As the new Red Sox announcer, Carl Beane is truly having a ball
Nomar, Manny, and the rest of the Red Sox are waiting. The visiting Toronto Blue Jays are waiting. More than 32,000 fans are waiting. They're all waiting for Carl Beane.
In a control room five floors above the field, a bearded, bespectacled man with unruly gray hair leans forward and presses a button on a microphone. Then, in a gravelly baritone that resonates along that fine line between drama and melodrama, he intones the words they're all waiting to hear: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome to Fenway Park!"
For baseball fans all over New England, this greeting is an invitation to partake in a hallowed ritual of spring and summer. This season, and he hopes for many seasons to come, the greeting will emanate from the talented tonsils of Carl Beane, a longtime radio sports reporter who reminds some listeners of legendary Red Sox public address announcer Sherm Feller. Beane knows he's working in the long shadow cast by Feller, the Sox' PA announcer from 1967 to his death in 1994. Before each game, he taps the framed photo of Feller hanging outside the control room and says, "Help me out, Sherm."
On this afternoon last Saturday, it is a bit chilly but otherwise a great day for baseball. From Beane's perch in the control room, Fenway Park spreads out in a glorious green panorama. He first began coming to the ballpark with his father in the late 1950s, and now he is, in effect, Fenway's master of ceremonies - a task he clearly relishes. James Taylor is on hand to sing the national anthem, and Beane lays it on thick in his introduction: "One of the most accomplished recording artists in American history . . . a hometown hero and great Red Sox fan, Mr. James Taylor!"
Before the games, Beane will ask visiting players how they like their names pronounced and if they prefer to be called by a nickname. With fewer than a dozen games under his belt, Beane is still honing his style: a subdued delivery for Sox opponents, a little extra force for the home team. "No. 24, the left fielder," he announces in a relatively normal tone of voice. Then, building a crescendo: "Manny . . . Rah-meer-ez!"
"I love introducing somebody and you hear them cheer," says Beane. "You feel part of the game."
But he understands Red Sox Nation well enough to generally steer clear of histrionics. "This is not one of those ballparks where you need fireworks and an announcer screaming at the fans to get them involved," says Beane. "This is a special place. My job is to welcome them and get out of the way. Don't do shtick. This is a baseball shrine, and it has to be treated as such."
Between innings, Beane pores over his stat sheet or tells anecodotes about Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro to the 20-something members of the control room's "stat crew" (who operate the Fenway scoreboards and display screens via computer). Midway through the game, he is unexpectedly pressed into service to keep track of the count for crew members while they deal with a glitch in the computers. He holds up fingers to signify balls and strikes as they scramble to fix the problem. He clearly savors his crowd-pleasing duties, such as inviting people to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for the seventh-inning stretch or informing fans right after the final out that kids will be allowed to run the bases.
Later, Beane sits in the empty, darkened media dining room and shakes his head as if he's having trouble believing his good fortune. "Not bad for a 50-year-old guy from Agawam," he says.
It's been less than two months since Beane decided he wanted to vie for the chance to be Fenway's new public address announcer. The job had been held by Ed Brickley, widely regarded as a nice guy but not blessed with the best of pipes. Beane has good pipes. His voice can fill a room. For years, that voice had prompted sportswriters to suggest he seek the PA job, but Beane says he never seriously considered it. But when the job came open this year, he called Sox public-relations executive Kevin Shea. "I thought he would say, `Send a tape.' That's the standard cold answer in broadcasting," says Beane. "Instead, he said, `What are you doing this weekend? How about if we fly you down to Fort Myers and you do the game?' "
Hundreds of people had sent in tapes and CDs, competing for a job that pays only $50 a game, according to Charles Steinberg, Sox executive vice president for public affairs. Beane, who teaches at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and provides sports reports for syndicated MetroRadio, was the only hopeful granted a game audition. He seemed to fit Fenway. "The ballpark has a voice," says Steinberg. "There is a vocal quality to the visual stimuli in the ballpark. It's like tuning an old radio, sliding the button, going down the stations, and then you hear the music that fits the mood and fits the scene." Beane, a drummer in his spare time, created the right kind of "music," and he got the job. (Former Channel 4 reporter Charlie Austin will also do a few games each season.)
Beane's path to the PA booth was not without bumps. In Fort Myers, all went well until the fourth inning, when the Sox' Jeremy Giambi came up to bat, and Beane announced: "The designated hitter, Jason . . ." He caught himself immediately, realizing he had mixed up Giambi with his brother, Jason, of the hated Yankees. "Jeremy Giambi, sorry." The crowd promptly booed. But Beane won the fans back in the sixth inning, first by getting Giambi's name right, then by responding to a mock ovation with a deep bow from the booth. Beane got the job.
The Giambi mix-up was not a Buckneresque blunder by any means, but Beane apparently won't soon be allowed to forget it. On this day, a few minutes before game time, Beane opens a letter from film critic Jeffrey Lyons, an acquaintance. The letter congratulates Beane on getting the job, then adds: "Just remember, WE have Jeremy, THEY have Jason." Beane's expression is half-smile, half-wince.
If there is one quality he learned during 31 years of bouncing around radio, it is resilience. Beane grew up in Agawam listening to such fabled announcers as Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin, Ken Coleman, Red Barber, and Mel Allen. "From the fourth grade, I wanted to do radio," he says. So when he graduated from Agawam High School in 1971, he headed straight for the Career Academy Broadcast School (now defunct). A few months later, he launched his radio career at WMAS in Springfield, playing religious tapes on Sunday mornings and working as a DJ at night. He edged his way into sports, producing sportscasts and doing play-by-play for the Pittsfield Rangers minor-league club. He met Gowdy, who by then owned a couple of radio stations. Gowdy gave him a boost in confidence by praising his work.
In 1976, Beane joined WARE in Ware - and stayed for 18 years. He did play-by-play for high school games, broadcasting from the back of a truck or in the stands, plus morning sports reports. That often meant getting home at 2 a.m. after a night game, getting up at 5 a.m. to do morning sports reports, then grabbing a quick nap in the afternoon. In 1978, he began freelance work for other radio stations that did not have their own sports operations and began filing sports reports on major-league games. In 1994, when WARE was sold, Beane went to WESO in Southbridge, and later became a freelancer for Metro Radio, feeding postgame interviews with baseball and basketball players to ESPN Radio, CBS Radio, and other stations. He plans to continue doing that. He says he sees no conflict with his PA duties. "All I care about is how you won, how you lost," he says. "I don't care about the other stuff."
What he does care about is the rhythm of the game and his relationship with the fans. Can he match Feller's run? He has developed a stock answer: "I will never fill his shoes, but I do get to sit in his chair," he says. Besides, as Beane embarks on what he hopes will be a long stay as the voice of the Red Sox, he has another role model in mind, a guy also famous for durability and longevity.
"I want to be the Cal Ripken of baseball announcers," he says.
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.