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From the archives | 1994

Sherm Feller was one of a kind

The Homogenization of America has taken another gigantic leap forward. Sherm Feller is dead.

Sherm was an American/Boston/Roxbury original. I may not be any good at predicting sporting events, but here’s one statement I know will come true: We will not be seeing any more Sherman Fellers.

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Show me another man who was buddy-buddy with both Nat King Cole and Freddy Lynn; who knew how to get a traffic ticket fixed or (I have not the slightest doubt) a leg broken; who knew where every political, show biz and athletic body in Greater Boston over the past 50 years is buried; who started doing a radio talk show as early as 1941 (he always claimed to be America’s first such creature, and no one ever disputed it); who wrote one song that crashed the Top 10 and which is resurrected faithfully every year (”It’s Summertime, Summertime”) and another song that is a fixture in the Boston Pops Christmas repertoire (”Snow, Snow, Beautiful Snow”); who had the entree to place a bet or get a fantastic meal at 4 a.m. in his beloved Chinatown; who was in the top one-100th of one percentile of Greatest American Story Tellers; and who, finally, had his own distinct (I won’t say inimitable because Jon Miller had him cold) and unforgettable style as Fenway Park public address announcer for the past 26 years.

Central Casting just called. They regret to say they will not be sending over any more Sherm Fellers.

Sherm Feller lived his life on the edge for every one of his 75 years. Money to Sherm was a vehicle for a good time of the moment; nothing more and nothing less. The Good Life to Sherm Feller was telling a story about some judge in Roxbury or a night on the town with Erroll Garner or Billie Holiday, grabbing a late meal at the Four Seas (has a restaurant ever considered posting a menu at half-staff?) or standing at the rail rooting home a long shot at Suffolk. And baseball. The Fenway gig wasn’t a job for Sherm. It was a privilege and a fantasy fulfilled.

Sherm’s PA style did not come from the Connecticut School of Broadcasting catalog. Sherm’s approach was Sherm’s alone. He was the Count Basie of PA men, firm in the belief that for every two words, there should be a pause. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” he would start. About 10 seconds later, you’d hear, “ . . . Good afternoon and welcome to Fenway Park for an 8-second pause . . . today’s game between the Boston Red Sox and 11-second pause . . . the New York Yankees.”

And whereas every other announcer in baseball has an unbreakable routine when giving the lineups, Sherman made it up every night. In the course of one lineup announcement, he might go number, name, position for one man, name, position and “he wears No. 12” for the second man, back to the original sequence for the third man and then to some other approach for the fourth. Only Sherm could get away with this.

Sherman was not a master of detail. There are times when the PA man has very specific announcements management wants him to make, particularly when there is a pregame ceremony on the field. Sherm might have been busy telling someone a story about the night he took the Dorsey Brothers to the after-hours joint and etc. etc., etc., while Ken Coleman, or somebody, was standing down on the field awaiting Sherman’s introduction. I have vivid memories of former Red Sox public relations director Bill Crowley, his face reddening, swearing at Sherman and looking as if he were ready to dive out of the press box because Sherm wasn’t following orders. But Sherman never sweated the small stuff.

Sherman was a Character with a Capital C, and we don’t have many left in this town. Oh, there’s Dapper, for sure, but go ahead, name another one of those larger-than-life figures who lived through the Depression and fought in World War II and went through the rest of their lives grabbing center stage at every gathering, large and small. I know we’ve lost just about every one of the Old Guard peripheral personalities who made the Boston sports world unique.

The next Red Sox PA announcer will have a fine voice, I’m sure (but not as resonant as Sherman’s, I’m also sure), and he will follow management orders, which Sherman seldom did. He’ll even have an orderly sequence when he reads the starting lineups. But he won’t be able to sneak anyone into Chinatown for a meal in the wee smalls and he won’t have a story about the time his car broke down when he was taking Nat King Cole to the airport and he won’t be asking me my choice in the NBA Finals so he can get a little action going in a sport he doesn’t know much about and he won’t be squiring Harry Ellis Dickson around the press box a couple of times a year, either.

Take care, Sherm. I hope wherever you are, it’s always “Summertime, Summertime,” the daily double pays at least 40 bucks and the won-ton soup is served just the way you like it.

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