Talking on Air: A Broadcaster's Life in Sports
By Ken Coleman & Dan Valenti
Sports Publishing, Inc. 2000
Ken Coleman was a Red Sox radio and TV announcer for 20 years. He was a local guy, from Quincy, and his stock in trade was sincerity. Ken was never sarcastic, cynical, or even a little bit ironic, as present-day broadcasters are encouraged to be. Coleman came from the old school of corny, gee-whiz broadcasters who smoothed off the rough edges of your day as you listened to a ballgame. He also spent a lot of time in Ohio, having the good fortune to call games for both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Reds when they were World Champions.
"Back in those days, announcers weren't the instant experts or hammering critics that you often see today. We didn't have trash-talk radio. The players were my friends. We weren't hired to constantly criticize. Unlike today, broadcasters back then were reporters describing action, not opinion-givers commenting on it. The same held for print journalists. They reported much more than they editorialized or criticized."
In the early parts of the book, he paints a vivid portrait of Coach Paul Brown, who made the Cleveland Browns a football powerhouse. Coleman can also claim to be the only person who saw every down that running back Jim Brown played (Ken left the Browns the year Jim retired). In 1954 Coleman joined the Cleveland Indians, the year the Indians set AL the record for regular season wins with 111.
Ken was also calling the game in May 1957 when the great Herb Score was hit in the face by a line drive and nearly killed. He says that Score's awkward follow-through made it impossible for him to see the ball coming at him. Just a short time before, a ground ball had come back right through his legs, and he never saw it. The common belief is that the line drive finished Score's ability as a pitcher. But Coleman says that the following spring, Herb Score had recovered his sight and was pitching as well as ever. He was playing pickup basketball when an opponent went up for a rebound and came down on Score's ankle. Score made up a story about slipping in the shower; "in his rush and anxiety to recover from the ankle injury, he hurt his arm." He tried to come back to quickly, and the injury got worse.
After the 1965 baseball season, Ken got word that Curt Gowdy was leaving his job as Voice of the Red Sox. "A light went on inside my head." Coleman immediately called Boston, and told Dick O'Connell he was interested in the job. A week later he was hired. Once again he lucked out, as the Red Sox were only a year away from their "Impossible Dream" season.
In those days he did both radio and TV heading a three-man crew. Coleman would do the first three innings on TV, the middle three on radio, then back to TV for the final three. Ned Martin did the opposite, and Mel Parnell did color on TV for all nine innings. In 1967 only 56 games were televised. I'll skip over the miracle season here -- there's been so much written about it, including another whole book by Ken Coleman (The Impossible Dream Remembered). After the 1974 season, WSBK Channel 38 took over the Red Sox TV rights from Channel 4. WSBK was an aggressive young UHF station -- they had no network affiliation so they could broadcast a lot more games. They were looking for fresh faces and voices, and they replaced Coleman and Johnny Pesky with Dick Stockton and Ken Harrelson. Channel 38 struck gold, as the Sox were on the verge of a pennant (the station continued to make a fortune off the team for another 15 years).
Coleman landed the TV job in Cincinnati, replacing Charlie Jones, and he was lucky again, as The Big Red Machine was just about to go into overdrive, 1975 and '76. His color man in Cincy was Woody Woodward, later to be GM of the Mariners. The Reds were only on TV about 45 games a year, mostly on the road, so Coleman commuted from Massachusetts. In 1979 he came back to do Red Sox radio with Rico Petrocelli, and then with Jon Miller and finally Joe Castiglione. Coleman was fired after the 1989 season by a new group which had secured radio rights to the Sox. Coleman is rather bitter about being fired, but who isn't?
Incidentally, the book contains a nice item: Ted Williams' 1984 speech at Fenway Park the night they retired his number (we were there that night; it's nice to see it in writing).
Review by David Nevard
© 2000 Buffalo Head Society
The Bison Den Library of Book Reviews