SI Vault
 
THE PRINCE OF PITTSBURGH
Myron Cope
September 13, 1965
The Pirates are a contending team again, and Pittsburgh's brash broadcaster, Bob Prince, is back in form, too, living it up as baseball's most flamboyant personality
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 13, 1965

The Prince Of Pittsburgh

The Pirates are a contending team again, and Pittsburgh's brash broadcaster, Bob Prince, is back in form, too, living it up as baseball's most flamboyant personality

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

Together, Prince and Kiner roared over the countryside in twin silver-gray Jaguars and just as dizzily plunged into business deals. Borrowing heavily against their combined income of $150,000, they invested in a new ultrahigh-frequency television station and in a three-story restaurant. A storm blew down the station's tower, putting the shaky broadcasting company out of business, and the next day Kiner—on whose Pittsburgh exploits the restaurant relied for survival—was traded to the Chicago Cubs. "In the space of 48 hours," says Prince, "we dropped $100,000." With a number of dry wells thrown in, Prince's debts amounted to $120,000.

Although married and the father of two children, Prince was scarcely fazed. To his bankers he piped, "It's not every guy my age who can owe this much money."

"What are you going to do about it?" they demanded.

A man of honor, Prince had no taste for declaring bankruptcy. "Gentlemen," he said, "if you allow me to continue to belong to all my clubs and drive expensive cars and live in the manner to which I'm accustomed, you'll get dollar for dollar." Today, Prince belongs to 10 tony clubs, leases a new Continental every year, tosses down double Canadian Clubs neat, and brandishes more than 40 credit cards. He still owes the bankers $12,500, but few men have suffered the shorts in such grand style. Prince has sent a tailor around to Forbes Field to measure Trainer Danny Whelan and Clubhouse Boy Bo Hallahan for $125 sports jackets. Impressed by the athletic skill and good character of All-America Basketball Star Don Hennon of Pitt, Prince bought him an $800 microscope to help him in medical school. "When people ask me how much Prince makes," says Maniac McDonough, "I tell them I don't know, but it's a thou less than he spends."

Through all these affluent years Prince has waged a continuous battle on the air with listeners who write letters demanding he cease yakking about the wind and quit reminding them five times a night that Forbes Field is "the house of thrills." Umpire Bill Klem denounced Prince as an "ill-bred apple head" for second-guessing umpires over the air. Ballplayers like him but accord him little respect. On one occasion, while he was conducting a pregame show in front of the dugout at Forbes Field, Pitchers Lou Burdette and Warren Spahn—then with the Braves—undid his $125 alligator shoes. Spahn hurled one atop a screen behind home plate while Burdette raced to center field and tossed the other over the wall. Another time, in the midst of a dugout telecast at Milwaukee, Burdette crept beneath camera range and sprayed Prince's left leg with ethyl chloride, turning him numb from the knee down, and then touched a match to the anesthetic, setting Prince and his $75 slacks afire.

No amount of abuse, however, is enough to deflate Prince's vision of himself as a dashing figure. "My second year in the big leagues," recalls Pirate Bob Friend, "I pitched the home opener and shut out the Reds. The day I made my next start, Prince came into the clubhouse and said, 'Look, kid, if you pitch like you did the other day, see me after the game and I'll take you to the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and introduce you to some important people.' I said, 'What if I lose.' He said, 'Then forget it.' "

Much to Friend's surprise, however, he grew fond of Prince. "He's always flashing his money," says Friend, "and he loves to show off his credit cards. But if a guy's down to his last 10 bucks Prince will always come through." The Bob Prince that listeners neither hear nor see is the man who helped found a school for retarded children and turns over to charities about 90% of the fees he earns as a toastmaster. Negro ballplayers regard him as a genuine friend. He regularly has them to his home for dinner and a swim, warning them with exaggerated gruffness, "You'd better behave yourself or I'll put lye in the pool."

Such admonitions closely resemble Prince's style as a toastmaster. Sports fans who insist they cannot stand the sound of his voice pack banquet halls to hear him put down guests of honor and assorted celebrities. St. Louis invited Prince to deliver the principal speech at a retirement banquet for Stan Musial. "I think it is ridiculous," he told the assembled hero-worshipers, "that we are gathered here tonight to honor a man who made more than 7,000 outs."

Last year and earlier this season Prince toned down his outspoken style, sensing that the Pirates' decline into the second division had put Pittsburghers in a surly mood. After the club roared back into the pennant race Prince became his old loquacious self, rooting hard, aiming guarded but prickly needles at umpires and generally irritating his audience. Only once in his broadcasting lifetime have the Pirates won the pennant and, even in the moment of triumph after Bill Mazeroski hit his ninth-inning home run to beat the Yankees in the 1960 World Series, Prince managed to set his listeners' teeth on edge. It had been decided that if the Yankees led after eight innings the Yankee announcer would head downstairs for the clubhouse to be ready for postgame interviews; if the Pirates led Prince would go. At the end of eight, the Pirates led, so Prince scrambled from the broadcasting booth. By the time he reached the clubhouse the Yankees had tied the score and he was told to get back upstairs. He reached the booth just as Forbes Field shook with a great roar. Network men spun Prince around, crying, "Get back downstairs! The Pirates won!"

Breathless, and not having the least idea how the Pirates had won, Prince fought his way into the clubhouse and took up his microphone. A helpful aide had maneuvered the hero to Prince's side. Prince pulled Mazeroski to the microphone and asked him automatically, as he would a third-string catcher, "Well, Maz, how does it feel to be a member of the world champions?"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4