The Men Behind the Microphones

When discussing the bonds which link baseball fans to their favorite club, one element that is often overlooked is the team's broadcasters. For every person in the stands, a dozen more are watching at home or listening in their cars. From April through September, the voices of the local broadcasters almost become part of the family, providing a sense of comfortable continuity from season to season.

Surprisingly for such a tradition-bound organization, the Red Sox have never fully capitalized on this factor. The Sox' celebrity announcer was public address man Sherm Feller, not a radio or TV voice. Only one broadcaster has remain with the club longer than Joe Castiglione's 21 seasons: Ned Martin, who broadcast the Sox for 32 years, from 1961 through 1992. (See Table 1.) Compare this to the Kansas City Royals, where Denny Matthews has broadcast since their original season of 1969, or the New York Mets, who still employ two of their three original broadcasters from 1962, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy.

Table 1: Red Sox Broadcasters for 20+ Years
32 Years Ned Martin 1961-92
21 Years Joe Castiglione 1983-2003
20 Years Ken Coleman 1966-74, 1979-89

Murphy, Kiner and Matthews are just three of the dozen major league broadcasters who have been with their current club for thirty years or more. The list includes both halves of the Cincinnati Reds' radio team, Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall, and Milwaukee's inimitable Bob Uecker, who continued to call Brewers games even while starring in a network sitcom.

By contrast, in the booth as on the diamond, Bostonians best remember the ones who got away. The Mets' Bob Murphy, a winner of the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence, got his start calling Red Sox games from 1954 to 1959. His partner during those seasons was fellow Frick Award winner Curt Gowdy, who broadcast the Sox for fifteen seasons before joining NBC full time. More recently Jon Miller, the voice of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, spent three years in the Red Sox radio booth, from 1980 through 1982, before moving on to Baltimore.

The two longest-tenured broadcasters (see Table 2) both work for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jaime Jarrin has called Dodger games on their Spanish-language radio affiliates since 1959, one year after the club's arrival from Brooklyn. Vin Scully, who moved west with the Dodgers, was already in his second season at the mike when Bobby Thomson beat the Dodgers with his pennant-winning home run in 1951.

Table 2: 40+ Years with Current Club
54 Years Vin Scully Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers 1950-2003
45 Years Jaime Jarrin Los Angeles Dodgers (Spanish) 1959-2003
42 Years Herb Carneal Minnesota Twins 1962-2003
42 Years Ralph Kiner New York Mets 1962-2003
42 Years Bob Murphy New York Mets 1962-2003

Scully shows how a broadcaster can come to symbolize his team. Generations of Dodger fans brought radios to the park so they could listen to Scully describe the action they were watching, and a fan poll named Scully, not a player or manager, the top figure in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Ernie Harwell, the only broadcaster to work as many seasons as Scully (see Table 3), could probably have won a similar pool among Tiger fans. Harwell was so beloved in Detroit that when management tried to retire him, the public outcry brought him back for ten more seasons. And in Chicago, the Cubs not only erected a statue of Harry Caray outside Wrigley Field, but have continued his tradition of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with guest vocalists ranging from opera singers to Ozzy Osbourne.

The Red Sox may be learning the importance of maintaining a distinguished broadcasting tradition, Joe Castiglione is in his 21st season; Sean McDonough, his sixteenth. If they are around to call the centennial of the Sox' last world championship -- or to broadcast Boston's first title since the development of commercial radio -- the Sox could finally have worthy heirs to the tradition of Scully, Harwell and Caray.

Copyright © 2003 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the September 2003 issue of Boston Baseball.

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