Twins broadcast legend Carneal dies

Twins broadcast legend Carneal dies

MINNEAPOLIS -- One of the signature voices in Twins baseball history is now gone.

Longtime Twins radio broadcaster Herb Carneal passed away Sunday morning at his home in Minnetonka due to congestive heart failure. Carneal was 83.

"This is a sad day for the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of baseball fans across the Upper Midwest," Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "Herb Carneal's voice was the signature element of Twins baseball for multiple generations of fans. Clearly, he was one of the most beloved figures in Minnesota sports history."

Carneal joined the Twins broadcast booth in 1962 after spending the first five years of his career as part of the play-by-play team for the Baltimore Orioles. He was behind the microphone for all but the first of the Twins' 46 seasons in Minnesota.

Despite his lack of flair and more understated style, Carneal's voice became an institution in Minnesota and throughout the Upper Midwest, where his voice carried through the radio airwaves on WCCO-AM radio and the team's radio affiliates. And it was that easy style that carried over to his fans and made him so beloved.

"He would just slide into the booth, slip into that chair and be off and running," said John Gordon, Carneal's longtime radio partner. "He didn't rely on a strong presence of statistics. He just had a great knowledge of how a game should take place. He really enjoyed watching a game and being able to describe what happened in that game and that was so evident by listening to him."

Carneal received the Ford C. Frick award in 1996, the highest honor for a baseball broadcaster. The award gave him a spot in the broadcaster's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Carneal's lifelong passion was to talk baseball, and it was clear that the award meant a lot to him.

In his autobiography titled after his famous on-air greeting, "Hi Everybody," Carneal wrote about being commended for doing what he loved.

"It's nice to be reminded every so often that what you do is appreciated," he said.

A native of Richmond, Va., Carneal got his first job in broadcasting upon his high school graduation. He first began covering baseball as the announcer for the Springfield, Mass., Cubs before he got a job handling radio play-by-play of the A's and the Phillies in Philadelphia.

It was after his time in Philadelphia that Carneal landed the job covering the Orioles, where he worked with another Hall of Fame broadcaster, Ernie Harwell. The two developed a close friendship during their time and it was clear that they had mutual respect for one another, as they shared a way of letting the game tell its own story.

"He was smooth, laid back, down the middle and very pleasant to listen to," Harwell said Sunday. "It was like you were an old friend and sitting around with him, maybe with his shoes off and a cigar or bottle of beer and just enjoying his company and in turn enjoying the ballgame."

Carneal's southern charm was something that carried over into his broadcasts and made him a favorite with fans. It didn't matter who Carneal spoke with -- he made them all feel important.

"His personality was such that he loved people and treated them all alike, whether it was the President of the United States or whether it was a guy working on turnstiles," Harwell said. "They were all the same to Herb."

Carneal's personality showed through in every broadcast, but it was his knowledge of the game that earned the respect of those he worked with in the organization.

"There is one thing that Herb always brought, and that was that he always had a lot of feeling and instincts for the game," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He knew the game. He knew the people within the game, the difficulty of playing. I never heard a player speak a negative word about Herb Carneal. He is one of those guys that everybody knows and loves that has ever been affiliated with this organization."

Twins catcher Joe Mauer remembered growing up in Minnesota and listening to that legendary voice call some of the Twins' classic contests, including the '87 and '91 World Series games.

"I can remember riding with my grandpa or sometimes playing Wiffle ball outside in the summer and having him on the radio, so we'd listen to him all the time," Mauer said. "Obviously, it's not the news you want to hear starting a season and everything, but he'll definitely be missed."

Carneal's time on the radio had dwindled over the past few years, but his presence was still clearly felt. He stopped traveling with the club in 1998 and reduced his number of games in 2003. Last season, Carneal was limited to just the first three innings of weekend and weekday afternoon home games. The plan had been for a similar schedule this season, but it was clear during the offseason that Carneal's health was failing.

Carneal spent six weeks in the hospital this past winter battling a variety of ailments. His hope had been to be back in the booth by the start of the season, but it was announced last week that he would miss Opening Day. Knowing he would miss the opener was difficult enough, but news of his passing on the day before two of his clubs would meet left a tinge of sadness lingering over the Metrodome.

"I think it's certainly sad because over the course of the offseason he was really focused on one day, and that's just being healthy enough to be in that booth on April 2," St. Peter said. "And he didn't quite make it. I think there is some irony in that. He struggled with his health over the course of the past couple months, and I want to believe he's in a better place. We'll dedicate the season to Herb and try to go out and win a lot of baseball games in his memory.

Carneal's legacy is already cemented in the history of the franchise. Carneal was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Metrodome's baseball press box was renamed in his honor in 2005.

"When you think about it, he's the common thread from [Harmon] Killebrew to Mauer, from [Bob] Allison to [Johan] Santana," St. Peter said. "He's a legend and for multiple generations of fans, his voice is synonymous with Twins baseball. It's a sad day because we're not only saying goodbye to a wonderful broadcaster, but we're saying goodbye to a huge part of the Twins organization."

Carneal is survived by his daughter Terri and grandson Matthew. Funeral arrangements are pending and will be announced when they become available.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.