Stephen Tsai: Elder Robbs, Leahey to be honored where they were a team

Mar. 26—Les Murakami Stadium, which turned 40 last month, is one of the wonders of Hawaii.

Les Murakami Stadium, which turned 40 last month, is one of the wonders of Hawaii.

Completed for $12 million in 1983, the University of Hawaii stadium is considered one of college baseball's best venues. Each of the 4, 312 individual seats has an unobstructed view of the field and most of Diamond Head.

But for all the stadium's amenities—covered seats, Warrior dogs, garlic fries and four no-touch restrooms—some of the best ways to enjoy a UH baseball game are during car rides, doing yard work, at Big City Diner, or sitting in the living room's La-Z-Boy.

Telecasts and broadcasts enable fans to experience Rainbow Warrior games without actually being at the games. And for decades, play-by-play announcers Don Robbs and Jim Leahey were among the greatest at calling and describing the action.

This Thursday, Les Murakami Stadium's press booth will be named in honor of Robbs and Leahey. It is a deserving tribute to announcers who were narrators to many of the'Bows' most memorable moments. Both already are inductees in UH's Circle of Honor. Robbs retired in 2016. Leahey died last year.

Robbs, who grew up in Minnesota, began a 60-year broadcasting career as a disc jockey while attending St. Cloud State University. Later, Robbs was an executive director with PBS Hawaii and news director for radio stations. But when it was decided the 1977 West Regional would be played at Aloha Stadium, that opened the way for Robbs to call UH baseball games. Robbs convinced KHVH owner Bob Berger to secure the broadcasting rights to the regional. Part of the plan was Robbs would be the play-by-play announcer.

"When we started this, I did it just thinking we would try to get the rights to the first regional that was ever held at Aloha Stadium, " Robbs recalled. "That was as far as I was going with it. I wasn't a sports guy. I was a baseball fan and I did some (Hawaii ) Islander baseball before that. I didn't expect that. It just kept going and going. My real jobs kept changing and changing. And there you are, 40 years later ..."

Except for serving as host of the Easter Seals Telethon, Robbs announced all the UH baseball games, home and away, for the first 37 years. The next three years until his retirement, he called only the home games because of medical issues.

Robbs called every pitch of left-handed sensation Derek Tatsuno's 20-win season in 1979, and then announced the'Bows' drive to the championship game of the 1980 College World Series. He has kept his scorebooks, all charted in ink, using a fine-point, ballpoint pen. Make a mistake, scratch it out. "It worked for, like, 2, 000-plus games, " Robbs said.

Robbs was an astute talent evaluator. He is credited with launching the careers of Bobby Curran and Robert Kekaula, both Circle of Honor members. He also convinced a former UH baseball player to relinquish his jewelry business to pursue a broadcasting career. "I'll give it a shot, " Robbs recalled of Howard Dashefsky's response. "Howard turned out to be very good at it."

Of his own career, Robbs said, "I called a lot of interesting, fun games. I called some really bad games. But the best memory has to be the (1980 ) College World Series."

Leahey brought the same diligence and wit to UH telecasts as he did when he taught at Campbell High or delivered the play-by-play for family Wiffle Ball games in the makeshift "stadium " in his backyard.

Leahey had the ability to treat every UH game as an episodic drama. Watch any of his baseball telecasts on YouTube, and each will have a stand-alone storyline that does not need any "previously on ..." setups.

"He was a word merchant, " said baseball analyst Pal Eldredge, who was Leahey's telecast partner for 33 seasons. "He had a great delivery, great voice, great command of what he wanted to say."

There were technical glitches and a construction issue in which Leahey and Eldredge had to stand for an entire 3-hour-plus game. But Leahey never let any distraction bleed into the telecast. "He was a professional, " Eldredge said. "He never held a grudge."

Behind the gruff exterior, Leahey was a softy. At the Grand Sierra Hotel in Reno, he approached a group of bikers. Leahey, who also owned a Harley, learned the bikers were military veterans. He shook their hands, then paid for their breakfast. Every year he received aloha shirts ; at the end of the year, he donated them. He signed up for the Asian American Journalists Association, then served as the commissioner of the organization's media basketball league. He volunteered as an umpire for youth baseball tournaments.

He adhered to two rules. The first : It is better to do right than to be right.

"He said to call it like it is and always tell the truth, " Eldredge said of Leahey's on-air rule. "Whatever you see, you make the call on it. Whether people like it or not."