Opening, Closing Day

Herb Carneal’s voice is silent — except in our memories.

The voice of the Minnesota Twins since back in the days when a .265 hitter and a 12 -10 pitcher weren’t worth millions of dollars, Carneal’s easy languid voice tied us to simpler days.

He wasn’t a great broadcaster nor an insightful analyst. When the Twins came to Minnesota in 1961, Bob Wolff and Ray Scott were the Twins’ radio broadcasters, and they were damn good. Halsey Hall was their sidekick (Wolf left after one season, and Carneal came on then), and Hall’s color commentary and bright gravelly laugh were fueled by the stogies he smoked in the booth and the onions he chomped on to keep his pipes lubricated. Imagine his breath! Those were the voices I fell asleep to during night games, a transister radio tucked under my pillow in South Minneapolis.

But Carneal’s was the voice we pulled in for the last few decades while driving across the Dakotas, or up at the lake, coming fluidly through the scratchy reception. For younger friends of mine like Jorg Pierach, Carneal’s was the voice that meant Twins, summer, long slow games delivered with respect but no histrionics.

In the great 1987 season, when the Twins beat the Tigers for the pennant in Detroit on their way to their first World Series victory, I covered the Detroit games off the Strib city desk, doing color stories, not sports stories. Before one game, in the hotel, Carneal’s wife came up to me and asked if I’d be on his pre-game show — she knew I was a reporter, but we’d never met. I told her I wasn’t a good candidate, that there were far more knowledgeable baseball people around. She looked pained. “He doesn’t have anybody, huh?” I said, and she shook her head sheepishly. I went on the air, Herb was a gentleman who feigned great interest in whatever the hell it was I said, and my friend Dick Meryhew back in St. Paul up a ladder putting on his mom’s storm windows heard me. The magic of the airwaves. Pulling the easy, comfortingly dull, sporadically ecstatic game of baseball into our lives from states away.

Herb loved the game. And he made it come alive for us with just the feel of sitting in the left-field bleachers at the old Met on an endless afternoon where lots of other things that might have mattered and might have bothered us couldn’t get into our consciousness because Herb’s voice was laying baseball out in the spacious green fields of our minds.

A pleasant good evening to you, Herb.


6 thoughts on “Opening, Closing Day

  1. Dave Folkens says:

    I think you hit on a great point here Bruce- the comfort and ease of baseball. In a world that spins faster by the day, Carneal’s voice didn’t add to the chaos. You’d hear a steady voice that offered a break to me and many others that love the game of baseball.

    While the Twins are on television darn near every night, it’s tough to sit down for three plus hours to watch it. However, Herb’s voice could be heard while reading, organizing the garage, or even (gasp) while working. Radio is a great way to tell and hear a story without the visual distractions that come with television.

    Herb told good stories and we’ll miss hearing them.


  2. Loveland says:

    Amen Bruce. I too had the radio under my pillow in my sweltering South Dakota bedroom. And out in the street, as we played ball until the mosquitoes or moms shut us down. And decades later, in the kitchen as I hollered at my own kids to end their own games, and listen to the rest of the game in their own rooms.

    How bittersweet that Herb passed on Opening Day Eve. Today is the magical day when everything seems possible for the home team. And today is the day you eagerly welcome back all your old friends from last summer. Unfortunately, one of those oldest friends will be gone, but not forgotten.

    Herb provided the background music for some of the sweetest moments of my life. And the maestro knew just the right melody for those understated but magical moments.

    Sorry for the sap. Herb probably would have wanted a more straightforward call.

  3. Jorg says:

    You’d think the legions of young baseball fans with radios under their pillows would have inspired someone to invent a clever hybrid – call it the Radipillo. I would have cashed in a summer’s worth of lawnmowing money on such a thing …

    For me, Herb was a constant, and that’s why I was truly sad to hear he had died. “Hi again everybody and a pleasant good evening to you from fill in the American League stadium of the 70s and early 80s.”

    Lovely writing, Boys. Thanks for capturing so eloquently what I’ve been feeling. -jap

  4. Becky Lentz says:

    Extremly well said.

    The conversation and Bruce’s comments remind me of A. Bartlett Giamatti’s comment: Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. It begins in the spring when everything else begins again. And it blossoms in the summer filling the afternoon and evenings. And then, as soon as the chill rains come, it stops. And leaves you to face fall alone.

  5. Malaprop says:

    Perhaps in the subtext in these appreciations: How much more fitting radio is for baseball than television. I learned to love listening to games in the company of an uncle who in today’s parlance was “developmentally disabled.” But he was a baseball genius who appreciated the ability of the broadcasters to set the stage for you in a way that a camera focused on pitcher and batter can never do.

  6. Lurker says:

    I, too, have great memories growing up listening to baseball on the radio. My uncles were all Cardinals fans. I was on the fence, living halfway between the Twin Cities and St. Louis … in Iowa (no jokes please, I’ve heard them all). So I went the way of my uncles and followed the Cards. I have wonderful, indelible memories of driving the car, watching the sunset and listening to the play-by-play. A great radio baseball announcer can move fans to actually want to be in the stadium – with their radio and earbud jammed in the ear listening to the game.

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