Legendary Chicago announcer Phil Georgeff, well known for his phrase "Here they come spinning out of the turn," died Monday at the age of 85.
According to a report on the Chicago Sun-Times website, doctors found a mass on Mr. Georgeff's liver and pancreas on Saturday at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope, Ala., where he moved in retirement 24 years ago. He died two days later, said his wife of 63 years, Roberta.
Though his health had been failing for a while, his son Scot said, "He watched the Cubs win the World Series. He had to see that."
Mr. Georgeff was the announcer for harness racing at the Suburban Downs meet at Hawthorne Race Course, Maywood Park, Balmoral Park and Sportsman's Park and was also the voice of Arlington Park. At Arlington he put his signature on the Arlington Million, including the famed 1981 and 1984 editions of the race won by John Henry, who Georgeff called "the "living legend."
Mr. Georgeff launched his career at the old Washington Park in Homewood, Ill., in 1959 and retired at the end of the Hawthorne Thoroughbred meeting on Dec. 31, 1992.
In a post on paulickreport.com, Meadowlands racing consultant Michael Antoniades wrote that he remembered Mr. Georgeff's send-off well: "In 1992, Georgeff announced that he would retire at the end of the year. Closing day was New Year's Eve at Hawthorne and the enormous amount of publicity about Phil's last day made it a major news event. A crowd worthy of a stakes race showed up to say goodbye.
"I watched the final race from a packed restaurant at Hawthorne. As the field moved to the top of the stretch, Phil said, 'and for the final time , here they come spinning out of the turn.' At this point most of the people in the dining room started applauding, becoming louder and louder as the horses came to the wire. The applause was for a man who was the voice and face of Chicago racing, and had made a connection to so many people. It was an amazing experience, and one I will always treasure."
During the course of his career behind the microphone he called more than 96,000 races, earning him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Mr. Georgeff called Thoroughbred and Standardbred races at the Chicago area tracks Washington Park, Hawthorne, Arlington Park, Sportsman's Park, Maywood Park and Balmoral Park. He pulled double-duty on many occasions, calling Thoroughbred races in the afternoon and harness races later that night. He also worked as Hawthorne's director of public relations and hosted a daily television show on racing with former jockey Gerry Gallitano.
"I've seen some of the greatest horses in history and called their races," Mr. Georgeff told Neil Milbert in a 1992 Chicago Tribune article
prior to his retirement. Among the horses he called in races at Chicago tracks were Round Table, Kelso, Secretariat, Spectacular Bid and John Henry, the latter in the Arlington Million, the sport's first million-dollar race in 1981.
Milbert recalled how Mr. Georgeff twice left Arlington Park during his tenure there. The first time came after a falling out with track operator Marje Everett – whose father, Ben Lindheimer, gave him his first job in the publicity department at Arlington and Washington Parks in 1953 while Mr. Georgeff was a junior at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He graduated in 1954 but didn't attend the ceremony, instead choosing to go to work at the track.
Then, in August 1982, track manager John Mooney fired Mr. Georgeff and replaced him with an out-of-town announcer. Fans booed the new announcer unmercifully, Milbert wrote, and when new track owner Richard L. Duchossois brought Mr. Georgeff back the following year, he arrived via helicopter in the track infield before a cheering crowd.
"I'll miss the great racehorses and the great races," he told Milbert, "but most of all I'll miss the fans. They are the people who brought me back after I was fired."
Mr. Georgeff said he didn't call races for track management or the racing press, but for the fans. "I call every race like I bet on the winner," he said. "I play to the crowd, and when I hear the crowd roar I feel like an entertainer."
Mr. Georgeff retired on the eve of his 62nd birthday after having throat polyps surgically removed in 1991. He moved with wife Roberta to Fairhope, Ala., near the Gulf of Mexico.
During his retirement, Mr. Georgeff wrote the autobiography, And They're Off: My Years as the Voice of Thoroughbred Racing. Hawthorne executive Jim Miller said Mr. Georgeff kept in touch over the years with the track's current announcer, Peter Galassi, who said Mr. Georgeff was a major influence on his race calling. "Phil Georgeff always said, ‘You've got to remember these people are betting their hard earned money and just want to know where their horse is. You don't need to add any flair," Galassi stated. (Paulick Report)