Herb Carneal, a Hall of Famer who broadcast Minnesota Twins games the past 45 seasons in a fluid and soothing baritone, died of congestive heart failure Sunday April 1st the day before opening day. He was 83.
Carneal was part of the club's radio play-by-play team for all but the first year of the team's existence in Minnesota. He called Athletics and Phillies games in Philadelphia and Orioles games in Baltimore before coming to Minnesota in 1962 - a year after the Washington Senators became the Twins.
"To hear that voice was magic," said Kent Hrbek, who listened to Twins games growing up in suburban Bloomington and later played 13 seasons for the team before retiring in 1994. "When I was a kid, it meant school was almost out and spring was coming."
Carneal received the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting by the Hall of Fame in 1996.
"Herb Carneal's voice was the signature element of Twins baseball for multiple generations of fans," said club president Dave St. Peter, a longtime friend of Carneal's. "Clearly, he was one of the most beloved figures in Minnesota sports history." With his understated style and Southern drawl, Carneal's voice became synonymous with broadcasts on WCCO-AM and affiliates on the team's radio network throughout the Upper Midwest.
"He is the absolute consummate pro of broadcasting," longtime partner John Gordon said in an interview last summer. "He works very hard. He does all of his homework. He's never been a guy that's been real flashy. He just kind of slips into the seat and says, 'Hi, everybody.'" Opening each game with that signature greeting, Carneal could easily recall facts and statistics well into his 80s - when his duties had been drastically cut back.
"He's forgotten more about baseball than most of us have ever known," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire once said. "He's a very special person."
Carneal's wife Kathy died in 2000. He stopped traveling with the team in 1998, scaled back further in 2003 and last year was limited to the first three innings of weekend and weekday afternoon home games. He was scheduled for similar spot duty this season, but health problems put that in doubt.
Needing a walker to get around the Metrodome and his vocal chords clearly weakened, Carneal sat in the media dining room and smiled before the 2006 home opener, still eager to get behind the mike. "As long as I can do the job the way it should be done," he said then.
Carneal, who was born in Richmond, Virginia, spoke of how he connected with listeners - whether they were sitting on porches, driving cars or cooking dinner. "Sometimes I say, 'What's an old man like me doing here announcing a kid's game?'" he told The Associated Press in 2003. "But I'll get a letter from someone saying how much they look forward to hearing the games on the air. That's one of the things that makes me keep going."
Garrison Keillor, another radio man whose voice made him a Minnesota icon, once wrote a tune for one of his "Prairie Home Companion" shows that was titled "Porch Song." In that tribute to summer's simple pleasures, Keillor included this stanza: "Just give me two pillows and a bottle of beer, And the Twins game on radio next to my ear, Some hark to the sound of the loon or the teal But I love the voice of Herb Carneal."
He is survived by daughter Terri and grandson Matthew.