A. Ronald "Ron" Menchine dies at age 76

Broadcaster who called the last Senators game, acted in two Hollywood films and wrote "A Picture Postcard History of Baseball"

September 15, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

A. Ronald "Ron" Menchine, the last voice of the Washington Senators and noted collector of baseball postcards and author of "A Picture History of Baseball," died Friday of a heart attack at his Glen Arm home.

He was 76.

"Ron was a very unique individual and kind of old school. He understood the radio experience and his broadcasting style was never bombastic," said Phil Wood, an old friend who is an analyst for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which broadcasts Orioles and Nationals games.

"He wasn't crazy about having and using a predictable remark when a player hit a home run, for instance. He didn't like calling attention to himself that way. He thought it was a mistake," said Mr. Wood.

"He also didn't believe when doing play by play that he had to talk all of the time. He let listeners listen to the crowd," Mr. Wood said.

"He was with the Senators from 1969 to 1971, when they left Washington, and during those years he was at the top of his game," he said.

"Phil had three passions in life. They were sports broadcasting, collecting sports memorabilia and eating," said Ted Patterson, veteran sports broadcaster, author and longtime friend.

Mr. Menchine, the son of the late Judge W. Albert Menchine, who was a member of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, and Mildred M. Menchine, an educator, was born in Baltimore and raised in Wiltondale and Glen Arm.

Mr. Menchine was a 1952 graduate of McDonogh School and earned a bachelor's degree in 1956 from the University of Maryland.

After leaving College Park, he served in the Army for several years. Mr. Menchine began his career broadcasting Navy football.

In the early 1960s, he did the Orioles pre- and post-games on WBAL radio. He was eventually named sports director and held that position until 1966, when he became sports director of WDCA-TV, which was a UHF operation, in Washington.

"I knew him years ago. Ron was a conscientious guy and a perfectionist in the things he did," retired WBAL-TV sports anchor Vince Bagli said Wednesday. "He was a very independent fellow and always did a good job."

Mr. Patterson met Mr. Menchine more than 40 years ago.

"I met him in 1969 when I was with Armed Forces Radio in Washington. He was doing the Senator games, and we both found out that we shared a love of sports history," Mr. Patterson said.

"He was a no-frills broadcaster and had no personal sayings when there was a home run. He always did a lot of preparation before going into the broadcast booth," Mr. Patterson said.

Perhaps the most memorable broadcast of Mr. Menchine's career came from the broadcast booth at RFK Stadium over radio station WWDC-1260 on Sept. 30, 1971, when he called the final Senators' game.

Team owner Robert Short had become a public villain after making the decision to move the team to Arlington, Texas, at the conclusion of the 1971 season.

During the game, Mr. Menchine made no attempt to control his disgust for Mr. Short. Throughout the broadcast, he blasted him and the other American League owners who approved the move.

"He was relentless. Short, who was not there, kept calling the station manager to get him off the air, but he wouldn't," recalled Mr. Wood.

The team's owner, who was at his home in Edina, Minn., was listening to the game through a special telephone hookup.

In a 2005 interview with the Dallas Morning News, Mr. Menchine recalled his performance that night.

"I told the station, 'What's he going to do, fire me?'" said Mr. Menchine.

The game ended in an explosion of anger and emotion as 14,460 fans abandoned the stands, storming the field like the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, as the public address announcer hopelessly exhorted them to return to their seats.

At the top of the ninth inning, the Senators were leading the Yankees, 7-5, with two outs, when fans swarmed onto the field, grabbing anything they could for souvenirs.

As fans swept onto the field, Mr. Menchine, in a solemn tone, spoke the names of the great players from the Senators' past for listeners.

Umpires had no choice but to forfeit the game, which gave the Yankees a 9-0 win.

"It was a madhouse," recalled Mr. Menchine in the 2005 interview.

"I think Ron could have gone to Texas, but he had burned his bridges," said Mr. Wood.

In 1972, Mr. Menchine went to Philadelphia, where he handled play-by-play for the Temple University football team, and later returned to Annapolis in 1980 as play-by-play announcer for the Naval Academy Football Network.

"He pretty much retired in the 1980s," said Mr. Patterson.

Mr. Menchine also had a second career working as an actor in several motion pictures and on TV in a couple of serials.

In 1976, he landed a speaking role in "All the President's Men," as the attorney for the Watergate Five who were charged in the break-in at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate complex. Three years later, he played Senator Aikers in "The Seduction of Joe Tynan."

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