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Remembering Ray Fosse, Oakland A’s legend

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Not only a player and broadcaster, but the team’s biggest fan

Baltimore Orioles v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Oakland A’s baseball will never be the same.

It’s only been a couple months since we last heard Ray Fosse broadcasting a game. In August he stepped away from the booth, publicizing a long battle with cancer that he’d silently waged for 16 years. On Wednesday he passed away, at the age of 74.

There’s no shortage of fond ways to remember Fosse. If you’ve been around long enough, then you saw him as a star player who came to Oakland and helped win two World Series in the 1970s. If you’re under 40, then you’ve spent your entire life listening to his familiar voice calling A’s games on TV and radio. If you ever met him, then you enjoyed a wonderful conversation with one of the friendliest people in the world, and you received the same level of attention and respect whether you were a Hall of Fame player or a fan hanging out in the stands.

He was a link tying together a half-century of A’s history, a consistent presence in an organization that hasn’t enjoyed a lot of long-term stability over the years. His experiences as a player afforded him an endless supply of interesting anecdotes to share during broadcasts, bringing the 70s championships to life for those of us too young to have seen them, and his long tenure in the media helped him accrue an encyclopedic knowledge of the team. He wasn’t just their voice, he was their biggest fan.

Perhaps most of all, it was his outgoing nature that endeared him to the Oakland faithful. Seemingly everybody has a story about running into Ray at the stadium or elsewhere, and he always had time to talk some ball with anyone who would listen, a true ambassador of both the team and the sport.

***

Having spent a couple summers covering games at the Coliseum, I got several chances to stop and chat with Ray, but my favorite came back in 2012.

It was my first year writing for Athletics Nation, and the club invited folks from several online outlets to do some player interviews at the stadium. At one point we were on the field near the dugout waiting for our next appointment, and I noticed Fosse wandering around alone nearby, looking bored. I called him over, just hoping to shake his hand, but instead of a quick hello he stuck around and talked to the group for 20 minutes.

At one point the conversation turned to the World Series ring he was wearing, and we asked for a closer look. He did one better, slipping it off his finger and passing it around for us to see. He even let us wear it, though he asked that we not share photos of that online, saying his wife would kill him — I’m pretty sure that was a joke, but to this day I’m not certain, so I’ll continue honoring it just in case.

As far as I recall, that was the first time we’d ever met.

***

The comment thread from our news post on Wednesday is full of fond memorials for Fosse, including this thought from community member BWH:

I realized earlier that with the exception of, like, my mother, I have probably heard more words spoken by Ray Fosse than any other person. He’s that familiar to me. Three hour broadcasts 150+ times a year for decades now. Irreplaceable. A big loss for all of us.

That’s probably true for me too. I was born in 1985 and Fosse began broadcasting the next year, so even at age 36 I don’t remember a time when he wasn’t narrating the action. Ray Fosse is what baseball sounds like to me.

Day after day, summer after summer, it was his warm, welcoming discourse filling our ears, with a hint of Midwest twang from his upbringing as the Marion Mule out of Illinois. His color commentary helped teach the game to a generation of young fans, especially if you happened to be an aspiring catcher, as he’d thoroughly examine and critique every microscopic detail of his old position. His quirks brought a smile to your face the EN-tire time, especially his adoration for food and his tendency to speak about it at length upon any sight or mention of a snack.

His love of baseball came through on the microphone, with a story or tidbit for every player from the last 50 years, and educated insight about whatever was happening today on the field. His devotion to the A’s also shined, always speaking about them with pride, and letting slip just the right amount of excitement when they succeeded. One of his most iconic moments was The Scream, when Coco Crisp’s single to right field was bobbled to seal the walk-off RBI in Game 4 of the 2012 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers.

With that perfect burst of emotion he was celebrating alongside all his fellow fans via the airwaves, the exclamation point on a particularly magical season that had seen a ragtag squad exceed all expectations.

On other occasions, a simple “WOW” sufficed.

Listening to him brought the comfortable feeling of watching the game with one of your friends, or maybe your friend’s dad.

Without ever stepping through the door, he spent so much time in our homes that he felt like family.

***

With that kind of affection from the general public, you can only imagine how much Fosse meant to the people closest to him, from family to friends to co-workers. The outpouring of support this week showed a glimpse of how dearly he was treasured.

From play-by-play announcer Glen Kuiper, his TV broadcast partner for the past 18 seasons, on Instagram:

I cannot find the words to describe the sadness that I feel today. I can’t believe that my broadcast partner of eighteen years is gone. He was my friend and I miss him already. I love you, Ray Fosse. Rest In Peace.

And Vince Cotroneo, who has been in the A’s radio booth since 2006 and often did play-by-play alongside Fosse, via Twitter:

Ray made me feel welcome on day one and I am forever grateful. Nothing but great memories. Lots of stories and laughter and baseball. It is an enormous hole in the A’s family and in the booth . Prayers to Carol, Lindsey, Nikki and the grandkids. Love you Ray.

NBCS producer D’Aulaire Louwerse posted this tribute on Twitter:

Rarely do I post about work. For the past 14 seasons I was Ray Fosse’s producer on NBCS Broadcasts. Baseball lost its biggest fan yesterday.

The last day of the regular season was Ray’s least favorite day (except if the A’s made the playoffs). He made my job easy, supporting any decision we made good or bad. Always giving the production team shoutouts on the air, telling us personally what a great job we were doing and bragged to others about us.

Baseball is a long season in the production truck, every pitch and foul ball is televised. Days are long and then the next day you do it again. Ray loved every minute of it. On the team charter when he wasn’t touching up his scorecard or preparing for the next series he had a rotation of movies watched on his laptop. The Natural and Field of Dreams were the top 2.

When he left the broadcast booth in August, I was hoping it wouldn’t be the end of our run working together. By September I missed hearing his voice through the talkback and him hanging on every pitch hoping the A’s would win the game. Anytime we would replay a catchers block of a baseball, I thought how much he would have enjoyed that one. He taught me so much about the game as we sat through thousands of hours of baseball throughout the summer. On the road he made the tv crews, the security guards & hotel staff a part of the team as he brought his A’s fandom across the country. Getting him to not talk about baseball was tough.

The last contact I had with Ray was mid-August through text. “Keep doing great work” was his last message. Ray, I will ..but will miss you big time along the way. Thanks for everything ..Marion Mule.

San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Susan Slusser spent more than two decades covering the A’s, working in the press box just a few feet away from the TV and radio booths (via Twitter):

I’m so sorry to learn that Ray Fosse has died. I learned as much or more baseball from him over 25 years than maybe anyone else in the game. His tremendous insights and his passion for the A’s will be so missed. A very sad day for the organization and for Major League Baseball.

Former A’s executive Andy Dolich shared a great photo of Ray with late legendary A’s announcers Bill King and Lon Simmons.

Many players spoke up as well, from various eras, teammates and opponents alike. Before Dennis Eckersley was a Hall of Fame closer for the A’s, he was a starter for Cleveland, and in 1977 he threw a no-hitter against the Angels. Fosse was behind the plate as his catcher that day, and then a decade later Fosse was in the booth while Eck was an MVP reliever in Oakland for a championship club. Eck is now a fellow broadcaster, for the Boston Red Sox.

Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds played his career at the same time as Fosse, and they faced off in the All-Star Game in each of 1970 and 1971.

Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas played for the A’s toward the end of his career.

Even more recently, pitcher Liam Hendriks spent a half-decade in Oakland while working his way up to All-Star closer status. Now a member of the Chicago White Sox, Hendriks posted on Instagram:

Devastating news. Ray was one of the first people to welcome me to the Oakland organization. His kindness will never be forgotten. His broadcasts were never dull, nor one-sided. He passed along a wealth of knowledge for the next generation watching the game. The game of ball lost a true legend. Our hearts are with his family and Oakland fans everywhere.

Even the visiting clubhouse appreciated Ray, with Angels superstar Mike Trout one of many non-A’s players to offer condolences.

And finally, there’s Dallas Braden, who pitched a perfect game for the A’s in 2010, with Fosse in the booth calling the action. Ray’s first words after the final out was recorded? “Wow. UN-believable. UN-believable.”

Braden played five MLB seasons, all for Oakland, and he’s now transitioned behind the mic as a TV announcer. For the last few years he worked the NBCS broadcasts along with Ray and Glen, and when Ray stepped aside in August, it was Braden who filled his seat the rest of the year.

A’s fans will still be in good hands with Glen and Dallas, but it will never quite be the same without Ray. For more than three decades, for many of us our entire lives, he was in our homes every summer night. Talking some baseball with us, swapping stories about the old days, maybe musing about Dibs for a minute, while we rooted together for our favorite team, until he felt like family.

Thank you for everything, Ray. We love you, and we’ll miss you.