Gordon Monson: In death, the Voice of Baseball in Utah will not be forgotten

The longtime Salt Lake Bees announcer died Tuesday at the age of 69.

“I love telling stories.”

Steve Klauke once said that, right before firing off five more great ones.

Talk about the perfect match of what a man loves and what he does, this was it.

And so, the tributes now are pouring in, as they should.

Steve Klauke’s death — three jarring words I never imagined I’d write in my own lifetime — on Tuesday morning at the age of 69 by way of an auto-pedestrian accident in Sandy the night before shocked the heart, mind, soul and especially the ears of anyone who ever heard him on the mic during a game. He retired from a long broadcasting career in September. That was sad enough. This … this is a goodbye too painful and permanent to bear.

His delivery from any sporting event — baseball, in particular — made him seem to be what Steve actually was — a good friend. Spending a summer night listening to the rhythmic cadence of his voice on a radio broadcast of a Buzz/Stingers/Bees game was … well, it was the definition of comfort.

A world, even a sports world, full up with the opposite of good comfort made what Klauke did stand out like the soothing feel of sitting back in a seat swing on a porch, chugging a frosty-cold mug of Granddad’s old-fashioned home-brewed root beer on a buzzard-hot July or August evening. His call went down smooth, like — win or lose — everything was going to be all right.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Steve Klauke gives the play-by-play of the Salt Lake Bee's baseball game, on Thursday, June 1, 2023.

The foundational ingredient of that mix, what came across clear with every Klauke breath, was his encyclopedic knowledge of Babe Ruth’s game. He knew darn near everything about it. How do I know this? Because I put Klauke to the test, the Bobby Wine test. Who’s Bobby Wine? Exactly.

Nobody remembers the fine-fielding, light-hitting, mostly-inconsequential infielder for the Philadelphia Phillies back in the 1960s. I knew of him because I grew up near Philadelphia, a fan of the Phils, and once got his autograph alongside a bunch of other kids.

But Klauke wasn’t nobody. During a radio show I hosted with him, I sought to measure the true depths of his baseball knowledge by mentioning Wine. Klauke’s immediate response went something like this: “Oh, uh-huh, Bobby would have had a much better career had he not suffered from back problems. Good glove, strong arm. Won a Gold Glove in ‘63, I think it was. And went on to be a solid bench coach.”

Yeah, you don’t mess with the master.

And that’s precisely what Klauke was in the booth. He did Weber State football and basketball games, some fill-in Jazz games, a few games for the Los Angeles Angels, but he was legendary for his role with Salt Lake’s Triple-A team.

He said he wanted to “express” games in a manner that allowed listeners to beam images of what was happening on the field up on the big screens in their brains, to make minor league players, those on their way to stardom and those whose dreams would die in the bushes, more than just names that would pass in the night.

“I’ve tried to say things that help people paint those pictures,” he said. “I try to make the players more than just a name and a number.”

So he told their stories, told his stories. Thousands of them.

For three decades.

Three stories, on this occasion, can represent the rest.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Steve Klauke gives the play-by-play of the Salt Lake Bee's baseball game, on Thursday, June 1, 2023.

Growing up on Chicago’s Northside, Klauke attended Cubs and White Sox games, although for some reason he could never fully explain, he favored the Sox. Listening to games broadcast by famed Chicago sportscaster Jack Brickhouse, he decided as a youngster that he, too, would become a play-by-play voice. Years later, as Klauke’s career started to blossom, he met Brickhouse, asking him for whatever advice the veteran could share.

“He gave me the best advice I ever got,” said Klauke. “He said, ‘No matter how bad a day you’re having, never bring it on the air, because listeners are tuning in to escape their own problems.’”

Another one: When Klauke was in elementary school in 1967, he went with classmates and their teacher to a Dodgers-Cubs game. When his teacher asked his students if they wanted to meet legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, he said, “Sure.”

The ever-classy Scully spoke kindly with Klauke and then went on his way.

Seven years ago, when Klauke, now an established play-by-play man himself, met Scully again, this time during spring training, Scully said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

As Klauke told the story, he informed the Dodgers legend that the two had, in fact, met before: “You know, Vin, this isn’t the first time we’ve met. I met you as a kid in 1967 at a Cubs-Dodgers game.”

Scully looked Klauke over and responded: “And you haven’t changed a bit.”

One last story told by Steve. Salt Lake pitcher Toby Borland had a routine, no, a ritual, he went through every time he took the mound. He removed his cap, took a knee, said a quick prayer, stood up, put his cap back on, scratched the dirt behind the rubber twice, once as a tribute to his father who had recently passed away, and once in memory of his 4-year-old son who had died in the awful clutches of brain cancer.

Never again would Borland take the mound as some random name and number.

Like a lot of the players he talked about during games, Klauke never made it on a lasting basis to the majors. He interviewed for MLB broadcast jobs on a number of occasions, but was never hired. He should have been, but never was — all to Salt Lake City’s gain.

“The opportunity just hasn’t come,” he told me a year before he retired.

But he added: “It’s still baseball.”

And Steve Klauke was still Steve Klauke, forever the Voice of Baseball in Utah.

“I love the game,” he said. “I just love going to the ballpark.”