Former Red Wings’ Announcer Joe Cullinane Dies

October 23, 2012  by Jim Mandelaro, Democrat and Chronicle

One of Joe Cullinane’s most memorable stories was being shooed away by members of the 1971 Rochester Red Wings during a team meeting before their Junior World Series showdown with the Denver Bears

The radio broadcaster soon found out why.

After the Wings won that series in seven games, Cullinane saw the players’ shares listed in the Democrat and Chronicle.

“Suddenly I see my own name,’’ Cullinane recounted in a 1996 interview. “They voted me a half-share. An announcer getting money? Insanity! I still remember the exact figure, too: $569.38.”

The ’71 Red Wings felt about Cullinane the way thousands of fans did who heard him broadcast games during some glorious seasons from 1962-74.

“He was a kind, kind man,” said his daughter, Sue Rath of Chili. “He had suffered for a long time. He’s in a better place now.”

Cullinane died Friday night in his sleep at the Denver home he shared with Ottie, his wife of 61 years. He was 89 and had been in declining health for years.

No one has broadcast more Red Wings games than Cullinane, who took over from the legendary Tom Decker when Decker stepped down after the 1961 season to focus on his television career. Cullinane was behind the mike when greats such as Luke Easter, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor played here and when Earl Weaver and Joe Altobelli managed here.

Joe and Ottie raised three children in Rochester. Patrick and Mike now live in Denver, while Sue has remained in the Rochester area.

“One of our fondest memories was climbing the spiral staircase at Silver Stadium and sitting in the broadcast booth with him when he did games,” Sue remembered.

Cullinane was raised in Chicago and used his low-key, Midwestern charm to entertain countless fans — and on one special occasion, a certain Red Wing.

On June 2, 1971, Roric Harrison belted a grand slam and tossed a two-hit, 11-0 win at Toledo. Cullinane was broadcasting the game high above the third-base side at the Lucas County Recreation Center, and the rout left the crowd eerily quiet.

“After the game, Roric told me he could hear every word I said,” Cullinane recalled. “He was listening to the broadcast as he pitched!”

Cullinane told Harrison: “You should listen to me more often.”

Cullinane is one of three broadcasters in the Red Wings Hall of Fame, joining Decker and Gunnar Wiig. He was inducted in 1995.

“No one worked harder or was more dedicated to his team than Joe,” said retired Democrat and Chronicle sports columnist Bob Matthews, who covered the ’71 Wings. “He was a great guy, too.”

Cullinane left Rochester reluctantly in 1974, at age 51, to pursue his dream of broadcasting big-league baseball. He went to Denver and worked Triple-A games for a decade, clinging to the hope that the city would land an expansion major league team.

Denver did, indeed, join the majors, but Cullinane was 70 by the time the Colorado Rockies were born in 1993.

“The biggest regret of his life was that he never got to broadcast in the majors,” his daughter said.

Cullinane self-published a book called Face to Face with Sports Legends in 1992 and settled into retirement, though he was a constant presence at Rockies home games until ill health forced him to abandon those visits a few years ago.

He is survived by his wife, children Patrick (Sheryl), Sue (Dale) and Mike (Marilyn) and grandsons Brian and Paul. A funeral Mass will be held Thursday morning in Denver.

“I want him to be remembered as a wonderful storyteller with a phenomenal memory for sports,” Sue Rath said. “He really loved Rochester.”