Mel Allen: 1913-1996
June 16, 1996
Mel Allen, one of the greatest broadcasters in Yankee history, passed away. He had just watched a television broadcast of a game between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians when he died of a heart attack at the age of 83 in his Greenwich, CT home.
Known as “The Voice of the Yankees” and later as the voice of “This Week In Baseball”, Melvin Allen Israel’s announcing career spanned seven decades. The son of Russian immigrants, he was born in 1913 near Birmingham, Alabama. Later, he attended the University of Alabama, where he earned degrees in political science and law. Allen first broadcasted a game in 1935, when he was a law student.
But instead of pursuing law, Allen stayed on as a speech instructor at the university and covered football games for a Birmingham radio station. His big break came in 1936, when he was hired as a staff announcer for CBS and dropped his last name, Israel. His first major assignment for CBS was announcing the 1938 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.
In 1939, Allen was assigned as the announcer for Giants and Yankees home games. He became the lead announcer on radio and then television for the Yankees from 1940 to 1964 — interrupted only by a three-year stint in the Army. For ten years he called games alongside the esteemed Red Barber. With the Yankees, Allen first used the phrase “How about that!” and coined such famous nicknames as “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio and “The Scooter” for Phil Rizzuto.
Allen had announced 20 World Series and 24 All-Star games when he was inexplicably fired after the 1964 season by the Yankees. “The Yankees never even held a press conference to announce my leaving,” Allen recalled in 1996. “They left people to believe whatever they wanted — and people believed the worst. The lies that started were horrible, that I was a lush or had a breakdown or stroke or was numb from taking medications for my voice.” He was replaced in the booth by Joe Garagiola.
His colleague Curt Gowdy realized how much the firing hurt Mel Allen: “His heart was with the Yankees. He loved the Yankees. And then they broke his heart … Nobody understood it. It hurt Mel deeply. He was a sensitive guy.”
The firing prompted a career shift for Allen, who did assorted voice-overs and commercials in the 1970s. He returned to baseball in 1977 as the host of “This Week In Baseball,” a syndicated baseball show that introduced his distinctive voice to a new generation of baseball fans. He continued his work with the show until 1995 and was planning to do some more work with TWIB before his death in 1996.
Allen was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978 with his partner in the broadcast booth, Red Barber. The two men were the first broadcasters to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Allen was also inducted in the Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1986.