This past week, the Cleveland sports world lost an iconic broadcaster whose name and voice was associated with excitement for anyone who follows Cleveland sports.
The great Fred McLeod passed away on September 9 at the age of 67. Remembered for being the television play-by-play announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers since 2006, McLeod joined a long line of iconic voices to cover Cleveland sports. Although he had been in Cleveland long before that—broadcasting the 1979 Cleveland Indians’ season on TV and radio—he made a name for himself with the Cavaliers. With the help of LeBron James, McLeod gave us so many legendary moments to remember. He even called the final seconds of the Cavaliers’ 2016 NBA Championship that blared through Quicken Loans Arena during the NBA Finals Game 7 Watch Party.
McLeod said, “Goodnight Oakland! It’s over! The 52-year drought is over! The Cavaliers have won the NBA Championship!”
Remembering the many memorable calls he had, such as every buzzer-beating win when he would exclaim, “It’s a Wine & Gold Walk-Off Winner!,” makes me think about how important play-by-play calls have been to so many Cleveland sports memories. I can’t be the only one who pays attention to Twitter for the Cleveland Indians’ account to tweet out Tom Hamilton’s radio call of every single walk-off win. That’s the only thing I wanted to hear after Francisco Lindor pulled the Tribe to within one run in Game two of the 2017 ALDS vs. the Yankees with a towering grand slam. “A swing and a drive! To deep right! Awaaaay back! Off the pole! A grand slam, high off the right field foul pole! He’s done it again!” Another famous line he said was when the Indians clinch a spot in the postseason. “Cleveland! You WILL have another October to remember!”
These are calls that lift our spirits and give us hope. At times, they even give us meaning. These are calls that validate what we pour our whole heart and soul into: being Cleveland sports fans. They remind us that this fandom matters. And these broadcasters also remind us that they’re one of us! Take, for example, Cleveland Browns’ radio play-by-play announcer Jim Donovan.
Since there is no television home for NFL teams, Donovan has been the Voice of the Browns on radio since 1999. Do you know how many winning season’s there have been since then? There have only been two. But that hasn’t stopped Donovan from pouring his whole heart and soul into his passion for the team. That’s because despite being born in Boston, he’s one of us. He’s a Clevelander. Just take all the calls from last year when Baker Mayfield revived the Browns.
“Pour a little pepper on it!” Donovan said when Jabril Peppers made the game-winning sack vs. Denver. Another memorable call from him was “Chubba Wubba Hub! 92 yards,” when rookie Nick Chubb set the record for longest rushing touchdown in franchise history. “Is this what it feels like!?” This was Donovan’s call when Baker Mayfield led the Browns to their first win at home in 635 days.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that hometown broadcasters, specifically in Cleveland, bring out the excitement of an entire fanbase in a way no one else can. They’re the only media members that are allowed to be biased. As for McLeod, Hamilton and Donovan, they’ve been through so much heartbreak. But having weathered the storms for so long, their calls when Cleveland does win means more than anyone can imagine. That’s why, in my opinion, Cleveland has the best sportscasters in the country.
National broadcasters can’t invoke the same passion that those three can. Sure, Joe Buck made a great call on Rajai Davis’ game-tying, two-run homerun in the eighth inning of Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. But I didn’t feel the excitement and passion from it. I needed Tom Hamilton to really lift my spirits.
“Swung on, lined to deep left field! It is…GONE! You should see the celebration out of the Indians third base dugout! Rajai Davis! A bullet, two-run homer, down the left field line, clearing the 19 foot wall! We are tied at six!”
So while we mourn the loss of Fred McLeod this upcoming Cavaliers season, we remember that passion is key for a real fanbase. And that passion will never be at another level than the broadcasters Cleveland has put on a famed pedestal. Rest in peace, Fred. For you will always be a “Wine & Gold Winner.”