39 A Helluva Feller
“Attention please, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park.”
That was public-address announcer Sherm Feller’s unforgettable salutation to Red Sox fans at Fenway for 26 years. Feller was both informative and entertaining. He was a great storyteller, having so much to share after decades as a radio performer and the composer of more than 1,000 songs.
The 1950s were his heyday as a songwriter, composing popular tunes such as “Summertime, Summertime,” “My Baby’s Coming Home,” and “Snow, Snow, Beautiful Snow.” He was married to singer Judy Valentine, who performed many of his songs. The Boston Pops also performed his music, and he was friends with Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Bennett. Feller announced the lineups with his deep, succinct voice and oftentimes added a little humor or color to the announcements. Carl Beane, the current PA man at Fenway, is a Feller protege who has tried to carry on Feller’s methods.
One of my fondest remembrances of Feller came on a night at Fenway when the electricity went out. It was May 13, 1991; Ellis Burks had a 2-2 count and was awaiting Chicago right-hander Jack McDowell’s next pitch when the entire ballpark went black. Burks recalled, “It was one of the weirdest things I ever experienced, but the one reason why people didn’t panic or get upset was Sherm Feller just keeping everybody calm and relaxing them with sing-alongs and stuff like that. It was pretty funny. I wondered whether people even wanted the lights to go back on or whether they wanted to hear ‘The Sherm Feller Show.'”
There was emergency lighting along the aisles, but for the most part Feller urged patrons (31,023 that night) to stay put. This was the first real power outage at the ballpark in about 10 years; the one in 1981 had occurred during the day. It turned out there was a problem on Commonwealth Avenue, but Feller cracked, “Boston Edison is working on it right now. If they send us the bill, we’ll pay it.” He led the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and managed to sprinkle in a little humor while also trying to make sure that fans stayed in their seats and remained calm. He performed for 59 minutes for a nearly packed house. The game itself wasn’t as entertaining.
“Sherm was one of those guys that, I wouldn’t say you took for granted, but as a player he was the one who introduced your name as you came up and it was a sound I guess that you grew accustomed to. People really associated him with the ballpark, just like they did John Kiley when he played the organ. You just expected to hear that voice. There was comfort in it, I guess,” Burks recalled. Feller was a favorite of so many visiting broadcasters, but the one who had the most fun with him was Baltimore Orioles broadcaster and former Red Sox announcer Jon Miller. Whenever he came to Fenway, Miller would go into the PA booth and perform for half an inning impersonating Feller. Unless you saw Miller doing it, you couldn’t tell the difference, and oftentimes Miller would slip in and out without anyone noticing unless it was mentioned on TV.
One of Feller’s great joys was going to Chinatown after games to partake of his favorite dish, and he often stayed there telling stories until the wee hours of the morning. Feller, born on July 29, 1918, passed away on January 27, 1994.