Chicken on the Hill with Will

I had an interview on Wednesday for an Internet marketing job in San Carlos, California, which meant another chance to talk baseball.

My interviewer was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, who looked to be about 40, give or take.  He thought I might not be familiar with the teams of his era.  No bother: I named Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen and Danny Murtaugh.  I briefly described Steve Blass Disease, which I wrote about here in August, an affliction named for a Pirates starter of the early 1970s who, for no clear reason, lost his ability to pitch.  My interviewer and I of course discussed how Pittsburgh has struggled since 1992.  And I mentioned “Chicken on the Hill with Will.”

Allow me to explain that last thing.

When I was growing up, one of my friends, Alec, had family from the Pittsburgh area.  Alec’s mom told me that Pirates great and future Hall of Famer Stargell had a restaurant and whenever he would homer, everyone in the restaurant got free chicken.  I never knew for sure if this was legit, though I just did a Google search and saw a reference to it on Stargell’s Wikipedia page.  Talk about happier times in Pittsburgh– a restaurant could stockpile a warehouse with unused chicken if it tried a promotion for the current Pirates.

Anyhow, I discussed Stargell and more with my interviewer.  For all that we talked baseball, though, he seemed most impressed with the fact that I could name all four members of The Beatles.  I have a follow-up interview set for Monday afternoon.

(Postscript: He hired me)

27 Replies to “Chicken on the Hill with Will”

  1. The phrase “Spread some chicken on the hill with Will” was used frequently by the Pittsburgh Pirates radio announcer Bob Prince back in the 70’s, when Stargell was playing with them. It was legitimate. My cousin had an LP of their championship run season and we used to listen to all of Bob Prince’s quips and quotes. He also used “Can of Corn” and when a pop fly was easy to be played, he also used to say “that’s a 100lb can of golden danum” Not sure what danum was but I think the same as can of corn. A close inside pitch would be “closer than fuzz on a tic’s ear”. He was a great baseball announcer at KDKA, in the same vein as Vin Scully.

    1. Hi Doug,
      Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading. I read about Prince in Stargell’s Wikipedia entry and wasn’t sure what to make of it. I couldn’t figure if Stargell’s restaurant or Prince’s quip came first, but it sounds like Prince was a creative guy either way.
      As an aside, Scully’s one of my favorites– and I’m a Giants fan.

    2. I grew up in the burg back in the 60/70 and we were die hard P fans . That phrase was used for years. Willie was our Babe Ruth.

    3. I grew up in Pittsburgh and used listen to Bob Prince and follow “The Lumber Company” as they were called back then. We lived on “The Hill” Wylie Avenue and you could see The Civic Arena from our front steps. I have found childhood memories of my dad taking me and my cousins to 3 Rivers Stadium.

    4. It was golden bantam- a type of corn we grew just down the road in WV and all over PA no doubt.

  2. as a Pittsburgh Pirate fan / historian.. Vin Scully is not even remotely in Bob Prince’s league.. Vin Scully is a product of the Los Angeles media market… Willie Mays once said “If Clemente had played in New York they’d be talking about him and not me.” Same goes for Prince.. he spoke his mind.. players treated him as one of the team… if Scully thinks Kirk Gibson’s home run was “something he can’t believe he saw” then what was Billy Maz’s 1960 home run? Maz’s home run ended a World Series… you are being driven marketing people.. come on now… you guys buy cheez whiz cuz some d-bag tells you you need it..

    1. I dunno Jon, I think Vin Scully’s call in the 1988 Series was poetry. Broadcasters are usually annoying chatter or glorified cheerleaders for the teams that employ them (though that’s not to take anything away from Prince.)

      And for what it’s worth, I think Willie Mays was being modest– though Roberto Clemente certainly deserved the same amount of hype as, say, Joe DiMaggio.

    2. Vin Scully is a product of FORDHAM UNIVERSITY, BRONX, NY, genius. His uber-impressive lifetime’s work included a whole lot more than broadcasting Los Angeles Dodgers games. He began his work behind their microphones while they played in BROOKLYN, the place which originally afforded them worldwide notoriety. This really doesn’t have that much to do with New York, but you need to be checked for making such ignorant statements as calling him “a product of the Los Angeles media market.” Mr. Scully was also renowned for his NFL play-by-play work for CBS, and unlike your sainted Bob Prince, he didn’t need to resort to using folksy witticisms. He actually understood how to convey his account of the action on the field in SIMPLE ENGLISH, in a manner which captivated his audience like subtle poetry. (By the way, it was not Scully, but his contemporary JACK BUCK who famously uttered, “I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW,” following Kirk Gibson’s dramatic game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley, setting the tone for the 1988 World Series.)
      Knowing Pittsburgh, and Pittsburghers, as I do, I’m not terribly shocked by your ill-informed, insular bias against a veritable legend in his field. I’m merely appalled that you somehow see fit to attempt to diminish Vin Scully’s virtuosity (which is impossible to do), while touting Bob Prince as some master craftsman among sports announcers. Maybe he was all that to yinz in your small town big city, but to me, you’re trying to compare Mount Washington to Mount Everest, and I can’t believe what I just read!

      1. Prince had that kind of southern voice which was a nice change from the average announcer. Scully you needed to carry a dictionary. he used words no one used on a regular basis. Prince was far more entertaining.

        1. I’m a casual Pirates fan. Many people know more, have seen more and can tell more stories. But I’ve got my share . The one thing I remember about Prince that was b e a u t i f u l , was when the Pirates won a game by the skin of there teeth ( or the hair on a ticks head ) he’d say . Ah yeah, and we had ‘em all the way. By a bit of luck and Gods blessings I was at game 1 and 7 in Baltimore, 1979. We lost game 1 … and won game 7. Will spread a little chicken on the hill in game 7, with the go ahead home run.

  3. I grew up outside of Pittsburgh and my first remembrance of Pirate baseball was the 1960 World Series. I like Vin Scully, but to me Bob Prince is the only broadcaster. “Chicken on the Hill” is legit. It came from “Pops” Stargell owning a chicken restaurant in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh’s Harlem if you will). Like others have written, every time Starg hit a home run (now I’ve heard two scenarios. 1.Everyone in the restaurant and 2. Only the person at the counter at the time) received free chicken. Now I always thought it was that everyone received the free chicken.

    What I find bothersome is that White Sox Broadcaster Ken Harrelson uses the term “Can of Corn” for an easy fly ball and acting like he coined that phrase. That was one of Bob Prince’s many “Gunnerisms” as they’re called now for Prince’s nickname “The Gunner”. I grew up hearing that and as kids we used to say it when we played ball at the local field.

    Next Harrelson will be using “You can kiss it goodbye.” when a home run is hit, or bringing out the “Green Weenie”!

  4. Bob Prince’s use of the “can of corn” expression, sometimes included “a number 8 can of golden bantam” (not danum). And a “bug on the rug” wasn’t for infield grounders, but hits (by the Buccos) to the outfield that found the gap.

      1. Researching this is not easy. Brady Keys started an All Pro Chicken on the Hill that Dan Rooney spotted him the seed money for. That much is true. Brady eventually had almost 150 of them, and began to franchise them in the 1970s. We do have a picture of Willie serving chicken in an All Pro restaurant. We do have a Teenie Harris picture of the actual restaurant on the Hill. Connecting the dots to if Willie was an owner or franchised owner I am unable to do. Still, the Brady Keys story is well worth reading.

  5. I recall an night game in San Diego where the Pirates were losing by three runs late in the game and Willie Stargell came to bat with the bases loaded. Bob Prince stated in his broadcast, “Come on Willie, spread some chicken on the hill.” He then added, “And the Gunner will pay the bill!”” Willie proceeded to hit a grand slam and the Pirates won the game. Reportedly, all the chicken in the store was given out and Bob Prince happily paid the bill. It just added to the fame of this great broadcaster.

    1. I was a kid listening to this game. I lived three block from Will’s restaurant which was in the Ellis Hotel on Centre Avenue in the heart if the Hill District in Pittsburgh. It was late and I didn’t go to get free chicken, but they did sell out and Prince paid the bill.

  6. Rumor has it that Bob Prince got his nickname “the gunner” because he was flirting with some married man’s wife while on a road trip and when the guy heard about it, he showed up at Price’s hotel wielding a pistol!

    Some other Princisms:
    Closer than a gnat’s eyelash
    Chin music..”which do you prefer brushless or lather” in reference to a shave.
    Strikeout..”he lit up the lights on broadway”
    The hiddden vigrish (the longer you win, the closer you come to losing and vice-versa)
    A hoover vacuum job was a double play when the pirates moved to three rivers stadium.
    When down by 2 runs late in the game, Prince would beckon the pirates for “a bloop and a blast”.

    I’m sure there are many more. I sure do cherish those memories sitting on the back porch with my dad listening to those battlin’ buccos on his transistor radio.

  7. As a young boy in the late 1960s and early 1970s l would either watch the Pirates games on WBOY in West Virginia. I would also sneak the transistor radio with the ear phones when I was forced to go to bed by my parents. I would hear the game with all my favorite pirates like Clemente, Stargell, Sangullian, Hebner,Bill Max. etc. But the Pirateman who was making it so exciting was Bob Prince “Gunner”! I remember these quotes: “Spread some chicken on the hill big Will.” “It is a can of corn hit ten miles high.” When the ball was dropped once “The bottom fell of it.” Double-play “Think vacuum boys” or “Think Hoover boys” I guess referring to the brand name. What an announcer for the love of the game!

  8. You’ve gotta love Vin Scully and Prince, but Harry Kalas (and Ashburn) is where its at. Listening to Phillies baseball has not been the same since 2009. He could make a lousy game sound great. You knew when the game was done and he was honest about things. During this quarantine I’ve been listening to so many old games. I hope all of you have been doing the same. Helps me get better acquainted with this 93 and 80s teams that I did not know as well. My first memories are from the 93 season, but I did not know enough yet. I just listened to the clincher from 80 when they played the Expos and clinched the division. Glorious stuff.

    1. Usually by the 7th inning stretch, The Gunner had already “pumped a few Irons” especially because Nellie King would do the play-by-play in the middle innings.

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