"Meeting Joe Tait"
In the new book "Joe Tait: It's Been a Real Ball" (softcover / $15.95 / 264 pages), Terry Pluto teams up with legendary broadcaster Joe Tait to tell the story of Tait's four-decade career as "the Voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers" and as a play-by-play announcer for the Cleveland Indians and other local teams. The book also includes personal recollections from dozens of Tait's fans and colleagues. In this excerpt Joe Tait fans share their own stories of meeting Joe. Purchase Online at CavaliersTeamShop.com
Meeting Joe Tait
[FANS WRITE IN]
I was a local high school play-by-play announcer for many years in the Zanesville area. One year, my partner, Mark Todd, and I traveled to Cleveland to do one of the high school games the Cavs would have before one of their own. After our game was over, we ventured to the media room to grab a meal before finding our seats for the Cavs game. Mark was hoping to meet Joe. As we sat eating, Mark kept glancing around, waiting for Joe to enter. When he did, Mark just sat there in awe as the Cavs legend made his way around the room to talk with the regulars. He didn't or couldn't have a clue who we were . . . and it was just an honor to listen to him.
The room began to empty as tipoff was nearing, but Joe still hovered around. As we began to get up to make the trek to our seats up in the nosebleed section, Joe turned to us and asked us how we were doing. We explained we were there for a high school game, and it sure was a pleasure to meet him.
It was then that his eyes widened. "Did you guys get to try the brownies? They're to DIE for!"
With that, he turned and began his own walk to his broadcast perch.
Mark and I don't do the broadcasts anymore, and we don't get to see each other very often. But when we do, at least at some point, we reference "They're to DIE for!" in our conversation.
-Jim Rudloff, Zanesville, Ohio
My father, Dave (Westie) Westphal worked for the Cleveland Cavs in Richfield and then in Cleveland. He was in sales in Premium Seating. When I was little, my Dad would take me to all of the home Cavs games on Friday night. We'd walk around greeting his clients. We'd often wave to Joe, and he would wave back. In grade school, I did a report on sports broadcasting. My Dad got me an official interview with Joe. It was great sitting in his Richfield office. Shortly thereafter, as my sister and I were going to bed, my Dad turned up the radio in the house and played a "play-by-play" tape Joe made for me. It was me, out on the court vs. Michael Jordan. My favorite line was: "Dan 'The Man' Westphal, playing like a man here tonight at the Richfield Coliseum." My father passed away in 2001. Seeing and hearing Joe brings nothing but warm feelings about my Dad.
-Dan Westphal, Hudson, Ohio
In 1973, I wrote a letter to Joe asking if I could interview him for my school newspaper. I was thrilled to receive a handwritten reply telling me absolutely . . . let him know the date. He'd meet me at the Cleveland Arena entrance and make me his guest for the evening. My dad took me to the game. I tagged along as Joe completed his rounds, including a pregame, taped interview with Bill Fitch. I spent the game next to Joe at the scorer's table, so close to the Cavs bench that I could hear Fitch imploring his troops and cracking wise from time to time in the huddle. Joe could not have been more gracious. When I got home, I wrote my rather starry-eyed profile, which appeared in the next issue of our school paper.
A few years later, I was attending college in Southern California and caught a Cavs game at the Forum against the Lakers. A half hour before the game, I spotted Joe at the visiting broadcasters table, just a few rows from where I was sitting. I went over and introduced myself. He not only remembered me but greeted me like I was an old friend.
He asked how I was and what I was doing. I later heard from friends back in Ohio that he sent a personal hello from me to Cavs fans listening on the radio.
-Tom Delamater, North Canton, Ohio
I met Joe Tait in the middle of a snowstorm at the end of February 1990 when I was in college at Bowling Green State University. The campus radio station, WFAL, carried the Cavs games and brought Tait to BG to meet fans at a downtown sporting goods store.
The problem: It was snowing that night. Really hard.
There was no way to know in advance if the event was cancelled. Two of my friends and I set out to make the long walk from our residence hall to downtown Bowling Green. It was a 20-minute walk on a good day. The snow kept piling up. By the time we got there, I was pretty well convinced Tait would not be able to make it to the event.
When we got to the store, the organizers told us he was still coming, so we waited. The snow kept the size of the crowd small, but there were a few fans there to see him. His car pulled up a little late, but the snow didn't stop him. He entered the store as jovial and pleasant as he always is on the air.
I shook his hand and told him that listening to his broadcasts started me off as a lifelong Indians fan.
"Don't blame that on me," he joked.
I had one of the fliers for the event for him to autograph. After he signed it, I folded it up and put it in my coat pocket so it didn't get wet in the snow on the walk back to the dorm. The little folded-up flyer stayed in my coat pocket until about a year ago, when I cleaned out my closet and donated the coat to Goodwill. The flyer is in surprisingly good shape. It is a little dog-eared and faded, but everything is clearly legible.
-Jefferson Wolfe, Dumfries, Virginia
I put the gutters on Joe's house in Lakewood many years ago. When we got the work order, his name was spelled Tate. We got to his house and set up our ladders. No one appeared to be home. While we were on the ladders, we heard his voice saying hello. Being a HUGE FAN of his and the Cavs, we almost fell off the ladders on our way down to meet him.
He was very gracious to us and signed autographs for us. When we were done, he brought out lemonade and we talked for a while. He also set us up with free tickets.
-William J. Wall, Macedonia, Ohio
I was in Seneca Allegany Casino for a night in May after working in New York for a couple of days, and I ran into Joe at the casino. I introduced myself as being from Cleveland. He said he was there to celebrate his anniversary with his wife . . . and the Cavs would come back after a loss to the Celtics in the playoffs. Later, while I was having a dinner at the steak restaurant by myself, Joe had approached me. He invited me to join him and his wife for dinner. I was speechless and told him "Thanks for the offer," but it was his anniversary dinner. What a nice gesture, and I'll never forget it.
-Kevin Madell, Parma Heights, Ohio
I went to Bowling Green State University from 1992 to '96. Joe would visit the campus, set up stage at a bar and tell stories all night long. It was like grandkids asking their grandpa to tell them the same story over and over again.
"Mr. Tait, could you tell the Gary Suiter story again?"
I had a friend who was a big Danny Ferry fan and would ask Joe about Danny every time. Joe would say, "I remember you!"
As for the Gary Suiter story, it was when he got his first chance to start, and at tipoff time, he was out getting a hot dog.
-Mike Wallace, Mentor, Ohio
When I was 8 years old in 1988, we had just moved to Philadelphia from Cleveland. My family had lived in Ohio for generations, so the concept of being "away from home" was very new to us. My father surprised us one day by getting tickets to see the 76ers play the Cavaliers at the Spectrum. My dad typed up a little message, doubting his plan to give it to Joe in the press box would actually work. Joe not only took the time to speak to my father, he read my dad's message on the air to our friends and family back in Cleveland who were listening.
-Brian Klein, Orange Park, Florida
I have been listening to Joe for as long as he has been here in Cleveland, with the Cavs and the Indians. But I really felt a special bond with him last year when he and I both had heart problems. It was his last radio broadcast, so I headed over to meet him before the Cavs game at The Q. I told him how much I appreciated his many years as a broadcaster and shook his hand. As he started to release his grip, I held onto his hand and said, "Joe, I had a heart attack last year, just like you. I will pray for you, and you keep plugging away!" I will treasure his autograph and the memory of that night.
-Vince Granieri, Cincinnati, Ohio
During Shawn Kemp's first year in Cleveland, my father bought a four-game ticket package. During our final game, a member of the Cavaliers staff met with us and mentioned as a token of their appreciation of the ticket package, we would have the chance of meeting a Cavaliers player and getting his autograph. My favorite player at the time was Zydrunas Ilgauskas. My father asked if we could have the chance to meet Joe Tait instead. I knew who Joe Tait was at the time, but being only 12, I didn't realize how much of a legend he was. I was in awe at how down to earth Joe was. He was super friendly with us. He thanked us for being fans and enjoying his broadcasts. Looking back, I feel lucky having met Joe and knowing my first Cavaliers autograph was his.
-Joshua Czech, Hartville, Ohio
During a noon sports call-in show on WOSU-AM, an NPR affiliate in Columbus, I called Joe. I thought I'd play "stump the guest" and catch Joe Tait off guard by asking him for a story on one of the most obscure Cavs ever – Edgar Jones. Jones played two totally and utterly uneventful years for the Cavs from 1984 to '86. He specialized in coming off the bench to dunk the ball in a spectacular way to get a rise out of a crowd that had long since given up caring about the outcome of the game, which was a foregone conclusion.
Joe Tait didn't miss a beat, sharing a story with such obvious relish that the listener quickly got to the core of Edgar's strange and unique character. Jones was on scholarship to the University of Nevada . . . Reno. He showed up at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on the first day of practice and boldly and loudly guaranteed coach Jerry Tarkanian a national championship. The setup was perfect for Joe Tait to be the voice of coach Jerry Tarkanian, who had no idea who Jones was. He calmly explained the difference between Las Vegas and Reno to the bewildered 6-10 basketball player . . . a difference that goes beyond the 450 miles separating the two campuses of the University of Nevada. The story was delivered in classic deadpan, and you could hear the host, Bill Menner, in the background trying to keep it together as he had more calls to take.
-Richard Sheir, Montpelier, Vermont
Hearing from you that Joe doesn't email, I sent him a letter. It stated how I live in Atlanta, and to this day, when I play basketball with my kids, I always break into a radio call of Joe's from the Miracle in Richfield. I can't help it – when I make a long shot, it is the Bingo call, or if I rebound a ball and put it back in, it is the Cleamons call.
Or, "Sets, sights, shoots, good!"
I got a letter handwritten to me from the Sacramento Hilton. What is this? I don't know a soul from there. Joe wrote me back and used the stationery from his hotel. I still have the letter. He was so nice, he told me the next time the Cavs were in town to come down to his broadcast table and say hello.
I did, and he was so nice. I had a bunch of Cavs questions for him, but he kept asking about what I am doing in Atlanta and my job. He was more interested in my life, that I could not ask him questions about the Cavs. I felt like I was talking to a long lost uncle who had this vast knowledge about the Cavs instead of a radio announcer for the team.
I can honestly say, Joe's handwritten letter was the last one that I have received in the mail to this day!
-Mark McLaughlin, Sandy Springs, Georgia
In the 1970s, when the Cavs were battling Washington, my friends and I went five hours early to a game at the old Coliseum. We set up the grill and downed a few cold ones. A car came near us. We thought it was the police telling us to leave. To our surprise, it was Joe. He jumped out of the car, chowed down a hot dog and shot the breeze for a few minutes. To us, that truly was the Miracle at Richfield!
-Gary Leininger, Salem, Ohio
I met Joe at a Cavaliers-Nuggets game in Denver around 2000 or 2001. It was hard to miss his colorful sweater. I tried to head down to floor level as the game ended but was intercepted by a female stadium attendant and sent to the exit.
When I turned to see her heading in a different direction, I made my move and bolted down to courtside. I told someone down there that I was a huge fan and wanted to say hello. I did shake Joe's hand. I had a flurry of memories and jumbles of what I wanted to say to him floating in my head as I did so. I managed to mutter that I remembered him announcing Indians games with Bruce Drennan. He acknowledged.
What I really wanted to say to Joe was how much he meant to me as a child. How, fatherless and usually alone, I would sit and listen to his broadcasts of Indians and Cavaliers during the '70s and '80s. My life revolved around games on the radio. I listened to every play, on the couch or in bed, and always with a losing team. I wanted to tell Joe that he was, without him or me realizing it, about the closest thing to a father figure that I ever had.
I knew I could count on him to be there, to make his familiar calls, "Footsie dribbles the ball down past the time line and into the frontcourt."
Or, "It's a beautiful day for baseball!"
Or, "And have a good night, everybody."
Thanks, Joe, for being there.
-Mike Pies, Longmont, Colorado
I attended Bowling Green State University. Joe would come to M.T. Muggs for a trivia night. In 1992, my friends and I got to the bar four hours early for the show. We had to have the front table. Joe always brought plenty of "terrific items" to give away for the correct trivia answers. This year, there were two big items: an autographed pair of Larry Nance sneakers and two tickets to the Lakers game.
The Nance shoes were being given away to the best trivia question given to Joe from the audience. When it came around to me to ask Joe a trivia question, I asked, "What do you think of Whitey's Restaurant?"
I knew Joe loved the place since his picture was plastered all over it.
Joe said, "Son, you may have just won the shoes. That is where I met my wife."
But, alas, I didn't win the shoes.
It came time to give away the Lakers tickets, and Joe made sure not to have an easy question. The question was, when the Lakers come to town, a member of their organization will be honored at the game. Who will it be? Everyone was yelling out former players (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pat Riley).
I had to think . . . OK . . . he said "organization," so it doesn't have to be a player. Who has been with the Lakers a long time? I raised my hand and said "Chick Hearn." He said, "You are correct."
Chick Hearn was being honored for his 2,500th broadcast.
Joe said I couldn't win both the tickets and the shoes.
I went to the Lakers game with my girlfriend (now wife). Before the game, we went to Joe's perch at the old Richfield Coliseum. Joe was busy getting ready for his broadcast. I am sure at least a thousand people try to talk to him before the game.
I yelled, "Mr. Tait."
Without stopping his work, Joe says "What?"
I said, "Thank you for the tickets."
Joe stopped what he was doing, turned around, saw me and my girlfriend. He came over, laughing, and shook my hand. That act, to me, is why Joe is so loved by everyone.
-Mark Struhar, Lakewood, Ohio
In 2003, I was a freshman place-kicker at Mount Union. We were playing Muskingum on homecoming weekend. Joe was and still is heavily involved in Purple Raiders activities, one of which is calling the games on the radio.
In the second half, I was called on to kick an extra point. On the word of a relative who was listening to the game, Joe said something to this effect: "Ed Dick is coming out to kick the extra point. Looks more like a linebacker than a kicker."
I presume this was due to my bigger build and larger shoulder pads, as Mount recruited me as a safety. The kick was good to boot. I feel privileged to have had Joe Tait put his signature spin on something relating to me like he has done for the superstars of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Indians. My family recalls that story from time to time, and it will be with me forever.
-Ed Dick, Brunswick, Ohio
In 1969, I had just graduated from Benedictine High School, where I played hockey. In the fall, I enrolled at Cleveland State, and I went about starting a hockey team at CSU. We scraped together a group of student hockey enthusiasts to form a club sport at the school. We played our games at the old Arena on Euclid Avenue. I did not have the talent to make the final roster, but I became the team's manager.
Joe was the radio voice of the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League, and we played a game before the regularly scheduled Barons games. Somehow, we were given time between periods for Joe to interview someone from the CSU team, and I was selected. To say I was scared to death would have been an understatement. Joe, the consummate professional, treated my interview as if he were talking to the commissioner of the NHL.
-Ken Bubnick, Broadview Heights, Ohio
Joe spoke at an APICS meeting many years ago. As a token of appreciation, the group presented him with a beautiful mantel clock. After he opened the gift and admired it, he said, "I have a perfect spot for this in my bedroom," to which someone in the back of the room said, "Joe, it's not a 24-second clock!" You just had to be there!!
-Robert Buzzard, Olmsted Falls, Ohio
I didn't actually meet Joe (this time), but I was at a luncheon honoring Herb Score where Joe was one of the speakers. He was sitting on the end. When it was his turn to speak about Herb, Joe said something like, "If someone had told me that someday I would be asking (a famous player) to tell (another famous player) to pass the butter, I would have said he was crazy."
-Bob Rodman, Homerville, Ohio
I met Joe Tait twice in my life, both times at a music store. Joe was looking the classical music section over and seemed to be studying the music very hard. I approached him, and he was very polite, saying hello both times.
-Jim Buchanan, Bay Village, Ohio
I first met Joe Tait on my 6th birthday, during the pregame warm-up before a Cavs game against the Buffalo Braves in 1976. Being the day after Christmas, I had brought a tin of my mother's homemade Christmas cookies to give to him, along with a card addressed to "Joe Tate." I used to take my transistor into the Coliseum to listen to Joe call the games, so I got to hear him thank me on air at halftime.
It was such a thrill to hear Joe say my name on the radio that it never even crossed my mind that I might have misspelled his name.
Years later, while in college, I wrote to Joe to belatedly thank him for acknowledging me on the air and to apologize for my gaffe. He sent back to me a glorious little autographed picture, which now hangs framed on a wall in my living room.
Back in those days, some of my friends and I in the dorms would tape record many of Joe's broadcasts off the radio and then trade them around in the same way that Dead Heads trade live recordings of Grateful Dead concerts.
A few years ago, I wrote to Joe to express my appreciation for all his work over the years and for the courtesy that he had shown me in the past. Once again, Joe responded graciously, with a two-page handwritten letter that he mailed to me to my home in Asia.
-Shawn Kelley, Olmsted Township, Ohio
I waited to get an autograph from Joe in 1973 at the old Arena after a Cavs game. I waited behind his seat on the hockey boards and got him to sign my autograph. I remember Joe's scorebooks going from steno notebooks to those big "record" books that accountants had to the big notebooks to the final portfolio, but one thing was constant with Joe: THAT BIC FOUR-COLOR PEN!!!
He used that model until his final broadcast. Almost 40 years, he used that same style of pen.
-Evan Meyer, Brecksville, Ohio
Excerpted from the book "Joe Tait: It's Been a Real Ball" (c) 2011 by Joe Tait and Terry Pluto. All rights reserved. This text may not be reproduced in any form or manner without written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers. The book is available at the Cavs Team Shop at The Q. For more information, call the publisher at 1-800-915-3609 or visit their web site: grayco.com