Rafael “Felo” Ramirez, the beloved Hall of Fame Spanish-language radio voice of the Miami Marlins and an icon in Latin American baseball circles, died Monday night in Miami. He was 94.
“The entire Marlins organization is deeply saddened by the loss of a great friend, Hall-of-Fame broadcaster and community icon, Felo Ramirez,” the Marlins released in a statement Tuesday morning. “Since our inaugural season, he brought home practically every magical moment in franchise history to generations of fans. A true broadcast legend, Felo lent his voice to over 30 World Series and All-Star Games and his extensive contributions to our game will never be forgotten.”
Ramirez had been hospitalized since he fell and struck his head getting off the team bus in Philadelphia on April 26.
He spent nearly two months in a Delaware hospital before he was transported back to Miami in June where he continued his recovery. But Ramirez, who began his broadcasting career in Cuba calling baseball games and boxing matches back in 1945, eventually succumbed to his injuries.
“Calling baseball games was my passion since I was a child,” Ramirez said in 2001 when he accepted the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Ramirez had been the Marlins’ Spanish-language radio voice since 1993, the team’s first season, and a broadcaster for seven decades, including 32 World Series and 40 Caribbean World Series. He called the Marlins’ first five no-hitters and both of its World Series titles in 1997 and 2003.
“Behind the language barrier he was a very funny and mischievous man,” Marlins TV play-by-play man Rich Waltz said. “Between my broken Spanish and his few words of English he always had a joke or a prank that he wanted to show me; a very sharp and dry sense of humor.”
One example of Ramirez’s humor: Back in 2011, when the Marlins were playing a series in San Francisco, he called a group of sports writers over to his booth where he had his name and that of Barry Bonds, baseball’s home run king, written on a chalkboard.
It read: “Bonds 762 homers, Felo 0.”
Ramirez then pointed to himself and said “Hall of Fame.” He pointed to Bonds’ name, paused and then shrugged his shoulders. It was his way of not only making those around him laugh, but also his humble approach to pointing out how incredibly far he had made it in life.
In South Florida, Ramirez has a street named for him outside Marlins Park and a baseball field named after him at Tropical Park.
There is also a life-size statue of Ramirez at the National Sports Museum in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
Though he never had children of his own, Ramirez was a parental figure to many along the way and a mentor to Spanish-language broadcasters everywhere.
“He’s a master at what he does,” said Luis ‘Yiky’ Quintana, Ramirez’s play-by-play partner with the Marlins for the last 16 years.
“There’s never been anybody in Spanish broadcasting who has called as many games as he has. He’s dedicated his life to baseball. When the season ended here in the United States, he would go call games in Venezuela, Puerto Rico. He would call winter league games – even juvenile games. His life is baseball, and there isn’t a broadcaster in Spanish radio today who isn’t influenced by Felo.”
According to the Marlins, Ramirez was the first Hispanic broadcaster to have his narration included at the Hall of Fame, with his call of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, his call of Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit and Don Larsen’s perfect game during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
“There are some great old photos of Felo that look like they belong in some old 40’s or 50’s news reel from Baseball’s Greatest Moments,” Waltz said. “There’s Felo with Joe DiMaggio, Felo and Yogi [Berra], Felo and a kid broadcaster named Vin Scully. It’s like some movie only with Felo it’s real. His career spanned multiple generations and he was part of some sports very biggest events.”
Born in Bayamo, Cuba on June 22, 1923, it didn’t take long for Ramirez to fall in love with baseball. He played second base on a local team during his teens and dreamed of becoming a professional but said he wasn’t good enough. One day during a game, he spontaneously began calling plays using a friend’s amplifier and microphone.
Ramirez then began his professional radio career at Radio Salas in Havana in 1945 before moving on to call games for teams in Puerto Rico and Venezuela including Cagua Natives, Santurce Crabs, San Juan Senators and Magallanes. He also called many boxing fights includings those of Muhammad Ali.
In addition to being a play-by-play man, Ramirez shared the microphone with fellow Hall of Fame broadcaster Eloy “Buck” Canel on the “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” a show which aired on more than 200 Spanish radio stations all over Latin America.
“You have broadcasters who are Cuban and they have their Cuban following and you have Puerto Ricans who have their Puerto Rican followings. Felo’s following was across all countries,” said Raul Striker Jr., the Marlins’ Spanish TV play-by-play announcer for home games since 2003 and who replaced Ramirez on the radio broadcast after he was injured.
Quintana said what separated Ramirez from others was his work ethic. On game days, Ramirez would arrive at the ballpark three hours before each game to hang out in the clubhouse or dugout and talk with players to get a sense of what was happening with the team.
“Felo pays attention to every detail,” Quintana said. “He’s all about the details as far as time, when to get here, what you need to do for the broadcast, stats. So, he forces you to do the same.”
Ramirez had a special relationship with many hispanic Marlins players including Jose Fernandez, who died in a tragic boating crash last September.
Although Quintana said Ramirez took most of his broadcasts very seriously, he wasn’t shy about slipping a joke in when the time was appropriate. Quintana said he will always treasure their time together.
“When the Marlins won the World Series at Yankee Stadium in 2003 he described the emotional last out and in the midst of all that we saw each other and we hugged and enjoyed the moment,” Quintana said. “That will always be my favorite moment with Felo.”
Miami Herald Sports writers Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer contributed to this report.