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Sports

Who Remembers Les Keiter? [by David Lehman]

Les Keiter recreated West Coast baseball games for heartsick New Yorkers bereft of the Dodger and Giants after they moved to LA and SF at the end of the 1957 season. It's the same job Ronald Reagan performed in the 1940s.

How well I remember lying in bed listening to my black Zenith radio with the lights out as the clock moved toward midnight on a September night in 1959. The Giants and Dodgers were battling for first place. In the opening inning, Don Drysdale walked the first three Giants to face him. Then he proceeded to strike out the next three. The Dodgers won, ended the season tied for first with the defending champion Braves, then of Milwaukee. The ex-Brooks prevailed in a two-game playoff, copping the NL pennant. Then they beat the Chisox in six. It was the last hurrah of Messrs. Snider, Hodges, and Carl Furillo, my father's favorite. I was eleven.

Alone in the radio studio, or maybe he had an engineer, Les Keiter would get the teletype, make an appropriate sound with a rudimentary noisemaker, and call the play. The teletype would say: Gilliam singles. Keiter would say: Antonelli goes into his windup . . .the pitch. . . a fastball down the middle . . .Gilliam swings. . .and hits a scorching line drive. . . just out of McCovey's reach. . .into right field. . .Gilliam makes the turn. . .and. . .  holds at first with a single." The next day you'd learn that Gilliam had actually beaten out a lazy roller to the left side.

Les Keiter was at his best on a close play at the plate. A sacrifice fly became a big dramatic moment. The tap of a drum stick indicated the meeting of bat and ball: Ron Fairly or Don Demeter lifted a shallow fly to center field, which Willie Mays patrolled with the efficiency of DiMaggio. Maury Wills, tagging up on third base, broke for the plate when Mays made the catch. Then: "Here comes Wills. . .Mays throws . ..and. . .and. . .he beat the ball, he beat the ball!" The crowd noise always sounded the same but that was radio for you.

Les Keiter died on Tuesday in Hawaii at the age of 89.

from the archive; first posted April 16, 2009.


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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly

Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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