When Jerry Coleman was inducted into the Hall of Fame he said something so true that the majority of us in San Diego reacted to with a knowing smile and light nod of agreement: “(Ted Leitner) is the best broadcaster you’ve never heard of!”
This was and is true for a number of reasons and all of them have the same conclusion: San Diego.
Despite how we all feel about our sleepy beach town, that really isn’t all that sleepy, most in the country don’t view San Diego as a “big city”. And, as us Padres fans have heard our entire lives we aren’t a “big market” team.
None of us care to argue this because secretly (or not) we enjoy being the underdog, and we publicly (or not) enjoy our city being looked at by most as unattainable.
However, this overwhelming mentality in the media has come with a glaring handicap: we are a forgotten sports city.
Ted Leitner was and will always be tarnished by this. I’m willing to wager that when The Colonel uttered his name at that Hall of Fame podium it was in fact the first time a lot of those folks had heard about him. As Padres fans we love and hate this about our sports figures. We love that we got to watch Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman and Randy Jones for years in our cozy confines, but we hate that they never have seemed to get the overarching respect of their East Coast counterparts.
In San Diego it’s not hyperbole to say that Uncle Teddy is an institution. He is one of those figures who has just always ‘been around’. Like Dave Scott or Shotgun Tom, or Carol Lebeau, Uncle Teddy is a fixture in this town. I can’t remember a time in my formative years where he wasn’t in my ears or in front of my face.
He was just there. Always.
I remember when I was twelve or thirteen and I was watching Channel 8 with my Mom. Teddy came on and was going on one of his classic rants about something, and my Mom just blurted out, “Oh, shut up, probably just mad cause he got another divorce.”
What? Huh? Why the hell would my Mom know that? Why would she care? But, that’s just how popular Uncle Teddy was. Everyone knew about his personal life, which he didn’t really keep secret, and everyone in town young and old seemed to have an opinion on him.
He wasn’t your typical sportscaster. Mainly because he was energetic behind the mic. He was quick, sounded arrogant and goofy, and sometimes sounded like he was at a party you weren’t invited to, but got to listen in on. His voice was at-times grating to many listeners, his style was less about content and more about a setting. He sounded like a relaxed maniac, a self-proclaimed armchair expert know-it-all who somehow wound up in the booth. He sounded like your Uncle, two drinks in picking up a waitress at a bar in Encinitas.
He sounded like the San Diego locals hated but tourists assumed was native.
You loved him, or hated him, there was no middle ground.
I loved him. I loved his rants. I loved the way he seemed honest about sports in San Diego. I loved that he genuinely seemed to be as big of a fan of the Padres as I was. I loved the energy I could feel coming through the speakers. To me, that’s a rare talent. I always listen to other radio broadcasts for other Baseball teams and most of them are snoozefests. Usually old players looking for a paycheck, and play-by-play guys who’d rather be on TV. They were boring, unimaginative and didn’t make me think one way or another about them, which I imagine was the idea, but where’s the fun in that. And, when you’ve spent your life watching mainly bad Baseball, some fun is appreciated.
I loved defending Ted, and will for the rest of my life.
He was no Vin Scully, let’s not make that mistake, however it never stopped me from telling Dodgers fans that he was. It infuriated them, and I loved every minute of it.
The thing about Uncle Teddy was that he was ours. Jerry Coleman was a legend in the game, and represented more than just San Diego, but Teddy was San Diego sports. And, like many media personalities who found themselves in America’s Finest City they did everything they could to stay here.
Jerry and Teddy were a perfect match. They played off each other with ease. They could volley back and forth and make a game come alive. Jerry was the magician and Teddy was the lightning quick master of ceremonies.
Near the end of Jerry’s run you could sense Ted doing a little more lifting than normal, and once The Colonel passed Uncle Teddy never seemed to fully recover. The one personal relationship he never split from. The preverbal love of his life was gone and like so many who have experienced that kind of loss they wouldn’t be far behind.
The writing was on the wall a few years ago, but Uncle Teddy was the through-line for so many of us; it almost seemed impossible to think he’d be anywhere but in that Padres booth.
He deserved a farewell season. He deserved to say goodbye on his terms, and to be honest, perhaps he is. He deserves admiration for sticking it out with the rest of us during decades of terrible finishes. More than anyone Ted Leitner was the voice of the Padres, and just like the team or the city that statement is controversial and comes with caveats and footnotes. But, it’s true.
After all, they were his Padres just as much as they were ours.
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