He is one of the greatest names in baseball broadcasting. He was one of the first two men inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But did you know that Mel Allen almost never became “The Voice of the New York Yankees“?
Allen’s career began in 1933 as the announcer for University of Alabama football, doing this while studying law there. Shortly after graduating in 1937, he went to New York City for a week’s vacation. While there, he auditioned for a staff announcer’s job at CBS.
The network knew about him, as their lead announcer Ted Husing had heard his work doing Alabama football. He was hired for $45 per week, the equal to $796 per week in today’s money. The network then suggested to Melvin Israel that change his name. So he decided to go by Mel Allen, as Allen was his middle name. Melvin Allen would become his legal name in 1943.
Allen was tapped to do a color commentary of CBS’s coverage of the 1938 World Series. Wheaties was so impressed with his work, that they wanted him to be the new announcer for the Washington Senators to succeed Arch McDonald, who left to become the announcer for the New York Yankees’ and Giants’ home games in 1939. In those days, the sponsor hired the announcer subject to team approval. Clark Griffith, the owner of the Senators, wanted former pitching great Walter Johnson instead, and Wheaties ended up relenting.
In June of 1939 Garnett Marks, Arch McDonald’s partner read a LIVE on-air ad for Ivory Soap, the sponsor for the Yankees and Giants. Instead of IVORY, Marks said OVARY. Twice. Remember that this was 1939. You didn’t say words like that on the radio. Needless to say, Marks was fired and replaced by Allen. Following the season, McDonald went back to Washington to return as the voice of the Senators.
Just think about it. Were it not for one man’s insistence on hiring a team icon and another man’s case of foot in mouth disease, Yankee fans would not have enjoyed the work of a great announcer, and Mel Allen never would have become “The Voice of the New York Yankees.