Drayer: Those who encountered Ron Fairly hit the baseball sweepstakes
One of the utmost joys of my earliest days of traveling and reporting for the Mariners pregame and postgame radio shows was getting to spend time with Ron Fairly, who passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 81.
I had listened to and watched Fairly for years on both the TV and radio broadcasts, learning so much about the game from him well before I had the opportunity to sit by him in a radio booth. Once there, the learning was nonstop for in front of me was a man who had a history in the game than I imagine only few broadcasters could possibly have.
My father grew up a Dodgers fan, and “Red,” as Fairly was known, brought many of the stories I had heard from my dad to life. At times it was hard to believe I was in a room with a man who had played at the Polo Grounds, Forbes Field, Crosley Field and the Los Angeles Coliseum.
And those were just the buildings.
Conversations with Ron would often include stories about former Dodgers teammates Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Duke Snider. What was it like to face Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal? Ron could tell you. What advice did Ted Williams have for him? He asked for it. What was Mickey Mantle like away from the field? He knew.
Such incredible history in the game, and thankfully he had a gift for sharing that history. Be it on the air or off, or perhaps in the clubhouse or around the batting cages with the newer generation of players, Ron loved the game and always had a piece of it to pass on to those he would encounter. It could be a story to bring fans closer to the game or perhaps a sage piece of playing advice that he could pass on if asked.
Those who encountered him hit the baseball sweepstakes. It simply did not get any better talking baseball than with Ron.
I was especially appreciative of how he welcomed me warmly to the radio booth. He was a true gentleman with the most delightful sense of humor. There was always a sparkle in his eye which at times gave you the heads up that there would be a zinger at the end of the story he was telling. I cannot remember a time being in his presence where we all weren’t laughing at some point.
A memory of Ron that I will always treasure is one of my first dinners out on the road. I was invited to go out with the broadcasters and producers to a nice Kansas City steakhouse. I got to sit next to Ron. For the better part of three hours I heard the most incredible stories that included tales of what it was like to be a Dodger in Los Angeles when they were the hottest ticket in town. If I had been knocked out by the baseball stories I had heard before, now Ron was mixing in Hollywood. If it sounds like name-dropping, it wasn’t. Ron had the unique ability of being able to connect you to moments you had only heard of or read about. These stories were gifts.
As special as it was to me, that dinner was probably no different than hundreds of dinners the broadcasters had on the road together for years. But for me, someone who went from fan to somehow traveling with the team in five short years? This was baseball fantasy territory.
Ron talked of other things as well that night. He talked about music, he talked about history, he told me he was a huge fan of fine dining and that he enjoyed cooking in the offseason. At the end of the meal when everyone passed on dessert, he noticed that chocolate soufflé was on the menu. He asked if I had ever had one. I hadn’t. Ron insisted that we order chocolate soufflé for the table so I could have my first. It turned out chocolate soufflé was one of Ron’s culinary specialties. He emailed his recipe when we returned home.
The dinner was wonderful. The group of about 10 ordered cocktails, wine, appetizers, salads, steaks and all of the sides. Noting the prices on the menu, I settled for a glass of wine and a petite fillet. When the bill came it was divided evenly between everyone at the table, as was the custom of the traveling party, something I did not know heading in. Everyone but me at the table was a Mariners team employee and as such received MLB daily meal money, which at the time equaled about what I spent on a week of groceries. My radio station per diem was a small fraction of what my portion of the bill was, but I wasn’t about to say anything. Turns out I didn’t need to worry about it. As I reached for my wallet I was told that Red had taken care of my bill.
Always the gentleman.
That was just one night. Steaks and soufflés were not necessary – any time spent around him was a treat. It was never lost on me the history that Ron was a part of, and it wasn’t just about the players he was surrounded by. He had a remarkable career as well. Not many players can boast a 21-year career that spanned three decades and included two All-Star appearances and four World Series. He was a member of the first L.A. Dodgers team and played for both Canadian expansion teams. As a broadcaster he brought great energy to his calls, accenting the big moments but never letting the lesser ones get by.
Ron Fairly was a treasure both in and out of the game, and Mariners fans were fortunate to have him.
This was one of the best experiences I have ever had on the job. Rain delay in Cleveland, I walked Ron through a series of drawings in the press box of the old ballparks he played in and had him tell stories. He teared up when he talked about Duke Snider. https://t.co/Hkep6TfzAJ
— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) October 30, 2019