Merrill legends: “The Voice of the Merrill Rangers” Chuck Summers and the day Hank Aaron played at Athletic Park
TINA L. SCOTT
Henry Louis Aaron [1934-2021], more commonly known as Hank Aaron, was a legendary American professional Major League Baseball right fielder who played in the pros from 1954-1976. He was named National League Most Valuable Player in 1957 and had a huge claim to fame because he surpassed Babe Ruth’s career record of 714 home runs in 1974. Aaron retired in 1976 with 755 career home runs and held the new record for most home runs until Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record in Aug. 2007.
But did you know Hank Aaron played baseball here in Merrill’s Athletic Park 70 years ago on June 28, 1952, before he went pro when he played for the Class C Northern League Eau Claire Bears against the Merrill Rangers? Many of Merrill’s “old timers” were there to witness the game, and some, I’ve heard, were bat boys, water boys, and/or score keepers.
The “Voice of the Merrill Rangers”
Merrill’s own late Chuck Summers, known as the “Voice of the Merrill Rangers,” was there to call the game play by play, for the local radio station, then WLIN.
Chuck’s daughter, Missy Waid, said she and her sister discovered the score sheet from that infamous Merrill game when the Merrill Rangers played the Eau Claire Bears along with her dad’s collection of score sheets, a book called “The Rangers’ Reign,” and other memorabilia her mother had kept over the years after her mother passed away in 2021. [Chuck passed away in 2007.]
Waid told her father’s story in her own words: “In August of 1948, after stepping off the train, Chuck asked a Merrill resident where the radio station was in town. Seems he was one of the few people to know at the time that Merrill was going to have a radio station of their own.”
Chuck Summers attended the Brown Institute in Minnesota to learn broadcasting. Former Congressman, Alvin O’Konski, owned the new radio station, WLIN, and O’Konski “needed an announcer who would be able to provide play by play of local baseball,” Waid said.
At that time, the radio station was in a small white building that used to be where Bible Presbyterian Church is now located, and the building itself was moved and is now located on the southwest corner of the Merrill Festival Grounds, according to Waid, and is used as the Fair Board office.
Waid said her dad “spent the night before the station began broadcasting in the studio studying all of the equipment” to learn how it all worked. Chuck and “his sidekick” [Waid’s words] soon became the voices of WLIN in Merrill.
“In the beginning, Merrill Ranger Baseball games were big,” Waid said, and her dad “recorded the games as they happened” and “then rushed back to the studio to play the tapes.”
Chuck later broadcast for WSAU radio until 1960 when he returned to Merrill to work for the local radio station which is now WJMT.
Announcing those Rangers games was one of her dad’s favorite things to do, Waid said. After he died, Chuck’s family donated a bronze plaque commemorating his contribution and in his memory which hangs on the Athletic Park broadcast booth.
The day Hank Aaron played at Athletic Park
Of course, no one knew June 28, 1952, would go down in Merrill history as the day a shortstop from Mobile, Alabama, who would later become the American legend who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, played on our City’s ball field. Or, for that matter, that two others on the team would go on to baseball fame of their own. [West Covington later became a left fielder for the Milwaukee Braves, and Bill Adair would later manage the Chicago White Sox.]
On that day, the hometown crowd was stoked to see the Merrill Rangers end the game with a 4-1 win against the Eau Claire Bears after a six-inning game, cut short when the game was called due to fog that had rolled in from the Prairie River impairing visibility.
Incidentally, the one score for the Eau Claire Bears was not made by Hank Aaron. He was 0 for 3 against the Merrill Rangers.