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A Distinction That Speaks Loudly For ‘The Voice of the Bulldogs’



College Baseball Central complements its coverage of Southeastern Conference baseball by returning our feature series on Mississippi State's Ron Polk Ring of Honor. Now in its sixth class since 2019, CBC writers Doug Kyle and Bo Carter team up again to provide insight into the 2024 class of honorees, infielder Charles "Buddy" Myer, broadcaster Jim Ellis, and pitcher Bobby Reed. Today, we profile a longtime storyteller of college baseball whose own story has now become part of the legacy, Jim Ellis, fittingly interviewed by someone with whom he shared many press boxes over the years.


By Bo Carter


STARKVILLE, MS – Little did Mississippi State broadcasting legend Jim Ellis realize that an early 1970s quick phone chat with Texas Rangers broadcaster Dick Risenhoover in Fort Worth, TX, would lead to what is soon to be a 46-season career as play-by-play broadcaster for MSU baseball.


And now, add on a 2024 membership in the prestigious Ron Polk Ring of Honor, housed in the Right Field Gate Plaza at Dudy Noble Field/Polk Dement Stadium on the campus of Mississippi State University.


Yes, Ellis has come a long way from attending divinity school at one time in Fort Worth to taking a chance at becoming a sportscaster, following the advice of Risenhoover and others, to become the friendly voice mikeside for MSU baseball since 1979, as well as many years of MSU football and basketball duties.


And, it wasn’t just on the radio. Back in the pre-internet days when Ellis was growing a network to broadcast State games statewide, he also dabbled in the production of a Ron Polk TV show, hosting eight episodes during the season that were aired on a dozen TV stations throughout Mississippi. 


In a sleight of hand and misdirection that’s now become somewhat of a tradition in notifying RPROH selectees, the personable broadcaster talks about how he learned of the latest of his laurels from MSU athletics officials in early December. Many of the honorees are some distance away and get the news conveyed to them by video call, but Ellis was right there in Starkville.


“They ‘deked’ (decoyed) me about coming to campus for a preseason baseball podcast,” he said with a laugh. “Then all of the sudden (MSU director of athletics) Zac Selmon and (baseball head coach) Chris Lemonis came out of the back of the room to congratulate me and let me know of (selection to) the Ring of Honor.”


“I was surprised, to say the least, but very honored,” Ellis related. “At one time, I was on the advisory committee for the Ron Polk Ring of Honor and then dropped off a few years ago, so I knew the selection process and how people are considered.”


What has impressed observers even more is that Ellis is the first non-athlete chosen among the first six classes of Ring of Honor recipients to attain this distinction, joining the likes of Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen, Jeff Brantley, stadium namesake Dudy Noble, and, of course, fellow stadium namesake and Ring of Honor founder Ron Polk, among others.


And Ellis definitely paid his dues along the way, from simulating broadcasts of games on tape recorders at the advice of Risenhoover, to teaching school classes, to getting broadcast jobs in Columbus and Aberdeen, MS, to broadcasting 13-14-year-old all-star summer baseball games, to working dozens of high school sporting events. When it came to being the hardest working man in his business, James Brown had nothing on Ellis.



In fact, when longtime colleague and radio network owner Steve Davenport gave Ellis a job in broadcasting originally in Columbus, it eventually led to his ascension to station manager and sports director at WMPA Radio in Aberdeen. Ellis’ work ethic was evident to many, as he often attended two-a-day workouts for Mississippi State football and waited patiently in 95-100-degree temperatures for post-practice interviews with players and coaches.


And, in a stroke of good luck to add to that hard work and ability, Ellis learned that Mark Albin (the fifth broadcaster in five seasons of Mississippi State baseball from 1974-78) had taken a position late in Summer 1978 with the Madison Square Garden Network in his native New York City. Albin was also sports director of WSSO Radio in Starkville.


It was only days from the start of the ’78 high school football season, and WSSO Radio station owner Joe Phillips was facing a dilemma. He had no broadcaster to air the Aberdeen-Starkville High School football game to start the season and asked WMPA’s Ellis if he might provide a radio feed of the game for the customary $15 play-by-play fee.


Phillips liked Ellis’ work and asked him to send in tapes of other broadcasts. The West Point, MS native’s delivery clicked with the station manager of WSSO, which also carried broadcast duties for all MSU home and road baseball contests for the upcoming 1979 season.


Ironically, Phillips passed away suddenly on Nov. 14, 1978, a victim of an apparent heart attack in his New York City hotel room while traveling on business, and Ellis faced uncertainty about his future under the new station management after the high school football season ended.


Fortunately, Ellis received the assignment to broadcast radio accounts of Mississippi State women’s basketball games for the 1978-79 season that began in December. Phillips’ stepson Norval Williams also assured Jim that the young broadcaster would carry on his duties into spring baseball and beyond.


That opened the door for his current 46-year career behind the microphone – even more coincidentally, the same tenure as broadcasters John Cox of Southern Miss and David Kellum of Ole Miss, who also started their assignments in ’79 – and a plethora of memories that have followed in decades since.



He didn’t know it at the time, but that turned out to be good news as well for Coach Polk, who had arrived for the 1976 season and was preparing for his own third broadcaster in four seasons. Over the years, Ellis became both a protégé and good friend with Polk, who didn’t have to be concerned with the issue the rest of his coaching career and now actually shares the radio booth with Ellis as the color analyst on game broadcasts.


Obviously, the 2021 NCAA Baseball National Championship, Mississippi State’s first NCAA team crown in school history, was a major thrill and career pinnacle, but almost as exciting for Ellis was going to Omaha, NE, in 1979 to call the Bulldogs College World Series games in his first season of broadcast duties for a sterling 48-12 team.


“I almost thought we might be going back to Omaha every year,” he said with a chuckle. “Then we had some down years in 1980 and ’82 but went to the World Series again in 1981; lost to eventual champion Texas in the Austin Regional in 1983, and had that team with Clark, Palmeiro, Brantley, and Thigpen in 1984 that lost in the NCAA Regional Final to New Orleans.


“That led to 1985,” Ellis continued, “and that might have been the most talented team I was associated with; we had great teams for the rest of the 1980s and then made it back to Omaha in 1990. The 2021 team was the 11th one I got to cover,” he notes, which also includes treks in 1997, 1998, 2007, 2013, 2018, and 2019. 


The fact that Ellis has been the radio play-by-play man for 11 of the Bulldogs 12 appearances in the College World Series (missing only the initial 1971 trip) was not lost on the selection committee - nor were his hundreds of hours of assisting Bulldogs athletics in numerous ways.



“This one (Ring of Honor) definitely is going to be on the top shelf of the home trophy room,” added Ellis, who also captured the 2019 Russ Anderson/Wilbur Snypp Award for national contribution to college baseball by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA), along with several Mississippi Sportscaster of the Year Awards from the National Association of Broadcasters. 


Ellis also received a standing ovation at Dudy Noble Field during the National Championship Celebration in July 2021. Others who have worked with Ellis echo the reasons for those and other kudos. 



“Jim has been an iconic voice in college baseball for over 40 years and is synonymous with Mississippi State,” then MSU Director of Athletics John Cohen said after Ellis received the NCBWA honor. “A true professional, he has had a front row seat to the greatest moments in Diamond Dawgs history. I would like to congratulate Jim on this incredible and well-deserved honor.”


“Jim Ellis has had a major impact on college baseball broadcasting for parts of six decades,” read the NCBWA announcement at the time, “and he was very deserving of this top honor from the NCBWA. Besides being the ‘voice’ of Mississippi State Baseball on radio since 1979, he has done so many great things to promote college athletics in general, and, particularly, college baseball from his historic place behind the microphone through MSU athletics and related areas.”



And it's not just his radio calls of Mississippi State baseball games that people want to hear. Besides speaking engagements, other media professionals, such as the "Audibles" program produced by Spirit Media Network, want to know and share the Jim Ellis story, of how he began and has thrived through the decades to become a favorite of multiple generations, and fanbases.


And Ellis already is excited, but not just about the induction into the Ron Polk Ring of Honor, set for April 6, 2024, when State hosts Georgia in an SEC series at Dudy Noble Field Polk-Dement Stadium. The Ring of Honor may seem like the cherry on top of the sundae, but make no mistake, it’s a dessert still in progress for Ellis. He’s also excited about looking forward to year #46 behind the mic with the MSU 2024 season-opening series February 16 against Air Force.



Although it was his radio booth compadre Jack Cristil who coined the iconic call of “Wrap it in maroon and white,” Ellis has through the years entertained and endeared himself to legions of fans with his calls of great moments in Mississippi State Baseball. Prior to every home game at Dudy Noble Field, you’re going to hear that familiar voice exclaim on the video board, “A grand slam for Masters! A grand slam for Masters! This crowd is berserk!” Even the younger fans, or those who somehow weren’t in attendance on that 1990 day, have learned the significance of that moment in an 11-8 NCAA home regional victory over Florida State.


And speaking of Florida State, the site was reversed in 2018, but what Mississippi State fan doesn’t get goose bumps and maybe even choked up as they hear Ellis describing Elijah MacNamee’s walkoff come-from-behind home run in the bottom of the 9th inning at Tallahassee: “And there's a ball in the air, deep in the outfield, got a chance, got a chance, gone! Three run homer! MacNamee, MacNamee, leaping around the bases! Mississippi State has shocked Florida State and will stay alive and play some more in two thousand and eighteeen!”



And, there are so many others Ellis just seems to have a knack for memorializing, such as the National Championship game's final out in Omaha on June 30, 2021. The vision of that seminal moment is something Mississippi State fans never get tired of watching, but experiencing the Jim Ellis call of it is something they never forget hearing.


As the coaches, especially Ron Polk, and the players have become the icons for Mississippi State Baseball on the field, Jim Ellis has become the icon for it on the air. The two have become so intertwined and linked to each other, there’s only one question about Ellis going into the Ring of Honor, and that is who will have the duty and prestige to moderate the ceremony at which he seems to be a perennial and permanent fixture? We’ll find that out April 6, 2024. Be there!



Photo sources are credited when known. Acknowledgements and special thanks: Jim Ellis, Mississippi State Athletics, Travis Rae, Mississippi State Baseball, The Clarion Ledger, NCBWA, Audibles by Spirit Media Network, and Sterling Archer SPS on YouTube.


*****

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