A. Ronald 'Ron' Menchine, voice of Washington Senators

Broadcaster 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

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 and 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.

"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," Mr. Wood said.

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

Mr. Menchine, son of the late Judge W. Albert Menchine, 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, a 1952 graduate of McDonogh School, earned a bachelor's degree in 1956 from the University of Maryland.

After leaving College Park, he served in the Army. Mr. Menchine began his career broadcasting Navy football. In the early 1960s, he did the Orioles pre- and post-game broadcasts on WBAL Radio. He was eventually named sports director and held that position until 1966, when he became sports director of WDCA-TV in Washington.

"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.

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

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

Owner Robert Short had become a public villain after deciding to move the team to Arlington, Texas, at the end of the 1971 season.

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

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

Short, who was at his home in Edina, Minn., was listening to the game through a telephone hookup.

In a 2005 interview with the Dallas Morning News, Mr. Menchine recalled that night. "I told the station, 'What's he going to do, fire me?' "

The game ended in an explosion of emotion as 14,460 fans abandoned the stands, storming the field as the public address announcer asked 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, recalled for listeners the names of great players from the Senators' past.

Umpires had no choice but to call a forfeit, handing the Yankees a win.

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

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

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

Mr. Menchine had a second career as an actor in several films and TV serials.

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

In a 1976 article in The Washington Post, Mr. Menchine's collection of baseball memorabilia was described as one of the greatest collections "outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame."

Mr. Menchine devoted more than 60 years to collecting not only baseball items but basketball and football memorabilia.

At the core of his collection were baseball postcards, including one of the great rarities featuring Honus Wagner, the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop who played from 1897 to 1917.

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