Radio voice Manfra earns consideration for Rookie of Year

John Steadman

September 17, 1993|By John Steadman

There's this rich resonance and a commanding delivery, as if it's coming from high on the mountain top, yet totally distinctive, which conveys to the listener that the man knows precisely what he's talking about. Fred Manfra is the best thing to happen to Baltimore baseball since Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller.

He's far and away the Rookie of the Year. Manfra brings with him the essential pre-requisites -- the voice, excellent enunciation and a precise understanding of what he's describing. It makes for an enjoyable relationship.

Manfra is a genuine treat, warm but not hokey, fast, accurate and in no way a "homer," even though he's announcing the games of his hometown team, the Orioles. This is a combination journalist/broadcaster who is making all the right calls with a diction and substance that winning admiration and accolades. He should wear well for years to come.

There's no attempt to bring gimmicks to the microphone, nor does he utilize pet, contrived phrases or tired-out cliches. None of that is necessary when you can handle the position. Manfra doesn't have to fake it or try to cover up with slick verbiage.

Reiterating, he's a major-league performer. The fact he has been a radio announcer for 21 years and worked in such diverse ports-of-call as Corona and Ventura, Calif., Davenport, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Milwaukee and New York provides a background that has equipped him with a professional maturity that can't be acquired by wishing for it or depending upon osmosis.

"I'm still learning," he says. "I have done a lot of sports on the network, all over the world, but never play-by-play baseball. What I'm trying to do is become more of a conversationalist, like Chuck and Jon. They convey a deep personal feeling of being one-on-one with every listener as they bring you the game."

Manfra gives the impression that every day, when he has an opportunity to work with Thompson and Miller, is a special occasion. He doesn't sound at all patronizing in his praise for them but rather deeply sincere and grateful for their guidance.

"One reason why this has been a great experience for me is it's a year when Chuck made the Hall of Fame for baseball broadcasters and Jon is currently regarded as the best there is in any radio booth," Manfra said.

The schedule of road games leads to long hours away from home, when he misses his family, including wife Marlene and daughters Stephanie and Michelle. That's a part of the business he may not like but, of course, realizes it must be accepted.

Most of Manfra's time in radio was as a network sports reporter. He was on the scene at virtually all major events and has called play-by-play at Olympic Games, for pro football, basketball, horse racing and boxing.

"I knew but never realized how much you are a part of the life of a baseball audience," he said. "You come into their homes, to their picnics, barbecues and family reunions.

"I read a lot of the letters Chuck received when he entered the Hall of Fame and it was evident from what people wrote how much of an impact he had on everyday lives. So I realize the responsibility a baseball announcer has. It's different than any other sport because you are doing it almost daily from March, when spring camp opens, to October."

It was a special moment on Opening Day when he knew his mother and father, residing near the Eastwood section of Baltimore, were listening to his account of the game. His brother Frank and sisters Debbie and Jan were proud, too, that Fred had become a voice of the Orioles.

The Manfras are a close family. Fred even went on a visit with his wife, the former Marlene McGinnis, of Norwalk, Calif., to the Italian mountain village where his father's parents were born. "There was a bronze plaque on display in the square of a Manfra, one of my relatives, who had been a hero in World War II, and that was truly emotional."

He says his employer, WBAL Radio, has "been outstanding in offering support and doing more for me than it even said it would."

Manfra, in turn, conducts himself with a professionalism that earns applause. Good play-by-play announcers are highly skilled; they can't be found on a street corner.

They also are "second-guessed" more than the manager of the team they're covering. Fred Manfra has demonstrated outstanding ability. He's no better than his last broadcast and he's aware of that. The effort put forth, if you listen closely, brings an awareness that he's constantly refining his skills, which translates to a fulfilling experience for the audience.

Fred Manfra. The report card is A-plus.

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