- During one particularly lengthy mound meeting in 1993, Dick Sanford
upset a touchy high school umpire by playing the theme music from the
TV show “ Jeopardy.”
The umpire tossed Sanford from the park, so he packed up and left.
That was the only day in his career he wasn’t welcome in a press box.
If you attended a baseball game in South Florida in the past four decades, there is a great chance you heard Dick Sanford’s warm, rich and friendly voice.
It was silenced early Tuesday, when he died peacefully at VA Medical Center in West Palm Beach following a 15-month battle with cancer. He was 66.
Sanford, a Wellington native, was the public address announcer for the Florida Marlins from 2000 to 2014, following the team from its original stadium in Miami Gardens to its new park in Little Havana.
He filled the same role at Roger Dean Stadium since its 1998 opening. Beginning in the 1970s, he was the voice of Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves Spring Training games at old Municipal Stadium.
He welcomed an untold number of South Florida fans to their baseball oasis, and thousands of Palm Beach County ballplayers felt the importance of their at-bat grow a little more when Sanford called their name during American Legion or high school games.
“ It was just the coolest feeling,” said WPLG Miami sportscaster Will Manso, who played baseball growing up in West Palm Beach and attended Forest Hill High, Sanford’s alma mater.
After graduating from high school in 1968 and studying journalism and political science for a year at Florida Southern, Sanford did a two-year stint in the Naval Reserve, where he worked at a military radio station in Sicily. Upon returning home, he became a sports anchor for WPTV and did a sports talk show on WJNO radio.
“ He always had great enthusiasm,” said WPTV Program Director Bernadette O’Grady. “ He loved the game. He loved being around young athletes and helping get their careers started.”
That was no more evident than when he did PA at Wellington High and later, Palm Beach Central High. His friend from high school, Scott Benedict, was coach. Sanford lent his professional pipes for a hot dog salary, and rarely missed a game — even though he would work a Spring Training or Marlins game the same day.
“ He just loved helping kids,” Benedict said. “ He exemplified class and professionalism. He was a giver, a sports fanatic, with a memory like an elephant.”
“ He taught me so much in the little amount of time I got to spend with him,” said Lauren Thompson, a Palm Beach Central teacher and Sanford’s press box protégé.
A career highlight for Sanford, who from 1987-1988 was general manager of the West Palm Beach Expos of the Florida State League, came when he worked the baseball games at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Even better: his son, Chad, traveled with him.
They would later work side-by-side in press boxes at Roger Dean and Marlins Park, where Chad currently works in game operations.
“ I could have said I want to stay at home and play checkers and he would have been more than supportive,” said Chad, 28, who teaches and coaches baseball at Pahokee High. “ Sons are lucky to have a great relationship with their dad. I think I hit the jackpot.”
The Marlins — who gave Sanford a World Series ring in 2003, as did the Braves in 1995 — the Jupiter Hammerheads and Roger Dean Stadium offered their condolences Tuesday on social media, as did numerous fans and friends.
“ His voice is going to be missed by a lot of people,” said longtime Palm Beach County sportswriter Steve Dorsey, who entered the county’s Sports Hall of Fame with Sanford in 2001. “ He did high school games with the same passion and professionalism as he did Marlins games. And on top of that, just a damn good guy.”
Born on 10 August 1949 in Norwalk, Connecticut, his family moved to West Palm Beach when he was 5.
He grew up listening to baseball on the radio, taking a fervent interest in his father’s beloved Dodgers.
As Sanford fought cancer, he was a fixture at Palm Beach Central games and regularly talked sports on Twitter. The last baseball game he watched was Monday’s NCAA Super Regional between his beloved Florida Gators and Florida State.
Holding the hand of his wife of 40 years, Sue, Sanford stayed up through a lengthy weather delay to see the Gators win, and clinch a spot in the College World Series. Before they went to sleep, he gave his wife a thumbs-up.
“ He died a happy man,” Benedict said.
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