The Voices of Summer

Ernie Harwell died recently, and when I heard the news I found myself choked up.

It wasn’t so much that Ernie Harwell died, though he was a legendary broadcaster who honored the game and brought dignity to a city, a state with the way he learned of his illness and carried on his life.  But I’m not a Detroit Tigers fan.  Rather, Harwell’s passing reminded me of the visceral connection we have with these people who calls games for us, day in and day out, summer after summer–  and how they’re slowly disappearing, whether it’s Jack Buck in St. Louis or Harry Kalas in Philadelphia.  At a time when it’s damn rare that a major leaguer stays with any team, the men (and with the exception of Suzy Waldman, they’re invariably men) who leads us through the games–be it on television, or rather sublimely on the radio–become more real to us then a player, often.  (And it doesn’t hurt that they’re usually a little easier to relate to.)

I’m lucky enough these days to have the effortless camaraderie and insights of the triumvirate of Gary, Keith and Ron on the TV, and the great Howie Rose on the radio.  But I can remember a time in my life, as a boy (when baseball, of course, takes voer your daily life in a way it can never really dominate at any other time) when it was the truly magical connection of Gary Cohen, a native of Queens, and the legendary Bob ‘The Murph‘ Murphy, a gentle man with a twang from Oklahoma, calling the “It’s Outta Here!” and “Happy Recaps” on WFAN.

So it wasn’t just Ernie Harwell–  it’s Harry Caray and Vin Scully and that whole old guard of announcers.

Bob Murphy died six (six?!) years ago, and below is the text of a letter I sent to his widow Joy.  Her gracious note back is one of my favorite possesions.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Dear Mrs. Murphy and family:

I was startled the first time I heard that Bob Murphy originally started calling games on television.

I was born in 1977, and grew up listening to Bob call ballgames on the radio.  As an ardent baseball fan and a kid who was more than a little uncool in middle and high school, Bob Murphy, to me, was joy.  He was passion.  His was a voice of quiet dignity, brought to a beloved game that sometimes felt like it had lost its way.

Bob’s voice was what I fell asleep listening to when the Mets were on a West Coast road-trip, playing, say, another city where a Murphy meant so much: San Diego.  His was the voice I listened to when we rooted against hope, which was, of course, often with the Mets in the ‘90s, and the voice I listened to when there was a ‘happy recap.’

He was the voice of summer; of lazy, wonderful Saturday afternoons; of my all-time favorite player, Gary Carter, smashing a home run; and, to me, above all, he was the voice of childhood.

I had the great fortune to attend Bob Murphy Day at Shea Stadium last year.  Afterwards, I had always meant to write Bob, and it is to my profound regret that I did not.  I do not imagine that a few words from a stranger will do much to quench the tremendous grief and sorrow you must all be feeling, but I nonetheless wanted to thank you for sharing Bob with Met fans, and those who love the city and the game.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

WALLY A. MARZANO-LESNEVICH

For a less reverent take on broadcasting, I cannot recommend enough Ken Levine‘s terrific account of his first season as a color man in Baltimore: It’s Gone…  No, Wait A Minute: Talking My Way Into the Big Leagues.  Or just turn on Joe Morgan every Sunday night.

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