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Buck Canel–The Voice of Beisbol, Boxeo and FDR

 

Buck Canel, c. 1970s. Courtesy Baseball Hall of Fame.

“…millions this week listened to Buck Canel, a swashbuckling New Yorker, as he broadcast his 27th World Series in Spanish” –Robert H. Boyle, Sports Illustrated, October 14, 1963.

No se vayan que esto se pone bueno!” (“Don’t go away, this is getting good!”) –Buck Canel, during many, many baseball broadcasts

Sportscaster Buck Canel’s voice was familiar to Spanish-speaking radio audiences from New York City to Tierra del Fuego from the mid-‘30s until his death in 1980. The bilingual Canel spent his childhood in Argentina, Cuba and Staten Island, and was also known for simulcasting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speeches in Spanish for Latin American audiences. On one occasion, he also translated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s remarks, in a short wave broadcast of the White House Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on Christmas Eve, 1941, which survives in the Library of Congress’s NBC Collection and was added to the National Recording Registry in 2020 along with the English version heard in the USA and the UK.

He was born Eloy Justino Buxó Canel in Rosario, Argentina in 1906. His father was a Spanish diplomat from Asturias; his mother was of Scottish descent, but born in Uruguay. “I dance the jig with castanets” he liked to say of his lineage, while also pointing out to English speaking announcers: “There are no ‘Spanish’ baseball players. There are Dominicans, Venezuelans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans. The only thing they have in common is the language. They are distinctly different nationalities.[i]” One other thing they had in common, though, was that they could call on Canel for good advice in their common language, and he was the confidant of many athletes.

His father left politics for the shipping business and the family settled in Staten Island, NY in 1918. Young “Buck” became a star athlete at Curtis High School and later played for Staten Island’s semi-pro football team the Stapleton Stapes. He chose journalism as his career, as his younger brothers Victor and Jimmy also did, writing for the “Staten Island Advance” starting in 1927. In the early ‘30s, the Associated Press needed a reporter in Havana, Cuba, and Canel was soon covering the nation’s restive politics.

His radio debut was an accident of history. When Fulgencio Batista, then a sergeant in the Cuban army, announced his takeover of the Cuban government from a Havana radio station in 1934, Canel was there as a reporter. The two were already acquainted, and Canel recalled that Batista asked him ‘”Will they understand this in Key West and Miami?’ I said no, not in Spanish. He handed me his speech and said ‘Translate it into English.’ I did the translation off the top of my head. It was my first broadcast.”[ii]

Staff of NBC’s International Division. Broadcasting, July 7, 1942. Library of Congress. Buck Canel is second from the left in the front row.

Though he continued to write for print media throughout his life, radio seemed to be his true calling. He joined NBC’s new international short wave division in 1938 in time to call the first of his 42 World Series in Spanish. His catch phrase “No se vayan que esto se pone bueno!” (“Don’t go away, this is getting good!”) was known throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, and fans would often shout it to him when they saw him in public. Latin American boxers, such as Chile’s heavyweight contender Arturo Godoy, were a growing presence in the sport; Canel called many bouts in Spanish, and hosted many other Spanish language programs, including a weekly sports review, American Literary Panorama, and a series of lectures on chess by former world champion José Raúl Capablanca of Cuba shortly before Capablanca’s death in 1942. He was NBC’s director of Spanish programming from 1940 on, and during World War II also worked on Spanish language programming for the Office of War Information.

Buck Canel at the microphone. NBC Transmitter, January 1942. Library of Congress.

Canel left NBC in 1947 and spent several years broadcasting in the Caribbean and Central America. In 1948, he called the Amateur World Series in Managua, Nicaragua. General Tacho Somoza, the country’s dictator, became enraged with the national team’s manager, and took his place in the dugout. “Somoza was the only manager I ever saw in a dugout wearing a four-star general’s hat. What is more, he didn’t win a game either.”[iii]

It was not the last time that he would mix sports and politics. As a reporter, he interviewed Fidel Castro in December, 1958, shortly before his takeover of the Cuban government. When Castro recognized Canel’s voice, he only wanted to talk baseball, and wanted to know why Milwaukee Braves manager Fred Haney made the disastrous move of pitching Warren Spahn on two days’ rest in the sixth game of the 1958 World Series. In the Dominican Republic in 1961, following the assassination of President Rafael Trujillo, Canel was surrounded by fans even as other journalists were pelted with rocks.

In 1960, Canel recorded this soundtrack for a parlor baseball game.

Canel was by then the Spanish voice of the New York Yankees. He also hosted a weekly television sports program in Spanish. He kept a busy schedule into the early 1970s, but gradually reduced his workload until his death from emphysema in 1980. In 1985, he received the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick award posthumously, the highest honor the sport can bestow on an announcer, with his journalist widow Colleen Park and their daughter Alice and her husband on hand.

 

[i] The Latin American Connection. Bill Conlin, Philadelphia Daily News, October 20, 1975, p. 67

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] “El As” is the Voice of America. Robert H. Boyle, Sports Illustrated, October 14, 1963.

 

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