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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tait's goodbye a big loss for Cleveland sports

It’s usually not good to tell someone they put you to sleep.

In my case, though, it was a dream come true.

In October 2009, I stood in Joe Tait’s living room, looked him in the eyes and told him I used to fall asleep to his voice almost every night during the summer.

“I get that a lot,” he said with a laugh.

I always found Tait’s booming voice to be soothing.

Maybe it’s because he always guided fans through such horrible times.

Tait Time for me began in the late 1970s, when he teamed with Herb Score on radio broadcasts of the Indians, beginning every broadcast with what sometimes was a big lie:

“It’s a beautiful night for baseball.”

Plenty of those nights were downright ugly, with big losses in front of tiny crowds.

As I lay there with my transistor radio tucked under my pillow, sneaking in a few innings before drifting off to sleep, the most mundane of double plays seemed worth it when Tait made the calls.

When he made the switch to call only Cavs games during the 1980s, Indians games seemed like they were missing something.

And they were. The nights weren’t beautiful anymore.

When you’re a kid, life seems like it will last forever.

So, it seemed as though Joe Tait would always be on the radio calling games.

People sometimes forget about Tait’s years with the Indians, because his Cavs work was so incredible.

When you think back on those 39 years, there is much joy and far too much disappointment.

He got excited when there was reason. He just called the game when there wasn’t.

“It’s basketball time at the Q.”

But not anymore.

On Wednesday night, the Cleveland legend called his final Cavs game and entered retirement.

Tait tried to say he was just an announcer, that he just called what he saw happening on the court.

“I want to create a word picture that allows someone at home to see the game,” Tait said during the interview that I videotaped just before the 2009-10 season that ended with a devastating playoff loss to the Boston Celtics. “I don’t coach. I don’t second-guess. I don’t have anything to do with the winning. I don’t have anything to do with the losing. If people listen and enjoy it, and I let them know what’s going on with the action, I’ve done my job.”

He spent a lot of time that day talking about LeBron James, who would leave town following that season. But he made it clear that his favorite Cavaliers players were the ones who came during the Richfield Coliseum years.

Austin Carr, Campy Russell, Mark Price and Brad Daugherty were the good ones in Tait’s eyes, because they went out and played. When they won, they were thrilled by the victory not by what it brought them.

Tait made it no secret that he didn’t like the way the game changed over the years, becoming in many ways a theater act with a basketball game thrown in.

To illustrate his point, he told us that he wanted to see if he could toast a hot dog from his perch above the floor at The Q when bursts of flames suddenly went off during player introductions before the game. He said that at least then the fire would be useful.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate how Tait saw his job came in response to a question about how he managed to stay so positive despite calling such bad sports over his many years in Cleveland.

He told the story of meeting a blind man who said that, by listening to Tait, he could picture the action on the court.

Tait considered that the ultimate compliment.

Mine would be that sports in Cleveland just won’t be the same without Joe Tait. It won’t sound as good, it won’t feel as good.

I wish him nothing but the best as he gets ready to sit down in that very living room and enjoy his time at home with his wife, Jean.

He deserves the rest after so many years soothing the heartbreak of so many Clevelanders.

Take care, Joe. You’re one of the best.

“Have a good night, everybody!”


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