Carl Beane tough to get over
BOSTON -- John Carter was the one who took the call from the man who said he was Carl Beane's pastor.
"I don't know who I'm supposed to call," the pastor said.
"You found the right person," John Carter said.
John Carter's first day in the Red Sox control room was also Carl Beane's first day as the public address announcer. That was Opening Day 2003. The game was rained out. The friendship was just beginning.
Now, on a sun-dappled Wednesday afternoon in May, Carter, in his first months as director of Red Sox Productions, was on the phone, listening to a pastor tell him his friend was gone. It became Carter's duty to pass along the sad news throughout Fenway Park that Carl Beane's voice, big enough to fill a ballpark, light enough to make a control room smile, would no longer be heard.
The next night, as part of the video tribute the team paid to Beane -- the announcer's chair remained empty for the game -- you could see the friends posing together with the World Series rings they'd just been given in 2005, the first of two they would soon be wearing. "I'm probably a foot and a half taller than Carl," Carter said of the gnomish Beane. "You see me bending halfway over to Carl, standing at his normal height, just so we could show off our rings.
"I'll put money on his World Series rings probably went on more fingers than any other ring given to people in this organization. Carl was a true ambassador of Red Sox baseball and Fenway Park. Wherever he would go, he would always wear his rings. And he was always willing to let someone not just look at them or take a photo of them, but to wear them."
It is six weeks later, on another Wednesday afternoon, and John Carter, who grew up in Newton and now lives in the city, is in his office, tucked behind the pressbox. The Red Sox have a game at home that night against the Miami Marlins. A script, printed out from a computer and placed in a plastic white binder, has already been given to the person serving as the PA announcer for that night. Most of the pages are filled with pregame stuff -- announcing the honorary bat boy and girl, the "first pitch" tossers, the Fenway rules of conduct, the identity of the anthem singer.
Since that first game when Beane's chair remained empty, a different person each night has served as PA announcer. The Sox have invited PA announcers from the Bruins, Celtics and Patriots, people who work in minor league ballparks and for college teams, people from radio and TV (Bob Lobel). One woman, radio personality Kelly Malone, who does in-game work for the Bruins, has done it; there will be others. If a celebrity such as Matt Damon or Ben Affleck asks to do it, the Sox won't be saying no.
John Carter is charged with lining those people up. He will also be heavily involved in the process to select Beane's successor. But that time is not now.
"My goal this year is not to find our next PA announcer," Carter said. "My goal is to honor Carl's legacy while also finding someone to fill that role every night. This whole process has been a challenge on many levels. The No. 1 challenge is, you're filling the position for a close friend who is no longer around. It wasn't a trade. He didn't go to another job. He's just not here.
"I look at it as a guest in the chair. I don't want to say this is an audition or not. There are people we're going to invite who don't have interest in this long term. They want to, first and foremost, pay tribute to Carl. And secondly, experience what it's like to sit in the best seat in the house."
For the past nine seasons, Beane occupied this seat, high above home plate in a booth that is now filled with computer screens and video consoles and cutting-edge music boards, but for him centered on the oversized black microphone attached to a cantilever arm, and the red button he would push when it was his time to speak.
It was a seat, he always said, that never belonged to him. "He always said the seat belonged to Sherm," Carter said.
There have been five regular public address announcers in Fenway Park's history. In the early years, the job rotated among various personnel, mostly on-air types who worked at WMEX, a Boston radio station. Jay McMaster, who was WMEX's afternoon drive DJ and often spun the LPs at teenagers' record hops, became the first regular PA announcer in 1958, and served through 1966.
Just before Beane, the chair was occupied first by Leslie Sterling, a Harvard graduate, professional singer and voice coach who took a broadcasting class from Red Sox play-by-play man Joe Castiglione, who recommended him for the job. Sterling, an African-American woman in a field that was almost exclusively the province of men, held the job for three seasons before entering divinity school and becoming an Episcopal priest.
Beane's immediate predecessor was Ed Brickley, a long-time executive for Polaroid who worked part-time for the Patriots as a statistician, a job that occasionally required him to make an announcement over the PA system in Foxboro, and was looking for any type of work with the Red Sox when they gave him an audition and practically hired him on the spot. "In all honesty, I'm kind of forgettable," Brickley modestly told the Boston Globe before his first game in 1997. "But people tell me I wear well."
Brickley was behind the microphone for two unforgettable moments: the 1999 All-Star Game and the spontaneous celebration of Ted Williams's legacy, and the September night when baseball resumed after 9/11, when Brickley's voice broke in heartbreaking fashion as he asked for a moment of silence in memory of the victims.
But for Carl Beane and multiple generations of Red Sox fans, the man who was the defining voice of Fenway Park was Sherm -- Sherm Feller, who for 26 years, beginning with the Impossible Dream season of 1967 until his death just before the '94 season, filled the ancient yard with a voice that seemed to come directly from Olympus -- rich, deep and magisterial.
A composer of more than a thousand songs (the most famous was "Summertime, Summertime"), well-known radio announcer, husband to singer Judy Valentine, pals with Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, a story-telling favorite of the ballplayers, and a bon vivant, Feller was to Fenway what Bob Sheppard was to Yankee Stadium: the voice of God.
Beane adored both men. Before each game, he picked up the phone outside the control room and conducted an imaginary conversation with Feller. He also began his nightly duties with the same words Feller used. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park."
John Carter is old enough to remember hearing Sherm Feller at games his father took him to. He gets it. But he also believes this.
"I'm sure people said there would never be another Sherm. For people like me, there'll never be another Carl."
For the better part of two decades, Beane had worked as a freelance radio reporter, and also wrote for a string of small newspapers in western Massachusetts, where he grew up (Agawam). In the winter of 2002, he auditioned for the Sox PA job.
"We were sitting in the ballpark," said Sarah McKenna, the team's vice president of fan services and entertainment. "Larry Lucchino, Dr. Charles [Steinberg], myself, John Carter, a few others. I remember it being very cold."
And then Beane, in his measured baritone, began to speak. The decision, in the end, was an easy one.
"Carl was hands down the perfect fit for Fenway," Carter said. "It's his voice. The voice, and the tone. Obviously, his delivery. One thing I'm learning in this process is people don't have to add a whole lot to it. It's not the NBA. It's not the NHL. If you've got a good natural voice, that's all you need. You don't have to add a lot of flair, one way or another."
And now Carter and his colleagues at the Red Sox, most notably Steinberg and McKenna, are charged with finding the next voice of Fenway.
"Charles said we'll know the right voice when we hear it," Carter said.
"When the season ends, whether it's a large search or not, we'll find someone to fill in full-time in 2013. For all I know, does it have to be one? I don't know; that's above my pay grade. Does it have to be male?
"I think we've had a good run of people so far. They're not Carl, but I think that's OK. I don't think we want the next Carl."
For all those who aspire to take Carl Beane's place in the best seat of the house?
"I guess I would say, 'Stand by. Be patient," Carter said. "You've got to remember what we're doing. We lost a friend and co-worker tragically. And for everyone involved in this process, while it's getting better every day, we're still coping with the absence of Carl in our lives and our workplace.
"That's the point I've been trying to get across. Fenway Park will have a permanent public address announcer when the time is right."