Larry Ward, the Lookouts' veteran voice
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- Some nicknames require explanation, while others are self-evident. Larry "The Voice" Ward falls firmly in the latter category. Since 1989, Larry Ward has served as the voice of the Chattanooga Lookouts. He's the longest tenured broadcaster in Double-A baseball, now in his 32nd consecutive season with the
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -- Some nicknames require explanation, while others are self-evident. Larry "The Voice" Ward falls firmly in the latter category.
Since 1989, Larry Ward has served as the voice of the Chattanooga Lookouts. He's the longest tenured broadcaster in Double-A baseball, now in his 32nd consecutive season with the team. As of Opening Night 2021, Ward has called Lookouts games in five different decades. He was elected to the Southern League Hall of Fame in 2016 and has since outlasted that venerable circuit. The Lookouts, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, are now members of the Double-A South.
"The game has changed," said Ward, speaking in his AT&T Field broadcast booth before a game last month. "Players are faster, pitchers throw harder and hitters hit the ball further. The only thing that hasn't changed is there's nine players to a team; it's 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound; it's 90 feet to first, to second, to home. That's the game. And somebody's got to bring it to you."
Ward, 74, didn't even begin his current tenure with the Lookouts until he was in his 40s. He's a native of eastern Oregon, a long way from Chattanooga both culturally and as the crow flies.
"I grew up on a ranch, herding cattle, baling hay, cutting wheat, picking up rocks, fixing fences. I grew up sort of a cowboy," said Ward. "But it was a great life."
Upon graduating from community college, Ward initially went to work in the retail business. He didn't start his radio career until he was well into his 20s, beginning with high school baseball, football and basketball before going further afield.
"I got a full-time job in McMinnville, Oregon," he said. "I brag about this and people look at me like I have three heads, but for the six years that I was there, I did the Fourth of July rodeo in St. Paul, Oregon. Doing the play-by-play of rodeo. I did my teething on a lot of mundane stuff. Motocross and stock car. To learn."
But baseball was always Ward's first love, and therefore the sport he concentrated on the most. He got his first break in the Minor Leagues with the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers, calling home games at Multnomah Stadium and broadcasting recreation games when the team went on the road. From Portland he went to another PCL team, the Tucson Toros. This led to stints with the Jacksonville Suns, and in 1985, the Lookouts. He returned to Chattanooga for good in 1989, following a four-year stretch doing play-by-play for the Citadel Bulldogs in Charleston, South Carolina.
"Bill Lee was the [Lookouts] general manager then," said Ward, clarifying that the Bill Lee in question was not former Red Sox pitcher "Spaceman" Bill Lee. "He ran into some trouble, had to fire his announcer. I had been here in 1985, so did have some familiarity. He caught me at the right time in asking me to come back and take over for the guy they had to fire. Would I stay at least for the summertime? As it turns out, 32 years later we're still summertiming it in Chattanooga."
The Lookouts played at Engel Stadium through 1999, where Ward and his colleagues called games from a precarious rooftop press box. Players on the team during this time included at least one future Hall of Famer (Trevor Hoffman) and current Yankees manager Aaron Boone.
"It was always the kind of crowd, big or small, they were fans," Ward said of calling games at Engel Stadium. "They knew the players' batting averages, they knew what color car they drove. It was not an era of harassing players, it was an era of loving players. Those fans from 21 years ago have now grown up and they have children and they're creating a similar situation, but it's not quite as homey as it was at Engel Stadium."
Ward has called games for multiple generations of fans while working with multiple generations of broadcasters.
"They are all young guys, with the exception of Curt Bloom down in Birmingham [with the Barons]. He and I are the two senior citizens, and I'm a lot more senior than he is," said Ward of his Double-A South colleagues. "In my tenure, I have helped a lot of younger guys. Mentored or tormented, whichever you want to call it. Some of those guys have gone on to bigger and better things. Right now, there are five or six in the big leagues."
As for Ward, he quit applying for Major League jobs over a decade ago.
"I finally realized that being in Chattanooga is where I'm supposed to be," he said. "I've helped a lot of people, and a lot of people have helped me. To me, that's why I'm still here."
Ward doesn't have any plans to stop now, praising broadcasting as a good way to "keep the blood flowing and the brain going."
"I said to my wife a couple years ago something about retiring. She said, 'You're not going to retire. You love this too much.' And she was right."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.