Carnett: Finding my own basso profondo

Longtime Boston Red Sox public-address announcer Carl Beane died last month.

Referred to by many as "The Voice of Fenway Park," he was in his 10th season as Red Sox announcer. His affable but measured style exuded class.

In a moving tribute to Beane, Sports Illustrated depicted announcers generally as "voices from heaven." That, I believe, is a perfect description for those who toil at press box microphones. They're disembodied beings — seraphim, if you will — who help set the character and tone for every stadium and arena in the land.

Many, frankly, are not actually gainfully employed as P.A. professionals. They do their work for free because they love it. If required, they'd probably pay their team for the privilege of announcing.

The late Bob Sheppard, the legendary New York Yankees announcer for more than half a century, offered this sage advice for those who ply the trade: "A P.A. announcer is not a cheerleader, or a circus barker, or a hometown screecher. He's a reporter."

Tell that to NBA public-address hacks who fall below Sheppard's enlightened standard. They'd be wise to heed his counsel. Watch a playoff game on TV. NBA screamers swallow their microphones.

Sports Illustrated reports that some NBA P.A. types are hired to serve as "hype men" and "carnival barkers."

I wanted to be an announcer when my voice changed at 13. I'd hold a rolled-up magazine to my mouth: "Now batting. No. 14. First baseman, Gil Hodges."

I'd speak in deep stentorian tones, mimicking my hero, Los Angeles Dodgers' announcer John Ramsey. Ramsey called Dodger games from 1958 to '82. He also announced for other L.A. professional and collegiate teams.

Filling the firmament above the stadium like rolling thunder, his voice was certain to trigger goose bumps and high drama. The simple phrase, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers," could cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up.

I first heard him on the radio behind Vin Scully's masterful play-by-play. I encountered Ramsey "live" for the initial time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1958. The Dodgers were playing the then-Milwaukee Braves.

"No. 44. The right fielder, Henry Aaron."

I announced Costa Mesa High School football games during my junior and senior years, in 1960 and '61, after writing an essay about my dream of one day becoming a sports announcer. My English teacher got me the gig.

I clumsily tried to replicate Ramsey's rich basso profondo.

I announced inter-service basketball games while in the Army in Korea in 1965-66.

While working as an administrator at Orange Coast College, I served 21 seasons — from 1986 to 2007 — as the football public-address announcer. I also announced baseball, basketball, rowing and other events.

After I retired in 2008, the college generously named the LeBard Stadium press box after me — an honor I'll forever cherish.

I always strove to announce games sans any hint of hysteria in my voice. Though I loved my Pirates, I endeavored to adhere to Sheppard's injunction about not being a cheerleader.

In the late 1990s, OCC President Margaret Gratton told me one Monday morning that she'd arrived at the football game the previous Saturday evening in the middle of the first quarter. She heard my voice on the P.A. system wafting over the parking lot as she exited her car.

"It was familiar and comforting," she confided. "Hearing Jim Carnett's voice in the ether told me that everything was right with the world."

Her statement touched me.

My wife, Hedy, not much of a football fan, could hear me announcing games from our home a mile from OCC's stadium. When I finally stopped talking for the evening, and the lights at the stadium were extinguished, she knew I'd be home shortly.

Alas, I announced my last game four seasons ago.

I have Parkinson's disease. When my voice began to fade and my diction got mushy, I stepped aside.

No regrets.

Thanks, Pirate Nation, for the wonderful memories!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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