Monday, January 18, 2021

Ted Leitner

My subject for today’s post is someone 99% have probably never heard of.  But he means a lot to me so he's worth a shout-out.

Ted Leitner is leaving the San Diego Padres radio booth after 41 years.  Proud to say I was his partner for three of those years. 

Ted is a San Diego institution.  He did TV sports for many years, has also called the Chargers (who still belong in San Diego), and San Diego State football and basketball. 

In a word, Ted is unique.  He’s opinionated, an excellent play caller, master storyteller, warm, bombastic, insightful, sarcastic, and very funny.  His play-by-play is unlike anyone I’ve ever heard and that’s probably what I love best about him.   Especially now, when personality is discouraged and announcers tend to be very generic.   In today’s social media world, generic means “safe” which means fewer complaints on Twitter and Facebook and blogs. 

But it also means less fun, fewer surprises, and no reason to still listen if your favorite team is behind by 7 runs in the 4th inning. 

When the team was playing well, Ted called them “My Padres.”  When they played horseshit they were “Your Padres.” 

Off the air he was a terrific guy.  Let me share this story.

In 1993 I was calling games for the Seattle Mariners.  During the offseason I got a call from Jerry Coleman (then the Padres number one announcer) asking if I’d speak at his charity banquet.  He put together a group of speakers from among Major League Baseball announcers every year.  I was happy to oblige. 

On the panel was the great Harry Kalas of the Phillies, Ralph Kiner of the Mets, Jerry, me, and Ted.    It was a good crowd.  My speech killed.  Ted then had to follow me.  His speech did not get the laughs it deserved. 

The next day as I was packing to leave I heard Ted on the radio with the morning hosts talking about the previous evening’s event.  He said he had bombed (not totally true) and learned never to follow a comedy writer.  I thought, well, shit, Ted Leitner now hates me. 

Flashforward a couple of years.  Jerry Coleman gets the assignment to do the CBS Radio game of the week every Saturday so the Padres need someone to fill in every weekend.  The president of the Padres was Larry Lucchino who had been the president of the Baltimore Orioles when I broadcast for them.  He was having dinner with Ted discussing who might fill that position.  Larry recommended me. 

What a perfect job that would be.  I could continue my writing career in Los Angeles and every weekend join the team and call baseball.  Best of both worlds. 


Ted had to sign-off on it.  It would have been so easy for Ted to say, “Oh, THAT guy?  NO.”  Instead he said, “That’s a great idea!  Get him.”   Believe me, there are many many many others in the business who are insecure and would feel threatened.   Not Ted.    We always had fun together on the air, and I think we each made the other sound better.

Ted is still doing the Aztecs football and basketball, and he’ll be an ambassador for the Padres.  I hope he gets to enjoy the first summer in 41 years.  I wish him nothing but the best.  His successor, Jesse Agler, is a top flight young announcer and I wish him the best as well. 

But I’ll miss Ted on the air.  Now and forever they are “HIS Padres.”  


Michael Hagerty said...

Here's how big Leitner was. He was the evening sports guy on KFMB-TV, the CBS affiliate. He did like three-minute sports reports on the morning and afternoon shows on KFMB-AM.

The afternoon host and PD, Mark Larson, re-named his show "Larson with Leitner", gave Ted like ten minutes an hour for his four-hour shift and watched the ratings climb.

For several years in the late 70s and early 80s, a huge number of cars in San Diego had bumperstickers that read "Ted says "WHO CARES?"

Nobody had to ask "Ted who?"

VP81955 said...

Fine announcer. Now that 1090 AM with its 50,000 watts has returned to a sports format, I hope it picks up the Aztecs so we in LA can hear him. (Incidentally, SDSU football's temporary home is the CSUDH stadium used by the Galaxy and for three years by the Chargers.)

Steve M said...

I grew up in San Diego and I can remember when Leitner was the new guy. His style was always upbeat and fun, with a wee bit of bombast thrown in.

Jerry Coleman was known to get his facts wrong now and then, and I always enjoyed how his partners would very subtly correct the mistake an inning or two later without embarrassing Jerry.

Brian said...

I am glad to know that he was/is a nice guy. My years in San Diego were not great ones, and I found that the crowd that I knew and a lot of the media that I saw was starved for good humor. Leitner was great TV watching on KFMB. One broadcast, which was sort of a foreshadowing of "Not the Nine O'Clock News" cum "Daily Show"-style humor, he said, "Everyone's talking about the Super Bowl. Even the POPE is talking about it!" They cut to the Pope giving a mass blessing and the unaltered audio did indeed sound as if Pope John Paul II said, "...Suuupair bow". I heard that this joke didn't sit well with quite a few people, but I thought it was funny.

FRIDAY QUESTION: You and/or David Isaacs have run many shows. Which writers adapted to your voice the quickest?

YMMV said...

Your Mileage May Vary.

We must have encountered him only on really bad days.

ventucky said...

Even though I live in Kentucky, I watch almost every Padre game every year. Don Orsillo and Mudcat Grant are probably the best announcing duo in baseball now. I have not heard a Padre radio broadcast since the early 70's when I last lived there. So, whenever I see highlights on TV with Ted announcing, it drives me nuts. He has an insane cadence that is singsong, and very hard to follow. Don and Mud are pretty darn funny, but also great callers of the game, and I lived outside gof LA for 45 years, and know a good baseball announcer when I hear one. (Vin is THE best)

Michael said...

First, hello to Michael Hagerty, whom I remember on the air in Las Vegas.

Second, as to Leitner, yes, a different approach, bless him. He started in 1980 when Coleman was spending a season as the manager, and they were a great team. I worried that the Padres had pushed him out, and I wonder whether they discussed the idea of him doing just home games, much as the Dodgers did with The Vin, the Mets with Bob Murphy, the Twins with Herb Carneal, and so on. I also wonder if Leitner thought of Jerry Coleman continuing into his late eighties and worried about losing his fastball--not that I'm saying Coleman was over the hill, but they scaled him back considerably.

VincentS said...

Fine tribute, Ken.

Christopher Carmichael said...

I was a (then young) columnist for the "North County Times" covering radio. In 1999, when asked to feature Ted, he was the most helpful, fun, and fantastic interview. Conducted over the phone and me scramblin' to take notes and not laugh -- Ted gave time in his day to me for over an hour. Thank you Ted!

Dave Mason said...

Good thoughts, Ken. Ted is a different kind of "old school" sports guy and he's hard to turn off. Cliches, phrases, shouts . . Padres fans had Jerry Coleman's "Ohhhh Doctor" - no one's replaced it. Ted calling them "my Padres"..a sign of comfort and familiarity. Ted is a play by play guy for basketball, football (college and pro), baseball (college and pro) -it seems that every radio (and some television) sportscast has Ted in it. Whatever reasons he's off of the Padres broadcasts, they won't be the same. Ted was on Channel 8 when I first got to town in 1999-and when he left..some of the air came out of the newscasts. Gladly he's going to stick around for other sports (we hope) and maybe his baseball presence will be missed on Padres broadcasts. Ted is opinionated and probably polarizing-but that's what creates great conversation. In the 1980s I worked with the incredible Myron Cope. At first listen he was hard to take. In 77, 78, 79 Pittsburgh sports teams were dynasties-and Myron was the way we learned the good-and the great for him and every pro and college team in Pittsburgh. We did research on him and he was the most LOVED sports personality on radio. He was also the most HATED! The "love" far outweighed the "hate"-but a polarizing personality can only keep the brand of a sports team in the forefront. Ted is another master of the audio medium. Long may he wave-and continue on the San Diego airwaves.

MikeKPa. said...

Hard to believe it's been over a decade since Harry Kalas died. Irreplaceable.

JoeyH said...

Speaking of baseball PBP guys with personality, this will be Mike Shannon's last season in the Cardinals' radio booth. I remember when Mike first moved from third base to the booth he wasn't the best. And it was tough to be compared to St. Louis stalwarts Harry Caray and Jack Buck. But Shannon worked hard, took voice lessons, and found his place as a knowledgable ex-player who could do more than just analyze. I will miss hearing him.

J.R. Russ said...

I worked at XM, later SiriusXM as a Sports Board Operator for NHL, NCAA and MLB games. I always enjoyed doing the home team broadcasts of the Padres because you could tell Ted was a former DJ. Actually he was a DEE JAY. He would get into a fast-talking patter describing something or saying something funny and it made the games go by so much quicker. The difference between Ted and Jerry Coleman was notable but...IT WORKED!

Doug said...

Hearing about Uncle Teddy was a gut punch and despite what he says, I can't quite shake the feeling that it wasn't totally his decision. As others have said, he could be polarizing; my grandmother never "got" him and would stop what she was doing to walk across the room to turn the channel of he came on TV, because he was "mean to her boys" (the Pads) For me though, he's always been a source of comfort on the radio, up to 182 games a year. I even listened when I went to the games. This will be a strange and slightly sad season, even if the kids manage to equal or better what they did last year in the half season.

Bill Dillane said...

I remember when Ted Leitner did 6 & 11 pm sports on WFSB-3 in Hartford in the mid 70s. He was great. He used to sometimes smile and tap the end of his pencil on the desk.