Baseball won't be the same without Fusselle
Radio announcer for Cyclones and former TWIB host dies
NEW YORK -- Some folks are recognized the moment they walk into a room. Warner Fusselle wasn't one of them -- unless he was speaking. Even then he might not be recognized, but he would instantly be noticed. He had that kind of voice, the kind that cuts through all other sound -- like jackhammers, departing jets, a Springsteen concert, the car next to you at the light that's bouncing with super-amplified bass.
Warner Fusselle had a voice similar to that of Brenda Lee, Gene Pitney, Mary Travers, Johnny Maestro and -- this one hardly fits with the others -- Rays executive and former Mets general manager Gerry Hunsicker. No matter how many others are talking, no matter the background noise or the sound in the foreground, Fusselle could be heard and appreciated.
I mention those singers because they were things Warner and I had in common. Each of us loved music, mostly '50s and '60s, but good music no matter its vintage. We talked music a lot more than we talked baseball, and we talked baseball a lot.
We had several baseball connections. Like everyone else, I came to know his wonderful Southern delivery, sans discernible drawl, from "This Week in Baseball." That weekly program sounded great, and the video portion was pretty good, too.
When the Reds played home games in Riverfront Stadium -- Cinergy Field was no more a name for a ballpark than Qualcomm or 3Com -- "TWIB" was shown on the scoreboard during batting practice, well before the place was filled. It was played far too loud; the words ricocheted off the empty seats and made for an irritating cacophony. If Ozzie Smith or Johnny Bench were speaking, their words sounded as though they had been spoken through a pillow. But when Warner's narration came through the speakers, every nuance of enunciation was heard.
"Fernando Valenzuela, Los Angeles Dodgers" had 14 syllables ("Valenzuela" got five), and each was distinct. If another voice said "Ed Ott," what you heard was, "Eh-ah-t."
Long before I met Warner, I recognized that quality. It intrigued me as much as it entertained me. And when we did meet at some baseball function in midtown Manhattan years ago, the first order of business was, "Nice to meet you, nice to hear you. Where'd you get them pipes?"
Turned out that Warner was a sound guy. Oh, how he appreciated his music, and the sounds that came from him were quite appreciated. I recall telling Jeff Idelson, now the president of the Hall of Fame, that the Hall ought to have a spot reserved for Warner's larynx. Warner endorsed the idea.
Now, sadly, his larynx is out of a job. That remarkable, great voice has been silenced. Warner Fusselle died on Sunday night after apparently suffering a heart attack. He was 68. The Brooklyn Cyclones have been left speechless. Warner had been the voice of the Cyclones for 11 years. His death precedes what would have been his 12th Opening Day by a week.
He and I connected in baseball, of course. He loved the Minor Leagues. He enjoyed all levels of baseball. We'd talk Mickey and Willie. We agreed that Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson are always shortchanged when greats of the game are discussed. He admired Whitey Ford; so do I. He wanted to know as much as he could about Casey. He had a place in his heart for little Bobby Shantz and thought Wally Backman, once a Cyclones manager, would make a good big league manager.
We got to know each other better when Warner did the voiceovers for the videos we presented at the annual winter dinner staged by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association. His voice was familiar to all who attended and readily heard through the murmur of the audience. Warner had a seat at my table when he wanted one.
We had the Mets in common, too. I covered them for Newsday, then for this website. He introduced their prized Class A players to the world. And when the Mets had a rehabbing player, they might have him play a game or two in Brooklyn. Warner and I would kibitz. He'd ask big league questions, and I needed to know what I could about players who might play at Shea or Citi.
And we shared an obsession with music. I thought I had a pretty comprehensive collection of records, from Sinatra to Paul Simon, from ABBA ("Does Your Mother Know" is a guilty pleasure) to ZZ Top ("Tush"). The day I met Warner, we reached a music intersection within minutes -- the Mamas and the Papas. He felt obligated to introduce a cut by Barry McGuire (not "Eve of Destruction") that had John, Mama Cass, Denny and Michelle singing in the backgrounds. Very cool.
One room of his midtown apartment was filled with albums from floor to ceiling. He had many more than I when my collection was at least 6,500. He had the Mugwumps and the Big Three. Each included personnel from the Mamas and the Papas from before "California Dreamin'." Warner had the Beatles' "Butcher Block" cover and lots of folk.
Bob Costas and I are sure that lovers of old rock and roll usually enjoy baseball and all the trivia it has. Warner was one those hybrids. I don't know if he could sing. If he could, he would have been Pitney or Maestro. I miss them. And now I miss Warner, too.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.