Review: Joe Tait: It's Been a Real Ball

Joe Tait: It's Been a Real Ball, by Terry Pluto and Joe Tait

So what am I doing reviewing a Joe Tait biography? Tait, after all, is known for broadcasting Cavaliers games, and is in the media wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame. But he did also broadcast Indians games on the radio on television during the 1970s and early 80s, and those days are covered extensively as well.

The book is not written in first-person, but in third-person form (in other words, in co-author Terry Pluto's voice), which I think was a good move. It allowed Pluto to write a history of that era of Cleveland sports, with Tait as the common thread. Interspersed through the book are collections of anecdotes from fans, as well as short chapters written by those who worked with Joe during his broadcast career.

The most interesting parts of the book for me were those dealing with the 1970s and early 1980s, partly because I wasn't around to experience it, but also because Joe was involved with both the Cavs and Indians at that time. I didn't know about the controversy with Tait and Frank Robinson (Tait filled in for Pete Franklin on WWWE, and Tait was critical of Robinson - and this was while Tait was broadcasting Indians games on the radio) or just how bad the early days of the Cavaliers were. I also didn't know that Bob Neal was such a prima donna (among other things). 

For a time Tait did both Cavaliers and Indians on the radio, which is an amazing feat considering how many games there are to do between the NBA and MLB seasons.  He was the radio voice of the Indians from 1973-1979, and was the play-by-play man on television from 1980-1987 (keeping in mind that usually less than half of the games were on TV). So through the mid 1980s, he was just as involved with the Indians as the Cavaliers.

But of course, his relationship with the Cavaliers defined his broadcast career, and he quickly became synonymous with the team. When it was apparent that Ted Stepien (who has to be the worst owner in the history of American professional sports) would force Joe Tait out, the fans organized an informal "Goodbye Joe Tait" night, drawing over 20,000 fans for the last of the 1980-1981 season, almost double the normal attendance. When Gordon Gund began to pick up the pieces of the franchise two years later, perhaps his most important move was bringing Tait back.

The meat of the book is Tait's first decade or so with Cavs, from the days of Bill Fitch to the Ted Stepien debacle, and those chapters alone make the book worth getting. But that isn't a knock on the rest of the book; the sections on Tait's Indians days are fascinating, as is his early career in radio. But the chapters covering Joe's later career were rather sparse, so don't expect to read a lot about the Price/Nance/Daugherty or Mike Fratello teams. LeBron James was covered, though, including Joe's thoughts about "The Decision."

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.

Joe Tait: It's Been a Real Ball is available at NE Ohio bookstores, Amazon.com, and BN.com. You can visit the book's website here, which includes a schedule of book signings by Joe. I received a free preview copy from the publisher.

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