Tigers color commentator Jim Price, who is also an ex-Tigers catcher, deals with his chronic dry mouth by sucking on Werther's Original candy and his sometimes swollen ankle with big doses of silence. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Make a living speaking into an open microphone and you lead at least a somewhat open life.
Jim Price, for instance, had cancer. If you tune into the Detroit Tigers on the radio, chances are you know that, the same way you know about the autism nonprofit he named after his son.
But you probably don’t know about the butterscotch candies, and that’s important to him. That’s about respecting the audience.
Price, 71, doesn’t particularly want to advertise what he’s still dealing with. He’s an ex-catcher, and when you’ve spent your formative years getting peppered with foul tips and bulldozed by base runners, you learn not to look for sympathy.
Someone wrote him a letter, though, asking why he eats when he’s on the air. So he addressed the subject during a broadcast about two-thirds of the way through the season, but that was just one moment in one game.
Now the Tigers are playing the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, and chances are the team’s color analyst is speaking to some fresh sets of ears. They’re hearing a sort of clicking sound sometimes, or what sounds like smacking lips.
“I’m not eating,” Price says. Rather, he’s sucking candy — specifically, a Werther’s Original. If the company is searching for an endorser, he’s the guy.
Sketching pictures in minds
It’s two hours before game time in the WXYT-FM (97.1) broadcast booth at Comerica Park, and the sun has just made a cameo appearance. Price is feeling blessed, if not entirely hale.
His right ankle is swollen and unhappy. He broke it as a minor leaguer in the mid-1960s, before he made the big leagues with the Tigers, but he didn’t have it casted; he was due in the Dominican Republic to play winter ball, and he had a family to feed.
At home in Oakland County, his 18-year-old — the Jack of Jack’s Place for Autism — is going through an unruly phase. That’s painful, too.
Plus, there’s the oral chemotherapy: A pill every day for a month, then two weeks off, over and over. “It reacts different ways,” he says. “Sometimes horrible, sometimes not.”
But he’s at the ballpark, in the playoffs no less, in his 20th season of getting paid to talk about a game he’d be talking about anyway, if only to the doctor in Tigers gear who treated the ankle earlier in the week. “I’m thrilled to death,” Price says, “every day of my life.”
Price has been on the job long enough to have fans, detractors and even satirists. He’s an easy target for parody, with his habitual references to “good swings,” “the art of pitching” and “power arms,” but also an easy target for affection.
Radio is a friendly medium. On the television side, play-by-play announcer Mario Impemba is a thorough professional, but he’s describing things you can see for yourself.
Price and partner Dan Dickerson are sketching pictures in people’s imaginations. See the diamond. Feel the breeze. Hear the smack of bat meeting ball ... and that other smack, too.
Always loved butterscotch
Four years ago, Price had his cancerous left kidney removed. A year later, doctors found nodules on his adrenal glands.
Out they went, too, and in went a twice-daily assortment of pills that leaves him with a good prognosis but a bad side effect for a broadcaster, a woefully dry mouth.
Toothpaste helps, as does the Biotene Moisturizing Mouth Spray on the counter in the booth. What works best are the hard candies in the gold wrappers.
“I always keep these in my pocket,” Price says. In his suitcase, too, and his car, and the small bag he brings to games.
“I don’t know when he goes on and off the chemo,” says Dickerson, 54, who’s in his 14th season of play-by-play. He sees Price attacking the dryness, but doesn’t hear him complaining, and “that says a lot.”
Price only shrugs. “I always loved butterscotch anyway,” he says.
Not as much as he loves baseball, of course, and he wishes there were another way, but at least they’re keeping him in the game.