ERIC: Although he occupies a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s broadcaster’s wing, no broadcaster has ever called more losses—and none probably ever will—than did Byrum “By” Saam. And for that dubious distinction, we honor him here with You Stink! immortality.
By Saam was born in 1914. In 1938, the young man, already a sportscasting veteran, was hired by Connie Mack to become the play-by-play announced for the Philadelphia Athletics. In those years, announcers did not travel with their teams, so Saam added the Philadelphia Phillies home games in 1939. He did this double duty for 12 years, presiding over some of the worst teams to ever take a baseball field. During that time, the Athletics and Phils combined for a record 1,465-2,214, for a winning percentage of .398. The A’s had three winning seasons and the Phillies had two.
In 1950, both Philadelphia teams began broadcasting their road games, and Saam had to choose. The Athletics had strung together three straight winning seasons and seemed to be competitive, so Saam chose the A’s. That year, the Phillies won their first National League pennant in 35 years, while the A’s finished 52-102. Four years later, the A’s left Philadelphia for Kansas City, and Saam joined the Phillies again, presiding over some really atrocious teams (including the 1961 team profiled in the book version of You Stink!).
Saam finally retired in 1975. The Phillies had only their second winning season since he re-joined the team in 1955, finishing second in the National League East. He had the distinction of broadcasting for more losing teams than any other announcer and called games for 11 teams that lost 100 or more games, 19 last-place clubs, and not one pennant winner. By the time that Saam retired, he had called more than 4,000 losses, a record that will undoubtedly stand forever. When the Phillies won 101 games and ran away with the National League East in 1976, Phillies broadcasters Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas invited Saam to call the last half-inning on the day that the Phils clinched the division. Ashburn later said, “Thirty-eight years and no winner. Damn right he deserved a title.”
Saam was also known for his malapropisms. He was known for saying, “Hi everyone, this is By Saam.” One night, he said, “Hi, By Saam, this is everybody.” During a game in St. Louis, he was doing play-by-play, and a Cardinals player homered. Saam said, “Here’s a ground ball to shortstop.” Richie Ashburn was frantically signaling that it had been a home run. Saam added, “And it’s outta here.” Another time, a San Diego player hit a double and Saam said that it was a “slide into second, a stand-up double.” Then there was his first visit to the Astrodome, an indoor stadium. By remarked, “What a beautiful night for baseball. The flags are hanging limp. There’s no breeze at all.” And then there was my favorite one of all, when he stated, “The double play went 4-6-3 for those of you who might be home scoring in bed.”
In spite of having called more than 4,000 losing games in his career, Saam was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame in 1993. He died of a stroke on January 16, 2000 at the age of 85.
Here’s to “By Saam,” the sole occupant of the You Stink! Hall of Shame Broadcaster’s Wing.