Joe Tait: It's Been a Real Ball
Stories from a Hall-of-Fame Sports Broadcasting Career
by Terry Pluto | Joe Tait
- Softcover, 259 pages, 5.5 x 8.5 inches
- ISBN: 978-1-59851-070-6
An easy, fun book to read and will surely bring back good memories for Cleveland sports fans who listened to Tait's trademark calls since 1970. 20SecondTimeout.com
Joe Tait is like a family friend to three generations of Cleveland sports fans. This book celebrates his Hall-of-Fame broadcasting career with stories from Joe and dozens of fans, media colleagues, and players.
He was “the Voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers.” But to fans, Joe was also “one of us.” Cavs basketball, Indians baseball, or Mount Union football, he made the game come alive, and wasn't afraid to speak his mind—even when it might get him in trouble with the coach or the owner.
In high school, Joe loved sports but wasn't always good enough to make the team. Then he discovered play-by-play announcing. Combining two passions, he began to carefully build a broadcasting career that would eventually touch the lives of countless other sports fans.
Pluto weaves a roughly chronological narrative that hits the highlights of a long career. It also uncovers some touching personal details. For example, one chapter describes how Joe's father, a stern man with a deep-rooted distrust of black people, came to become good friends with Cavaliers center Nate Thurmond, to Joe's surprise and delight.
With fans, Joe was often more popular than the players on the court—especially during the Cavs' dimmer days. When notoriously incompetent team owner Ted Stepien fired Joe in the 1980s, fans protested and staged a rally in his honor. When new owner Gordon Gund took over the team, the first thing did was hire Joe back. “He is the franchise,” Gund said. “To have a basketball team in Cleveland, you have to have Joe Tait.”
His work inspired a generation of young broadcasters. Language he invented became part of the common broadcast language in Northeast Ohio. “Left to right on your radio dial” . . . “Wham, with the right hand” . . . “It's a beautiful day for baseball!” . . . “To the line, to the lane . . .”
The stories in this book will make fans feel like they're sitting alongside Joe enjoying a play-by-play recap of the remarkable career they shared together.
Illustrations: 29 black-and-white photographs
The book is just a delight. While it covers much of Joe's life biographically, it is just as much a book of Cleveland sports history from 1970Ð2011 as anything else. I guarantee you will not be able to put it down. clevelandclassicmedia.com
Tait comes across in print just as he did when doing Cavaliers games: he's honest, unpretentious, and at times funny. Pluto deftly balances Joe's life as a broadcaster with the events happening around him, and the result is a memoir that reads like his sports history books. letsgotribe.com
A wonderful tribute to a true icon in the business that is sports media. Ashtabula Star Beacon
A fun, eclectic read telling a variety of stories from Joe's life on and off the radio. Daily Record
Honest, interesting, and thoroughly entertaining. StepianRules.com
About Terry Pluto
Terry Pluto is a sports columnist for The Plain Dealer. He has twice been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the nation's top sports columnist for medium-sized newspapers. He is a nine-time winner of the Ohio Sports Writer of the Year award and has received more than 50 state and local writing awards. In 2005 he was inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame. He is the author of 23 books, including The Curse of Rocky Colavito (selected by the New York Times as one of the five notable sports books of 1989), and Loose Balls, which was ranked number 13 on Sports Illustrated's list of the top 100 sports books of all time. He was called “Perhaps the best American writer of sports books,” by the Chicago Tribune in 1997. He lives in Akron, Ohio. More About Terry Pluto
Question & Answer with Joe Tait
Q: Any reason you decided to wait until retirement to collect your broadcasting memories into a book?
A: What better time to do it than when you've retired? When you're still working you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. Now I don't have to worry about tomorrow because it's here and I can sit back and reflect on the whole thing.
Q: What was it like writing a book? How did you and Terry Pluto work together on the process?
A: I've known Terry Pluto for a long, long time. I knew that if I were going to do this [write a book] Terry Pluto would be the only one I would consider. Working with Terry was fascinating . . . he's a bit of a psychologist. It was an enjoyable experience.
Q: What will fans learn about Joe Tait from reading this book?
A: I think they'll learn that there are very few overnight successes in this particular field and I think they may identify with the relationship that I had with my father, who was a very difficult person from time to time. There are little things that each reader will take away that hopefully they can identify with.
Q: Tell us how you began working for the Cavs.
A: I was announcing sports in a Monmouth, IL, and one of the coaches for a competing school in the same conference, Bill Fitch at Coe College, heard my work during the football season. When the Cavaliers brought him to Cleveland to be the head coach, the subject of finding a radio announcer popped up and it was agreed that they had to have somebody who could make a very bad basketball team sound exciting and interesting. Fitch remembered me from my days in Monmouth and he was the guy who recommended me to Nick Mileti.
Q: Did your first year with the Cavs live up to your expectations?
A: It was a new experience every time I turned around. The last year I was with the team, I didn't spend a lot of it broadcasting. I did spend a lot of it in a hospital bed. This year reminded me a lot of that first year because the first year, the Cavaliers were 15-67. We had some great times in the course of the Cavaliers campaigns over the years and we had some tough times as well. There weren't a lot of folks running the Cavaliers in the early days. I think we had a total of six people in the organization whereas now they couldn't open the door with fewer than 300.
Q: The Miracle Year has its own chapter in the book. There was even a record released with clips from your broadcasts. What made this year special to you?
A: It was the first year that we were actually a competitive team with a definite shot at winning the NBA championship, and I remember that even then we didn't win it. Jim Chones unfortunately broke his foot between the Washington and Boston series. There's no doubt in my mind that had he remained healthy they would have won it all that year.
Q: You left the Cavs briefly in 1981. What caused you to leave?
A: The answer to that question is very succinct: Ted Stepien. He would have made sure I didn't stay with the Cavaliers, but had I stayed I probably would have killed him. It is well that I went on to New Jersey and Chicago. Then, fortunately, Gordon Gund bought the team and Harry Weltman invited me to come back. I hadn't really left Cleveland completely because I was still doing the Indians during that span of time.
Q: Do you think this (1981) was the most difficult year for the Cavs and fans?
A: “Difficult” was being kind. The Stepien era was horrible. I was in Cleveland, announcing Chicago one night when they had 137 people in the Coliseum. If you look at it now you would wonder, how the heck did they get through it? The fact that the franchise survived is a great credit to the franchise itself.
Q: Do you think you hold a record for being associated with the Cavs organization?
A: I was with the Cavs longer than anybody else. There are a couple of guys in the front office who came very early on. As far as the Cavs go, I probably have the longevity record, but now it's something that somebody else can break.
Q: Why do you think you have had such sustainability in the Cleveland area?
A: I guess because I really didn't want to leave. A lot of people whom I have worked with who have been around in this town are looking hard to go someplace else. I never did. I was very happy to be here.
Q: You had the opportunity to leave Cleveland for much larger NBA markets. Why did you decide to say here?
A: I enjoy the people and had good friends here. It was a right fit. I think everyone in their lives, unless they are really downtrodden, find a spot that is really comfortable to them, where they know they belong. Sometimes it's tempting to get out of that, to find something bigger and better and that doesn't always work out. Cleveland was definitely the right fit for me.
Q: So, what do you think about LeBron James and his departure from the Cavs? Do you have an opinion on LeBron, his behavior, and ultimately his future with the NBA?
A: I never had a problem with LeBron the whole time he was here. But, LeBron was part of the trio of guys who decided to go to Miami and win a championship. I thought the way they did it was really a cheap shot and kind of reflected on their character. LeBron is a great basketball player. He is not a leader. He needs leadership from somebody else.
Q: People might not know you're a real train buff. How did this interest get started and what do you do today to keep up with this hobby?
A: My whole family, in fact, both sides of my family, were railroad oriented. I had grandfathers who worked on the railroad and nephews and uncles. I met a lot of my relatives when my dad would take me down to the railroad station and introduce me to this conductor and this breakman and fireman and engineer because we were all related. So I guess the fact that there is so much railroad in my background, going back to one of my ancestors, who actually assisted Robert Stevenson in helping build the first locomotive. So I am well-grounded in railroads.
Q: What are your plans for the near future?
A: To enjoy life, to enjoy my wife and have a good time doing other things. Staying at home and relaxing.
About Joe Tait
Joe Tait was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 after 40 years on the air as the radio voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was the play by play announcer from the team's first year, 1970, until his retirement in 2011 (except for two seasons: 1980–81 and 1981–82). He also did play-by-play for the Cleveland Indians for 15 seasons—on radio from 1973 to 1979 and on television from 1980 to 1987. He broadcast games for the Cleveland Rockers (WNBA basketball), Cleveland Crusaders (WHL hockey), Mount Union College football, and other teams. His final Cavaliers broadcast was on April 13, 2011. More About Joe Tait