Health problems are forcing longtime Orioles radio announcer Fred Manfra, a well-recognized voice of the team for 24 seasons, to retire from full-time broadcasting duties.
Manfra, who turned 70 in September, said Thursday he will broadcast just 11 home games this upcoming season.
He has scaled back his schedule in recent years because of building physical ailments. He had two hip replacement surgeries in 2014, followed by back surgery that kept him out of the radio booth. He worked roughly 50 games this past season, went on just three road trips and missed spring training.
Now, Manfra will take another step back for what could be his final season. Manfra said he considered retiring altogether at the end of this past season, but agreed to do a select number of games in 2017.
"Physically it was very difficult,” Manfra said. “And the Orioles did everything they could to accommodate the physical shortcomings that I’ve developed over the years. … I’m going to miss [longtime broadcast partner] Joe [Angel] and I’m going to miss [the team]. But there comes a time when you have to say to yourself, ‘Can you continue it?’ I have not been able to physically do the job in a manner you can when you’re younger and in good physical health.”
An East Baltimore native, Patterson High School grad and Fallston resident, Manfra’s time broadcasting Orioles games on the radio dates to the late 1970s, when he served as a fill-in play-by-play announcer on WBAL Radio. He entered the Orioles’ radio booth full-time in 1993. He has paired with Angel for the past 13 years, forming one of the longest-tenured radio duos in the majors.
Before returning to Baltimore, Manfra worked for ABC Radio for 15 years, calling a variety of national sporting events.
“I’ve lived my dream doing the Orioles, the team I grew up rooting for,” Manfra said. “At ABC, I did the Olympics and doing the NBA championships and the Triple Crown for so many years, the NBA All-Star Games and the NBA Finals. Hey, what more could a sports fan want to do? And I’ve been able to do it over the last 45 to 50 years.”
With the Orioles, Manfra and Angel formed one of the longest-tenured radio duos in the major leagues. Their chemistry on the air was evident and they developed a unique kinship with fans.
“It’s such an interesting connection with the fans that if you can do it as a twosome for that amount of time, it’s very important because people get comfortable with you,” Angel said. “… If you’re watching on TV, you have to sit there and watch it. If you’re listening on radio, you can clean the car, you can do work around the house, you can carry on conversations, so it becomes a much more intimate association with the fan. And I think the fact that Fred and I enjoyed working with each other and looked forward to it, I think people looked forward to pushing that button and spending a couple hours with us.”
Said Manfra: “One thing that was nice about last year is that people would come up to me last year and ask, ‘When are you getting back into the broadcast booth?’ And I would tell them it’s because of my physical limitations that I’m not there.”
In his time with the Orioles, Manfra said he relished the opportunity to work with Angel – the pair’s synergy in the booth was clear over the years – as well as former O’s broadcasters Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller, both of whom were recipients of the Ford C. Frick Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a baseball broadcaster.
“Working with Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller and Joe has been one of the most special things in my life,” Manfra said. “It’s going to be tough, but there comes a time. And [managing partner] Peter Angelos has been great, him and [vice president of communications and marketing] Greg Bader and [MASN executive producer] Chris Glass, they’ve been phenomenal.
Manfra grew up listening to Thompson's calls on the radio. Now, only the legendary Thompson -- who spent parts of five decades announcing the Orioles -- announced more Orioles games on the radio than Manfra.
Angel said the comfort that he formed with Manfra in the radio booth over the years will be missed.
“That’s what it was with Fred,” Angel said. “It was comfortable. It was fun. It was enjoyable. I always knew whatever I said, he’d be right there to pick me up and kind of carry it along and have a conversation. There was a lot of comfort in that booth for 13 years between the two of us and I’m going to miss it a lot because that’s important.
“When you spend that much time together, you become friends,” Angel added. “And that’s the thing I think I’ll miss the most, that it feels like you’re losing a friend. You're pretty much losing a friend that’s been with you every day for six or seven months every year because baseball is a marathon every day. So I think that's the thing I will miss most, other than the comfort of working together, is the fact that I’ll be losing a friend on almost a full-time basis.”
MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter, who often filled in during Manfra’s absence, will play a larger role in radio broadcasts this year alongside Angel, the team announced. Hunter was the radio booth full-time for seven years from 1997 to 2003 before moving on to primarily do TV work for MASN.
Former Orioles Ben McDonald, who has also been a radio fill-in the past few years, and Mike Bordick, currently a MASN analyst, will also contribute on the radio this year.
The Orioles will broadcast all 162 regular-season games and 12 spring training games on their flagship station, 105.7 The Fan, and Orioles Radio Network affiliates throughout the region.