Lanny Frattare's voice has become synonymous with Pirates baseball

By John Grupp

Published: Sunday, August 26, 2007

If someone were to give a play-by-play account of Lanny Frattare's career, the final call would be anything but "There was nooooooo doubt about it."

"I was very fortunate," Frattare says. "I had a lot of people looking out for me, and I got a lot of tremendous breaks. I think I made a lot of breaks for myself, too."

Frattare, in his 32nd season as the voice of the Pirates, has called about 4,800 games, more than any broadcaster in franchise history. Earlier this season, he won the 2007 Pride of the Pirates Award, given for a lifetime of service.

An interest in broadcasting that began as a wide-eyed child in a breakfast nook in upstate New York has blossomed into one of the longest announcing tenures in Major League Baseball.

But it wasn't a smooth path to success for Frattare, who began his baseball career 33 years ago for a minor league team in West Virginia.

"I'm not embarrassed to admit," he says, "that I've always been an insecure person."

Frattare, 59, of Robinson Township, has witnessed the good and the bad from the Pirates, stretching from the 1979 World Series championship to the current team, which is careening toward its 15th consecutive losing season.

Frattare is known for everything from his signature "No doubt about it" call after a Pirates' victory to the embarrassing moment when he told his listeners the actor who played Darth Vader had died, a blunder that eventually made him the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.

There have been other obstacles along the way. Such as when marriage problems led him to live in a spare bedroom at manager Jim Leyland's house, or the time clinical depression forced him off the air for 10 days in August 2004.

Or the time, in his very first broadcast, at Veterans Stadium in 1976, he mispronounced Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt's last name.

"The M was silent," Frattare recalls with a smile.

Or the time the general manager at cable channel KBL (which eventually became FSN Pittsburgh) publicly criticized Frattare.

But for a man who knew from age 5 that he wanted to be a baseball broadcaster, there was too much passion and too much devotion to the craft to be knocked off course. Frattare has persevered to become the voice of the summer for countless Pirates fans. Only nine major league announcers have enjoyed longer tenures with one team.

"Because I constantly did so much of this," Frattare says, "it was easy for me to stay focused on what I wanted to do."

Stepping away from the microphone

Frattare's most challenging moment came three years ago, when he took a medical leave and missed about 10 games. Later, Frattare revealed he was battling clinical depression.

One night in the summer of 2004, after getting into an argument with a Fox Sports Pittsburgh executive "for no apparent reason," Frattare and his wife, Christine, called Dr. Jack Failla, the Pirates' team physician. It was after midnight. Failla made a house call.

"I didn't know what to do," Frattare says. "I was letting a lot of people down. I didn't feel that I was doing a good job, and I felt bad about that for a lot of reasons."

Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy gave Frattare a medical leave of absence, and the time off worked wonders.

"It gave me a chance to think about what really was important for me," Frattare says.

The bout with depression is in the distant past. Frattare is back to his old self, whether he's studying game notes while puffing a cigar on the ramps at Shea Stadium or chatting with the elevator guy at PNC Park.

"The thing is -- and I'm somewhat embarrassed to tell you and to tell Pittsburgh, in some respects -- but I think I'm a pretty good broadcaster, and I've been blessed with the job I've always wanted, and I have a remarkable (family)," Frattare says. "But there were so many times when I just didn't feel happy. I didn't feel good about where I was and who I was. After that episode, I stepped back and re-prioritized some things in my life. I didn't take some of the criticism so personally. ... It's all done wonderful things for me."

Diamond in the rough

Frattare played sports growing up in Rochester, N.Y., but was never as gifted as his older brother, Ron, or uncle, John, who is eight years his senior.

Lanny became mesmerized listening to Yankees games called by Mel Allen in the 1960s.

He practiced his craft at home, using a makeshift baseball game he invented with buttons and a deck of cards. He spent hours playing the game -- and calling the action -- in the basement or on the window frame in the breakfast nook.

J. Roger Dykes grew up next to the Frattare house in Rochester. Dykes, 69, was the best man in Frattare's first wedding. He still remembers the young boy obsessed with baseball and the art of the call.

"I would sit in the window and listen to him broadcast games," Dykes says. "I thought he was nuts and a little offbeat, but he certainly enjoyed it."

Frattare attended minor league games in Rochester and spent much of that time watching announcers in the press box rather than players on field. When he was 13 years old, his father parked the car facing the diamond, so Lanny could call his older brother's high school baseball games.

"People thought it was a little strange," Frattare says. "This kid sitting in a car, talking to himself."

Frattare played basketball, football and baseball at Charlotte High School in Rochester -- none with much distinction. He realized as a teenager he was much better -- and happier -- describing the action. He would sit in the far corner of the left-field bleachers at old Silver Stadium and call Rochester Red Wings games.

He once begged out of a basketball practice to be the public address announcer for a high school swim meet.

"It wasn't a big problem," says Don Murray, who coached Frattare in all three sports in high school. "We knew he wasn't going to make it in basketball. He was very intense about being a good broadcaster. We knew that's what he wanted to do."

Ron Frattare, an architect in Cleveland, figured his younger brother would outgrow his wild dream. There were about two dozen major league play-by-play jobs. Ron implored Lanny to pursue a career in his other passion, math, and become a teacher.

"I remember when he was 7, 8 years old. I thought it was a childish thing, just him using his imagination," Ron Frattare says. "I thought it was kind of cute, but it would probably go away. Now I have the wisdom of years to know."

Says Uncle John, "Ronnie and I were the athletes. Once Lanny said, 'I'll get to the World Series before you will.' Sure enough, he did. I'll never forget that."

From the eighth-grade essay he wrote about being a baseball announcer to his degree in broadcasting from Ithaca College, Frattare never wavered.

Chasing the dream

But then fate nearly pulled him away from his lifelong dream. After graduating from Ithaca in 1970, Frattare was hired as a disc jockey at a radio station in Rochester. Four years later, he was making a decent salary ($12,000) in a comfortable job. But there was one problem.

"I never thought I was good at being a disc jockey," he says.

So, when Rochester Red Wings general manager Carl Steinfeldt took the GM job with the Charleston (W.Va.) Charlies, the Pirates' Class AAA affiliate, and offered Frattare a job as a broadcaster, Frattare jumped at the chance.

His new salary?

About $400 a month.

"It was really difficult," he says. "I took the gamble."

Frattare got his big break -- if it could be called that -- after the 1975 season, when the Pirates fired announcers Bob Prince and Nellie King in a highly unpopular move.

Prince, in a gesture Frattare says he never will forget, gave advice to the eager young broadcaster about how to get the job. Frattare, along with Milo Hamilton, was hired for the 1976 season and worked the second and seventh inning of every game.

Hamilton left three years later, and Frattare became the team's play-by-play man for the 1980 season.

Voice of the Pirates

Frattare's style is smooth and easy to listen to, but critics say he is a shameless optimist and wanders off the topic of baseball too much. Others swear by his professional approach.

An article in USA Today ranked the Pirates' broadcast team, including Bob Walk and Steve Blass, as the fifth-best in the 16-team National League.

Frattare, under contract through the 2009 season, has two signature calls -- "Go, ball, get out of here" after a home run and "There was nooooooo doubt about it."

The latter is a subtle tribute to Prince, who ended each win with "We had 'em all the way."

Frattare shows no signs of slowing down. He would like to call Pirates games for another eight seasons. "Forty (years) seems like a nice round number for me," he says.

In the off-season, Frattare volunteers as an emcee for groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to youth baseball leagues. The Lanny Frattare Golf Classic, which benefits FamilyLinks, has raised $1.7 million for the social service agency.

He has two grown children from his first marriage and two grandchildren.

Frattare still laughs about the infamous gaffe in 1998, when he misheard his producer and told his listeners actor James Earl Jones had died. Frattare waxed eloquently about Jones' role in "Field of Dreams."

Turned out Darth Vader wasn't dead after all.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray.

And that's how Frattare became the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question "What is the name of the announcer who misidentified the death of James Earl Ray?"

"The thing I was concerned about is that everyone has a signature moment," Frattare says. "I don't want that to be my signature moment."

While the gaffe is hardly the defining moment of a three-decade broadcasting career, Bob Walk, to this day, will throw a friendly jab at Frattare about the mix-up.

When one of Frattare's colleagues met Jones at an out-of-town function, he asked for a memento to bring to the man who had innocently declared Jones' premature demise. The baritone-voiced actor autographed a photo that read "Lanny, I'm alive and well. James Earl Jones."

So, thankfully, is Frattare.