Rory Markas, 1955-2010

I met Rory Markas at KNX Radio in Los Angeles in 1989 and by the next year was fortunate enough to have him working for me as my weekend sports anchor and reporter at KCBS-TV downstairs in the same building.

Today, as an old colleague of mine from that time and I wept to each other over the phone about a man we knew well and long but not truly intimately, we tried to figure out exactly why his passing struck us so deeply. It was not just his youth, not just his having finally achieved after years of struggle his dream job.
There was something more. Separately, sports, and broadcasting, are industries full of prima donnas and the thin-skinned and I’ll confess to having been each, often at the same time, often for months on end. And Rory was never thus. Whether he was being sent out by one of us on some dippy sports feature in LA twenty years ago, or he was doing play-by-play in some less-than-heavenly minor league town, Rory just never was that way. His loudest complaint was a knowing smile and an accepting shake of the head.
People like him have not only a great gift, but are themselves a gift to the rest of us.
Rory had been the Angels’ play-by-play man since 2002, and it was always an honor to sit in with him for an inning whenever the team was here in New York or I was in Anaheim. Those who knew his work need not be told about its quality. Those who were not privileged enough to know him personally need to be told about his quality.
 
One quick update: I am remiss in not emphasizing Rory’s remarkable quick wit. I would often sit with him and Terry Smith for long stretches of games, and usually he’d put me on for a half inning or so, even letting me dabble in play-by-play. I just recounted for a friend something from 2006 or 2007, on the occasion of my first trip to the Angels Stadium booth:
 
Me: Ball two to Damon, low, outside.
RM: And Molina’s going to the mound.
Me: I notice, my friend, that your booth here is the size of a small Olympic village.
RM: Roomy, yes.
Me: Looks like the Yale Bowl, with microphones.
RM: We call it home.
Me: In fact, this second deck of the press box, this radio-tv gallery of yours – it’s bigger than the entire press box at Yankee Stadium.
RM: The umpires are going out to break up the conference.
Me: You know you could easily convert half this area to private seating and you’d never miss an inch of it.
RM: Thank you, Keith Olbermann, always a pleasure and thank you for never, ever, making any reference to such a thing ever again. Lackey’s ready, Molina crouches and we’re ready for action…
 
Below is the Angels’ press release:

BROADCASTER RORY MARKAS PASSES AWAY


ANAHEIM, CA:   Angels Baseball Tuesday announced that veteran broadcaster Rory Markas passed away yesterday at his home in Palmdale, CA.  No other details are available, and funeral service information is pending. 


Markas, 54, spent eight seasons calling play-by-play with the Angels, both on television and radio.  In addition to his responsibilities with the Angels, Markas also served as the play-by-play voice for the University of Southern California men’s basketball team, and as a reporter for FOX 11 KTTV in Los Angeles.


Prior to joining the Angels, Markas handled the play-by-play duties for the USC baseball team on the Trojan Radio Network, as well as pre-game reporting for Trojan football.  During that time, he also served as a sports reporter on KNX Newsradio 1070 in Los Angeles, and a sports anchor on FOX 11.  From 1994-97, he was the lead announcer for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers on the Clippers radio network.


Markas had extensive baseball broadcasting experience prior to joining the Angels, as he worked as a play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers television network (1992-94) and as a substitute radio play-by-play announcer with the Brewers radio network from 1984-1994.  He spent six seasons calling Pacific Coast League baseball, including three years with the Salt Lake City Gulls and three years with the Vancouver Canadians.


Markas’ career included stints as an on-air sports talent for KCBS 2 (1990-97) and Prime Ticket (1987-90).  He was honored with several broadcasting awards, including four Golden Mike Awards for radio reporting, and two Associated Press Sportscasting Awards.  He also received the 2008 Radio Play-by-Play Award from the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Association.


A native of San Fernando Valley, CA, Markas attended Chatsworth High School.  He later attended Los Angeles Valley College and Cal State Northridge.  He is survived by his mother, Billie and brothers, Gary and Troy.

 –ANGELS–

18 Comments

Keith, I’m so sorry to hear of the passing of Rory Markas. I didn’t know him, but I heard the pain in your voice tonight, and it struck me like an arrow. This last year has been a difficult one for many of us, and I know you have lost a lot of people who truly mattered to you. You and I are the same age, and we’ve reached that time in our lives when we start losing a lot of the people who are close to us. I wish I had something to offer you other than my most sincere condolences, or a “virtual hug”… but that is indeed all I have. If I had more to give, it would be yours for the asking. As to you being thin-skinned or a prima donna… well, forgive me, but I just don’t see it. And those I’ve known who did fit that description would never, ever have admitted to it. Not even if their lives depended on it. But I understand, I think… there is always that drive to be a better person – or at least better than we are now. I feel it, and I honor it as best I can. But I have no idea if I’m better or not – that is for those around me to decide. So forgive me for this, but I think you’re a damned good person. Perfect? Of course not. But damned good. I wish I could say I knew you personally – obviously I don’t. As a person who enjoys the study of human nature, however, everything I’ve seen tells me that you have a tremendous heart. Okay, FINE, I’ll stop embarrassing you now. :) And I hope you can forgive me, but I’m gonna ask you again – one of these days, either here or on the show… please, tell us how your father is progressing? If I say “Pretty please and all that junk” will that help any? Yeah, I know I’m a pest. Tell me something I don’t know! Hugs… and have a great night.

Keith, that was a wonderful tribute you gave this evening to your friend Rory Markas. He was a man who obviously meant a great deal to you. And from what you were saying, it’s understandable. You have said when you suffer a loss, you always turn to baseball. That it helps you.

1995 NY vs. Seattle. 2001 NY vs. Arizona

Shortly before your tribute to Mr. Markas I heard that Randy Johnson had retired today. I wonder how many pitchers you have seen in your lifetime that were better than he was? I can only think of one.

1948braves, I was just talking to someone elsewhere about Randy Johnson. Hadn’t heard he was retiring until just now… but he was always so much fun to watch! Both of those dates you listed are ones I remember well, because I watched him pitch both times, and it was a lot of fun. Especially in 1995, when the Mariners went to the playoffs for the first time. I was in Seattle then, and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve mentioned it here before (in detail) so I won’t go into it again, other than to say the wild card game and the comeback series were amazing…. but I will say I’m sorry to hear Johnson is retiring. He’s had a good career, and I’m glad I had the chance to watch him pitch a few games while I was in attendance. I’m sure a lot of opposing batters won’t miss Randy Johnson’s pitching, though! :)

olympictrees: The Seattle Mariners of those years is still to this day, my favorite team, other than my own. What unbelievable ballplayers they had back then.

What can I say about Randy Johnson? Without question, one of the best pitchers ever. Truly great pitchers are rare, and I think it’s fair to say that we baseball fans were very fortunate to have been able to follow him his entire career. And I agree with you. The 1995 playoffs v. the NY Yankees was a tremendous series. I still look for it on tv when they’re showing classic baseball games. I am sorry to see him retire as well. The announcement came as quite a surprise to me. All the memories came flooding back. He was truly something.

Hey there, Keith….

I also worked with Rory at KNX, and he was indeed a most delightful colleague. I unfortunately missed your on-air tribute tonight, but was greatly moved by the blog. Much as you describe, I had this uncanny feeling all day today….not only shock and sadness, but as you say, it struck me very deeply and I was not sure why. I enjoyed working with Rory, and hung out at awards dinners, etc. but we weren’t close. When I read your words I realized you hit it exactly: in a field of high-maintenance, high-drama, and dare I say, neurotic ego-maniacs, (I include myself here) he was a prince of a fellow. Always. I can’t think of a more gentlemanly, affable, amusing, and just plain charming guy, not only in sportscasting, but in broadcasting period. So thanks for helping me cope. Yours most respectfully, a former colleague

Good Lord, how sad it is that the New Year finds you writing yet another obituary. I hope that it’s true as they say, that bad things come in threes, so this cycle will come to an end. There has been too much sad news lately.

Though Rory may have been witty, Keith, I actually found your side of that conversation with him to be equally amusing. “The Yale Bowl, with microphones” cracked me up, as did, “Your booth here is the size of a small Olympic village.” ROTFL!

@olympictrees – I respectfully disagree on just one count: Keith has obviously known himself longer than any of us has known him (i.e., we’ve never even met him), so if he says he’s displayed “prima-donna” tendencies in the past, I’ll take him at his word, LOL. Not to play armchair psychiatrist here, but that sort of behavior usually results from a lack of confidence – something Keith eloquently admitted to, in the “Mea Culpa” he wrote several years ago. At least he, unlike most other prima-donnas (like those you mentioned!), has been wise enough to recognize and admit to that tendency. :-)

I also think it’s quite obvious that Keith is thin-skinned, if only judging by his posts at DKos. People will post some nasty things which obviously get under his skin, and he’ll post responses to justify himself, or vent with a little snark, or both. Not in a prima-donna way, but in an overly sensitive way. There are two sides to every coin, though, and the flip side of being thin-skinned is being sensitive and sympathetic. For instance, when announcing Rory’s passing on Countdown, one could hear that Keith was choked up. He’s also obviously sensitive to other people’s suffering; even on this very blog, he’s been sympathetic to the plights of various baseball players who have been through hard times. Another case in point: His decades-long Merkle crusade. :-)

Finally, Randy Johnson is my favorite player ever. No matter what any pitcher does, which one of them will take out a poor, unsuspecting bird in mid-flight? Who else will be able to intimidate batters with a 6’10″ frame and such a menacing expression to go with it? I could repeat something the Arizona fans used to say about Randy in the 2001 World Series, but I want to keep this post family-friendly…!

If someone here will forgive me from paraphrasing a familiar sign-off…to Randy Johnson on his retirement, goodbye and good luck. :-)

@unpaka27, I don’t think we’re all that far apart, really… I think perhaps one of the biggest parts of self-improvement is being aware of your own faults, and being willing to admit to them. That’s the hardest part, and it requires a lot of self-awareness and a good amount of humility. I think Kennedy said it best, but I’m going to paraphrase just a bit: Better the occasional faults of a man living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a man frozen in the ice of his own indifference. I think it’s great that Keith is able to express his emotions openly, and share them with us. I would rather know someone who is “thin-skinned” than someone who is cold and unemotional. The man’s got a good heart, and it shows. So yeah… I think we agree more than we disagree. And I agree with you and with 1948braves – Randy Johnson was great fun to watch. I miss going to those Mariners games, back in the day… Griffey, Johnson, Alex Rodriguez in his early days, Buhner, Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez… they were an amazing team, and with Randy pitching, how could you miss? They didn’t win as many games as they might have (at least until 1995) but it was a lot of fun, and I had some good times with my kids at those games. One last note – Keith has made my life better in several ways… when I wasn’t able to see the Sonics and Mariners games (because I was working at the Sonics games) I could come home and watch Dan and Keith, so I got the highlights of the game and some good entertainment as well. Then, with Countdown, he helped me keep my sanity during the Bush years, and has kept me informed since. And now, he’s helped me rediscover my love of baseball…. so yeah, a seriously positive impact on my life. Thanks, Keith! :)

Keith

Excellent tribute. This is David Y. who also worked with Rory and yourself at KNX. It was a great time, exciting and fun. I spent much of yesterday thinking about all of the laughs I had with Rory. On the weekends at Columbia Square, Rory would go across the street to Thriiftys and buy a tabloid. Then he would come back into the newsroom and ask me why we weren’t covering the “alien gives birth to grown man” story. It was a riot. Llittle did I know that the news business would end up depending on the tabloids for its tips. Rory was so genuine and maybe the most flexible sportscaster I’ve ever known. He did everything from roller derby to minor league baseball. He was hitting his stride. His best work to date were the tributes and interviews he did on Nick Adenhart. Who knew that less than a year later the tributes would be about Rory. A real loss for sports fans, but for you and I and those who knew him well, a real loss of a friend.

Keith,
Like Olympictrees, I heard the pain thru your post. Great tribute. Rory’s death brought memories of Don Drysdale’s death. Both died young. I cherish every game I hear Vin Scully. He is the reason why I always carry a radio to the games.
Rest in peace Rory.
.
Emma _Bleeding Dodger Blue!
http://crzblue.mlblogs.com/

I forgot to say that I am glad I found your blog.

KO, thank you for giving Rory the national stage of your tribute on Countdown. You said it all, in less than 60 seconds. I have worked with Rory for most of the last 20 years, most recently on the USC basketball broadcast. He always had a smile. Knowing him made my life better. I am grief-stricken, but I know he would not want me sitting here crying about him, so I will attempt to move forward.

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