Recently, Lanny Frattare announced his retirement after 33 years as the Pirates radio and
television prosopopoeia. If a baseball broadcaster is good enough and lasts long enough, he becomes an extended member of the family. Frattare was, and did.
“The decision to retire … was something I have been thinking about and have discussed for some time,” Lanny said. In the end, it became time, shocking Pittsburgh’s diaspora of the curious and the crazed.
Greg Brown will become Pirates’ senior radio/TV partner, joining Bob Walk, Steve Blass, and John Wehner. An “exhaustive search will begin” to succeed Frattare, 60, said team president Frank Coonelly: succeed, not replace.
From There To Here
Segue to, say, April 2009. A Bucs’ fan retrieves Lanny’s 1976-2008 daybook: eight managers, nine general managers, two no-hitters, five batting champions, 10 colleagues, 1979 World Series, 1979 and 1990-92 Division Series, and 2,499-2,714 record: also, two-headed ghost — Bob Prince and Three Rivers Stadium. Ultimately, outliving meant outlasting them.
Frattare grew up 250 miles north and west of the then-Steel City. “Look at big-league guys from Rochester [New York],” he said. “Hank Greenwald, Pete Van Wieren, Josh Lewin.” Each watched the Cardinals’, then Orioles’, Triple-A affiliate. Lanny wasn’t picky: Any bigs aviary would do.
“I’d look at the booth and think, ‘This must be the best seat in the house.’” His hero ruled the
Yanks’. “Everywhere you’d hear Mel Allen. I got a tape recorder and imitated him,.” Mel’s voice was rich, clear, and urgent. Lanny’s was deep, stout, and calm.
At 20, the Ithaca College student met two announcers “who got me in the market.” In 1974, airing Triple-A Charleston, he overnighted at pitcher Blass’s home in Pittsburgh. Prince, the Bucs’ 1948- paladin, asked Frattare — dirty, hair askew, having blacktopped Steve’s driveway — to do an inning.
“If I never get to the majors’ again,” Lanny said, “they can’t take this away.” In October 1975, the Pirates shockingly took Prince’s job. From 65 applicants, Lanny and Milo Hamilton succeeded Bob and Nellie King. Their problem was Pittsburgh’s psyche. The Gunner filled its core.
Finding An Identity
Prince’s ghost was a real as any relative’s. “Ironically, Bob’d buck me up, say to get involved in the community,” said Lanny. A second specter, 1909-1970 Forbes Field, shrouded the Bucs’ new home. “At Three Rivers Stadium, charm had to come from the team, not park.” In Pittsburgh, both meant Pops. Where Willie the Starge led, even umpires went.
In 1977, manager Chuck Tanner put Stargell’s name in the fourth and sixth lineup spots. Alvin Dark waited till Willie doubled and the second Stargell hit. “We got two Wilver Stargells!” San Diego’s skipper told Doug Harvey.
The ump eyed his scorecard. “Mr. Dark, I know who Wilver Stargell is and he’s not at home plate now. No matter what the card says, Stargell’s hitting fourth and this man up for the second time is hitting sixth — and I don’t care who he is!”
Next season ended in Philadelphia. “We’re trailing the Phils,” said Frattare, “but sweep a twin-bill”: two games left, 1 1/2 behind. A day later radios tuned to Bucs then-flagship KDKA at a University of Pittsburgh football game shook on Pops’ first-inning slam. “That’s what baseball is about — a whole city riding on each pitch.”
Pops headed the Pirates family. In 1979, southwest Pennsylvania’s melting pot — Slavs, Poles, blacks, Germans — sang Sister Sledge’s “We Are Fam-i-Lee.” Pittsburgh won the Series v. Baltimore. Sadly, the Classic, ensuring network exclusivity, banned local-team radio till 1981.
“We came from 3 to 1 [games] behind,” said Lanny. “It’d have been great to call it.” Next week another kind of call cleared his line.
“Even during the Series, I knew Milo wasn’t going to extend his contract,” said Lanny. “He was done trying to replace the Gunner.” Up: Frattare replaced Hamilton, not Prince. Down: In 1982, the Gunner began local cable-TV.
The ’84ers finished last. Next year a flailing franchise rehired an ailing god. “I never call myself the ‘Voice of the Pirates,’” Lanny said on Prince’s return, “because Bob always will be,” even after his death that June. Frattare still heard pleas to sound, well, like, the Gunner.
Bob roared, “We had ‘em allll the way!” Lanny wagged: “There was noooo doubt about it!” Prince: “You can kiss it [homer] good-bye!” Frattare: “Go ball, get outta’ here, it’s gone!” George H.W. Bush once told me, “I’m not Ronald Reagan. I couldn’t be if I wanted to.” Gradually, Lanny gentled skepticism.
The 1990 Bucs rallied on Memorial Day to beat Los Angeles. A year later to the day they edged the Cubs. “It’s Memorial Day all over again!” Frattare whooped. Assets: Pittsburgh made three straight L.C.S. Twice Barry Bonds became MVP. Debits: The late-’90ers lost audience and attendance.
In 2000, Stargell threw out the confluence’s last first pitch. Sister Sledge sang two Anthems — America’s, and “We Are Fam-i-Lee.” Three Rivers imploded in 2001. Lanny took its digital-timer box to 38,365-seat PNC Park. Light towers, corner pens, and a flat-green roof conjured Forbes. Downtown rose across the Allegheny River. Behind right field homers flowed slowly to the Mississippi.
“I’ve waited all my career for a real baseball park,” Frattare marveled. In 2004, passing Prince, he became the Pirates’ longest-running Voice. The Pirates flunked .500 in 2007 for the 15th straight year. Scorecards told the tale. “I’ve kept them from the beginning. I have almost 4,500″: like their owner, encyclopedic, clear, and crisp.
Increasingly, Lanny tired of baseball’s intinerance: leave a plane, find the hotel, and migrate to the park. Dugout tale precedes the game. Tedium succeeds it. The collector and student of the U.S. Presidency will fill retirement. The Bucs’ task is to fill Frattare’s void. “It won’t be easy,” said ex-reliever Kent Tekulve. “He’s the history of Pirates baseball for the last 33 years.”