Wednesday, October 11, 2006

2006 Pittsburgh Pirates Award Ceremony: John Wehner

Our first recipient is not actually a player (although he used to be one, and a damn fine one at that), but a broadcaster.

John Wehner: Best Broadcaster

Lanny Frattare has alzheimers and has a hard time keeping straight how many outs there are, what the score is, who's up, and what sport the teams are playing. Greg Brown is an overly excitable football announcer who is convinced every ball not hit on the ground (and even some that are) has a chance to leave the yard. Bob Walk would be better suited being a pitching coach for some Major League team somewhere. These three have been the backbone of the Pirates broadcast team since I first started listening, back in 1996. For someone who grew up without cable, the quality of the radio team takes on an unusually great importance. After purchasing MLB's Gameday Audio this season and fooling around with different teams' flagship stations, I can rest assured that the Pirates' team, despite its shortcomings, is still above average as far as the standard around the league goes.

However, it is unsung color commentator John Wehner that is easily the most entertaining of the five broadcasters employed by the Pirates. From his inexhaustible well of knowledge and insight about the intricacies of the game to his daily struggles with the English language.

Unlike the vast majority of players-turned-announcers, Wehner spares his faithful listeners the boring "when-I-was-a-player" rhetoric that you can hear being spewed from Joe Morgan's mouth every night at Yankee Stadium on ESPN. Sure, he's prone to waxing nostalgic from time to time about his experience as a utility infielder alongside Craig Counsell and Kurt Abbott, but when he does bring up his playing days, it's usually in the context of some awesome story about lighting people's shoes on fire in the clubhouse while they were wearing them. In fact, you're more likely to catch him having an on-the-air flashback to his days playing for the Carrick Raiders, of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association's District VIII, a.k.a. the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Guess who holds the record for most consecutive errorless games at third base? If you said Brooks Robinson, you'd be extremely wrong. It's actually John Wehner, who co-holds the record with contemporary Jeff Cirillo, at 99 games. Wehner, the most prestigious of the four Pittsburgh Public high school diploma holders to have gone on to play in the Major Leagues, also possesses a World Series ring (1997 Marlins) and is responsible for the last home run ever hit at Three Rivers Stadium, just a 20-minute jaunt up the PAT tram line from Carrick.

For trivia's sake, here are the other three PPS graduates to have played in the Major Leagues.

  • Infielder Gary Green, an alum of my alma mater, Taylor Allderdice High School. Green was a first-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 1984, and turned out to be a pretty enormous bust, hitting .222 in across five stints in the Majors.

Apparently Gary Green also played on the U.S. Olympic team. Neat.

  • Relief pitcher David Lee, of Langley High School, which is funny in and of itself because Langley generally doesn't produce anything worthwhile. Lee had probably two of the most successful single seasons in the Major Leagues of any of the PPS grads, posting a 3.67 ERA in 49 innings in 1999 with the Colorado Rockies, and a 3.70 ERA in 48 2/3 innings with the San Diego Padres two years later. Lee is the only one who is still active, as he can be found floating from AAA team to AAA team (he pitched for three different ones in 2006).

  • The last one, Russ Kemmerer, I didn't even know existed until today. He graduated from Peabody High School, my mom's alma mater, before it became a prison.



Kemmerer lasted for 9 seasons, between 1954 and 1963 (skipping 1956 for some reason), as a wholly mediocre swingman with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, and even the Houston Colt 45s. He amassed a 43-59 won-loss record to go along with a 4.46 career ERA.

Back to the matter at hand, though, which is the immortal John Wehner. Wehner is affectionately known to everyone as "Rock," a name I'm really not sure about the origin of. My guess is that it's because he sounds like he has a handful of rocks in his mouth whenever he tries to speak, a trait which when coupled with his authentic yinzer accent, does not bode well for someone who's supposed to be a radio personality.

On top of that, Wehner has issues with any English word containing more than two syllables. My favorite anecdote is the time Lanny referred to some opposing pitcher as "parsimonious" because the Pirates were getting no-hit or something and, in the process of asking what exactly parsimonious means, had to attempt the word four different times before he could even pronounce it correctly.

Ah, God bless you, John Wehner. The day you leave the broadcast booth will be a very sad day indeed.

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