Ned Martin

NED MARTIN

By Bob LeMoine

“Oh, Gertrude, when sorrows come they come not as single spies but in battalions.”

Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5, a favorite quote of Ned Martin
when the Red Sox were having a particularly bad day.

“With this back and these knees? Mercy,” Ned Martin asked rhetorically, using his trademark exclamation when asked if he was going to dance the jitterbug at his 50th high-school reunion. Still, he and his classmates of the Upper Merion High School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Class of 1940, danced to the Big Band tunes of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. Martin also reflected on his English teacher and his “old country school.” “Marie Wolfskill. Just an excellent English teacher in a little country school. … What a major role that woman played in my life. … it was largely because of her teaching I’ve been able to make my living through my use of the English language; it was because of her I developed a love for that language.”[1]

Ned Martin could be called the Shakespeare of the broadcast booth, or baseball’s Hemingway scholar-in-residence. He could inject a broadcast at the right moment with literary quotes, poems, or song lyrics, while his catchphrase of “Mercy!” summed up many moments of Red Sox history. Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione called Martin “the most literate of all broadcasters … a scholar of literature and a great Hemingway expert. He had a way of describing things very succinctly, honestly, and openly. He never interfered with an event.”[2] Dave Weekley of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette recalled Martin’s “low-key quiet confidence … His delivery was easy on the ears and his renowned wit allowed him to refer to his beloved Shakespeare when the time was right.”[3] Curt Gowdy called Martin “a highly intelligent guy with a great vocabulary and a good voice.”[4]

A Red Sox announcer for 32 years, Martin also served his country in World War II, celebrating victory at Iwo Jima. But he was most at home behind the radio microphone, where his mastery of language painted pictures in the minds of his listeners. “Active verbs are really helpful. It isn’t an awful thing to have a vocabulary and use it,” Martin remarked.[5]

Those active verbs could be a ball “caroming” off the wall or “lofted” over it; a lead was “tenuous,” and fans “vociferous.” Home runs were “long gone and hard to find.” The aging Gaylord Perry was called “sparsely thatched” on top. He would greet fans during a West Coast game with “Hello, wherever you may be at this ungodly hour,” or sum up a poor Red Sox performance with “‘It was death in the afternoon,’ as Hemingway would have said.” Martin’s rich usage of literature gave us calls like “So the little children shall lead them as rookies Rice and Lynn have driven in all of the Red Sox runs,”[6] and it is often his descriptions Red Sox fans remember when reliving moments of Red Sox history from the 1960s through the early 1990s.

Edwin Martin III was born on August 9, 1923, in Wayne, Pennsylvania, one of two children of Edwin Martin Jr. and Doris Hatfield (Ramsey) Martin. Martin’s father owned a hatchery in Florida where the family spent many winters.[7] Martin saw his first game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia at the age of 9. His father, a semipro pitcher, brought home a surprise gift for young Ned:

“One morning, when I was about 10, I got up and noticed two cocktail coasters my parents brought home the night before. I looked closer and saw that they’d been autographed by Johnny Marcum and Jimmie Foxx. Foxx! He was like God to me because the (Philadelphia) Athletics were my team. I’ve never forgotten what a thrill that was, or the thrill I later felt when I stood outside Shibe Park and collected the first one on my own from Skeeter Newsome.”[8]

Martin enrolled at Duke University in 1941 and remembered a more innocent time. “The Depression was over and we were pretty much just concerned with growing up and enjoying ourselves. None of us had much interest in what was happening outside our own little worlds -but, man, we sure grew up in a hurry.”

On December 7 Martin had taken his girlfriend to a movie and when he returned to the dorm he saw “everyone clustered around a radio. One guy turned to me and said, `Isn’t it awful what the Japanese did? They bombed Pearl Harbor!”[9]

Martin responded, “‘Pearl Harbor? That’s in the Hawaiian islands, isn’t it?’ I figured it was a possession of ours, but what did it mean? I didn’t know. We were just kids, away from home at a big university, with a football team on its way to the Rose Bowl, and the most important thing in the world was having a date for the Saturday night dance. I guess you could say we were kind of dumb.”[10]

Martin enlisted in the US Marines in 1942, and later fought with the 4th Marine Division at the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945. “I’m not one of the guys you see raising the flag. I don’t think we were there thirty minutes before we came upon a shell-hole. I looked in and saw it filled with dead Marines; I mean blown-up Marines, with entrails and … oh God, I’d never seen anything like that before. Then I started looking around and pretty soon death got so common.”[11]

On Day 26 of the campaign they rejoiced when word of US victory came. Martin rejoiced, “The flag was flying on Mount Suribachi – our flag! What a feeling!”[12]

Martin graduated from Duke in 1948 with a degree in English. He worked in advertising in New York City, but Madison Avenue was definitely not for him, and a stint at the Dell Publishing Company in Washington D.C.,[13] also unfulfilling.

Then Martin called old friend Bob Wolff, a former classmate at Duke who had helped him with his on-air delivery at the campus radio station.[14] Wolff was now the TV voice of the Washington Senators.

Wolf remembered Martin. “He told me that his present job was trying to get drug stores and supermarkets to carry paperback books, but what he really wanted to do was test himself in sportscasting. I had him read for me. He sounded pleasant, low key, smooth – good enough to get a start somewhere. I recommended he try WINX radio in Washington. … He could work on weekends, fill in on vacations, and be on call if a bigger position opened up.”[15]

WINX, located in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Maryland, provided valuable broadcasting experience for Martin. “I went to Rockville and did it all on the ground floor – news, commercials, afternoon shows, playing hillbilly music.”[16]

Martin then spent 2½ years announcing for WFRC radio in Athens, Georgia. “Nicest 2½ years I ever spent anywhere,” he recalled. “Did all kinds of high school sports, women’s sports. College baseball games. A young man named Francis Tarkenton was at Georgia then – quarterback on the football team, pitcher on the baseball team, point guard on the basketball team. I saw him strike out 20 guys in a baseball game once. I broadcast the game, in fact.”[17]

In the late 1940s Martin met Barbara Rolley, and the two were married in 1951.[18]

In 1956 Martin became the play-by-play announcer on WCHS radio for the Charleston (West Virginia) Senators, a Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers in the American Association. Martin broadcast from a tiny booth at Watt Powell Park.[19] When Charleston was on the road, he announced play-by-play through wire re-creation. “Sometimes,” he recalled, “the man who was at the park feeding back the information didn’t have everything straight. … When a correction came through, I’d have to alleviate the situation as realistically as possible. One time, there was a man on first base when it came over the wire – correction, batter grounded out. Well, I already had the man safe on first, so I had to pick him off.”[20]

Also the sports director at WCHS, Martin did play-by-play of the University of West Virginia football and basketball games. “I just believed in some vague way that I’d make it to the majors some day,” he recalled. “I kept bothering people, sending tapes to the clubs in both major leagues, trying to show that I belonged.”[21]

One of those tapes caught the ear of legendary Red Sox announcer Curt Gowdy. “He liked the tapes and the idea of having an announcer as his partner and not some ex-jock,” Martin remembered. “I was lucky.”[22]

Gowdy invited Martin to Baltimore to broadcast a Red Sox game against the Orioles in September of 1960. “We didn’t call it an audition, but it was,” Gowdy recalled.[23]

“I drove up from Charleston to Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and worked an inning and a half,” Martin remembered fondly. “Now, there’s a spot in my soul for that park, because that’s the place I won the job.”[24]

Gowdy was impressed and recommended Martin for the announcer position vacated by the departure of Bill Crowley.[25] Martin was hired by the Red Sox on December 21, 1960, and joined Gowdy and Art Gleeson in the booth for the combined WHDH radio and television.[26] This couldn’t have come at a better time; Martin was fired as sports director at WCHS-TV along with nine other employees in budget cuts.[27] He was now on his way to the major leagues.

“I’m not playing anymore, so I won’t have to worry about you!” was Martin’s greeting from Red Sox legend Ted Williams at the Red Sox spring-training site in Scottsdale, Arizona. Martin got to know Williams over the years as he would pop into the booth and talk fishing with his buddy Curt Gowdy.[28]

Martin’s debut for the Red Sox was on a frigid Boston day, April 11, 1961, the same day rookie Carl Yastrzemski debuted in left field. Both had been in the American Association in 1960. Martin had interviewed Yastrzemski, then playing for the Minneapolis Millers, and asked him about the challenge of playing left field at Fenway Park, never imagining they would both be coming to Boston.[29]

Martin’s broadcast rotation included innings 1 through 3 and 7 through 9 on radio and 4 through 6 on television.[30] His first year concluded with calling Roger Maris’s 61st home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season record at the time. “This 37-year-old rookie broadcaster was glad I was there to do it,” Martin recalled.[31] “What a climax for an amazing rookie year.”[32] The call was not recorded, however, leaving the archives with only Phil Rizzuto’s call of the historic home run.

Art Gleeson died after the 1964 season, and former Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell joined Gowdy and Martin in the booth.[33] When Gowdy left the Red Sox in 1966 after 15 years to become the NBC Game of the Week announcer, Martin seemed like his natural replacement. He applied for Gowdy’s job by sending a telegram to WHDH, but didn’t get the job. “I’m just not a commercial person. I don’t have the gift for gab,” said a disappointed Martin.[34] The job was given to Ken Coleman, who had been a Cleveland Indians broadcaster. “It was a deep disappointment at the time. But Ken and I became good friends, and life went on.”[35]

In 1965 Martin also did football play-by-play with Fred Cusick for the Boston Patriots.[36] From the 1960s to the early 1970s Martin was also the play-by-play announcer for Ivy League football teams: Dartmouth College (seven years), Harvard College (six years), and Yale University (two years).[37]

The 1967 Red Sox “impossible dream” team rejuvenated baseball in New England. Martin’s voice guided fans along the journey to the World Series, and he was now receiving attention both locally and nationally for his broadcasting talents. A memorable Martin call was the final out in the Red Sox’ pennant-clinching final game of the season as the Twins’ Rich Rollins hit a popup:

“The pitch is looped toward shortstop. Petrocelli’s back … he’s got it! The Red Sox win! And there’s pandemonium on the field! Listen!”[38]

Johnny Pesky replaced Mel Parnell and joined Martin and Coleman in the booth from 1969 through 1971. In 1971 Martin was nearly fired by WHDH for saying “bullshit” on an open microphone.[39] In 1972 WBZ-TV replaced WHDH as the flagship station for Red Sox television and shook up the broadcast teams. Martin finally became the Red Sox number-one radio announcer on WHDH, while Coleman became the number one TV announcer on WBZ. Martin was paired with John Maclean, who resigned because of illness and was replaced by Dave Martin (no relation).[40]

The 1974 season brought together what is considered one of the best broadcast teams of the era, as Martin was paired with Jim Woods. Woods had spent the previous 21 seasons as the number-two broadcaster supporting legends Mel Allen, Red Barber, Russ Hodges, Bob Prince, Jack Buck, and Monte Moore.[41] Clark Booth called Martin-Woods the “best play-by-play combination in the history of American sport.”[42] Baseball Magazine named them the baseball broadcasting team of the 1970s.[43] Years later Martin fondly remembered Woods. “Jim was one of my closest friends and one of the best guys I ever worked with. He told me his five years in Boston were second only to his 12 in Pittsburgh. He really enjoyed his work and he was a throwback to the old days. I really enjoyed his company.”[44]

As Red Sox fans listened to the 1975 Red Sox’ pennant-winning season, they were again treated to many memorable Martin calls, including a catch by Fred Lynn on July 27:

 “Swings, drive to left-center field. May be a gapper! Lynn is running, Lynn is going! He’s got it in a great catch! A great catch by Freddie Lynn! Oh, mercy, what a catch by Lynn! He outran that ball in the alley in left-center and Red Sox fans are going ape out here. … This is World Series time!”[45]

On September 18, 1975, WMEX (which later became WITS) became the radio flagship station instead of WHDH, which had broadcast the Red Sox games continuously since 1945.[46] WMEX considered dumping Martin and Woods. A public outcry prevented the change. But WMEX jazzed up the broadcast with pregame and postgame shows, and ads were now read during innings. “It prostituted the product, hurt our rhythm, thus the game” Martin said.[47] For a man known for articulation, this watered-down writing was an insult and Martin once asked, after reading an ad, “Who the heck wrote the copy for this?”[48]

NBC’s 1975 World Series coverage included a rotation of announcers for both radio and TV coverage, with Martin and Dick Stockton of the Red Sox and a Cincinnati Reds announcer, Marty Brennaman, joining NBC’s Joe Garagiola, Curt Gowdy, and Tony Kubek. When Carlton Fisk hit the historic home run at Fenway Park in Game Six, it was Martin at the radio microphone:

“There have been numerous heroics tonight, both sides. One-0 delivery to Fisk. He swings. Long drive, left field! If it stays fair it’s gone! Home run! The Red Sox win! And the Series is tied, three games apiece!”[49]

Martin also did play-by-play with Ernie Harwell for the American League Championship Series from 1976 to 1978 for CBS Radio.

The Bucky Dent home run that ended the Red Sox’ season in the one-game playoff against the Yankees in 1978 was summed up well by Martin: “Dent, a borrowed bat, and a little fly ball into the net, and the silence was deafening. Maybe Fenway’s greatest silence ever – unless you were honoring someone who had passed away.”[50]

The stunning playoff loss was also the final game for the Martin-Woods team and also Martin’s last Red Sox radio broadcast. They were both fired by WITS, as general manager Joe Scallan said they needed better marketing exposure “for dealing with clients in the VIP lounge.”[51]A disgusted Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe wrote, “The people who ruled over them and signed their paychecks had no idea how good and how special Martin and Woods were – none.”[52] Woods went on to work for the USA cable network, while Martin became the new Red Sox play-by-play announcer on WSBK-TV, a vacancy that had opened up when Dick Stockton left for CBS. Martin was teamed with analyst Ken “Hawk” Harrelson from 1979 to 1981 and Bob Montgomery from 1982 to 1987.

Martin began his Red Sox career on the same day as left fielder Carl Yastrzemski, and in 1979 he called both Yaz’s 3,000th hit and 400th home run. On October 1, 1983, he was master of ceremonies for Yaz Day, honoring Yastrzemski on his retirement.

In 1985 Martin and Montgomery also joined the New England Sports Network (NESN), and were now broadcasting all 162 Red Sox games between the two networks. It was on NESN, on April 29, 1986, that Martin called Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout performance against the Seattle Mariners, one of many highlights in that pennant-winning season:

“A new record! Clemens has set a major-league record for strikeouts in a game! Twenty!”[53]

On December 7, 1987, NESN and WSBK made changes. WSBK fired Martin and kept Montgomery, while NESN fired Montgomery and kept Martin. WSBK management felt Martin didn’t draw out the strengths of Montgomery as an analyst and made repeated errors.[54] The station also wanted someone “with a little more pizzazz.” Martin admitted, “Pizzazz. No, I’m afraid that just isn’t me.”[55]

Martin would be teamed on NESN with Jerry Remy, Montgomery with Sean McDonough on WSBK. Remy remembered Martin, as “the best possible guy to work with breaking in (to broadcasting) because he was so laid-back. He certainly helped me a lot.”[56]

“Red Smith used to say he loved ‘the music of the game.’ What a great line,” Martin once pondered. “There IS a music to it, whether it’s the first crack of the bat at Winter Haven, a full house on Opening Day, the murmuration of a meaningless game in July, or the buzz you feel at a World Series. … You can still see something in almost every game that you’ve never seen before. That’s the beauty of baseball, I guess.”[57]

Martin was told by NESN a day before the 1992 season ended that he was no longer in their plans. “I don’t like to leave, and I don’t like to leave this way,” he said after his final broadcast. “I wasn’t quite ready for it. They said I hadn’t done anything wrong, but who knows what that means? I think they may be getting a more multi-purpose person in there … and (someone who’s) younger.”[58]

Martin didn’t feel he was through but, needing hip replacement surgery, decided to retire at age 69. After years of traveling city to city, he cherished the old farmhouse he bought with his wife, Barbara, in Clarksville, Virginia. He enjoyed walking his dogs, gardening, bicycling, and taking pictures on his 15 acres that included an old schoolhouse.[59] “This was his home. He felt really at peace here,” daughter Caroline said. [60]

Martin returned to Boston in 2000 for an emotional induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. “The ovation wouldn’t end. The place just exploded. Until then, I don’t think he knew how much he was loved. He was a most modest guy,” remembered Joe Castiglione.[61]

Martin participated in the Ted Williams public memorial service at Fenway Park on July 22, 2002. He reminisced with Carl Yastrzemski and Peter Gammons, saying Williams “said he didn’t feel like a hero, but he was, along with Feller and Hank Greenberg. He was like an old John Wayne movie, but Wayne never played baseball.”[62]

Sadly, the next day tributes would be spoken in memory of Martin. During his trip home from Boston he was riding a shuttle bus at the Raleigh-Durham Airport when he suffered a heart attack and died on July 23, 2002, at the age of 78. He was cremated. Martin left behind Barbara, his wife of 51 years; a son Edwin”Rolley” Martin; two daughters, Caroline Michnay and O’Hara Martin; and nine grandchildren.[63]

Martin was posthumously inducted into the West Virginia Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2010 [64] and the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2011.[65]

Sources

In addition to the sources referenced in the text, the author was assisted by Ned Martin’s file at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.

Notes

[1] Joe Fitzgerald, “Martin Dances Down Memory Lane,” Boston Herald, June 19, 1990, 72.
[2] Gordon Edes and Chris Snow, “Sox Broadcaster Martin, 78, Dead,” Boston Globe, July 24, 2002; D1.
[3] Dave Weekley, “Martin Always Knew He Would Make It to the Majors,” Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette, July 29, 2002, 3B.
[4] Edes and Snow, “Sox Broadcaster Martin.”
[5] Jack Craig, “No Replacing ‘The Natural’ of Sox Radio,” Boston Globe, October 9, 1992.
[6] Craig, “No Replacing”; Robert D. Spurrier, “The Voices of the Red Sox,” Bennington (Vermont) Banner, July 18, 1975.
[7] Martin’s widow, Barbara Martin, phone interview with the author, July 13, 2014.
[8] Joe Fitzgerald, “Ned Martin Captured Moments and Made Them Into Memories,” Boston Herald, July 21, 2003, 10.
[9] Joe Fitzgerald, “Ned’s Patriotism Will Never Flag,” Boston Herald, December 6, 1991, 98.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Curt Smith, Mercy! A Celebration of Fenway Park’s Centennial Told Through Red Sox Radio and TV (Washington, D.C.: Potomac, 2012), 71-72.
[12] Ibid..
[13] Craig; Curt Smith, Voices of the Game: The First Full-Scale Overview of Baseball Broadcasting, 1921to the Present (South Bend, Indiana: Diamond Communications, 1987), 382.
[14] Smith, Voices of the Game, 382.
[15]  Bob Wolff, Bob Wolff’s Complete Guide to Sportscasting: How to Make It in Sportscasting With or Without Talent. [Google Book preview] (New York: Skyhorse Pub, 2011).
[16] Smith, Voices of the game, 382.
[17] Bill Parrillo, “No Pizzazz, Just Professionalism by Ned Martin,” Providence Journal, December 20, 1987, D-1. Some accounts have Tarkenton throwing a no-hitter in that game.
[18] Martin’s widow, Barbara Martin, phone interview with the author, July 13, 2014.
[19] Weekley, “Martin Always Knew.”
[20] Chip Ainsworth, “The Voice of the Red Sox: The Advocate Talks to the Fast Talker,” Hartford Advocate, May 24, 1978, 24.
[21] Smith, Voices of the Game, 382.
[22] Parrillo, “No Pizzazz.”
[23] Smith, Mercy! 72.
[24] Ainswoth, “The Voice of the Red Sox.”
[25] Weekley, “Martin Always Knew.”
[26] “Ned Martin Joins Hub Team of Radio, Video Broadcasters,” The Sporting News, December 28, 1960.
[27] “A Good Job: You’re Fired!” Sunday Gazette-Mail, Charleston, WestVirginia, November 27, 1960, 10A.
[28] Jim Baker, “Tribute to Ted; Martin Rich in Storied Williams Lore,” Boston Herald, July 23, 2002, 72.
[29] Jack Craig, “Every Step of the Way Ned Martin Followed Yaz From Minors to World Series,” Boston Globe, January 13, 1989.
[30] Smith, Mercy!, 74.
[31] Weekley, “Martin Always Knew.”
[32] Smith, Mercy!,,75.
[33] “No-Hit Hurler Parnell Joins Gowdy, Martin on Air Team,” The Sporting News, January 23, 1965.
[34] Smith, Mercy!,  82.
[35] Craig, “Every Step of the Way.”
[36] Jeff Goldberg, “Martin, Voice of Sox, Dies; Legendary Red Sox Broadcaster Collapses at Airport,” Hartford Courant, July 24, 2002;  C1
[37] Rich Thompson and Tony Massarotti, “Broadcaster Martin Dead,” Boston Herald, July 24, 2002, 102.
[38] Smith, Voices of the game, 395.
[39] Smith, Mercy!, 8.
[40] redsoxdiehard.com/players/broadcasters.html.
[41] Smith, Mercy!, 20.
[42] Smith, Mercy!, 110.
[43] Peter Gammons, “Average Sox pay: $145, 692,” Boston Globe, February 14, 1980.
[44] Bob Monahan, “Jim Woods, Radio Broadcaster for Red Sox From 1974-1978; At 71,” Boston Globe, February 22, 1988.
[45] Smith, Voices of the Game, 405.
[46] “Sox, WHDH End Longest Association,” Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, September 20, 1975, 22.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Spurrier, “The Voices of the Red Sox.”
[49] Smith, Voices of the Game, 408.
[50] Smith, Mercy!, 123.
[51] Smith, Voices of the Game, 392.
[52] Smith, Mercy! 126.
[53] Smith, Voices of the Game, 531.
[54] Jack Craig, “Martin Out at Channel 38,” Boston Globe, December 8, 1987.
[55] Parrillo, “No Pizzazz.”
[56] Sean McAdam, “Ex-Red Sox Announcer Martin Dead at 78,” Providence Journal, July 24, 2002, D-4.
[57] Joe Fitzgerald, “Ned Martin Captured Moments.”
[58] Art Turgeon, “Fired Voice of the Sox Retired to Va. Farm,” Providence Journal-Bulletin, October 29, 1995, B-2.
[59] Ibid.
[60] Smith, Mercy!, 163.
[61] Smith, Mercy!, 164.
[62] Baker, “Tribute to Ted.”
[63] Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch, July 25, 2002, B6.
[64] “Broadcasting Hall of Fame Announces 2010 Inductees,” Charleston Gazette, November 24, 2010, 3.
[65] Retrieved from massbroadcastershof.org/hof_martin_ned.htm,   July 2, 2014.

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