Editor’s note: “As Told To Amy G,” presented by Toyota, will feature exclusive conversations with Giants staff, players and alums, as well as interesting figures around Major League Baseball, throughout the 2019 season. Today, Amy catches up with MLB broadcaster Ron Darling.
At the time of this interview (Dec. 2018), Ron Darling had not been diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. The daunting news broke earlier this baseball season and I’m happy to report after an absence from the game for treatment, Darling has returned to the broadcast booth cancer-free and happy to be around the game he loves.
I don’t have much of a history with the former MLB pitcher. He was good, I knew that much. He was an All-Star, World Series champion and Gold Glove award winner, indicating his prowess on the mound. I met Ron back in 2000, during my producing days when he worked with, then, FOX SportsNet Bay Area as an analyst for the A’s. His reputation, however, in the game as a player and analyst has long intrigued me. Throughout the game, Ron is known as a true pro and put simply, he’s just well-liked.
One of only a handful of Major League players born in Hawaii, Darling brought a different look to the game, literally and figuratively. He expanded diversity in the game and that look, shall we say, was also very popular with the female fans. He donned the cover of many magazines in is heyday and even dabbled with acting. He’s crossed paths with so many during his tenure in America’s pastime and it turns out we have several baseball friends in common, including Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
That seems like a good place to start ...
"[Bochy] is one of my favorite teammates of all time. I played in Triple-A with Bruce and we used to call him 'Sunday Bruce Bochy.' He would only play on Sundays. He'd hit a home run, a double, and drive in three, never see the light of day in the lineup until next Sunday because we had two catchers, Mike Fitzgerald and John Gibbons, who were the guys the Mets were counting on for the future. Boch was my locker mate, I learned a lot from him about how to conduct myself like a pro.
I think the Bay Area sees this kind of rough and tumble manager who manages by his bootstraps. I just remember he had the biggest laugh. He had more fun than anyone should be allowed to have at Triple-A.
Legend has it, Bruce Bochy’s head size is so big he could fit a six-pack of beer in his helmet. I figured Ron Darling would know the truth ...
"I don't know if he can fit a six-pack of beer, but you know you are unique when you have to bring your own helmet when you get traded to a new team because they don't have one in your size."
Fair enough. Since 2006, Ron’s been with the Mets broadcast crew but he got his break in television right here in the Bay Area when he served as an analyst for A’s pregame in 2000.
Let’s go back to where it all began ...
"I'll tell ya it was such a great job. The good thing about Northern California, you know, I wasn't thrown into a New York market or a Chicago market. I just felt embraced by the people that produced or directed. I mean and having that kind of loving care really kind of helps you get over the tough spots."
Little did he know he’d end up in the toughest media market with a fan base not exactly known for being “soft”. That jump from long-time player with the Mets to analyzing New York and fairly critiquing them is not exactly easy.
"You know, when I first started the job, I thought that, naively, that I'd be in the clubhouse, kind of, 'Hey I played ball, you're playing ball, we have this fraternity connection’ and it's just the opposite. I definitely love being around the players but I'm older than most of their fathers now and I found that I want that connection but I don't want to be too close, because one, it's their livelihood, I have to remember, I used to play, but I can't play anymore, they are doing it. And without getting too close, that I don't have to make a judgment call to say, 'God I really shouldn't critique that guy because I really like that guy.' You just call it the way it is. I think it's probably the most challenging part of the job."
Ron Darling got his broadcasting break in the Bay Area before becoming a staple of the Mets' broadcast on SNY (Photo by The Associated Press).
In my experience, ballplayers are always great about giving credit where credit is due, especially when it comes to their moms. Darling is no different, but his gratitude went beyond the cliché of “Thanks mom for driving me to and from every little league practice” or “Thanks mom for making sure I always had snacks.” Darling thanked his mom for giving him his athletic ability.
"In some ways, I kind of feel bad for my mom because she is of the age where she never got to really enjoy Title IX. She would have been a collegiate athlete easily. But in my family, my dad was the coach and he learned how to coach from like reading and stuff and my mom was an unbelievable softball player, unbelievable volleyball player and all of her athletic ability came to all of us boys. I have three younger brothers, they all played collegiate athletics. I have one brother who played for the Yankees, so mom produced a lot of athletes."
Mom also produced a tough kid in Darling, as he, unfortunately, faced some nasty racial situations as the lone Hawaiian in the bunch.
"When I first started playing professional baseball, clubhouses were relentless. I wouldn't even say some of the names I was called when I first started playing pro ball, and I'm not saying it to make people feel bad, it's just how it was in those days, and all of that stuff. I'm so happy that, even if some think it, they don't voice it like they used to in clubhouses.
And I think this game -- we were just talking about my mother and her athletic ability -- there are so many people of such great renown and distinction, that's limited to just a certain demographic of white male to do this job. Makes no sense to me. We should be reaching our tentacles everywhere we can to find the greatest and brightest and that's where this sport will grow."
Darling’s memories of the San Francisco Giants involve freezing nights in the wind tunnel that was Candlestick Park. So suffice to say, Oracle Park is quite the upgrade. Plus, Darling has two sons that live in the Bay Area so his yearly trip to cover the series between the Giants and Mets is a welcome one.
"I can't get enough of the smell of garlic fries, that's the first thing. And I think because of where the stadium is -- you have to remember, I played at Candlestick Park -- and where the stadium is now and wherever I stay in San Francisco, I always walk to the stadium and I always walk home. It's just a really beautiful experience. It's a great fan experience. It's one of the top three or four baseball stadiums in the country and the Giants fans, they're so cool. Baseball fans in general aren't cool, they're kind of the hotdog and beer crowd, whatever. But the Giants fans are cool. You feel like you could be watching the Giants or transposed to be watching a grateful dead concert. They're that cool.
"Candlestick was an interesting ballpark because it had such a wind tunnel that went out to right-center. I remember the first time I pitched at that ballpark, Jack Clark hit a 3-run home run off me in the first inning. And he hit it, and it was kind of a line drive, so off the bat, I said, 'Boy that's got to be a single or a double.’ And it went out of the ballpark and I was like, 'You got to be kidding me.' I don't think I pitched very well in that ballpark. I remember sitting on the bench, I think I'm a macho guy, you're a baseball player, an athlete, I was sitting on the bench and, not screaming for your mother, but I was that cold. I was so cold but trying to pretend like you weren't."
The Mets and the Giants are forever linked. The Mets colors of orange and blue represent the Giants and Dodgers of the New York era before moving West in 1958. So we couldn’t wrap up without discussing one of the best games in Giants/Mets history -- you got it, the 2016 NL Wild Card Game in New York. One and done. Doesn’t get any more stressful than that.
Here’s how Ron saw it ...
"That one game, in particular, felt like a Western to me. It was like two gunslingers, but it just wasn't meant to be, because as all Giants fans know, Madison Bumgarner does not lose in the postseason, and he does not lose at Citi Field. His numbers are ridiculous. And certain guys who pitch, Bumgarner and others, that when you watch a guy like that pitch you go, 'God I wish I was him.' You wanted his career. That's how good he is."
Madison Bumgarner "does not lose in the postseason," Ron Darling says. He's not wrong. (Photo by USA Today Sports Images).
That’s it for me, but Ross Bently had a Toyota Fan Question for Ron!
You’ve been in the booth for SNY for well over a decade as well as working several MLB playoffs. What’s the most memorable game you’ve called as an announcer?
"Great question. I was lucky enough to do the postseason game between the Cardinals and Phillies. Carpenter vs. Halladay. Pitchers matchup par exemplar. 1-0 Cardinals with the last out made by Ryan Howard, who tore his Achilles on the play. He lay defeated as the Cardinals rejoiced. It really showed how tenuous winning and losing can be. I was emotional as we signed off. Never forget it!"