Upon further review, it seemed so appropriate. Just days before, it had been announced that Herb Carneal, who had been voicing Minnesota Twins games since 1962, was too ill to work the season opener Monday against Baltimore. Carneal, 83, had cut his schedule back considerably in recent years. Since 1998, he had only been working home games. In the last couple years, he had cut back to weekends and midweek day games. On Sunday, the final cut was made to his schedule. Carneal, a member of the broadcasting wing in baseball’s Hall of Fame, passed away due to congestive heart failure. He leaves behind a legion of friends, many of whom he never knew.
By Dave Wright
Upon further review, it seemed so appropriate. Just days before, it had been announced that Herb Carneal, who had been voicing Minnesota Twins games since 1962, was too ill to work the season opener Monday against Baltimore. Carneal, 83, had cut his schedule back considerably in recent years. Since 1998, he had only been working home games. In the last couple years, he had cut back to weekends and midweek day games.
On Sunday, the final cut was made to his schedule. Carneal, a member of the broadcasting wing in baseball’s Hall of Fame, passed away due to congestive heart failure. He leaves behind a legion of friends, many of whom he never knew.
More than any other sport, there is a special connection between the broadcaster and the major-league baseball team. Although he was not as well known nationally as other talkers, Carneal was beloved in the Upper Midwest because he fit the lifestyle perfectly. He was a soft-spoken, polite fellow who seemed to approach every game the same way — whether the team was good (as they were in the World Series years of 1965, 1987, and 1991) or awful (as they were in 1982 when they went 3-26 in May en route to a 60-102 season).
He was the ultimate professional, a fellow who called the game as it was, not as a marketer wanted it to be.
Carneal was used to professionalism. He had started his major-league career in Baltimore, working with Ernie Harwell. There they were, two southern gentlemen working in soft tones in a northern climate. No one complained about the accents. When Harwell left for Detroit in 1960, Carneal teamed up with another laidback Hall of Famer, Chuck Thompson. This pairing fit his style because as later partner John Gordon pointed out, "He didn’t rely on a strong presence of statistics. He just had a great knowledge of how a game should take place. He really enjoyed watching a game and being able to describe what happened in that game and that was so evident by listening to him." In short, Carneal didn’t want to be the story but loved be the storyteller.
When he came to Minnesota in 1962, he worked with Halsey Hall, a local legendary storyteller. Carneal knew how to play the straight man as Hall, a fellow who lit a microphone on fire, amused listeners with folksy tales of minor league days. Ray Scott, who was also on the crew, was better known for his football work but got the network call when the Twins advanced to the 1965 World Series. Carneal didn’t care. He just liked being at the park and being allowed the chance to work his innings. "There was no ego to Herb," Gordon told a radio interviewer. "He was from the old school — the game was all that mattered."
That low-key attitude, so different than is frequently seen and heard today, was needed in Minnesota. After Hall died, Carneal worked with a serious of successors, ranging from Ray Christensen (better known for his 50 years of doing U of Minnesota football and basketball) to Frank Quilici, a former Twins player and manager with an amazing ability to mangle the English language. Quilici never met a conjugation he couldn’t ruin but Carneal found a way to make him entertaining, listenable and lovable. It helped because the Twins of the late 1970s and early 1980s rarely contended … but always managed great radio ratings and a network that stretched to Montana. Carneal was a big reason for that.
After Quilici left, Carneal really worked hard, enduring a series of inexperienced partners. One of them, Ron Weber, had never done baseball but had spent several years as the voice of the NHL Washington Capitals. "The man thinks every night is like a hockey game," Carneal said one night. "What he doesn’t understand is baseball is a marathon that isn’t decided in the first or second game of the year. It takes time and needs to be taken piece by piece." Harwell, a fellow Hall of Famer, agreed. Asked by www.mlb.com about his old partner, he said, "He was smooth, laid back, down the middle and very pleasant to listen to. It was like you were an old friend and sitting around with him, maybe with his shoes off and a cigar or bottle of beer and just enjoying his company and in turn enjoying the ballgame."
That might be the words of praise Carneal treasured the most. In his later years, as his health deteriorated, his voice would occasionally sound shaky. But it was clear he enjoyed being at the park … and he enjoyed telling people about it. But he understood the job had its responsibilities. One morning, at old Met Stadium, a young wire-service reporter was given a valuable lesson in professionalism. The wire-service guy was muttering about his assignment to cover the Twins against the bleeping White Sox at 10:30 on a chilly Saturday morning and wondered how Carneal could be interested in describing that day’s game. "There are many days I come to the park and don’t feel good," Carneal said. "But I can’t let that feeling go on the air. When people tune in, they expect to hear about a game and not my problems. This is their break from work. Just remember this when you write your story today: you are the eyes for thousands of people who would trade places with you in a second. If you think anything else, you won’t do a good job."
This happened three decades ago but the fellow remembers the dressing down like it was yesterday. Herb Carneal may not have been as flamboyant as Mel Allen, as funny as Jon Miller or Skip Carey, or as well known as Vin Scully. But he knew his job, liked it and was very good at it for a long time. In the end, what better tribute is there?