April 24, 2020
Do you know what I’m really missing about baseball these days?
The voices of those who in normal times would be bringing us the
play-by-play action and color commentary of the games on television and
radio. I miss the professionalism of Dave O’Brien, the insights of
Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley, and the familiarity of Joe Castiglione,
whose lack of a classic broadcaster’s dulcet tones is more than made
up for by his expertise and by his hours of preparation.
The rhythm of the broadcasters’ voices has seen me though all the
summers of my life, and I miss hearing them more than I thought I would.
Like a lot of things these days, that void is going to get worse before
it gets better. God, I hope it doesn’t last too long.
I clearly recall, more than thirty years ago, reading a local writer’s
description of then Red Sox announcer Ken Coleman. He called him “the
voice of summer,” and so he was; so were others in the long line of
exceptional baseball announcers whose voices have been heard through the
years across New England, relaying to us the triumphs and the tragedies,
the joys and the heartbreaks, of the Red Sox as they’ve played their
way through the seasons of our lives.
Coleman, Ned Martin, and Curt Gowdy have all been dead for some years
now, but I can still clearly hear their voices in my mind, just as I
could hear them on the long ago nights when I’d have a portable radio
tucked under my pillow to catch the final innings of a late night game.
I can even hear the silky smooth voice of Jim Britt, who back in the
forties called the home games of both the Red Sox and Braves. Neither
team aired road games back then.
In the late eighties, when I was based in Washington, DC, I used to make
the nine hour drive to Wellfleet on Cape Cod every Friday in July and
August to spend weekends with my family which was ensconced there for
the summer. On one particular Friday the Baltimore Orioles were playing
an afternoon game at home, the New York Mets had a late afternoon game
on the west coast, and the Red Sox were at Fenway Park for a 7 PM game.
As I left the district, I tuned into Jon Miller and the Orioles game.
His was a very familiar voice since he’d worked alongside Ken Coleman
doing Sox games in the seventies. He kept me company all the way through
Maryland, across the Delaware Memorial Bridge and onto the New Jersey
Turnpike. When the Orioles game ended, I punched up the Mets game, which
was just starting out west. There was the voice of Bob Murphy, who had
been Curt Gowdy’s sidekick back in the fifties. When I got onto the
Merritt Parkway, I tuned into Ken Coleman and Ned Martin, first on the
Connecticut outlet of the Red Sox network, then, when I crossed into
Massachusetts, on their flagship station, finally flipping on the Cape
Cod outlet when I crossed over the canal. The Sox game ended just about
the time I was pulling into the driveway.
I have no memory of the outcome of those games, or even who the
opponents were, but I clearly recall being kept company for the entire
ride by the games and by the familiar voices coming from the car radio.
The drive along the northeast corridor of Washington and Boston is
normally a stressful one, filled with traffic, trucks, and impatient
travellers, but I remember the drive that day as the most enjoyable nine
hour trip I ever took.
About a year ago I was out running errands one Sunday afternoon and
turned to the Sox game on the car radio. I was pleasantly surprised when
I heard the voice of Sean McDonough doing the play by play. He hadn’t
done Red Sox baseball for fifteen years, but I instantly recognized his
voice, just as comfortable as an old pair of slippers. He’s slated to
partner with Joe Castig on a regular basis this year, and I, for one,
Baseball play-by-play men are often singled out for iconic calls: Dave
O’Brien’s dramatic call of Big Papi’s grand slam in Game Two of
the 2013 ALCS; Curt Gowdy’s picturesque description of Ted Williams’
last at bat; but even more than those calls it is the fingerprint of
their voices and the rhythm of their speech as they describe for us the
day by day happenings on the field of play that become the musical score
of a baseball season.
Ten years ago was, for me, a time that had a lot of similarities to this
year. I had been through a winter and early spring of chemotherapy,
radiation, and various operations to treat throat cancer and was
embarking on a long, slow healing process, a virtual shut-in. Thank
goodness I had the Red Sox and their announcers to lean on and to
distract me from myself during those dark days and nights. I also had
the example of Jerry Remy. He had been treated for his first bout with
cancer the year before and had attempted to return to the broadcast
booth before he was fully recovered. It resulted in depression and
forced him to step back again. He openly talked about his condition
which was not an easy thing for an old jock to do. Locker room culture,
then as now, is to deny or even belittle depression. “Waddaya mean,
you’re depressed? Deal with it!” That didn’t deter Remy from
calling attention to the issue, and his frankness helped me greatly in
dealing with my own condition. I am forever grateful to him.
I am happy to report that, ten years out, I am fully recovered from the
cancer I had and I feel fine, other than the fact that, without baseball
and the Red Sox, and without the announcers that are its messengers,
there is an emptiness to life that I hope and pray will soon be filled.