“Some love the sound of the loon or the teal,
but I love the voice of Herb Carneal.”
That’s a snippet from a song I heard Garrison Keillor sing a long time ago. I don’t remember what the song or the context was, but that couplet always stuck with me because it also expressed the pleasure and comfort I took from listening to Herb call a Twins game. There was just something so natural about the way he described the action; you could tell he enjoyed what he was doing, even in the most wretched of seasons – and there were enough of those over the years to have made a lesser man long for laryngitis.
It’s kind of funny, but when I think of his voice now I don’t think of baseball as much as I do night driving on a warm summer’s evening; of settling back in my seat, the windows half open, letting the dark air and the golden tones eddy about me. Baseball is about the only sport I enjoy listening to on the radio. I can barely stand to watch the NBA, let alone listen to it and the college game isn’t much more compelling. Hockey and football have so much going on that, while I’ll listen to a game on radio, it’s only until I can get to a TV, whereupon I’ll dash inside to watch the rest. Many times, however, while on my way home and listening to Herb call a Twins game, I’d sit out in the driveway or garage and wait until the end of the inning before going inside and turning on the set. With Herb there was never any rush.
Herb and former Cardinals announcer Jack Buck were as much of the sound of baseball to me as the crack of the bat, and their style and grace was always a pleasure, and now they are both gone. There are other announcers who are alright, and some who are annoying (it took me awhile to appreciate John Gordon, and I can’t stand Buck’s son, Joe). In recent years I could hear Herb’s voice getting weaker, but it was still a baseball voice and the few innings he’d work each game were like getting the last piece of cake: you knew it was going to be good, but soon gone. Last week when the newspaper had the story that he didn’t feel strong enough to work the Opening Day game, Twins fans knew it wasn’t a good sign. Herb said he hoped his voice would be strong enough to return soon, and even though I read his words in the paper — rather than hearing them — they struck me as having the same note of plucky optimism he’d use when saying “Wait until next year” after another 90-loss season. Like the Twins mantra, he always seemed to know that you can’t take any one loss too hard.
This one, though, is going to be a toughie.
The StarTribune has a collection of some of Herb’s classic calls here.