Felo Ramírez, Enduring Voice of Baseball in the Caribbean, Dies at 94

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An obituary by Richard Sandomir for the New York Times.

Felo Ramirez, a Spanish-language announcer who, beginning in Cuba in 1945, became one of the pre-eminent radio voices of Major League Baseball throughout Latin America for more than 72 years, died on Monday in Miami. He was 94.

His death was announced by the Miami Marlins, whose games he broadcast on radio for the last 24 years. He had been working until April, when he fell while leaving the team bus in Philadelphia. His family said he died from complications of the fall.

Tony Perez, the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame first baseman, recalled listening to Mr. Ramirez when he was growing up in Ciego de Ávila, Cuba.

“He described players like he knew them since they were born,” Perez said in a telephone interview. “I’d listen with my father, and the way Felo called the game, it was like you were there. It was a different feeling when you listened to someone else.”

Mr. Ramirez lasted longer than Vin Scully, who retired last year after 67 seasons with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Mr. Ramirez called winter league games in Cuba, before and after Fidel Castro’s takeover, as well as in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. He also called many Caribbean Series, the postseason tournament of the winter leagues.

But his influence broadened during his 30 years as a sportscaster with Buck Canel for the Hispanic version of NBC’s Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” “Cabalgata Deportiva Gillette,” which broadcast Major League Baseball to Latin America on more than 200 radio stations.

Starting in 1951, Mr. Ramirez called dozens of World Series and All-Star Games, as well as historic events like Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

“I remember the umpire raising his arm for the third strike,” Mr. Ramirez told The Palm Beach Post in 2001, recalling Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers. “I described Yogi Berra looking like a small child when he jumped on Larsen. I was watching it, announcing it, living it and, ultimately, enjoying it.”

The Baseball Hall of Fame presented Mr. Ramirez with the Ford C. Frick Award in 2001 for broadcasting excellence. The award had been given to only two Latino announcers before then: Mr. Canel and Jaime Jarrín, the longtime Spanish voice of the Dodgers.

“I just want to broadcast baseball from a free Cuba,” Mr. Ramirez said at the end of his acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. It was translated into English by Mr. Jarrín.

Mr. Ramirez’s longevity enabled him to call games that featured generations of Cuban-born stars who had left to play in the major leagues, from older stars like Perez, Minnie Minoso and Luis Tiant to younger ones like Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins right-hander who died in a boating accident last year.

Perez said that Mr. Ramirez’s expressive style included home run calls that he extended, for dramatic emphasis, as batters rounded the bases, much as Hispanic soccer broadcasters stretch the word “goal” when a player scores. And one of Ramirez’s trademark expressions was a warning to his listeners: “If you have cardiac problems, back away from your radio now!”

Rafael Ramirez Arias was born on June 22, 1923, in Bayamo, Cuba, where his father, Rafael Ramirez, was a sales executive at a cheese factory and his mother, the former Rosea Arias Barzaga, was a homemaker. He made clear his ambition to be a sportscaster at the local ballpark, where he was said to have called games from the bleachers using a megaphone.

His amateur announcing turned into a serious vocation when he traveled with friends to Havana, where they urged him to audition for Radio Salas, a popular station. He was quickly hired to call baseball and was named Cuba’s commentator of the year — a surprise given his inexperience compared with announcers like Manolo de la Reguera and Cuco Conde.

Mr. Ramirez continued to call baseball in Cuba until he and his wife, Louise, moved to Venezuela in 1961. They later moved to Puerto Rico.

“I was lucky,” he told The Palm Beach Post. “I was a popular figure in Cuba, and I met a lot of people who helped me.”

His is survived by his sisters, Urania Ramirez Arias and Rose de la Concepcion Ramirez.

Mr. Ramirez was already a storied voice in Latin American sports when the Marlins hired him in 1993 to be the voice of a team trying to reach a vibrant Hispanic market in South Florida, where many Cubans and Cuban-Americans live.

“He was their connection to the past and into the present,” Adrian Burgos Jr., the editor in chief of the website La Vida Baseball and the author of “Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line” (2007), said in a telephone interview. “He bridged all their experiences — he lived them himself. He moved to the U.S. and remade his life through baseball.”

Mr. Ramirez called the Marlin’s World Series championships in 1997 and 2003 and five no-hitters by Marlin pitchers.

He did not reduce his travel schedule even into his 90s. He continued to call almost every home and road game, a grueling schedule for announcers half his age.

“He always took great care of himself and his voice,” Luis Quintana, Mr. Ramirez’s partner on Radio Mambi in Miami, said in a telephone interview. Mr. Quintana, who is known as Yiky, added, “He had a great dedication to every pitch — every pitch was important to him.”

Despite Mr. Ramirez’s injuries from the fall, the team proceeded with Felo Ramirez bobblehead day in late May and sent him a giant get-well card signed by fans, players and team executives. It said, “Que te mejores pronto, Felo.”

 

 

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