I never thought of myself as being a polished announcer.”
But his peers thought otherwise. Said A’s color commentator Ray Fosse:
“If anyone earned the Ford Frick Award in the Baseball Hall of Fame it’s Lon Simmons. Just because he is such a great person but also one of the greatest and most respected broadcasters I’ve ever known.”
Giants color commentator Mike Krukow once said:
“I always said that if I was going to be a broadcaster I wanted to be like him because he had humor, he had insights, he was just fun to listen to.”
Simmons was modest, but his contribution to Bay Area sports and beyond was anything but. The cheers after Joe Montana completes fourth quarter drive, the crack of the bat from a Willie Mays home run, or Dennis Eckersley’s grin after the A’s swept the 1989 World Series are stunning moments alone, but Lon Simmons’ emotional outbursts — lined with astute commentary — burned those moments into our collective memories.
So, today, he tells us goodbye. And the Bay Area bids him goodbye, and thank you.
Simmons is survived by his three daughters Robin, Cindy, Lisa and Kelsey.