SABR

Larry Osterman

This article was written by Matt Bohn.

Larry Osterman’s career as a Detroit Tigers broadcaster spanned 20 seasons over four different decades, including two world championships. A modest, hard-working sportscaster, Osterman was known and respected by his colleagues for his professionalism. George Kell, his television broadcasting partner, said of Osterman, “I learned more about broadcasting from Larry Osterman than anyone I ever worked with.”

Born in the small town of Malcolm, Nebraska, in 1935, Osterman spent the summer months of his childhood searching the radio dial for baseball games. A St. Louis Cardinals fan, Larry would listen to the St. Louis games over KMOX, and would sometimes pull in the broadcasts of the Triple A Kansas City Blues, as well as the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. “On Sunday afternoons I would lie on the living room floor and listen to baseball games that were re-created on KOWH, Omaha,” Larry recalled in a 2005 interview conducted by mail. “They had a continuous loop of crowd noise running behind the announcer. About every minute, you would hear a guy groan. A minute later, the same guy would groan. Another minute later…same guy…same groan…”

From an early age, Osterman knew what career he wanted to pursue. “Becoming a play-by-play man was the first and only thing I set for myself as a career goal,” Osterman told Jack Moss in the May 12, 1974, issue of the Kalamazoo Gazette. The hours young Larry spent listening to sports broadcasts on the radio prepared him for his future path. “Every night I would be turning the radio dial, trying to pick up the broadcast of baseball games,” Osterman recalled in 2005. “In the fall and winter, I’d do the same, checking out announcers doing football, basketball and hockey radio play-by-play.” Osterman was most impressed by the styles of such broadcasters as Bill King, Chuck Thompson, Ken Coleman, and Ray Scott: “I believe they were instrumental in how I eventually worked a game. I felt they had an approach to the game that would wear well with the radio listeners. I never copied them, but their styles certainly had an influence on my broadcasts.”

After graduating from Malcolm High School in the top four of his class in 1953, Osterman enrolled at the University of Nebraska. Leaving college (later earning a degree from Western Michigan University), he took a job as sports director at KCOW in Alliance, Nebraska. It was at KCOW that he broadcast baseball play-by-play for the first time. “We were to do the radio broadcast of a semipro baseball game in Minitara, Nebraska,” Osterman told the Kalamazoo Gazette in 1974. “There was no press box at the field, so we drove our car up near the diamond and put a batting cage in front of it for protection and I broadcast from the front seat.”

In 1959, Osterman went to Kalamazoo to serve as sports director for the John Fetzer–owned radio station, WKZO. By 1961, Osterman was assigned to cover the Detroit Tigers’ spring training camp in Lakeland, Florida. “I’ll never forget the first time that I covered spring training in Florida in 1961. George and his then-partner, Ernie Harwell, invited me to accompany them to Ybor City for dinner at a Spanish restaurant,” Osterman remembered in 2005. “I couldn’t wait to get back to Lakeland, to call my wife, and tell her that I had dinner with George Kell and Ernie Harwell!” Osterman’s coverage of Tigers spring training camps gave him the opportunity to become acquainted with many of the Detroit players, but his dream of being a play-by-play announcer of a baseball team still eluded him. Whenever a position became available on the Tigers broadcast crew, Osterman made it clear to John Fetzer that he was interested in the job. Finally, in 1967, Osterman got his chance.

At the close of the 1966 season, Tigers radio broadcaster Gene Osborn was fired. When TV announcer Ray Lane moved from television to radio, Osterman was hired as Kell’s partner on WJBK-TV’s Tigers broadcasts. Beginning in 1967, Osterman would broadcast play-by-play for the middle three innings of each Tigers telecast.

Though he had a great deal of experience broadcasting college sports for WKZO, Osterman quickly discovered that being a major league broadcaster was a different proposition entirely. Stepping onto the field at Yankee Stadium for the first time in 1967, he thought to himself, “This is a hell of a long way from Malcolm, Nebraska!” He credited his broadcast partner with making the transition to the major leagues more smoothly. “I learned more about the game of baseball from George Kell than anyone in my entire life!” Osterman said. “George Kell took the time to introduce me to people in the major leagues. He always introduced me as his ‘partner.’ He provided guidance on how to become a big-leaguer, how to fend for yourself on the road. He provided a tremendous bridge between my previous career working college games to a much higher profile level of sports broadcasting.”

Osterman was able to broadcast many memorable moments in his early seasons as a Tigers telecaster. In 1967, the Tigers barely missed winning the pennant for the first time since 1945. The following year, Osterman had the pleasure of describing the Tigers’ championship season. “Individually, the highlight was the game in which McLain won his thirtieth,” Osterman told Kalamazoo’s Encore magazine in 1989. “That was pretty exciting stuff because it was the only time that George missed doing a game in his entire broadcasting career. His daughter was getting married that day, so I did the entire nine innings.”

In 1975, the rights of the Tigers telecasts went from WJBK-TV to WWJ-TV. The new rightsholder wanted to use members of its own sports staff on Tigers telecasts as a cross-promotion. As a result, Osterman’s role on the telecasts was reduced. Beginning in 1975, he went from broadcasting three innings of play-by-play on each televised game to working only as color commentator on road telecasts.

By 1977, Al Kaline had been added as a color commentator to Tigers telecasts, making the broadcast booth even more crowded. Osterman said in 2005, “I have always been of the opinion (and still am) that three in a booth is one too many. I also was of the opinion that two Hall of Famers were ultimately going to be the main men and I was going to be the odd man out.” He found himself without a place in the Tigers broadcast booth the following year.

Leaving his post at WKZO in early 1978, Osterman began hosting sports radio shows over WWJ-AM in Detroit. While Osterman was also providing coverage for University of Michigan football during this time, he quickly realized that he missed doing baseball play-by-play. Hearing about an opening on the Cincinnati Reds’ TV crew, Osterman contacted the team about the job, only to be informed that they had just hired his friend, Ray Lane. “That same day I ran into Lane at the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association luncheon. I told him of my interest in the Reds job and congratulated him on his successful application. He asked me if I had heard about the Minnesota Twins switching rights-holders and that they were looking for an announcer. I called KMSP that afternoon, sent a tape, flew to Minneapolis and joined the Twins broadcast crew within a couple of weeks.”

From 1979 to 1983, Osterman paired with Bob Kurtz to cover telecasts of the Twins. On the air, he did all nine innings of play-by-play. During this time, Osterman was versatile in covering other sports as well. He provided coverage for the Detroit Red Wings, the Major Indoor Soccer League, and Michigan and Michigan State football—all on ON-TV, a pay-TV service—as well as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey exhibition schedule on ESPN.

Osterman also was active in producing instructional baseball videos. In the early 1980s, he produced a series of instructional baseball tapes marketed to Little League baseball players from the ages of 8 to 18. The series, “The Baseball Masters,” included baseball tips from Al Kaline, George Kell and former Twins manager Frank Quilici.

In 1984, Osterman returned to broadcasting Tigers games, this time over a new cable channel, PASS (Pro-Am Sports System.) Larry remembered, “The startup of PASS was unique in that there weren’t many sports broadcast companies in the entire country. In fact in our first year we were feeding cable systems throughout the U.S. One of my daughters watched our games regularly on a Florida cable system. We fed a lot of our games to NESN, a new and similar operation serving the New England area out of Boston. The timing could not have been more favorable. A 35–5 start does a lot to increase the interest in a ball club.”

Teamed first with Bill Freehan and later with Jim Northrup, Osterman provided play-by-play for 70 to 85 Tigers games on PASS from 1984 to 1992. After being assured in December 1992 by the general manager of PASS that he would return to the booth the following year, Osterman was shocked to learn a month later that he was fired. The firing was explained as a “marketing decision” by PASS. Osterman told Steve Crowe of the Detroit Free Press at the time, “I’m shocked and more than a little disappointed about the whole thing for a lot of reasons. There was nothing that led up to it; nobody said they were unhappy with my work.”

Osterman continued to work on other PASS programs including the Central Collegiate Hockey Association game of the week. Though Osterman continued to look for work with a major league baseball broadcast crew, he kept busy covering college basketball and the International Hockey League’s Kalamazoo Wings.

In 1998, Osterman moved to Florida to become an educational television producer for the Pinellas County School district. Although the job has an educational focus, he finds it sometimes bring him back to his baseball roots. “We’re doing some interesting stuff,” Osterman reported in the April 9, 2001, edition of the Kalamazoo Gazette. “We did some more things with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays major league baseball team, using some of the players and our kids for word-usage educational messages. We spent two days in the Devil Rays’ camp shooting and have gotten some great reviews on the final product.” Osterman and his wife, Shirley, currently live in Largo, Florida. Married in 1957, they have four children.

Sources

Kell, George, and Dan Ewald. Hello Everybody, I’m George Kell. Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing. 1998.

“As a voice of the Tigers, Kalamazoo’s Larry Osterman is a PASS master.” Encore magazine (Kalamazoo, Michigan), February 1989.

Crowe, Steve. “PASS fires Osterman, teams Price, Northrup.” Detroit Free Press. January 21, 1993.

Hawkins, Jim. “Campbell Sees Tiger Crisis as Springboard For Rise.” The Sporting News, February 1, 1975.

Moss, Jack. “Career gamble pays off for Osterman.” Kalamazoo Gazette, May 7, 1980.

Moss, Jack. “It’s Not Easy For TV ‘Pro’; But WKZO’s Larry Osterman Takes a Realistic View.” Kalamazoo Gazette, June 26, 1977.

Moss, Jack. “Larry Osterman going strong these days in Florida.” Kalamazoo Gazette, April 9, 2001.

Moss, Jack. “Osterman a Television Big Leaguer.” Kalamazoo Gazette, May 12, 1974.

Moss, Jack. “Osterman Gets Job in Detroit.” Kalamazoo Gazette, February 16, 1978.

Moss, Jack. “Osterman gives the Wings a class voice.” Kalamazoo Gazette, October 14, 1993.

“Osborn Out: Osterman New Member of Tiger Air Team.” The Sporting News, December 31, 1966.

“Osterman on move.” Kalamazoo Gazette, March 14, 1979.

Wagner, Bob. “From hockey to baseball; Osterman, Neal friendship leads to video productions.” Kalamazoo Gazette, December 6, 1981.

Bohn, Matt. Interview with Larry Osterman conducted by mail, June 28, 2005.

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