Mr. Toledo

If you're looking for a sense of familiarity in today's business-like baseball world, look no further. Toledo broadcaster Jim Weber is still baseball.

For 34 years Weber has been the voice of the Toledo Mud Hens. On television with Jason Griffin, and on radio with usual colleague Frank Gilhooley, Weber does it all for the club. And at 62 years old, don't expect this broadcasting legend to retire anytime soon.

"I always tell people, 'Retire from what.'" Weber said.

He is the only broadcaster to date, in the International League, to travel with their team, working as the teams' radio-television announcer and secretary. This is a job he claims is neither stressful nor tiring.

"By the time the season ends you're ready to knock it off," Weber expressed. "But then you can't wait to get going once the holidays go by. Once spring training comes you're all excited to get going again."

The Mud Hens, with Weber, have seen some of the greatest players to ever step foot on a baseball field. The broadcasting great has recalled many Hall of Famers, but a former Minnesota legend has always stuck out in his mind.

"There's been a lot of them, but one that stands out that wasn't here very long was Kirby Puckett. It's hard to pick them out because, of course, I'm up to 1,500 players. But it's funny though, because certainly Kirby blossomed before he left here, and I believe we had him in '84."

In fact, when the Mud Hens were a Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate (1978-1986), Kirby Puckett played 21 games for the Hens in 1984 where he batting .263.

Former Tigers third baseman Travis Fryman was a player, Weber recalled, as "a very dedicated man with much relentlessness." He also would go on to speak of Fryman's first Minor League All-Star selection.

"Travis and I were picked for the All-Star game in 1990. He got called up a week before the game, and went up to the big leagues, because that was the thing to do. I will always remember he had to buy his own ring. They wouldn't give him his ring because he didn't get to play in the game."

Rubbing his salt and pepper-colored beard, Weber tried to express more of the memory that was suppose to be his own spotlight, since it was his first All-Star broadcasting experience. But Weber smiled and continued to do what every announcer is accustomed to doing: talk about everyone else.

"He (Fryman) actually purchased it because at the time he thought that was the highest level he would be as an All-Star. He didn't know he would be a Major League All-Star a year or two later. Now of course, it's (the ring) the smallest one he's got now."

Over the years there has been certain Mud Hens teams that were quite extraordinary, but asked what his pick as the greatest in club history, Weber replied, "For years and years it's been our 1980 team, but now the '05 team—the first Governor's Cup champs—were the best."

The 1980 team of Ron Washington and Gary Ward led the 'Hens through a dynamic championship season. However, the 2005 team of Curtis Granderson, Joel Zumaya and Mike Hessman compiled the best club record ever of 89-55 — 40 games above .500 — making them the best Toledo team of all-time.

"That's the best team there was, was in 2005."

James H. Weber was born and raised in the south side of Toledo, where he adored the game of baseball at a young age. While other boys at the time were infatuated with Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, Weber took to broadcasting greats Ernie Harwell and Frank Gilhooley—who he'd announce with in the years to come—as his boyhood idols.

"Frank (Gilhooley) was always big here in town. But of course everyone always listened to Ernie."

Declining to go to college after high school he had talent that he felt he didn't need a degree for. He attended a small broadcasting school, for a time, where he learned the basics of broadcasting.

"In this business you become successful if people like to listen to you. It becomes a personality type thing I think."

For six years Weber did high school football and basketball games before he turned his interests to college sports in 1969.

"Frank, he and I did a couple years for a local station here. We did Bowling Green stuff."

Announcing Bowling Green football and basketball, Weber was signed by the Toledo Mud Hens in 1975, when they were a Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A affiliate at the time. From there, Weber would start his legacy and develop a Cal Ripken-like streak that no — Major or Minor League — announcer can touch even today.

"I'm heading toward 4,300 games right now."

The Toledo native hasn't missed a game since his 1975 debut.

"One time I was sick and announced one inning to at least keep the streak alive. I could barely talk. That kind of thing has happened about six or seven times in all those years."

When Gilhooley joined Weber in 1987, they were the longest running broadcasting duo in International League history until this past 2008 season.

"Frank's health hasn't been good. He had to sit out this season."

Up river, the 'Hens' big brother, the Detroit Tigers, had Ernie Harwell, but Toledo has Jim Weber. No one calls a game like Mr. Weber. His antics are smooth, but very precise, with a little Toledo flair of: "Put it on the board!" and "What a play!" to keep fans coming back for more.

"When Major League Baseball had their strike in the early nineties, some big league announcers would come down here and join us… Everyday we (Ernie Harwell) were chatting for like an hour. And you know Ernie; he'll talk to anybody. Nothing like a legend, you know? People tell me I'm a legend here in this town, but he's the guy."

Through all the years of players coming and going, Weber has stayed in Toledo and has given the fans a sense of home; a sense of old-time baseball.

"Out of 14 markets, we're the smallest market in the league, but we're always in the top half of the attendance."

The game has changed a little throughout the years, but Weber has expressed that it is still good baseball.

"The biggest change is that there's more teams, so there's more jobs and there's more talent. A lot of these guys would have not made a Triple-A team 20 years ago."

Weber looked out his sliding glass window at that moment and saw Mud Hens' infielder Maxwell Leon taking batting practice, while "Swing, Swing" by The All American Rejects played over the loud speakers. He then glanced around his booth, which was decorated with baseball memorabilia of all types, and laid his eyes on the Louisville Bats' roster; the team the Toledo was getting ready to play against.

"Now we have 30 organizations, so there's a lot of jobs. I mean, they're (players) still good, but back then a lot of guys who got stuck in Triple-A would have been major leaguers today."

The Mud Hens almost lost Weber one year to a big league club; in a move the broadcasting legend would claim as him doing what younger announcers at that time did.

"I had an agent recruit me in 1990, his name was Ed Keeting. He died some years ago... He almost got me the Baltimore job in 1990. There were two or three of us left. The guy they took they fired the next year."

The thoughts of announcing big league ball hasn't necessarily been a dream of his, but if the opportunity came knocking, Weber said he might have considered it then, but isn't sure if he would today.

"Once you get a job like this, and you get settled, you really don't care about moving. This is a good place for me. It would be fun to fill in I think, but that's it."

The future of most major or minor league teams is a guess at best, but one thing is for sure, next season, if you attend a Mud Hens game at Fifth Third Field, you can look up by the WCWA-AM 1230 sign and always see Jim Weber, wearing his trademark hat, doing what he does best.


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