John Ramsey was the finest sports public address announcer I ever heard.
Bob Sheppard, the legendary P.A. voice for the New York Yankees, died recently after more than 50 years behind the microphone. I had heard Sheppard at Yankee Stadium. He was, without question, a luminary.
Some called him "The Voice of God."
But if Sheppard was The Voice of God, then Ramsey's booming basso profundo had to be "The Reverberating Echo of the Big Bang." Ramsey could introduce Sandy Koufax and make the hair on your neck stand up.
During his more than 30-year career, Ramsey was the voice of the Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, Raiders, USC Trojans and many other teams and events. His breakthrough came when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn's Ebbets Field to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1958.
I was 13 at the time and became an instant Dodger fan. I first heard Ramsey as ambient ballpark noise behind Vin Scully's radio play-by-play. Although he inhabited the "background," I fell in love with Ramsey's sonority and deliberate style.
He could introduce a starting lineup like Moses announcing the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai.
I first heard Ramsey "live" on Sunday, June 8, 1958. The Dodgers were hosting Henry Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves at the Coliseum. We sat behind the 40-foot-high left-field screen, and 57,000 people were in attendance.
As my dad, brother and I walked down the long tunnel into the stadium, I could hear Ramsey announcing the Dodgers' starting lineup: "In right field. Number Six. Carl Furillo."
It was one of the most poignant moments of my life.
I remember to this day that Ramsey pronounced Furillo's name "few-rillo," not "fer-illo" like all the radio and TV guys. Ramsey was a stickler for detail, and I'm sure his pronunciation was correct. He'd no doubt talked with Furillo about it.
Ramsey died in 1990 at the age of 62 — and I've never forgotten him. Ramsey was the best doggone P.A. announcer ever!
During the fall of 1958, I enrolled as a freshman at Costa Mesa High School. I rode the bus to school, but often stayed late and walked home. We lived off Del Mar Avenue on Costa Mesa's Eastside.
On my walks home I'd cut through the Orange County Fairgrounds. The Grandstand Arena, next to Arlington Drive, had not yet been built. Instead, there was a small motorcycle dirt track, with a wooden grandstand, situated southeast of the current Grandstand Arena, in what is a fair parking lot today.
On my lazy strolls home I'd stop at the dirt track and climb the rickety bleachers. At the top of the grandstand was a clapboard press box, open to the elements. I'd clamber into the booth and sit in one of the folding chairs overlooking the tiny arena.
Then, in my deepest, richest voice, I'd begin announcing the Dodger starting lineup, which I could recite from memory. I'd articulate the entire lineup in John Ramsey stentorian tones.
During my junior and senior years I was chosen to be the public address announcer for all Costa Mesa High football games at Orange Coast College's Pirate (now LeBard) Stadium. It was the thrill of my young life. John Ramsey was now my role model, and I did my very best imitation.
His booming voice emanated from an amply endowed physical frame. My scrawny 120-pound physique couldn't muster the same deep resonance, but I gave it my best shot. I announced every game a couple of octaves below my normal vocal range.
For nearly 37 years I served as director of community relations at Orange Coast College, and announced a variety of campus sporting events in my spare time. From 1971 to 1985, I ran the press box for all Pirate home football games. For 21 seasons, from 1986 to 2007, I was public address announcer for Pirate football games.
When I retired in 2008, the college honored me by naming the LeBard press facility the Jim Carnett Press Box. I was deeply touched.
I owe it all to John Ramsey.
JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.