“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 

BOSTON RED SOX
1961-1992

BOSTON PATRIOTS
1965
 
NED MARTIN

 

by Shaun L. Kelly

His distinct tenor, reassuring and cerebral, was the second-most heard male voice of my childhood. Only my father's fixed baritone surpassed his as the soundtrack of my years growing up in the greater Boston area. For thirty-two summers, with discernable sagacity and style, Ned Martin served as the principal voice of the Boston Red Sox.

In an age where humility and grace slowly receded from our national character, Martin's modesty and elegance separated him from a host of other announcers - and people. He never intentionally developed a defined signature call for a homerun. The ball was simply, gone.  And yet, he used words as a composer uses the notes on a scale. He seemed to embrace the notion first put forth by Emerson "that every word was once a poem". There was nothing ever "programmed" about Ned Martin. Cogent phrases seem to tumble from his mouth like falling stars.

Unlike most sports announcers of any era, Ned Martin was able to frequently quote from the most gifted bards of English literature - Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, Hemingway - in order to put the narrative of baseball into its proper context. He was a reader, and he brought a reader's sensibility to each and every broadcast. Ned Martin was also a deeply-rooted theorist and philosopher. Because he had dipped into the bonfires of hell as a Marine at the close of the Second World War, Ned described each game as an inherent existentialist. Like his beloved Frost, he had "a lover's quarrel with the world". But Ned Martin was more than just a Red Sox announcer. To me, he served as a personal captain, steering me through the choppy waters of both youth and adolescence - guiding, nurturing, and instructing me as I listened intently, seemingly his most loyal and devoted student.

Twelve seasons have passed since he last broadcast a Red Sox game. And yet, when I turn on a ballgame these days, it is Ned's voice that still echoes. While hundreds of players have come and gone since he first began to broadcast for the team in 1961, for many of us, Ned Martin remains the most indispensable Red Sox figure of them all. As Globe columnist, Bill Griffith wrote in a notable eulogy a week after Ned's passing, "Today's broadcasts are slicker and technically superior, but those bygone days were a wonderful time to be a baseball fan in Boston. Long before there was 'Morgan Magic' on the field in 1988, there was Martin Magic on radio." In a storeroom of searing play-by-play moments, the "magic of Ned Martin" was most evident at the culminating moment of the most beloved team in Boston sports history - the Impossible Dream Red Sox. His celebrated broadcast that afternoon of the last game in the most competitive pennant race in American League history remains the Gold Standard for sports announcers to this day.

To appreciate the wizardry of Ned Martin, one only has to review his lucid play-by-play of the final out of a closely-fought contest between the Sox and the mighty Minnesota Twins in order to demonstrate his obvious luster. Leading 5-3 with two outs in the ninth inning, the Twins harried manager, Cal Ermer, sent up pinch-hitter Rich Reese to face Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg. As always, Ned Martin provided the scene with absolute precision... "Jim Lonborg is within one out....of his biggest victory ever....," he began, with a slight tremor in his voice, "....his twenty-second of the year....and his first over the Twins." Efficient, accurate, to the point. He then paused - letting the listener take in the scene. Silence was always one of Martin's most laudable broadcasting attributes. "The pitch......is looped toward shortstop...."  A living and breathing thesaurus, Martin could have used any of a host of words from his prodigious vocabulary, but he chose, "looped". My father later described Reese's popup as "a little squirt from the hose". Looped was an inspired choice, impeccably capturing the bending flight of the ball.


While the Red Sox announcer was also able to inform the listener where the sphere was heading, there was, at first, no intimation in Martin's tone whether the ball was going to be caught.....or fall in for a hit. Ned Martin would never impulsively rush to judgment. He was, first and foremost, a patient man. To him, accuracy was the antonym of hyperbole.

However, as the ball began to topple, Ned's voice hurriedly changed; his tenor commenced to soar as he exclaimed, "Petrocelli's back...." A hint of expectation in Martin's voice could now be detected. Because Red Sox fans were so used to Ned's understated demeanor, thousands and thousands of New Englanders began to raise their arms in joyous expectation. "He's got it! The Red Sox win!" Even in the clutches of euphoria, Martin maintained praiseworthy integrity. The Red Sox win.....win, what? For with that last out, the Red Sox had just tied for the pennant; they would have to wait for the final result of the Tigers-Angels game to determine whether the team would win the AL flag outright - or be forced to play in a one-game playoff against the Detroit nine the following day. Thus, Martin could not really confirm anything official.... except that the Red Sox had won a most critical ball game. The Sox radio announcer then took in a breath of air, mostly to observe the players and fans who had instantly enveloped the jubilant Lonborg to the right of the pitcher's mound. Chaos ensued, but Ned Martin was well-equipped to describe it. He immediately punched out, "And there's pandemonium on the field!" He could have used havoc, mayhem, commotion, hubbub - but he chose - pandemonium. From the least-used word for bedlam, pandemonium is, according to Webster's, "An utterly lawless, riotous place or assemblage." A toss-off line by Ned Martin - "there's pandemonium on the field" - immediately entered the general lexicon of an entire region of baseball fans.

The last ingredient of Martin's call contained just one word - and a cacophony of elation. Mindful that he was describing the action to a radio audience, Ned paused, and then called out, "Listen!" An opus of horns could be heard - the air-kind that were allowed at the time by management - instruments of exultation that always gave out a piercing glee as they resounded throughout the old ballpark. The fans' collective primal-shouting verified Martin's precise account. The resulting din, deftly recorded by WHDH engineer, Al Walker, was nothing less than the single greatest moment in modern Red Sox history. In the end, Ned Martin wanted all of his listeners to join in and swig from the nectar of jubilation. From this lens, there were two miracles that occurred that long-ago Sunday afternoon: the 100-to-1 shot Red Sox securing the American League Pennant, and Ned Martin's flawless, twenty-three second description of the final out of the game.

"Listen!"

Martin particularly loved to use the words of Shakespeare to help paint the scene for his listeners. Once, when describing the vigorous Dick Williams' shrewd managerial moves that had resulted in a dramatic victory for the Boston nine, Ned quoted from The Merry Wives of Windsor: "Why, then the world's mine oyster/which I with sword will open." After some blatant luck - a bad bounce - had afforded the Red Sox with a fortunate victory during the 1972 season, Martin used the Bard's words to summarize the game, "And so, ladies and gentleman, as Shakespeare once wrote, 'Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.' Good night from Fenway Park.'"

Three years later, when he was teemed with the legendary Jim Woods, the two announcers found themselves in an extra-inning contest in Oakland in which both bullpens were outwardly spent. Martin ended up citing Macbeth, much to the astonishment of the blustery Woods: "If you can look into the seeds of time and say, which grain will grow, and which, will not, speak then to me." Ernest Hemingway was a particular favorite of Ned's; he seemed to recognize the pathos that swathed the writer's work. After a series of managerial movements by Don Zimmer seemed to fall flat for the team in a contest with the Orioles in the late seventies, Martin used a noted Hemingway line as the focal point at the conclusion of a post-game summary. "Never confuse movement with action," Ned confirmed as he signed off for the evening.

As longtime listeners to his broadcasts eventually discovered, Ned Martin's obvious passion for words and phrases was instilled in him early on growing up in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania. Later, he would major in English literature at Duke. When he broadcast a game, Martin seemed to personify the very essence of Hemingway's text that the illustrious wordsmith penned when he finally accepted his deserved Nobel Prize for Literature: "The individual, the great artist when he comes, uses everything that has been discovered or known about his art up to that point, being able to accept or reject in a time so short it seems that knowledge was born with him - rather than that he takes instantly what it takes the ordinary man a lifetime to know. And then the great artist goes beyond what has been done and makes something of his own."

The artistry of Ned Martin seemed to soar especially when he was "on the radio side" of the airwaves. Journalist Bill Griffith eloquently explained the culture of broadcasting in the pre-cable days in an ambitious Boston Globe remembrance on Martin: "TV production and replays were still in relative infancy in those days - and telecasts were mostly limited to weekends - so it was common for Sox fans to have the game on radio. Tales of being able to walk down the street and follow the game from the radios on people's porches were true. Baseball was a game made for listening on summer nights and for youngsters to follow in the time-honored radio-under-the-pillow manner." As the skillful Art Martone wrote in a poignant tribute to Ned in The Providence Journal two years ago, "Ned Martin's was the perfect voice for the day-to-day flow of this sport."

While Ned was both urbane and eloquent, brevity was at the core of his success, a quality that, except for Red Barber, has never been duplicated by any other baseball announcer I have ever encountered. Art Martone lucidly remembered that quality in Pro-Jo a few days after Martin's death: "He frequently seemed detached from, rather than immersed in, the day-to-day workings of the team and the game . . . and thus was able to provide a context that other announcers could never hope to capture. My favorite Ned Martin call from the 1967 'Impossible Dream' album was not the 'pandemonium' clip that everyone's mentioning today, but from the day before. The Sox were leading the Twins, 3-2, in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon -- remember, they had to win both Saturday and Sunday to stay alive in the race -- and Carl Yastrzemski put the game away with a three-run homer off Jim Merritt in the eighth inning. It wasn't so much the call itself that I liked, but the postscript he added when the cheering began to subside."

"'If you've just turned your radio on,' Ned said in a voice tinged with a tiny hint of disbelief, and then he gave just the slightest dramatic pause, 'it's happened again. Yastrzemski's hit a three-run homer, and it's now 6-2, Red Sox.'"

Another Martin cherished clip featured on the same disc - typically understated and sagacious - described Red Sox newcomer Norm Siebern making a triumphant pinch-hit to secure a late Boston rally: "Norm Siebern wastes no time as he raps a ground single in the hole between first and second, scoring Petrocelli with the go-ahead run."

Interestingly, the one signature call he ultimately became famous for, "mercy," was something that leisurely developed through the lens of time. While "mercy" was often stated after a particularly imposing homerun, strikeout, or fielding play, Ned also used it an interjection of remorse, regret, even pathos. Irony was always at play when Ned Martin broadcast a baseball game.

Red Barber once wrote, "Being on the air for three hours for half-a-year, demands patience, imagination, perspective, and intelligence." Through the singular vehicle of radio broadcasting, Ned Martin found his true niche as an artist. While he would serve as the team's television voice for well more than a decade, his work on radio with such partners as Curt Gowdy, Ken Coleman, and Jim Woods, defined him as a Hall of Fame sportscaster.


After fourteen seasons broadcasting Red Sox baseball on WHDH, Ned Martin gained a new radio partner in 1974 with the arrival of Jim "The Possum" Woods. Pugnacious, impulsive, anecdotal, and brisk, Woods would serve as a brilliant converse to Martin throughout their five celebrated years as a baseball announcing team. In Woods' hail hearty, good fellow world, Ned became Nedly and every topic under the heavens was open for discussion.

Martin especially took great delight in bantering with "The Possum" over his days as the number-two announcer to the longtime Pirates broadcaster, the legendary Bob Prince. Because "The Possum" and the brash Prince were two of the most legendary beer connoisseurs in Major League history, Ned once asked, "Did Budweiser sponsor you, or did you two sponsor Bud?"

Ned Martin would serve as the Red Sox television announcer for another fourteen seasons before being summarily dismissed at the end of the 1992 season. While there were pockets of brilliance in many of his telecasts, Ned's discreet eloquence often fell flat within the visual realm of television. He sometimes seemed confused as to whether he should fill the silence with prose. It was as if Faulkner were suddenly ordered to write in haiku.

In the final analysis, the great Ned Martin incessantly stressed the enduring narrative of life through the potent medium of sports broadcasting. From his sage lens, the seasons ran together like an impressionist painting. Ultimately, they became chapters in a book that seemed to accentuate the same reoccurring theme over and over again even as hundreds of players entered and exited the tale like apparitions in a drawn-out war. But he was more than just an invaluable bard - he was also a master-teacher. In the last analysis, Ned Martin served as an invaluable mentor to thousands of New Englanders who faithfully listened to his broadcasts year after year. Without knowing it, he not only vastly extended our vocabularies, but instilled in many of us an infatuation for language that stuck with us long after he broadcast his last game for the Boston nine. Mr. Martin provided countless baseball fans with a landscape of metaphor and simile that enabled us to apply the gift of comparative language to own lives as both speakers and writers.

In addition, Ned also served as a wellspring of insight for thousands of us who developed an emerging passion for literature due to his recurrent allusions to the great writers and their masterworks. Finally, he gave us all a sense of perspective about the game, time, and life itself. His broadcasts were his gift to us.

Mercy.

 


 

Ned Martin broke in as a Major League announcer with the Red Sox in 1961, the same year Yastrzemski started his Hall of Fame career in Boston. Like Yaz, he spent his entire career with one team. He alternated between radio and television play-by-play for the Red Sox before his career ended following the 1992 season.

He worked with several partners over the years, including Ken Coleman, Jim Woods, Ken Harrelson, Bob Montgomery and Jerry Remy. Though he was most known for his work on Red Sox games, Martin got some national exposure as well. He announced the American League Championship Series on CBS radio four times, and did some of the 1975 World Series for NBC. Martin was a graduate of Duke University.

He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame on May 18, 2000.