Les Keiter, 89; narrated Giants baseball from ticker

By Richard Goldstein
New York Times / April 20, 2009
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NEW YORK - Les Keiter, who spent 50 years as a sportscaster but was best remembered for his three imaginative summers in a Manhattan radio studio re-creating San Francisco Giants baseball games for abandoned fans from the Polo Grounds years, died Tuesday in Kailua, Hawaii.

He was 89.

His wife, Lila, announced his death, the Associated Press reported.

Beginning in 1958, the Giants' first year in San Francisco, and continuing for the next two seasons, listeners to WINS radio in New York heard the refrain, "Hi there again, baseball fans, this is Les Keiter with Giant baseball."

The Giants had gone west along with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but they lingered on Coogan's Bluff and elsewhere in the New York area through Mr. Keiter's booming voice and excitable embellishments, aided by his Western Union tickertape, crowd noise, and a drumstick and wooden block alongside his microphone.

When the Giants and the Dodgers departed, Mr. Keiter was the sports director of WINS. He was broadcasting Knicks and football Giants games and doing pregame and postgame Yankee broadcasts.

As he told it in his 1991 memoir, "Fifty Years Behind the Microphone," the owner of WINS, J. Elroy McCaw, asked him to do re-creations of Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers home games.

"Listen, Elroy, you've got to be out of your mind," Mr. Keiter responded. "Sports fans in Manhattan, New Jersey, and Westchester are too sophisticated for re-creations."

But McCaw persisted, and Mr. Keiter chose the Giants, which had Willie Mays and a host of talented young players, over the aging Dodgers.

Mr. Keiter monitored telegraph reports bringing the essential play-by-play into the WINS studio and filled in the rest, offering descriptive flourishes based on his best guess as to what was happening.

"You might not know what kind of pitch struck a man out, but you remember what a certain pitcher's key weapon is," he recalled. "You can't see the condition of a field after a rain delay, but you know from your preparation what conditions the stadium is usually in when wet."

Mr. Keiter remembered how "you use all this research and experience to create a broadcast that may not be correct in every detail but is certainly plausible."

Sometimes wearing Bermuda shorts and eating popcorn at the microphone, Mr. Keiter banged his drumstick against his wooden block to simulate a batter connecting.

His engineer activated tapes labeled "Excited Crowd" or "Regular Crowd" and, on occasion, the sound of booing.

Once in a while, when the ticker account stopped transmitting or became garbled, Mr. Keiter would fill in the time by inventing a pitcher-catcher conference on the mound or a batter fouling off pitch after pitch.

During the 1959 season, Mr. Keiter's re-creations were heard by an average of 300,000 listeners in the New York area. The Giants finished third in the National League while the Dodgers were surprise pennant winners.

A native of Seattle, Mr. Keiter began his sportscasting career in Hawaii in the late 1940s. He did radio broadcasts for most Knicks games from 1955 to 1962 and Giants football from 1956 to 1959.

He also provided the blow-by-blow for heavyweight championship boxing matches on ABC radio, with Howard Cosell as his color commentator.

Mr. Keiter left for Philadelphia in 1963 and became a popular figure broadcasting college basketball at the Palestra, telling listeners of a "ring-tailed howitzer" for a long-range off-balance shot and an "in again out again Finnegan" for a shot that rimmed the basket but did not fall.

"I've never been able to contain my excitement," he once said.

Mr. Keiter returned to Hawaii in 1970, becoming sports director of KHON-TV in Honolulu and broadcasting Hawaii Islanders minor league baseball and University of Hawaii sports.

Mr. Keiter's leaves his wife and five children.

Long after he put away his drumstick, wooden block, and canned crowd noise, Mr. Keiter reprised his baseball re-creation style on network television appearances, including a spot with Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Today" show.

As Mr. Keiter remembered it: "Brokaw commented to Jane Pauley after my feature that 'Neil Armstrong didn't really walk on the moon; Les Keiter re-created the whole thing."'

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