Bob Robertson ranks among the Northwest’s greatest sportscasters. The longtime University Place resident is preparing to get back behind the microphone for some games with the Tacoma Rainiers. Robertson will be back on the radio this season for Monday home games, doing color commentary in the booth with the team’s announcer Mike Curto. Games are broadcast on KHHO AM 850.
Robertson was the team’s radio announcer from 1984, when they were known as the Tacoma Tigers, through 1998.
Last year the team was purchased by The Baseball Club of Tacoma, a group of 15 business partners led by Mikal Thomsen. He grew up in University Place and graduated from Curtis High School.
George Foster owned the team when Robertson was the announcer. He eventually sold the club to Texas-based Schlegel Sports Group. Robertson left on less than ideal terms. He said Foster could be odd at times. “He was quite a character,” he said. “He appointed himself to the color guy on broadcasts when he felt like it.”
Foster would sometimes pop into the booth, take part in the broadcast for a few innings, then leave to attend to other matters in the ballpark.
Curto replaced Robertson, who said he enjoys hearing him call games. “He works his craft. He has matured into the job.”
Robertson took a position with the Spokane Chiefs in the A level Northwest League. He left after the 2010 season, but will appear on the radio on selected games with their main announcer. Robertson will be in Spokane for the home opener and will work on road games in cities west of the Cascades.
Robertson follows the Seattle Mariners, for whom the Rainiers are the triple A affiliate, to a certain extent. He keeps up on the young players coming through the farm system. “We have always had good players come through Tacoma.”
Seattle Sports Association recently presented Robertson with the Keith Jackson Award, named after the legendary ABC college football television announcer. “It is my Oscar,” he quipped.
“It is nice to win awards. It means someone out there likes you and what you are doing.”
FROM THE FIELD TO THE BOOTH
Robertson was born in Fullerton, Calif. during spring training while his father played for the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League. His father was born in Canada and entered that nation’s military during World War II. Robertson lived in Saskatoon for most of the war years.
The family moved to Point Roberts, Wash., right along the Canadian border. He graduated from high school in nearby Blaine. His dream was to play baseball at the Major League level. He attended Western Washington University until Portland’s PCL team signed him. Playing ball got derailed by a job offer to be radio announcer for the Wenatchee Chiefs of the old Western International League.
“I wondered for a number of years if I made the right decision,” he said.
Most would say he did.
That short stint in Wenatchee launched quite a career. Robertson called Notre Dame football for a few years in the 1950s. He worked at the old KSTW Channel 11 in Tacoma for more than 20 years as sports anchor. He was the original radio announcer for the first Seattle Sounders of the long-defunct North American Soccer League.
The job he is most closely associated with is calling Washington State Cougar football. He started in 1964. After five years a radio network contract changed and he called Washington Husky football for three years. Then he returned to the Cougars, a position he still holds. The Apple Cup last November was his 508th broadcast of Cougar football.
For the past 12 years Robertson has called men’s and women’s basketball conference games for Pacific Lutheran University. These air on KLAY 1180 AM. Both squads play home and away games on the same days. He usually travels with them on a team bus. “They are well behaved, except their movies are loud,” he said with a chuckle.
Washington State generated much interest last fall when they fired head coach Paul Wulff and replaced him with Mike Leach, who had a great run of success during the 10 years he coached at Texas Tech.
“Bill Moos (WSU athletic director) was hired to create some excitement. He certainly has done that.”
Robertson is learning more about the high-profile coach. He began reading Leach’s book. He got halfway through, then his son borrowed it. He briefly met Leach at a recent event in Seattle. Robertson will go to Pullman sometime before the Cougars’ spring game to spend some time with the coach.
The influx of massive amounts of money has greatly impacted college sports. Robertson said that during football season kickoff times are determined by whether a game will be televised. “We do not know until 10 days before when a game will start,” he said. “It is an interesting transformation.” He noted that the Cougars used to be on TV once or twice a season. “Now they tell you what to do,” he said of TV networks. “They run the show.”
Robertson’s signature phrase, which he uses at the conclusion of his broadcasts, is “Always be a good sport, be a good sport all ways.” He came up with it in the late 1940s, when all the radio announcers had a unique statement. He considered a few, discarding them when he realized someone else was already using them. Robertson considered it a clever play on words. “It worked. No one else was using it.”