Unforced error: Tardy tennis Hall needs to induct Dick Enberg – The San Diego Union-Tribune

When someone suggested to me that Dick Enberg belongs in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, it sparked a sideways glance.

Isn’t he there already? The stunner of an answer: He’s not.

Enberg covered 28 Wimbledons. He paired with late Hall member Bud Collins to build Breakfast at Wimbledon into sleepy-eyed appointment television. He artfully called thousands of points in all four Grand Slam championships.

At the Hall’s most recent Legends Gala, Enberg emceed. When the Hall put out a holiday greetings card on Twitter, a photo of Enberg and Mary Carillo smiled back at the world, front and center.

And somehow, an obvious choice remains on the outside looking in.

That’s deflating, considering that Enberg — who died on Dec. 21 in his La Jolla home — missed the chance to soak up the warmth of his well-deserved induction. The humble man who would have turned 83 on Tuesday was robbed of the opportunity to aw-shucks the moment he became the only person in the ultimate halls for football, baseball, basketball and tennis.

Unfortunately, the wait will linger.

The Hall recently retooled its induction policies, moving the “contributor” category Enberg would be nominated in to a four-year cycle — meaning the soonest he could make it is 2021.

One hang-up, apparently, is the word “international” in the hall’s title. There is careful and deliberate consideration, behind those closed serve-and-volley doors, to ensure the Rhode Island-based institution doesn’t lean too American-centric.

But … Enberg.

“If the Hall was only about the U.S., I don’t even feel like this is a conversation,” broadcaster and Hall committee member Carillo told the Union-Tribune this week, before jetting off to cover the Australian Open.

“I kind of like his chances myself.”

There’s some truth to Enberg’s tennis notoriety being mostly an American thing. In England, locals tune into coverage provided by the BBC. The same goes for the other countries considered hotbeds of the sport.

Few people if any, though, can claim the depth of Enberg’s high-profile roots in so many Grand Slam events — a history enhanced by his deft touch and tone, from Roland Garros to Rod Laver Arena.

Hall CEO Todd Martin, a former player once ranked No. 4 in the world, treads delicately when asked about Enberg’s chances.

There’s a confidential process when the group gathers each year at Wimbledon. Showing favoritism or hinting at prospects can present a public-relations land mine for the person sitting in the big chair.

You could almost hear Martin straining to say more.

What he did offer: “Dick is absolutely the type of individual that should be nominated.”

Carillo said Enberg’s name has come up before. No doubt, it will come up again. The next time, though, it needs to be a game-set-match conversation. Waiting another lap, until 2025, would be an embarrassing misstep.

Enberg’s candidacy likely suffered from his versatility and exposure across so many other sports. The types of people who usually end up enshrined in a game’s most hallowed hallways have solely and singularly dedicated themselves.

That was the magic of Enberg, though. He was masterful, no matter the season. He should be celebrated for all of that fancy footwork, rather than penalized for it.

“The fact that an amazing announcer like Dick Enberg would embrace the sport of tennis so warmly, that was tremendous for us,” Carillo said. “The guy who was the voice of baseball, the voice of football, the voice of so many sports, that he cared so much about tennis was a huge deal in this country.”

Carillo argued Enberg did far more than occupy a booth and air time.

“Tennis is one of those games of pauses, in between points and in and out of commercials with time to set up things,” she explained. “But you don’t want to step on the match or the moment. Dick understood that every time he put on the headset.

“Like Bob Costas said, Dick could do that for seven or eight sports. He’d let the moments play and then knock them out of the park. If you got to sit next to Dick Enberg at a tennis match, you had an extraordinarily good seat.

“I think Dick would love to know he had a place in that Hall.”

Start the conversation with those most cherished by the game. Enberg was respected, fully and widely. Big-match partner John McEnroe told the Union-Tribune in late 2016 that he marveled at Enberg’s love, appreciation and respect for the game — despite so many other sports and moments tugging at his talents and time.

In 2003, Andy Roddick famously blurted on live TV after winning the U.S. Open: “I just got an ‘Oh, My’ from Dick Enberg. How about that?”

To keep Enberg out of the most revered place in tennis feels like Howard Cosell being left out of the boxing hall or Keith Jackson still trying to knock on the door of the hall at the Rose Bowl. There simply have been too many memories and too much sport-accentuating mileage.

Enberg belongs. By 2021, he likely will.

It’s too bad that Enberg and the rest of us have to wait.

bryce.miller@sduniontribune.com; Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

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Vadhiya Natha

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