Hall of Fame broadcaster Rafael 'Felo' Ramirez dies at 94

Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Rafael "Felo" Ramirez, the signature voice for millions of Spanish-speaking sports fans over three decades, died Monday at age 94, the Miami Marlins announced.

"The entire Marlins organization is deeply saddened by the loss of a great friend, Hall-of-Fame broadcaster and community icon, Felo Ramirez," the Marlins said in the statement. "Since our inaugural season, he brought home practically every magical moment in franchise history to generations of fans. A true broadcast legend ... his extensive contributions to our game will never be forgotten."

 

Ramirez fell and struck his head while getting off the Marlins team bus April 26, during a series in Philadelphia. He spent two months in a Delaware hospital before he was brought to Miami where he continued his recovery.

He began his broadcasting career in Cuba in 1945 before calling 31 All-Star games and World Series in Spanish. He had been the Florida Marlins' Spanish-language announcer since 1993 and was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame after receiving the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters in 2001.

He also broadcast 40 Caribbean World Series.

Ramirez was not the tallest of men, but his size belied his strong voice and stature in the broadcasting community. He was known for an expressive, yet low-key style and his signature strike call of "Essstrike."

"There's never been anybody in Spanish broadcasting who has called as many games as he has. He's dedicated his life to baseball," Luis Quintana, his broadcast partner for the past 16 seasons, told the Miami Herald. "When the season ended here in the United States, he would go call games in Venezuela, Puerto Rico. He would call winter league games -- even juvenile games."

"His life is baseball, and there isn't a broadcaster in Spanish radio today who isn't influenced by Felo."

Rafael "Felo" Ramirez, who broadcast 31 World Series and 40 Caribbean World Series, was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2001. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Several Spanish-language broadcasters have said they emulate his style, such as Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, who has worked for the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants.

Cookie Rojas, a former player and manager in Cuba and the major leagues, once said Ramirez was admired by sports fans who listened to Spanish-language broadcasts.

"When you hear Felo Ramirez announce a game, you instantly know its Felo Ramirez," said Rojas, a former Spanish-language television announcer for the Marlins. "His voice is one of the most acceptable and distinguishable around. Felo's influence on Latin Americans in the United States is undoubtable."

Ramirez's big break came when he landed a job in 1950 with the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, which introduced him to major league baseball.

The Cavalcade broadcast in English and Spanish the baseball game of the week and boxing matches. While Americans were listening to Mel Allen and Red Barber, more than 200 Latin American radio stations carried Ramirez and his partner, future Hall of Famer Buck Canel.

Ramirez left Cuba in the early 1960s, after Fidel Castro's revolution.

Tony Perez, a Cuban-born Hall of Fame first and third baseman, said he remembers listening with his father as Ramirez called games in Cuba. Perez is now a special assistant with the Marlins.

"He was a great man and we all loved him," Perez said, adding that Ramirez was always talking about baseball. "He never wanted to quit. He wanted to keep doing games and traveling."

When the Yankees' Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the World Series in 1956, Ramirez called the emotional last four innings, describing in Spanish how catcher Yogi Berra jumped into his pitcher's arms.

Ramirez was also there the day Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th and final hit.

When Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run in 1974, Ramirez and Canel were broadcasting from the roof of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. That call is enshrined in Cooperstown.

Between October and February, Ramirez would broadcast games in the Puerto Rican and Venezuelan professional leagues, a commitment that lasted for more than 30 years.

When the Florida Marlins emerged in 1993, Ramirez quickly landed the job. Four years later, Ramirez was calling the Marlins' first World Series win.

"That's a lasting memory in my mind," Ramirez recalled in a 2001 interview with The Associated Press.

In that interview, Ramirez recognized he was nearing the end of an accomplished career.

"But every time I sit down to describe the game, I can still see everything that happens and it still comes naturally for me," he said.