Voices from Heaven

The passing of a Red Sox P.A. man reminds us of the soothing sounds of subtlety
May 21, 2012

When Red Sox public-address announcer Carl Beane died last week at 59, after suffering a heart attack while driving, the team honored him not with a moment of silence but with three hours of it. For one game there were no introductions. Every hitter strode to the plate—bat in hand, like Charlie Chaplin with his cane—in silent eloquence.

In sports as in life, that silence grows ever more rare, replaced by an auditory assault that drowns out the old duo of organist and P.A. announcer. So silence was a fitting benediction for a man whose diction was exceedingly bene. For 10 years Beane provided exquisitely enunciated walk-up narration, not only for batters but also for fans, who arrived at their seats to hear his slightly antiquated greeting, "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls ... welcome to Fenway Park."

That line was inherited from—and homage to—one of Beane's predecessors, Sherm Feller, who earned 12 bucks a game when he started on the Fenway P.A. in 1967. Trouble was, Feller paid $14 in round-trip cab fare to commute to and from the ballpark, so he was practicing what many in sports only pretend to believe: that they would pay to work here.

It's a sentiment echoed by others in the P.A. profession (whose voices are always echoing, at least in the mind's ear). We seldom know the names and almost never know the faces in this choir of disembodied voices, some of which are more disembodied than others. Budd Lynch, who is still calling Red Wings games at 94, lost his right arm in World War II, giving special resonance to his preanthem request: "Will you please rise? May we suggest you remove your hat? Active ... and retired military personnel may keep their hats on."

At Fenway, Feller had achieved his distinctive sound by removing his dentures before declaiming into the microphone. He also wore hearing aids, but fortunately he retained his eyesight, despite taking a foul ball between the eyes in 1978, courtesy of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.

Few knew, though, because the baseball P.A. announcer is but a voice issuing from the heavens, conveying authority, a benevolent Oz. We pay no attention to the man behind the curtain because he sounds like Zeus.

Sometimes he's an uppercase God, all-powerful, bestowing random benevolence. Red Sox outfielder Bernie Carbo once implored Feller to introduce him as "Bernardo," his given name, to help him break a slump. In his final at bat at Fenway, Reggie Jackson was introduced simply as "Mr. October" and never forgot the bipartisan gesture of respect.

Carl Beane, in carrying on this tradition, achieved vocal celebrity in New England, introducing wedding parties, emceeing bachelor parties, recording ringtones and outgoing voice mail messages.

He joins a pantheon of P.A. announcers in the sonic hereafter, chief among them Bob Sheppard, who died in 2010 at age 99. Baseball fans heard their first P.A. at the Polo Grounds in 1929, but electrically amplified introductions didn't become a baseball fixture until World War II, so that Sheppard's run at Yankee Stadium, from 1951 to 2007, echoed (that word again) almost the entire history of the profession.

At Wrigley Field, Pat Piper was as familiar as the ivy. In Brooklyn, the malaprop Tex Rickards was the perfect narrator for Dem Bums, addressing spectators who had slung their jackets over an outfield wall with, "Will the fans seated along the leftfield railing please remove their clothing?"

Unable to speak for itself, Ebbets Field's final words were provided by Rickards, after the Dodgers' 2--0 win over the Pirates on Sept. 24, 1957. "Please do not go on the playing field at the end of the game," Rickards said, in full denial of the fact that the grass would never again be required. "Use any exit that leads to the street."

Rickards was replaced in Los Angeles by John Ramsey, who called Dodgers games from '58 to '82. Ramsey also did California Angels games and L.A. Rams, Raiders, Lakers and Kings games, not to mention USC football games—many of them on consecutive days. He had a voice like a god but was more omnipresent. Like Carl Beane, Ramsey was a diabetic who suffered a heart attack, abruptly surprising listeners with his mortality.

At Twins games, Bob Casey stretched the name of Kirrrrbeeee Puckett like a chirring cicada. Legendary Sixers P.A. guy Dave Zinkoff did the same with Julius Errrrving. And across the street in Philadelphia, Dan Baker is in his 41st year on the Phillies' mike, reminding us why Pennsylvania is called PA.

But these endless careers are unusual, as was evident in the silence that deafened Fenway last week. The National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers, whose mission is "to raise the level of professionalism" among its members, provides on its website an epigraph from Bob Sheppard, advising aspirants to be self-effacing. "A P.A. announcer is not a cheerleader," Sheppard said, "or a circus barker, or a hometown screecher. He's a reporter."

Carl Beane was that, but increasingly—especially in the NBA—public-address announcers are hired to be hype men or carnival barkers, too. Miami Heat P.A. man Michael Baiamonte announced last week that the Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire—who injured himself punching a fire extinguisher casing earlier in the New York--Miami series—had fouled out. "That's his sixth," said Baiamonte. "He has been extinguished from the game." The Heat delivered a public redress for their public-address man's "momentary lapse of judgment."

In the very near future we may have to observe a moment of silence for silence itself.

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE

A soccer player in Norway's fifth division was red-carded and thrown out of a game after he argued in defense of an opponent, saying that the other man had not, in fact, fouled him and wasn't deserving of a penalty.

ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY DARROW PHOTOROMINA AMATO/REUTERS (REFEREE)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)