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Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Sunday, March 16. 2008
- reposted from April, 2005
By guest author Shaun L. Kelly
His distinct tenor, reassuring and cerebral, was the second-most heard male voice of my childhood. Only my father’s fixed baritone surpassed his as the soundtrack of my years growing up in the greater Boston area. For thirty-two summers - with discernible sagacity and style - Ned Martin served as the principal voice of the Boston Red Sox.
In an age where humility and grace slowly receded from our national character, Martin’s modesty and elegance separated him from a host of other announcers – and people. He never intentionally developed a defined signature call for a homerun. The ball was simply “gone”.
And yet, he used words as a composer uses the notes on a scale. He seemed to embrace the notion first put forth by Emerson “that every word was once a poem”. There was nothing ever “programmed” about Ned Martin. Cogent phrases seem to tumble from his mouth like falling stars.
Unlike most sports announcers, Ned Martin was able to frequently quote from the most gifted bards of English literature - Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, Hemingway - in order to put the narrative of baseball into its proper context. He was a reader, and he brought a reader’s sensibility to each and every broadcast.
Ned Martin was also a deeply-rooted theorist and philosopher. Because he had dipped into the bonfires of hell as a Marine at the close of the Second World War, Ned described each game as an inherent existentialist. Like his beloved Frost, he had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
But Ned Martin was more than just a Red Sox announcer. To me, he served as a personal captain, steering me through the choppy waters of both youth and adolescence - guiding, nurturing, and instructing me as I listened intently, his most loyal and devoted student.
Read rest of piece below:
Twelve seasons have passed since he last broadcast a Red Sox game. And yet, when I turn on a ballgame these days, it is Ned’s voice that still echoes. Two years ago, he appeared to be his vigorous, cordial self as he participated in the Ted Williams Tribute at Fenway Park. Less than twenty-four hours later, he was dead.
While the Red Sox announcer was also able to inform the listener where the sphere was heading, there was, at first, no intimation in Martin’s tone whether the ball was going to be caught…..or fall in for a hit. Ned Martin would never impulsively rush to judgment. He was, first and foremost, a patient man. To him, accuracy was the antonym of hyperbole.
However, as the ball began to topple, Ned’s voice hurriedly changed; his tenor commenced to soar as he exclaimed, “Petrocelli’s back….” A hint of expectation in Martin’s voice could now be detected. Because Red Sox fans were so used to Ned’s understated demeanor, thousands and thousands of New Englanders began to raise their arms in joyous expectation.
“He’s got it! The Red Sox win!”
Even in the clutches of euphoria, Martin maintained praiseworthy integrity. The Red Sox win…..win, what? For with that last out, the Red Sox had just tied for the pennant; they would have to wait for the final result of the Tigers-Angels game to determine whether the team would win the AL flag outright - or be forced to play in a one-game playoff against the Detroit nine the following day. Thus, Martin could not really confirm anything official…. except that the Red Sox had won a most critical ball game.
` The Sox radio announcer then took in a breath of air, mostly to observe the players and fans who had instantly enveloped the jubilant Lonborg to the right of the pitcher’s mound. Chaos ensued, but Ned Martin was well-equipped to describe it. He immediately punched out, “And there’s pandemonium on the field!”
He could have used havoc, mayhem, commotion, hubbub - but he chose - pandemonium. From the least-used word for bedlam, pandemonium is, according to Webster’s, “An utterly lawless, riotous place or assemblage.” A toss-off line by Ned Martin – “there’s pandemonium on the field” - immediately entered the general lexicon of an entire region of baseball fans.
The last ingredient of Martin’s call contained just one word – and a cacophony of elation. Mindful that he was describing the action to a radio audience, Ned paused, and then called out, “Listen!”
An opus of horns could be heard - the air-kind that were allowed at the time by management - instruments of exultation that always gave out a piercing glee as they resounded throughout the old ballpark. The fans’ collective primal-shouting verified Martin’s precise account. The resulting din, deftly recorded by WHDH engineer, Al Walker, was nothing less than the single greatest moment in modern Red Sox history. In the end, Ned Martin wanted all of his listeners to join in and swig from the nectar of jubilation.
From this lens, there were two miracles that occurred that long-ago Sunday afternoon: the 100-to-1 shot Red Sox securing the American League Pennant, and Ned Martin’s flawless, twenty-three second description of the final out of the game.
I first became aware of Ned Martin in 1964 when I received a new transistor radio for my ninth birthday. As the Red Sox began Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona in early March, I began to tune in to the local flagship station at the time, WHDH 850 AM Boston, in order to listen to the handful of Red Sox radio broadcasts emitting from the desert. At the time, Ned Martin was the team’s second broadcaster behind the venerable Curt Gowdy, an announcer who was already receiving national exposure as NBC’s chief baseball and football broadcaster.
From the moment I first heard Ned’s recitations, his unique style was dissimilar in both tone and approach to any other baseball broadcaster at the time. He was cerebral, ironic, expressive, low-key. Even as a nine-year-old, I recognized that Ned was a minimalist in a profession where over-the-top enthusiasm was becoming the norm. Fidelity – not exuberance – seemed to be his modus operendus. And yet, despite his calm overtones, it was also evident that he had a genuine affection for the game.
Like many of us, Ned Martin had fallen in love with baseball at an early age. In an interview conducted with the esteemed Joe Fitzgerald of The Boston Herald, Martin remembered, “One morning when I was about ten, I got up and noticed two cocktail coasters my parents brought home the night before. I looked closer and saw that they'd been autographed by Johnny Marcum and Jimmie Foxx. Foxx! He was like God to me because the Philadelphia Athletics were my team. My folks had seen them in the lounge and my father later told me he was tempted to come home, wake me up and bring me with him but my mother wouldn't let him, so he got the autographs for me instead. I've never forgotten what a thrill that was, or the thrill I later felt when I stood outside Shibe Park and collected the first one on my own, from Skeeter Newsome.''
Ned Martin’s resulting love affair with baseball would last a lifetime. When Fitzgerald asked him about his thoughts on the game, the Red Sox announcer responded, ``Red Smith used to say he loved `the music of the game.' What a great line. There is a music to it, whether it's the first crack of the bat at Winter Haven, a full house on Opening Day, the murmuration of a meaningless game in July, or the buzz you feel at a World Series.”
It was clearly evident even at first glance that the unspeakable elements of baseball were what mattered to Martin the most. From his lens, the game was melodious, elegant, and impeccably graceful. In the end, he seemed like a seamless violinist, playing each and every note with both exactitude and grace. After I began listening to Ned’s broadcasts, my father stated, “You know, son, you are listening to a genuine master.”
As I continued to soak in each and every one of his broadcasts, Ned Martin’s imposing array of words and phrases that colored each game left a prevailing, tangible impression on me. Spewing forth from my tiny transistor, Ned’s lucid descriptions provided a landscape that depended not on rank sentiment but on radiant terminology.
For instance, in Martin’s lexis, a baseball might rocket, balloon, soar, sail, glide, dart, float, sputter, plummet, plunge, bound, skip, hop spring, or dribble. A ferocious swing of the bat by Harmon Killebrew could create “a crosswind in the box seats.” Cleveland’s young pitcher, Luis Tiant, “uncoiled” when he delivered “the confused sphere.” Centerfielder Gary Geiger might “coax the ball down to his glove as if by supplication.” Sox reliever Dick Raditz invariably raised his hands in exultation “after setting down a gaggle of Yankees!”
Longtime Red Sox fan Michael Burns remembers: “Growing up as I did in Worcester, Massachusetts, I'll never forget some of Ned’s beautiful and apt descriptions such as, ‘hung a frozen rope, ‘pool-queue shot’, ‘pealed foul’, ‘maypole dance’ and “the threat goes by the boards,” – phrases that filled so many of his broadcasts over the years. Like many of our fellow Red Sox fans of that era, our family would turn the TV sound down and tune in Ned's radio play-by-play.”
Martin’s eloquence had a profound affect on my own emerging sense of language. My neighborhood in Wellesley, the embodiment of the Baby Boomer explosion that was most visible in the early 1960’s, would be the setting for gargantuan baseball games occasionally involving forty or more children. Loquacious and impulsive, I invariably broadcast each game even as I participated in it. Ned Martin’s choice in both syntax and vocabulary slowly became part of my word arsenal.
If someone “blistered” the ball between third and short, “skied” to center, “scalded” the ball by the first baseman’s glove, or threw a “laser” to home plate, my voice would invariably echo Ned’s phrases. As Martin’s words began to fill my summer days and nights with the sounds of the game, the Red Sox announcer began to transform me into a more nimble speaker without me ever realizing it.
. As the seasons passed like shuffling cards, I slowly began to absorb a host of literary allusions that made Martin’s narrative brushstrokes even more compelling and influential in the end. One evening, a low-hanging fog shrouded eastern New England, causing the well-lit Fenway Park to appear as a huge firefly in the Back Bay horizon. When the fog continued to encircle the Fens, Ned sighed, “Fog comes/in little cat’s feet.” I glanced up at Mum who was listening intently to Martin’s words. “Sandburg,” she smiled.
Later that year, during a re-cap of a doubleheader with the White Sox in which Boston impossibly came back to win the first game only to lose the second in heartbreaking fashion, Ned began, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
After I looked at the radio in puzzlement, my father explained, “Mr. Martin is referring to the opening passage of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.”
When the cerebral Elston Howard joined the Red Sox for the pennant drive in 1967, Ned discussed Ellie’s prowess as a catcher by quoting Wordsworth: “Wisdom is sometimes nearer when we stoop then when we soar.”
Martin particularly loved to use the words of Shakespeare to help paint the scene for his listeners. Once, when describing the vigorous Dick Williams’ shrewd managerial moves that had resulted in a dramatic victory for the Boston nine, Ned quoted from The Merry Wives of Windsor: “Why, then the world’s mine oyster/which I with sword will open.”
After some blatant luck – a bad bounce – had afforded the Red Sox with a fortunate victory during the 1972 season, Martin used the Bard’s words to summarize the game, “And so, ladies and gentleman, as Shakespeare once wrote, ‘Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.’ Good night from Fenway Park.’”
Three years later, when he was teamed with the legendary Jim Woods, the two announcers found themselves in an extra-inning contest in Oakland in which both bullpens were outwardly spent. Martin ended up citing Macbeth, much to the astonishment of the blustery Woods: “If you can look into the seeds of time and say, which grain will grow, and which, will not, speak then to me.”
Ernest Hemingway was a particular favorite of Ned’s; he seemed to recognize the pathos that swathed the writer’s work. After a series of managerial movements by Don Zimmer seemed to fall flat for the team in a contest with the Orioles in the late seventies, Martin used a noted Hemingway line as the focal point at the conclusion of a post-game summary. “Never confuse movement with action,” Ned whispered as he signed off for the evening.
As longtime listeners to his broadcasts eventually discovered, Ned Martin’s obvious passion for words and phrases was instilled in him early on growing up in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania. Later, he would major in English literature at Duke. When he broadcast a game, Martin seemed to personify the very essence of Hemingway’s text that the illustrious wordsmith penned when he finally accepted his deserved Nobel Prize for Literature:
“The individual, the great artist when he comes, uses everything that has been discovered or known about his art up to that point, being able to accept or reject in a time so short it seems that knowledge was born with him - rather than that he takes instantly what it takes the ordinary man a lifetime to know. And then the great artist goes beyond what has been done and makes something of his own.”
When we listened at the beach, in our bedrooms, or from our cars to the sage commentary of Ned Martin, we intrinsically recognized that he was truly making “something of his own”. From a personal standpoint, he was also serving as something of a role model, the cerebral reader-baseball fan, who relished Willie Mays as much as John Steinbeck. In the end, Ned’s music became the vinyl for my own developing interest in timeless literature. While I struggled as a reader early on, I now began to tackle the classics, thanks to the inspiration provided by the man behind the Red Sox mike.
The artistry of Ned Martin seemed to soar especially when he was “on the radio side” of the airwaves. Bill Griffith eloquently explained the culture of broadcasting in the pre-cable days in a brilliant Boston Globe remembrance on Martin: “TV production and replays were still in relative infancy in those days - and telecasts were mostly limited to weekends - so it was common for Sox fans to have the game on radio. Tales of being able to walk down the street and follow the game from the radios on people's porches were true. Baseball was a game made for listening on summer nights and for youngsters to follow in the time-honored radio-under-the-pillow manner.” As the venerable Art Martone wrote in a poignant tribute to Ned in The Providence Journal two years ago, “Ned Martin's was the perfect voice for the day-to-day flow of this sport.”
.While Ned was both urbane and eloquent, brevity was at the core of his success, a quality that, except for Red Barber, has never been duplicated by any other baseball announcer I have ever encountered. Art Martone lucidly remembered that quality in The Providence Journal a few days after Martin’s death:
“He frequently seemed detached from, rather than immersed in, the day-to-day workings of the team and the game . . . and thus was able to provide a context that other announcers could never hope to capture. My favorite Ned Martin call from the 1967 ‘Impossible Dream’ album was not the ‘pandemonium’ clip that everyone's mentioning today, but from the day before. The Sox were leading the Twins, 3-2, in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon -- remember, they had to win both Saturday and Sunday to stay alive in the race -- and Carl Yastrzemski put the game away with a three-run homer off Jim Merritt in the eighth inning. It wasn't so much the call itself that I liked, but the postscript he added when the cheering began to subside.”
“‘If you've just turned your radio on,’ Ned said in a voice tinged with a tiny hint of disbelief, and then he gave just the slightest dramatic pause, ‘it's happened again. Yastrzemski's hit a three-run homer, and it's now 6-2, Red Sox.’” As Martone concluded, “It was perfect. He captured the joy of the moment, the unbelievable, Superman-esque qualities of Yaz's 1967 season, and the turning of the game in the Sox' favor, in two brief sentences. He didn't bellow, he didn't scream, he didn't trot out a forced, signature home-run call. Perfect.”
When I received The Impossible Dream album from my parents for Christmas in December 1967, chills literally flushed my cheeks and arms when I heard the Yastrzemski clip for the first time. While a score of team albums would subsequently be released by Revere’s Fleetwood Records over the years, none would match the unspoiled quality of The Impossible Dream.
In 2003, Fleetwood released both The Impossible Dream and Super Sox ’75 in CD form. Not surprisingly, a recent mint-condition “Dream” album went for $108 dollars on E-Bay. Because the Red Sox won two rare pennants during the years that Ned Martin dominated the local airwaves, his memorable radio calls were preserved for all-time.
The one signature call he ultimately became famous for, “mercy”, was something that leisurely developed through time. While it often was stated after a particularly imposing homerun, strikeout, or fielding play, Ned also used it an interjection of remorse, regret, even pathos. Irony was always at play when Ned Martin broadcast a baseball game.
Red Barber once wrote, “Being on the air for three hours for half-a-year, demands patience, imagination, perspective, and intelligence.” Through the singular vehicle of radio broadcasting, Ned Martin found his true niche as an artist. While he would serve as the team’s television voice for fourteen seasons, his work on radio with such partners as Curt Gowdy, Ken Coleman, and Jim Woods, defined him as a Hall of Fame sportscaster.
It should be noted here that until the explosion of cable television in the mid-seventies, radio play-by-play dominated the local sports scene. Each of the four local professional franchises were prominently featured on 50,000 watt stations back then; the teams’ announcers was as identifiable as the squads they covered. And while Ned Martin stuck with the Red Sox for over three decades, there was one local announcer who remained as his team’s play-by-play man even longer than Ned Martin - none other than the most salient homer to ever describe sports action in the Boston area - the celebrated play-by-play announcer of the Boston Celtics, Johnny Most.
As fragile buds of crocuses began to peer through the rock-strewn soil of Massachusetts each spring, a fan could easily switch from Ned’s evocative eloquence to the rat-a-tat-tat of Most’s unyielding, theatrical narrative - an ongoing saga in which the good guys were forever attired in green and white. For nearly forty seasons, Johnny Most was able to describe in excruciating detail the heroic plight of a “warranted championship team” that even malevolent referees and hooligan thugs couldn’t conquer. As one Boston sportswriter once commented, “John didn’t broadcasting a basketball game; he thought he was narrating the ‘Passion Play’.”
Unlike the sedan-like quality of Ned Martin, Johnny Most’s voice sounded like a car crash. He would sit, emperor-like, in his haughty perch just below the rickety third balcony at the old Boston Garden, inhaling non-filter after non-filter, creating a minefield of smoke that shrouded him in a perpetually dimming stupor. For more than two hours, Johnny would inexorably describe the proceedings taking place on the historic court below, whining over the inequalities of life even as his team won a gaudy sixteen championships in thirty years.
Amidst Buick-sized rats, plastic beer cups, and drunken louts, his grating voice and discriminating commentary became the adhesive to which legions of Celtic fans embraced in what might have been the most flourishing Off-Broadway production in history. There were very few critics; nearly every Bostonian seemed to warm to his antics like a tepid southerly breeze. An absolute original, Johnny Most made even the most irrelevant game in November seem important.
It is also certain that Johnny’s exaggerated storylines knew no bounds if he was into it that night. His habit for glorious overstatement would invariably be replicated the very next day in countless schoolyards across the Boston area: “Big Red snags the rebound, and gets absolutely cuffed in the stomach by Kareem! Oh my goodness! But, of course, Jake O’Donnell isn’t calling anything because there’s no blood on the court! Do you believe that?”
Even the immortals wore black hats in Johnny’s unambiguous world:
“Oscar gets the rebound…… and puts his left elbow right in the face of Satch Sanders! Right in the face! And Manny Sobel has the nerve to call a foul on ‘The Lord!’ The audacity! Well, ladies and gentlemen, those of us who have been blessed to see him in the flesh know that Oscar Robertson would never, ever commit a foul!”
One night, I actually heard him bawl: “Gene Shue just gave his Bullets’ players an armful of tire irons so that they may attack anything out there in green and white….knowing that Mendy Rudolph will call it ‘justifiable homicide!’”
Some of the more unique Mostian broadcasts occurred away from Boston, when opposing fans learned to unmercifully bait such a polarizing figure with aplomb. Inevitably, after being peppered by coffee cups and cigarette butts throughout much of the game, Johnny would growl, “I just got hit by a bagel! They’re throwing things at me, ladies and gentlemen, because the fans here at the Civic Center are frustrated that their shabby, mediocre team always loses to the Celtics!”
It’s not to say that John didn’t have a sense of humor. His recurrent cackle sounded like an old Dodge Dart attempting to start on an arctic January morning. When Dave Bing was traded to the C’s, Johnny couldn’t wait to sing out, “The ball goes out to Dave Bing. He backs up to the right of the key as Dynamite Don clears the way. It’s Bing from the corner – Bing……..bang!”
In the end, though, Johnny Most’s calls were both original and extraordinary. His signature phrases became compulsory axioms for an entire region of basketball fans:
“This is Johnny Most high above courtside.”
“Cousy fiddles and diddles – now he daddles.”
“Outside to Sudden Sam – swish!”
“Russ gets the rebound - what a play by Bill Russell!”
“Jarring John tricky-dribbles with the ball…”
“The Celts are fast-breaking to victory as Tiny dishes it off to Larry!”
And, of course, his nightly signoff, “This is Johnny Most – bye for now.”
Indeed, Johnny Most was the Puck to Ned Martin’s Hamlet.
We must remember, however, that the adored Mr. Most was not the only game in town after Ned Martin signed off for the last time each fall. Sharing the radio booth on Causeway Street each winter were the two most proficient play-by-play men to ever broadcast the Boston Bruins, Fred Cusick and Bob Wilson. Both announcers were meticulously prepared, inherently cogent, and naturally engaging. A contest described by either announcer was both compelling and unblemished. Ultimately, Bob Wilson and Fred Cusick served as admirable bridges to Ned Martin each and every year.
However, this did not mean that the local hockey team was always in the capable hands of adroit announcers. When TV38 began to broadcast all seventy Bruins games each season at the pinnacle of the Bobby Orr era, the station named the inane Don Earle and his incoherent sidekick, Pat Egan, as the television voices of Boston’s storied hockey franchise.
Earle, a native of Philadelphia, never knew a cliché he didn’t like. Johnny Pie was “a gamer”, Espo took scoring “to a different level”, and Bobby was “a star among stars.”
His recurrent use of bad puns and smaltzy humor caused my father to remark one night, “Ned Martin is crystallized ice; Don Earle is two-week-old slush.” For three seasons, it seemed as if Ted Knight was serving as the Bruins chief TV announcer.
In one of his more memorable quips, Earle stated that “there were no holes in the B’s ‘Cheese’,” moments after Bruins’ goaltender Gerry Cheevers had shut out the Rangers. Earle also used the infuriating expression, “if you will”, like MacDonald’s uses salt on its fries. Once, when an irate fan tossed an egg at Derek Sanderson in Chicago, the Bruins’ television announcer commented, “I’ll have mine poached - if you will.”
In the end, however, sidekick Pat Egan made Don Earle sound like Henry V. A former Bruins defenseman who had toiled as a security guard at Northeastern for more than a decade, Egan was inexplicably tapped with the color job in 1968-69 where he would be regularly featured for one unforgettable season as the B’s number two TV guy.
Ultimately, malapropism might have been Pat Egan’s most flagrant broadcasting quality. After a particularly gory game against the Leafs one evening, Egan signed off, “The Garden gang will have a hard time removin’ the blood from the ice before they put on the parakeet floorin’.”
With ol’ Pat ensconced in the catbird’s seat that winter, thousands of New Englanders were exposed to such grievous errors in syntax that scores of well-intentioned parents banished the TV38 volume for a spell. From botched verb-tense agreement to dangling participles to droppin’ the g’s from both action verbs and gerunds, Pat’s recurrent verbal gaffes caused English teachers around the Route 128 area to seriously consider seppuku.
Despite the fact that Egan hailed from Canada, his mispronunciation of French was singularly astonishing. For example, he once reviewed the action at the end of a frenetic second period in the Forum by signing off: “At the 19:45 minute mark - with Donnie Awry off two minutes in the ‘sin bin’ for roughin’ - Montreal come back on goal by Lap-ee-air.”
When TV38 announced that it would not rehire Pat Egan - and that General Manager Bill Quinn would soon find an adequate replacement for him, my father commented, “On a certain level, a follow-up to Pat Egan is absolutely inconceivable.” Fortunately, by the time the Bruins had skated their last shift on the Garden ice, Ned Martin was back behind the radio mike in his crowded cubicle at Fenway Park. “It’s time for Ned to save us once again,” my father grinned as he heard the first inning at Opening Game one April.
In early each and every Red Sox broadcast, even the most casual of listeners could discern a hint of melancholy in Ned Martin’s voice. While he obviously rooted for the Red Sox, he never, ever approached the over-the-top terrain inhabited by the great Johnny Most. There were even times when Ned would gently hint to his listeners about the possibilities of defeat just as it seemed as if the team was on the cusp of victory.
It turned out that this rational, insightful announcer had already witnessed the absolute worst that human beings could do to one another as a young man fighting in defense of his country on the remote island of Iwo Jima.
As Martin told Joe Fitzgerald of The Boston Herald before he retired: “I joined the 4th Marine Division and on D-Day, February 1945, we hit Iwo Jima. I don't think we were there thirty minutes when we came upon a shell-hole. I looked in and saw it was filled with dead Marines; I mean blown-up Marines, with entrails and . . . oh, God, I'd never seen anything like that before. Then I started looking around and pretty soon death got to be common. This wasn't anything like watching Desert Storm, a war that seemed so clean on TV. This was people being blown apart.”
No wonder that In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning remained one of Ned’s most cherished contemporary albums. There was surely an underlying pathos that filled him even as he described the sun-splashed game below. Regardless, we all seemed to love him for it.
And yet, after every tempest in Ned Martin’s world, the sun would inevitably peak through the daunting overcast skies. As Ken Coleman once observed, “Ned was always a blatant optimist”.
While talking about the horrors he experienced in the South Pacific, Martin admitted to Joe Fitzgerald, “They told us it was going to be a nine-day operation but I was there for twenty-six days, and I will never forget the day word spread that the flag was flying on Mount Suribachi - our flag! What a feeling!''
Because he had climbed out of a manhole of hell as a Marine, Ned’s passion for life was also palpable, especially during rain delays. He would take his listeners on a tour of his off-hour interests, from traveling to reading to appreciating “first-class music”. A reserved man by nature, Martin was still able to share his sundry passions both on and off the air.
The day after he died, former Red Sox broadcaster, ESPN’s Jon Miller, told The Globe’s Bill Griffith about Ned’s affection for one of those immense artists who seemed to exert a pull on Ned’s heartstrings, the immortal Francis Albert Sinatra: “’Both Ken Coleman and Ned Martin loved Frank Sinatra’s music,’ said Miller. ‘Ned had a Walkman with plugs for two headsets and sometimes they'd be listening to Sinatra on a flight home and break into song together. It was not broadcast quality.” There is an old Latin dictum that was used as an addendum to conclude Sinatra’s own funeral service -Ars longa, vita brevis. “Art is long, life is short”. Ned would surely have liked that phrase.
After fourteen seasons broadcasting Red Sox baseball on WHDH Radio 850, Ned Martin gained a new broadcasting partner in 1974 with the arrival of Jim “The Possum” Woods. Pugnacious, impulsive, anecdotal, and brisk, Woods would serve as a brilliant converse to Martin throughout their five celebrated years as a baseball broadcasting team. In Woods’ hail hearty, good fellow world, Ned became Nedly and every topic under the heavens was open for discussion.
Martin especially took great delight in bantering with “The Possum” over his days as the number-two announcer to the longtime Pirates broadcaster, the legendary Bob Prince. Because “The Possum” and the brash Prince were two of the most legendary beer connoisseurs in Major League history, Ned once asked, “Did Budweiser sponsor you, or did you two sponsor Bud?”
Animated, spontaneous, and gutsy, Woods seemed to always bring out the best in Martin. As sportswriter Art Martone remarked in his sterling remembrance of Martin in The Providence Journal:
“Announcers, and especially radio announcers, are one of a team's main link to its fan base. They're the prism through which information about the team is shot, and they often set the tone for the fans themselves. For five glorious seasons, Ned Martin was teamed with the sublime Jim Woods, giving the Sox a radio duo unmatched before or since, by anybody -- and it was Ned Martin, more than anyone, who helped define us as what we thought we were: Educated, intelligent students of the game, lovers of our team but also lovers of the sport . . . which, believe it or not, was how Red Sox fans were viewed (and actually were) in those days. Ned was one of the main links to our sense of superiority over Yankee fans, whose symbol was the shrill and hysterical Phil Rizzuto. It was, we thought, the perfect microcosm of the difference between Boston and New York baseball.”
Listening to two such erudite yet disparate men night after night made the summer months seem even more fleeting and urgent. Even then, I recognized then that we were steadfastly ensconced in a provisional Golden Era, where names like Martin, Woods, the Gold Dust Twins, Yaz, El Tiante, Rooster, Pudge, and Dewey were firmly embedded in both the hearts and minds of Red Sox Nation.
Within seven years, however, it would be all gone as free-agency altered the ethos of baseball, and corporate America modified the landscape of sports broadcasting. As Art Martone recapitulated in his tribute published in The Journal, “Ned Martin's strengths became less and less important to the radio industry as it evolved from what it was in the 1960s to what it is today. Quiet and intelligent doesn't play over the airwaves these days; modern radio execs like shrillness and hysteria. His profession changed, and Ned Martin couldn't -- or wouldn't -- change with it.”
When two such unswerving iconoclasts were subsequently ordered to promote the sponsors’ products more vociferously on the air, Ned and Possum ultimately balked, resulting in their dismissals at the end of the 1978 season. While Ned was quickly rehired as NESN’s principal baseball announcer, Jim was not. Thus, the greatest broadcasting team in the history of professional sports in Boston was abruptly dispersed. While everyone remembers the infamous Bucky Dent game with a sense of revulsion, most casual fans have forgotten that it was also the last broadcast of the great Martin and Woods.
Ned Martin would serve as the Red Sox television announcer for another fourteen seasons before being summarily dismissed at the end of the 1992 season. While there were pockets of brilliance throughout his telecasts, his discreet eloquence often fell flat in the visual realm of television. He sometimes seemed confused as to whether he should fill the silence with prose. It was as if Faulkner were asked to write in haiku.
By his last year with the Sox, 1992, baseball and television had resolutely entered the age of Sportscenter, in-your-face journalism, and enduring union-owner-agent greed. At the time, Ned seemed slightly anachronistic, a gentleman in a society of “me-first.” In Bill Griffith’s accolade to Martin in The Globe, his last TV partner, Jerry Remy, talked about Martin’s controversial dismissal: ‘“Ned was sad the last week of that season because he'd learned that NESN wasn't going to bring him back the next year,'’ said Remy. ‘And I knew they were afraid he might say something on the air. There was no chance of that. He went out with dignity and class.’”
Ned Martin subsequently retired to Clarksville, Virginia where he spent time with his beloved wife, Barbara, his daughters Caroline and O'Hara, his son, Roley, nine grandchildren, a bevy of dogs, and his cat, Emily. While we in Red Sox Nation occasionally heard his tranquil, reassuring voice from his new outpost via the talk show circuit, he seemed at peace in his new surroundings, a fitting closing act for a truly serene man.
In 2001, he was both astonished and stirred when he was named to the Red Sox Hall of Fame. At the reception that year, he received the longest sustained ovation of any recipient. On July 22, 2002, Ned attended The Ted Williams Tribute at Fenway Park, where he interviewed old friend, Carl Yastrzemski, the other Sox legend who débuted with the team forty-one years previously. He died of a massive coronary at the Raleigh-Durham airport, a few miles from his beloved home.
Appropriately, his last public appearance had been on the infield at Fenway as a blinding sun sheltered the park from the unforgiving dimness of night. When I heard Ned had passed, I impulsively took out an old Paul Simon album that featured the baseball song, “Night Game”. Ned’s shadow seemed to envelop the lyrics as Simon’s mournful voice echoed in my darkened living room:
There were two men down
As I turned off the light before retiring for bed that night, I swore I could hear Ned sigh off in the distance, “The game is over, the lights are dimming; it’s time to go home. And so from Fenway Park this is Ned Martin. Farewell.”
In the final analysis, the great Ned Martin incessantly stressed the enduring narrative of life through the potent medium of sports broadcasting. From his sage lens, the seasons ran together like an impressionist painting. Ultimately, they became chapters in a book that seemed to accentuate the same reoccurring theme over and over again even as hundreds of players entered and exited the tale like apparitions in a drawn-out war.
But he was more than just an invaluable bard - he was also a master-teacher. Ultimately, Ned Martin served as an invaluable mentor to thousands of New Englanders who faithfully listened to his broadcasts year after year. Without knowing it, he not only vastly extended our vocabularies, but instilled in many of us an infatuation for language that stuck with us long after he broadcast his last game for the Boston nine.<span style=&quo
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"...he served as a personal captain, steering me through the choppy waters of both youth and adolescence - guiding, nurturing, and instructing me as I listened intently, his most loyal and devoted student. "
I was a "...most loyal and devoted student." of Jean Shepherd. I listened to Shep when I was in my young teen-aged years during the 1960's. I lived in Philadelphia and was just able to "pull him in" on my transistor radio as he broadcast from WOR in New York.
From whom else could a kid growing up in a lower class row house neighborhood experience Japanes Haiku poetry? It was all magic and continues to be (thanks to MP3 files available at flicklives.com).
Today I would point to James Lileks as the carrier of the flame.