By John Torenli
There will be no replacing Warner Fusselle. Remembering him fondly, however, will be easy.
The inimitable radio voice of the Brooklyn Cyclones passed away Sunday night of an apparent heart attack at the Hackensack Medical Center in New Jersey, just over a week shy of what would have been his 12th Opening Day broadcast for our borough's first Major League-affiliated baseball franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles following the 1957 season.
Having missed just a single broadcast during the organization's first 11 seasons on Coney Island, Fusselle, who was 68, was one of the few constants at MCU Park, where hundreds of propsective big leaguers make their first foray into pro ball, hoping to climb the ladder toward the Majors.
The only steps Fusselle seemed intent on climbing, if he couldn't catch a ride on the elevator, were the ones that took him to his customary perch atop "The Catbird Seat" in the outdoor radio booth overlooking the Cyclones' 8,500-seat stadium by the sea for 38 games (not including playoffs) each summer. Not that he minded the long rides to locales ranging from Mahoning Valley, Ohio, to Vermont to call each and every one of the Baby Bums' road contests as well.
For Fusselle, whom I had the privilege to meet and interview prior to the team's historic inaugural game in June of 2001, the opportunity to play a role in bringing the game he loved so dearly back to Brooklyn was one he just couldn't pass up.
"The reason I applied for the Brooklyn job was because of Mel Allen, Red Barber and Ernie Harwell," noted the Wake Forest graduate who served in Korea during the Vietnam War, citing his longtime broadcast idols and mentors as his main inspiration in taking on the 76-game grind of the New York-Penn League schedule every summer when he was already well established as one of the main voices of MLB's "This Week in Baseball."
"I just thought what it must be like to be from Georgia and be the voice of baseball in Brooklyn," he added. "You could see the potential there. The fans, the team, the history."
Born in Kentucky, but raised in Georgia, Fusselle never failed to deliver the Southern charm, dignity and occasional humor provided by the likes of Allen, Barber and Harwell, arguably the top three baseball announcers ever.
Having called games for the American Basketball Association, the Seton Hall Pirates, several Minor League teams and most recently, the St. John's Red Storm's surprising run to the NCAA Baseball Super Regionals, Fusselle never wavered in his commitment to taking his spot behind the microphone in Coney Island — the one job he coveted and treasured most.
"This is my favorite thing to do," he admitted in a televised interview last June. "Doing TV was great. The notoriety was great. But I really do miss this. The day-to-day grind. I have to do a lot of work. I do it all by hand. I'm a dinosaur with the computer and the Internet. When I need something like that I ask one of the interns to do it for me. You just have to work non-stop every day. The Major Leagues might have 25 off days, but we have three."
Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen, who has also been with the team since it moved to Surf Avenue in 2001, understood how dedicated Fusselle was, not only in his tedious preparation for each broadcast as if it were the seventh game of the World Series, but also in his vast knowledge of the history of Brooklyn baseball.
“There is no one who knew more — or cared more — about baseball in Brooklyn than Warner," Cohen said in a team-issued statement. "His distinctive voice, knowledge and endless passion for the game enriched Brooklyn Cyclones baseball for our players, staff, and fans from day one and his presence will be sorely missed.”
Come next Monday evening, when the Cyclones welcome the arch-rival Staten Island Yankees to MCU Park for the season opener, there will be a new voice of Brooklyn baseball sitting in Fusselle's chair. Though that announcer has yet to be hired, one can only hope that he or she handles it with the care, dilligence and humility of the late, great Warner Fusselle.
For there never will be another quite like him.