|Stamford, CT||November 21, 2021|
“Hello, everybody, this is Mel Allen!” This catchphrase would have gotten my vote had I been in charge of writing the epitaph for the broadcaster anointed “the Voice of the Yankees.” But being recognized on your grave as a beloved brother, son, and uncle is nice too. A lifelong bachelor, Allen is interred beside his parents, Julius and Anna. The sports legend’s footstone is the farthest right in this accompanying photograph.
“How about that?” Allen’s surname at birth was Israel, but the son of Russian immigrants changed it when he was hired by the CBS Radio Network in 1937. Demonstrative of the antisemitism that limited job opportunities in the United States at that time, CBS told their new employee that his name was too Jewish. He dropped Israel and used his middle name, Allen, as his last name moving forward. Both names are carved into his family’s stone at Beth-el Cemetery in Stamford, Connecticut.
Allen called New York Yankee games from 1939 to 1964 — first on radio and then on television as that medium became more popular. The animated Allen was partnered with the far more reserved Red Barber for those final ten years, before Allen was unceremoniously dismissed by Yankees president Dan Topping at the end of the 1964 season. Still, Allen’s career was not over. He found new life as the host of the first-run syndicated show This Week in Baseball from 1977 until 1995, at which point his health was in decline. His relationship with the Yankees did not entirely cease in 1964 either. He returned to Yankee Stadium for events on occasion and narrated special programs for the club. In June 1996, Allen’s sister, Esther Kaufman, reported that her sibling died after he watched a Sunday afternoon Bronx ballgame. The Yankees, en route to their 23rd World Series title, defeated the visiting Cleveland Indians by a score of 5-4. Thereby the squad sent off their longtime announcer — then just a spectator — with a win.
Most sports fans’ first exposure to Allen differed from mine, I suspect. It came circa early 2012 during my senior year of high school, when I watched the 1988 comedy film, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! Allen appears in the movie’s third act as member of an extensive roster of broadcasters assigned to cover the Seattle Mariners-Los Angeles Angels ballgame. The seven-person booth also boasts Curt Gowdy, Jim Palmer, Tim McCarver, Dick Vitale, Dick Enberg, and Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Born: February 14, 1913 in Birmingham, Alabama
Ford C. Frick Award: Honored in 1978
Monument Park: Honored in 1998 (posthumous)
Died: June 16, 1996 in Greenwich, Connecticut
Cause of Death: Heart Failure
Interment: Beth-el Cemetery, Stamford, Connecticut
"Some guy once said to me, 'When I tune you in, I know you'll say something positive about the Yankees.' But there's a difference between partisanship and prejudice. I gave other players their due."
- Mel Allen
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Baseball Reference. “Cleveland Indians vs New York Yankees Box Score: June 16, 1996.” Accessed December 16, 2022. https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA199606160.shtml.
Corbett, Warren. “Mel Allen.” Society for American Baseball Research. Accessed December 15, 2022. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/mel-allen/.
Fermaglich, Kirsten. “What the Jewish Name Changing Narrative Gets Wrong.” Zócalo Public Square. September 17, 2020. https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/09/17/jewish-name-change-20th-century-new-york-history/ideas/essay/.
Sandomir, Richard. “Mel Allen Is Dead at 83; Golden Voice of Yankees.” New York Times. June 17, 1996. https://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/17/sports/mel-allen-is-dead-at-83-golden-voice-of-yankees.html.