Carey's golden voice remains a treasure of Tigers past

Tom Gage
The Detroit News
Photos in the Rochester home of former Tigers broadcaster Paul Carey are everyday reminders of a special career.

Detroit — "Didn't you used to be Paul Carey?"

He still is, thankfully, with an upbeat outlook on life firmly in place.

As a broadcasting team, they were the diamonds of the diamond.

Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey, partners in the booth for 19 years. Different in almost every way, yet solid friends.

What did it matter if one got up at dawn and the other didn't? If one smoked and other didn't?

Or if one had been in baseball for years and the other earned his spurs as "Pecos Paul."

They were Ernie 'n Paul, coming into our living rooms, kitchens, basements, yards. Heck, even our bathrooms.

Ernie did the first and last three innings.

Paul was so thoroughly identified with the middle three that a friend still calls him "4-5-6."

But time doesn't stop for golden voices. At best, it only seems to slow down.

Harwell left us in 2010, dying of the same insidious illness, bile duct cancer, that just claimed Dave Bergman.

Carey, who will turn 87 on Sunday, has encountered recent severe setbacks, admitting he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but carrying on with the help of his two constant companions.

His wife, Nancy.

And his oxygen, a portable pack when he goes out of the house, a larger unit at home in Rochester.

All those years of toting engineering equipment to the broadcast booth at Tiger Stadium or up the challenging ramps of the most difficult parks, such as Milwaukee's County Stadium ... it took a robust individual to do that.

But Carey runs out of breath now after a few steps.

He and Nancy had to come back from Florida several weeks early this winter because "I was so weak," he said, "I couldn't lift a grocery bag. It scared the heck out of us."

"He's been in the hospital twice since we came back," Nancy said. "Plus he also came down with shingles. So it was one of the best decisions we ever made."

A pioneer

But the man, with his memories of coming up through the ranks, is still a joy to converse with.

And, yes, his voice is still strong.

"There've been times we've gone out when someone has overheard him speaking," Nancy said. "More than once, he's been asked, 'Didn't you used to be Paul Carey?' "

The one and only.

He is the broadcaster who was at the microphone in 1984 when Bergman hit his 13-pitch home run off Toronto's Roy Lee Jackson.

The broadcaster who was at the mic for Cecil Fielder's 50th home run in 1990.

For Al Kaline's 3,000th hit in 1974.

And for Larry Herndon's pivotal home run in Game 1 of the 1984 World Series in San Diego.

But Carey is also the broadcaster for whom that entire Series remains a blur because his first wife, Patti, was in the initial stages of brain cancer.

"I was in such a fog," he said. "I don't remember much of it."

Carey retired after the 1991 season when he was 63, and is glad he did. In the 24 years since, he and Nancy have traveled to 28 countries and 47 states.

"Somehow we've missed Delaware," he said.

But as another birthday nears, there's no better time to appreciate this man who, in many ways, was a pioneer in his industry — to the extent, in fact, that in one of the markets where he worked, he did the first live television commercial.

In another, he was a radio disc jockey who went by the name "Tall Paul in the Hall."

It was on television, though, that, while dressed in cowboy garb, he went by "Pecos Paul."

'Voice of God'

The son of a Central Michigan geography professor, Carey loves maps to this day.

Paper maps.

In his tidy basement are his baseball memorabilia, photographs, signed baseballs, some toy cars — and maps.

Paul Carey is pictured in 2010 before throwing out the first pitch prior to a Tigers-Yankees game at Comerica Park.

Driving from lunch to his home with Paul in the passenger seat, therefore, one gets directions from the "Voice of God."

"Yes, I've had people say that about my voice," he said. "I'm embarrassed when they do."

But, c'mon, you remember how he sounds — a richer baritone there seldom was. And if you're too young to remember, ask your parents. They'll tell you.

Destined to be a broadcaster, he'd improvise as a youngster in Mount Pleasant, dangling a makeshift mic from the ceiling of his bedroom so he could call the baseball games he grew up playing.

"It was actually a bicycle horn that would hang over my desk like a boom microphone," he said. "Speaking into that horn, I would do play-by-play.

"That's why I say I started being a baseball announcer in the sixth grade."

He's still a games player, by the way. The name of his fantasy baseball team is the "Medicares."

Radio turned out to be Paul's calling, but he tried writing and also had the lead role as a "Space Cadet" program host on television.

"My first job was as a printer's devil in high school," he said. "I had to clean the rollers at the Michigan Oil and Gas News.

"As a sophomore in college, I then worked at the Isabella County Times-News, covering all the softball teams.

"I would finish writing my column late at night, sweating blood, and ride it down on my bicycle to the print shop.

"It wasn't until I transferred from Central to Michigan State that I realized I could say things a lot easier than I could put them down on paper."

The job Carey had before joining WJR in 1956 was at WKNX in Saginaw, a station that no longer exists. He wasn't just Paul Carey at that station, though.

"That's where I was 'Tall Paul in the Hall,' " Carey said, laughing at the memory. "I had played some basketball and was skinny back then, so that's the name they gave me.

"It was an afternoon records show from the studio's Hall of Records. We'd play singers like Perry Como, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney — and a lot of requests.

"Elvis Presley wasn't even around yet. But eventually I played the first Elvis record in the Saginaw-Bay City market."

That made him popular with younger listeners, but not all of them.

"I was on the air one day, playing records, but with the studio we had, the public could walk right in, and one young lady did.

" 'Are you Paul Carey?' " she asked.

"I am," Carey recalled. " 'Gad, what a disappointment,' she exclaimed, and then she turned around and left, slamming the door behind her."

Back in the era of live TV, not everything went right for Carey when he started doing commercials, such as the "tender" roast beef that simply couldn't be sliced.

"The knife didn't even make a dent in it," he said.

And there was that memorable day when a popular sidekick from a network western happily greeted busloads of kids from Saginaw while being "half-smashed."

"You could smell the alcohol as you walked up to meet him," Carey said.

Ernie's partner

From Saginaw, Carey joined WJR, meaning "I never had to be Pecos Paul again."

But it took him 17 years, including a four-season stint as a Pistons broadcaster, before he joined Harwell in the booth at Tiger Stadium.

During that time, he made his mark with his Friday night high school scoreboard, making sure no game was left out, no matter if it had been played in the Detroit Public School League or in the Southern Thumb Association.

They all were important to Paul.

But when Ray Lane left the Tigers booth, open auditions were held to replace him, and Carey decided to try out for the job.

"Maybe because WJR was the rights-holder, I don't know, but I made the final five after they had gotten 150 applications," he said. "More than one baseball broadcaster from another city applied because of wanting to work with Ernie.

"Five finalists became three, and I was still in the running. Then on Feb. 1, 1973, I got a call from Tigers president Jim Campbell. From the tone of his voice, I thought I hadn't made it.

"But he said, 'Paul, we've decided you are to be Ernie Harwell's partner.' I did a 15-minute sports show after that with no idea what I was saying. The only thing on my mind was my new job.

"We didn't do any spring training games that year and it was already February. So I had to practice a lot."

Practice didn't make him perfect, but close enough eventually that when the Red Sox came sniffing around for a new No. 1 broadcaster, the Tigers didn't want to lose Carey — and he didn't want to go.

As for recognition, "I didn't do it long enough and I was never the No. 1 guy in the booth," he replied, when asked if he has ever wondered why he's not been seriously considered for the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting.

But we all have our personal Halls of Fame for the players that meant the most to us — and the broadcasters, too.

It's there that "Tall Paul in the Hall" resides.

Being Ernie's trusted partner.

Being the voice that spoke the time-honored intro of "Detroit Tiger baseball is on the air."

Can you hear it still?

Thought so.