Herb Carneal was never as well known as he should have been, and that was to his credit.
The Hall-of-Fame radio voice of the Minnesota Twins died at age 83 on Sunday, the eve of the season opener. Due to ill health, Carneal had cut back on his schedule over the years, and as recently as last week had announced that he wasn't up to broadcasting opening day, although he hoped to make it back some time during the season.
Herb Carneal was a throwback to the glory days of baseball on radio, the days when imagination ruled and the home team announcer was a friend who came into your home every evening to share a couple of hours talking about your favorite pasttime and his, baseball.
Carneal broadcast other sports - he did football on CBS, and I believe even did some bowl games on the radio, but it was his gig with the Twins, which began in 1962, that earned him the enduring affection of baseball fans throughout the Midwest, who picked up the Twins games on WCCO-AM's 50,000 watt clear-channel signal.
And although he became an institution in much the same way as Waite Hoyt in Cincinnati, Phil Rizzuto and Mel Allen in N.Y., Ernie Harwell in Detroit, Red Barber in Brooklyn and Vin Scully in L.A., he never made the big time the way his talent merited it. Part of the reason was that the Twins fielded such lousy teams for so many years, they were seldom in the national spotlight.
But there was a more important reason. Herb Carneal never tried to make himself the story, never thought to upstage the game itself. He had no glib catchphrases save his trademark opening, "Well, hi everybody," the kind of greeting that you might give a friend when you met him on the corner. He didn't shout or scream, but let his smooth baritone paint the picture and allowed your imagination to do the rest. It was that skill, that lack of flamboyance (you never got the idea Herb Carneal was auditioning for open-mike nite at the improv) that caused him to be overshadowed by other, louder voices.
Louder they may have been, and better known, but few were better at the mike than Herb Carneal. Baseball in Minnesota is richer for his having been here, and poorer for his absence.