Baseball announcers have a special bond with their listeners. You invite them into your home or your car every evening, for six or seven months at a time. You depend on their words and descriptions to paint the picture. Over time, you know the announcer as much as you know the players they describe. Their mannerisms, their unique calls, their likes, their dislikes... It's as familiar as the pine tar across the back of Gordon's jersey. It's the fabric of the franchise.
Fred White passed away on Wednesday. And the franchise lost one of it's most familiar figures.
Fred first joined the Royals radio team in 1973 as part of a three man booth. Two years later, it was just Fred and Denny Matthews. And it remained that way until 1998. A quarter century. Broadcasters don't last that long without making a major impact.
My most vivid memories of listening to Denny and Fred come from the September pennant races. For whatever reason, it always seemed as though once school started and the bedtime regimen kicked in, the Royals went to California or Seattle with the division in the balance. These weren't some random game in Baltimore in April. These games were important. Vital. And Fred and Denny brought those moments to life.
I had a clock radio in my bedroom. Not some digital thing... This was beyond old school. It had a sleep timer that was a dial you actually turned. The maximum time was an hour. My mom, being a responsible parent, would only allow me to give it a quarter turn. Fifteen minutes! But it's the pennant races. Who cares about the start of the school year? I need to listen to Fred and Denny while they describe the exploits of the team I loved so much. Once mom left the room and she was safely downstairs, I'd creep out of my bed and push the dial a little more to the right. Sometimes, I'd go a full hour. In September (and April and May) I'd fall asleep to the sounds of Denny and Fred and Royals baseball.
If the game was an earlier start time, maybe I'd be able to stay awake and catch Fred on the Royals Scoreboard Show. He'd give the score of games and note the home runs. American League first, followed by the NL. Johnny Bench homered in Cincinnati. Dave Kingman homered in Chicago. And Chris Chambliss homered in New York. He'd call the names and you'd match them in your mind with the baseball cards you collected and stored in a shoebox somewhere in the closet. I'm romanticizing a bit, but damnit there was something about being a kid during the Glory Days and having Fred and Denny call the action. You couldn't get those scores anywhere else. Those two brought everything to life.
It's a testament to his popularity and his personality that 15 years after being replaced in the booth, people still missed Fred White on the call. Can you imagine? Sometimes, Fred would come back into the booth. Maybe it would be to fill in for another announcer. More likely he was on to talk about some Royals alumni event. I enjoyed those moments. Fred's voice had lost some of it's crispness in the later years, but it maintained that distinct Midwestern lilt. It was a comfort.
There aren't a lot of clips of Fred calling games on YouTube. One clip that features Fred is of the ninth inning of Game Six of the 1985 World Series. Denny was on the call for the inning, but he let Fred provide the postscript:
"Denny you know you go through a lifetime of being around sports. If you ever question whether or not it's worth it all you need to do is sit and look down on Royals Stadium right now and see the joy that this game has brought to the fans at Royals Stadium. And yes, there are more important things on this Earth than sports, I guess. But I dare say tonight, nothing can bring more joy to Kansas City than a little single to right field to get this thing to Game Seven. This improbably little team, doing improbable little things, now has pushed this thing to the brink."
Thank you, Fred.