Baseball Announcers: More Than Just A Voice They may not wear a uniform, but baseball announcers like Ernie Harwell become as much a part of the team as the players for some fans, says commentator Frank Deford.
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Baseball Announcers: More Than Just A Voice

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Baseball Announcers: More Than Just A Voice

Baseball Announcers: More Than Just A Voice

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Chefs and trainers may keep a close eye on baseball players off the field. On the field, baseball announcers call their every move. Commentator Frank Deford has this tribute to two longtime announcers.

FRANK DEFORD: Harry Kalas died just before the season began. His casket was placed at home plate in the Philadelphia ballpark.

The Phillies have been wearing a patch with his initials all year. The insignia was purposely sewn just above the heart.

Ernie Harwell is dying. A couple of weeks ago, a Detroit Tigers game was stopped in the third inning, the better for Harwell to have full attention when he addressed his loving admirers. The whole packed house rose and chanted his name with love.

Kalas and Harwell, of course, never wore a uniform. They were merely announcers, or better what we call the voice of. In a visual world, they've been but oral, something that harks back to the cracker barrel, to the campfire. And after a while the voices like Kalas and Harwell somehow become so familiar, even comforting, that they don't just bring you the game. Rather, the game brings you them.

The Tigers and Phillies would come and go — players, managers, names, numbers. But Harry Kalas was always there to talk to you in Philadelphia, Ernie Harwell to speak to you in Detroit.

For his valedictory when he retired in 2002, Harwell thanked his listeners for taking me to the cottage up north, to the beach, to the picnic, your workplace and your backyard.

Baseball voices go with you. They're not just on the air, but they are in the air most every summer's day for months on end. And almost every team has a voice that is identified with the team.

Baseball is more languid, with time for storytelling, a pastime — but not really the national pastime anymore. It's the local pastime now. Football is the national game, on the networks, with people watching impersonally from all over.

By contrast, baseball is a bunch of neighborhoods, where each distinct voice can be heard most every day. That's why fewer folks care about the baseball playoffs. Once their home team's eliminated, they eliminate baseball from their mind.

As the media grows more and more fragmented, as fewer fans read the sports pages or watch the sports guys on the local newscasts, announcers like Kalas and Harwell should become more and more singular.

In a cacophonous world, how comforting to hear someone who we know speaks to us as the voice of.

(Soundbite of game broadcast)

Mr. EARNIE HARWELL (Sports Announcer): The 0-2 pitch, swing and a miss, struck him out. The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 world champions of baseball.

(Soundbite of game broadcast)

Mr. HARRY KALAS (Sports Announcer): He swings a line shot, base hit, right field. The Tigers win it. Here comes (unintelligible) to score. And it's all over. The Tigers have their first pennant since 1945. Let's listen to anthem here at Tigers Stadium.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: The voices of Ernie Harwell and Harry Kalas, and before that the voice of commentator Frank Deford. He joins us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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