To post-World War II America, Mel Allen defined sports radio/TV, airing the World Series, All-Star Game, Rose Bowl, Movietone Newsreels, and other marquee events. Variety Magazine called his among “the world’s 25 most recognizable voices.” Daily, Mel aired the New York Yankees: baseball’s gold-standard. Yankee-haters loathed him. Most felt Allen the ultimate broadcast celebrity. The Voice: Mel Allen’s Untold Story (The Lyons Press, 2007, 270 pages, $24.95) tells the saga of a man who had all, lost all, and incredibly, came back.
Mel became the Yankees Voice in 1940. By 1964, he had aired nearly four thousand games, 21 World Series, 24 All-Star Games, 14 Rose Bowls, CBS TV’s Mel Allen Sports Spot, NBC Radio’s Monitor, and nearly three thousand Twentieth Century Fox film newsreels and short subjects, saying, “This is your Movietone reporter.” Up to 80 million heard him each week. Sports Illustrated termed Allen “the most successful, best-known, highest-paid, most voluble figure in sportscasting, and one of the biggest names in broadcasting generally.”
Then, in late 1964, the Yankees fired Allen near his peak as an institution. Even New Yorkers, proud of immunity to shock, reeled. Fiction termed Mel a drunk, a drug addict, breakdown victim, even gay, a then-career killer. For the next decade, baseball’s grandest Voice simply ceased to exist, becoming a non-person, for reasons he never understood. Long-time New York Post columnist (no relation) Maury Allen noted: “No topic caused more mail than why the Yankees fired Mel.” This is the first book to explain sportscasting’s most mysterious dismissal.
Poignantly, Curt Smith also etches Allen’s comeback. “He gave the Yankees his life,” said Red Barber, “and they broke his heart.” Childless, unmarried, Mel had no one to defend him, yet reacted gallantly, even nobly. In 1976, television’s new This Week in Baseball asked Allen to audition. Even at TWIB, many thought him dead. Instead, Mel forged TV’s highest-rated syndicated sports serial. “For years he was a forgotten man,” said S.I., “but it has all come back to him in abundance.” The Voice describes Allen’s extraordinary rise, ruin, and recovery.
Allen died at 83 in 1996 — to Yankees Voice John Sterling, “a Sinatra, or Crosby, or Astaire” — by then, the Grand Old Man of Broadcasting. This book chronicles a stirring, then despairing, and ultimately redeeming life.