Legendary voice of the Astros gives rare inside glimpse

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Minute Maid Park public address announcer Bob Ford - "Leading off for the Astros ... George Springer!" - has projected his booming voice professionally since 1971. Growing up in Galveston, his first professional stadium job was announcing starting lineups for youth baseball leagues at Bernard Davis "Pony Colts" Stadium on the Island at the precocious age of 13.

"I was born and raised in Galveston; I grew up an Astros fan. I remember my dad had a transistor radio and always carried it around listening to Gene Elston, Loel Passe, and Harry Kalas when I was a kid," Ford said.

Ford said, back then, he would play baseball two nights a week and would announce games the other nights. At most, there would be a couple dozen fans in the stands, most of them parents and siblings of the players.

A half-century later, Ford is announcing starting lineups and pinch hitters for an even smaller crowd at Minute Maid Park. Smaller as in nobody because of COVID-19. But each game, he is asking fans to stand for the national anthem and announcing who's coming to bat, just as though the stands were packed with screaming Astros fans.

"It is such a stark difference not having 40,000 people in Minute Maid Park. Without a doubt, the players thrive on that energy. The team is definitely amped a few notches when fans are cheering, especially in critical moments in later innings. Without that electricity in the air, it most definitely is a little less exciting. But we are making do with the hand we were dealt. All in all, it's still baseball," Ford said.

This is Ford's 27th year as the Astros stadium announcer, starting at the Astrodome plus all 21 years that Minute Maid Park has been home to the Astros. In case Ford thought he had seen it all, this year brought something he never imagined - a game postponed because both the Astros and Oakland A's refused to play in protest of racial injustice in America. Ford said he was not told in advance of the teams' plans.

"There is a certain pre-game ritual that goes on with the players. The guys come out of the dugout for warmup and getting loose. That night, I sensed something was different because there weren't many players on the field. Lance McCullers was supposed to be the starting pitcher that night, and he usually warms up in the bullpen before the game. A lot of us were saying, 'Where is Lance?' Nobody saw him warming up," Ford said.

Ford said he knew the game would be postponed when he saw No. 42 jerseys in both batter's boxes and a Black Lives Matter T-shirt covering home plate. Both teams stood in silence for 42 seconds to honor Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball. Then the teams left the field.

"The atmosphere in the ballpark was eerie. Without announcements and recorded crowd noise pumped in, you could hear a pin drop," Ford said.

SportsMap caught up with Ford during an Astros day off for 10 quick questions.

1. SportsMap: What was your reaction when you learned that your services would be needed to announce the starting lineups to an empty stadium?

Bob Ford: I wasn't surprised. I had been following what other stadiums were doing. I remember seeing that Chuck Morgan, the public address announcer for the Rangers, say that he was going to be at their stadium. Then I told myself that I better be ready for Astros games at Minute Maid Park.

2. SM: Did you have an arena-announcing mentor when you were starting out?

BF: None. The only real public address announcer that I heard was the Astros announcer at the Astrodome, J. Fred Ducket ("Cruuuuuuuz") when I would go to the games as a kid.

3. SM: Were you born with your booming voice or did you have to work to develop it?

BF: I was blessed with this voice. I had it even when I was young. That's how I was able to announce youth league baseball games when I was 13.

4. SM: Do you have nightmares that you'll wake up with laryngitis?

BF: No. My biggest fear is getting a flat tire on the way to Minute Maid Park. I still live in Galveston and I make that drive every day.

5. SM: When a team comes to Houston to play the Astros, do you go down on the field during batting practice and ask players how to announce their names?

BF: I don't do that. It used to be easier when I was in the proper press box behind home plate. The media guys on the other team would be right there. All I had to do was lean over and ask, "How do you pronounce this guy's name?" In the past two or three years, Major League Baseball has caught on to the fact that some of these guy's names are pretty tough. So they came out with pronunciation guides for every team. It helps tremendously. Players expect you to say their name correctly.

6. SM: If you are no longer in the press box, where do the Astros have you set up this year?

BF: They moved us out to right centerfield next to the scoreboard. It doesn't make my job easier.

7. SM: What was your career goal before you became an Astros stadium announcer?

BF: I was in radio for years. I hosted mornings, afternoons, all the time slots for a bunch of stations in Houston. There is a saying, you haven't been in radio until you have been fired from radio. I was fired at 107.5 FM in 1993. A year later, I got the Astros announcing gig, and I was hired to be the voice of Channel 8. The rest is history.

8. SM: What was your first Houston radio job?

BF: When I graduated high school in 1975, I was hired by pop station KXYZ in Houston. It was an ABC owned and operated station back then.

9. SM: What songs stuck in your mind from those days?

BF: I actually started in radio a couple of years earlier, while I was still in school, at KILE-AM in Galveston. There was a song called Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks. I was 15 years old on the radio. Every night kids would call in to request the song. It still makes my skin crawl. When I did hard rock radio later on, all the listeners wanted to hear Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

10. SM: Is there a fraternity of stadium announcers? Do you guys share tips and help each other?

BF: John Paul Stevenson and I are buddies. He was the stadium announcer for the Houston Rockets for years, and now does it for University of Houston basketball. He does a great job.

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Life after Correa may not be the worst thing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Carlos Correa is having a damn good year. The Astros shortstop is hitting .285 with 24 homers, 87 RBI, 72 walks, .862 OPS, a 7.2 WAR, and a .981 fielding percentage. In any other year, those would be numbers worthy of being in the mix for AL MVP (if it weren't for that dastardly Shohei Otani). Correa is also in a contract year. He and the Astros were far enough apart that the season started and he's held true to not wanting to negotiate midseason.

The offers of six years for $120 million and five years for $125 million were both rejected by he and his camp. They're seeking something much longer and for more money on the annual average. With the team unwilling to meet those demands, it seems as if the team and the player are headed for a split.

Lots of Astros fans are not happy with the prospect of Correa leaving via free agency. Some think the team isn't doing enough and should pony up to bring him back. Some feel Correa should take what they're offering because it's a fair deal that'll allow the team to sign other players. Then, there's that small band of us that are totally okay with him leaving.

One of the main reasons I'm okay with him leaving is the players the team still has under control that are potential replacements. Aledmys Diaz and Pedro Leon are the first two guys that come to mind. Diaz is a 31-year-old vet who's stepped up when he's called upon. He can slide over to third and allow Alex Bregman to play shortstop. Leon is the team's 23-year-old hot prospect who signed as an outfielder that the team has been trying to turn into a shortstop. If Correa were to leave, he could instantly plug the hole Carlos would leave behind. Either of those options lead to my next point of being okay with Correa leaving which is to...

...allocate that money elsewhere. Whether it's signing a replacement (at short or third), or boosting the pitching staff, I'll be fine as long as it's money well spent. Signing a shortstop or third baseman would determine where Bregman would be playing. If said player takes significantly less than Correa and fills 70-80% of his offensive shoes, it'll be worth it. Others will have to step it up. If they find a deal on a top of the rotation starting pitcher, that would be ideal as well. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this team has employed a six-man rotation, but doesn't have a true ace. Spending anywhere from $20-30 million a year on a top-notch pitcher to add to the staff would bolster this staff in more ways than one. It'll finally give them the ace they lack, plus it'll bump all the young talent (still under team control) down a peg creating depth and perhaps even creating bullpen depth.

The only way any of this works is if Correa isn't back. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's money comes off the books also. Freeing up that much payroll and not re-appropriating those resources to ensure this team stays in contention would be a first degree felony in sports court. I don't think Jim Crane wants that for this team. I for sure don't think James Click wants that as his legacy. Let's sit back and watch how the organization maneuvers this offseason and pray they get it right.

Editor's note: If you want to read the other side of the argument, check out Ken Hoffman's piece from Tuesday.

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