Sims Takes Robinson to the Booth Every Game
As a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Dave Sims knew who the great Jackie Robinson was. He was too young to jump on the train and get to Brooklyn, but his father always reminded him of the importance of an American hero. That reverence for history shapes the thoughts, life and calls of one of the best play- by-play voices in all of baseball.
“I was born shortly after Jackie broke the color barrier and by that time, he was an established star who could fight back some,” the two-time Emmy Award winner remembered. “Baseball was my first love and I remember being 10 or 11 years old and understanding some of what Robinson went through and how brave he was. My Dad used to pitch to me and the guys every now and then. He would groove a few right down the middle and you hit a couple then he would throw some high and inside and we would be like – hey what was that for? He would say – what do you think Jackie Robinson had to put up with! Those times taught you that you had to fight back. You had to be strong.”
Sims is in his seventh season as the play-by-play voice of the Seattle Mariners. The thought of Robinson opening the door for not only baseball players but for executives and broadcasters as well never strays far from his mind.
“Mr. Robinson was sort of a forerunner to Dr. King, Sims said. “His impact is just incredible. I’m aware of it often. I’m one of just a few African-Americans in sports broadcasting and take the responsibility that goes with that very seriously.”
Baseball is a game that is handed down from father to son and family to family. Even though Sims didn’t see the Brooklyn Dodgers great in person – his exploits were willed down like prized possessions.
“Unfortunately I only got to watch Jackie Robinson on film, Sims recollects. “My father and his crew made the trip from Philly to Brooklyn often. Ken Burns said it well when in “Baseball” he said that the Dodgers were black America’s team followed by the Giants with Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and that group. I remember flipping through World Series programs and reading and hearing my Dad and others at the barber shop talking about how great he was”
The black baseball players of Sim’s youth bring a huge smile to his face and his chest swells with pride.
I get chills when I just say the names, Mays, Aaron, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan and that bunch. Dick Allen was one of my favorites,” Sims said. “I really remember it during All Star games when the National League was primarily made up of African-American super stars and kicked the American Leagues butt!”
Even in 2013, racism still exists and a feeling that you have to constantly prove yourself is something else that stays with Sims every time he opens the mic – whether at Safeco Field or at an NFL stadium working for DialGlobal.
“You feel like you have to be twice as good and work twice as hard, Sims commented. “Over prepare, make that extra trip to the clubhouse. Look, even when I’m in a suit I’ll catch people looking at me funny or when I tell them what I do for a living they look at me with an odd look. I guess as a child of the 50′s and 60′s, it’s so engrained that you have to stay at a high level and perform twice as hard.”
While Sims’ father, Robinson and Dr. King were role models – broadcasters to emulate were far and few in between.
“Are you kidding me?,” Sims laughed. “I was so happy when Bill White was pushed head first into the booth. I loved watching him play for the Cardinals and of course for the hometown Phillies. He made himself into a great broadcaster and was a thrill to hear him. Without a doubt, he was THE black role model for me. He was the first noted black sportscaster that I had ever seen.”
Broadcasting role models are more plentiful now for African-Americans who aspire to be in the business.
“Kids now have a lot of guys to look at,” Sims said. “There’s Gus (Johnson), the Gumbels, James Brown and so many ex-players who have made the transition. It certainly beats where it was not so long ago I’ll tell ya.”
Jackie Robinson Day will be celebrated throughout baseball and teams will recognize the Negro Leagues as they do every year – but for Sims, it’s Jackie Robinson day 365-days a year.
“You’ve got to know your American history good, bad and indifferent,” said the versatile broadcaster who you can hear doing MLB, NCAA basketball and the NFL. “I totally revere what those folks did in the Negro Leagues and had the honor of meeting so many of them before they passed away. It’s so important to know where you came from and how you got to where you are.”
As much as the voice of the Mariners takes Robinson’s and others sacrifices to heart – he also knows that he enjoys a unique platform as an African-American broadcaster.
“If I don’t relay the message of who we are and where we come from…who will?” Sims said. “I think about that all of the time. I’m one of a very few lucky people in baseball who get to do what we do and do it as an African-American. It’s a mark that I have to hit every day.”
Dave Barr (@daveabarr)