Even the most dedicated archivist of Spokane baseball history could be excused for overlooking this pivotal moment in a storied baseball career.
One spring in the early 1970s, the Ferris High junior varsity sent a sophomore lefty – Tom Hutyler – to the mound against North Central.
Hutyler had played outfield and first base, but this was his first opportunity to demonstrate his command on the hill. Of course, it’s unwise to make snap judgments on any young hurler’s potential on such limited evidence, but his stats line that afternoon was convincing: eight runs surrendered in two-thirds of an inning.
It set him off on the early steps of a brilliant career. Not as a pitcher, of course, but as an announcer.
For the past 36 years, through thousands of games, the sonorous Hutyler has served up pleasantly rendered information over the PA system for the Seattle Mariners. Lineups, batteries, substitutions … his is the voice echoing through the park. Having started in 1987 in the cavernous Kingdome, Hutyler is one of the longest-tenured PA announcers in the major leagues (Dan Baker of Philadelphia is in his 50th year).
“I go into every game hoping I can bring some excitement to the fans, whether it’s a small crowd or a large crowd like we’ve been having (recently),” Hutyler said. “I feed off the crowd kind of like the players do.”
From David Aardsma to Tony Zych, Hutyler has introduced them all, with challenges ranging from the simple Seth Smith to the octosyllabic Shigetoshi Hasegawa. He relies on a variety of phonic “stuff,” employing the trilled R’s for a Franklin Gut-i-errrrez (thank you, high school Spanish) and the dramatically sustained sibilants for Nelson Cruzzzzz.
He’s most asked, when in public, to recreate his trademark Ken Griff-ey JUNE-yore call.
His instrument is not a gaudy Barry White basso, but more of a pleasant rumble, like a distant temblor, or somebody shooting pool in your basement. One reporter labeled him “the voice of God,” but he’s not intimidating, sounding perhaps more like one of the mellower disciples.
The pipes were a gift, he said, and while the baseball coaches may not have envisioned a future for Hutyler, an English teacher his junior year did, as she asked him to read aloud every class because she enjoyed the sound of his voice.
With that voice, you should get into radio, he was told.
Hutyler already had been influenced in that direction by Herb Hunter, the radio play-by-play man for the Spokane Indians, covering live action at home games and fabricating a narrative off a teletype feed when the Indians were on the road.
“He was just so good,” Hutyler recalled, having spent so many summer evenings with the radio. The Indians in the early ’70s were the Triple-A farm club of the Dodgers, with Tommy Lasorda managing the likes of Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Tom Paciorek and Bill Russell. Hutyler was seized by the drama of it all.
Before graduating from high school, Hutyler started working for KJRB, a top-40 music station, and continued on that path rather than accepting a journalism scholarship to Washington State. He headed to KJR in Seattle. Daily radio has always been his steady day job, and he is surprised when baseball fans ask what he does with his free time in the offseason.
In 1984, he got a chance to work with another huge influence on his career, Bob Robertson. He was asked to do color commentary for the WSU Cougar football games with Robertson that season.
“He was the best, couldn’t have been more gracious, being a mentor, showing me the ropes,” Hutyler said. “Bob’s ways were very much based on his principles. And when I heard that voice, it meant fall to me.”
Having filled in on the Mariners’ PA job on occasion, Hutyler was offered the position full time in 1987. As the franchise pulled itself out of a long slogging struggle toward the mid-1990s, Hutyler came to become friends with the players who would lead the emergence – Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner. And as he announced the magical run at the end of the 1995 season, Hutyler was personally touched.
“It was so exciting to have these guys get their just desserts,” he said. “That was truly amazing, from the size of the crowds to how vocal they were and how into it the whole city was.”
The surging Mariners of 2022 “evoke some memories of the ’95 team … they truly seem to absolutely love playing with each other and are as together of a group as you could find.”
As the stadium has been re-energized this season, Hutyler has talked to friends about “how much Dave (Niehaus) would have loved the run they’re on now. He’d be absolutely giddy about it.”
Hutyler said he still deeply misses Niehaus, the late, iconic play-by-play radio announcer. “There was nobody like him,” Hutyler said.
How better to judge the legacy of an old-guard pro like Hutyler than by consulting those whom he has influenced.
“Tom was totally the soundtrack of my youth,” said Matt Pittman, PA announcer of the Golden State Warriors, current NBA champions. Pittman first attended a Mariners game at the Kingdome when he was 10, and “I was instantly fascinated by Tom’s voice, it was so unique. I would emulate him at home.”
Pittman went on to work at KOMO radio with Hutyler for six years. “Getting a chance to work with Tom was so cool. He also is one of the funniest humans on the planet.”
Now 65, the versatile Hutyler continues to work at KNWN radio and occasionally performs as a singer/guitar player at local clubs while also doing voice-over work.
Just don’t ask him to pitch.
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