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Spanish Radio Still Going Strong

Although many of baseball's legendary English-language radio voices have retired or moved on to television recently, the sport is enjoying a golden era in Spanish.


5 August 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Baseball might have lost its influence and importance -- as well as many of its personalities -- on the English end of the radio dial, but the sport is enjoying an epoca dorada in Spanish broadcasting.

Although many of baseball's legendary English-language radio voices have either retired or moved on to television over the past few seasons, more teams are broadcasting more games in Spanish than ever.

And with Hall of Fame announcers Felo Ramirez and Jaime Jarrin still calling Marlins and Dodgers games, respectively, the quality of the commentary has managed to keep pace with the quanity.

Although Jarrin and Ramirez have more than 70 years of baseball broadcasting experience on two continents between them, they are just two of a growing number of announcers who have built large and loyal audiences working in Spanish.

Eduardo Ortega, in his 18th season with the San Diego Padres, and the Houston Astros' Francisco Ernesto Ruiz, who has spent three decades in broadcasting, have become celebrities in their communities and rank among the deans of baseball play-by-play men in any language.


Nearly half of baseball's 30 big-league teams do at least some games in Spanish.

Moreover, because so few baseball games are available for Spanish speakers on television on anything other than an SAP basis, most Spanish-language brodcasters enjoy a relationship with their listeners and the players they cover that is rare for their English-speaking colleagues.

For years, Jarrin, a native of Ecuador who honed his broadcasting style by translating Vin Scully's calls into Spanish during the 1960s, would draw turn-away crowds in L.A.'s heavily Hispanic Eastside neighborhoods when he showed up for supermarket openings or community festivals.

And during the Marlins' World Series run last fall, Luis Castillo and Alex Gonzalez left their teammates in the clubhouse to celebrate a victory by splitting a bottle of champagne with Ramirez and radio partner Yiky Quintana.

''He's like our Yoda -- the old wise man who has been around forever,'' the Marlins' Mike Lowell says of Ramirez, who he says once broke a player's slump just by touching his bat. ``He can give a nudge or make a comment and change the forces of nature.''


But the status Ramirez, Jarrin and others enjoy on the radio is one they have maintained largely by forfeit since they haven't had to worry about television.

Major League Baseball's policy of negotiating exclusive broadcast rights has locked Spanish-language television out of the market and neither Telemundo or Univision, the two major Spanish-language television networks, carry baseball on a national basis.

Attempts by local affiliates to carry selected games of their local teams, such as Telemundo flagship KVEA-Channel 52's experiment with the Angels in the late 1990s, have mostly failed.

English-lanaguage broadcasters such as Fox Sports Net have tried to fill the void by offering Spanish-language audio of their English-language telecasts in SAP.

But Ramirez, who has been doing Marlins game on Spanish-language radio since the team's inception, says old habits are hard to break, and many listeners still prefer the radio call, watching TV with the sound turned down and the radio turned up.


Outside the Hispanic community, however, the broadcasters have found the battle for respect difficult.

During last fall's World Series, Ramirez and Quintana were assigned broadcast positions in an auxiliary press box at Yankee Stadium, calling Games 1 and 2 from the left-field stands.

And the first time the Texas Rangers sent a Spanish-language broadcaster with the team to Anaheim, he was banished to an old football press box above the third-base line.

Still Ramirez, who has done TV play-by-play in his native Cuba as well as Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua, says it's only a matter of time before baseball becomes a staple of Spanish-language TV in the United States

Unlike the NBA, which negotiated separate English- and Spanish-language broadcast deals, Major League Baseball sold exclusive national broadcast rights to Fox and ESPN at a price the Spanish-language networks can't come close to matching.

''We'd love to have the opportunity to bid for baseball rights,'' Telemundo executive Jorge Hidalgo said. ``Baseball is a sport that's already popular in the Hispanic community.

``If you ask me what are the three most popular sports for Hispanics, it would be soccer, soccer and soccer. We've also had some success with boxing.

``We don't know how [baseball] would go over.''

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