Magrane Tailors His Pitch

He may be the best reason to watch a Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ game – and yet you’ll never see his name in a box score.

He’s TV broadcaster Joe Magrane, 42, the Rays’ conversationally perceptive, engagingly witty, occasionally irreverent color-analyst. He defies the broadcast typecast: former player capitalizing on name recognition and frequently reminding viewers what it was like back in the day.

He’s also good enough to have earned some NBC and Fox network gigs; he did the (Sydney) Olympics in 2000 and (Athens) 2004. He also upstaged the regulars on “The Best Damn Sports Show Period,” and some — well, conspiracy-buff buddies — theorize that’s why he hasn’t been invited back.

“Magrane is pure entertainment,” says Skip Hill, veteran broadcaster and communications instructor at the University of Tampa. “He’s that funny. He can absolutely carry a game.”

And make no mistake, broadcasting a perennial loser such as the Rays – who lost 101 games last season – can require a lot of heavy rhetorical lifting. In Magrane-speak that will range from groan-inducing puns, self-deprecating put-downs and colorful anecdotes to candid — but never personal — criticism of the home team. It could even include a dead-on impersonation of the late, iconic broadcaster Harry Caray when the Rays are out of it early.

“I’m not a journalist,” points out Magrane. “It’s not my job to break stories. I work for the team. My focus is on the how-and-why and to try and brighten up the game.”

That makes him the perfect verbal ping-pong complement to the more staid Dewayne Staats, the Rays’ highly regarded, play-by-play announcer.

“For all of his ‘left-handed’ personality, Joe really is a perfectionist,” points out Staats. “Always prepared as well as fun to be around. And as with any of the really successful guys in this business, people do get a sense of who you are. Really, what you see is what you get.”

For the most part.

Funny and friendly translate well, but a broadcast booth can only frame so much.

You wouldn’t necessarily discern a selfless, highly-sought MC for myriad Bay Area charities, including Abilities Inc. of Florida, the Moffitt Cancer Center and the ChairScholars Foundation.

Nor would you know that this gregarious baseball insider has a traveler’s frame of reference that transcends dugouts and diamonds. Indeed, it ranges from the old world architecture of Prague, a St. Peter’s audience with Pope John Paul II and the “infinite view” of Versailles to the “food-as-art” side of San Francisco.

And from the chest up, of course, nobody looks 6’5″. The boyishly good-looking Magrane is all of that. In fact, 250 pounds worth.

He’s also a walking fashion statement with two custom tailors, New York’s Dominico Spano and Tampa’s Kenneth E. Jennings, having his pattern on file and his cell number on speed dial. He was once featured in GQ magazine as “The Most Eligible Bachelor in Baseball.”

“Joe looks magnificent,” says Jennings. “He’s an Apollo.”

An Apollo who can also be sartorially eclectic. Seemingly nothing doesn’t go well with arch-supporting, custom-made cowboy boots, courtesy of favorite Fort Worth cobblers. Magrane also has some black-and-white wingtips that resemble classic spats and retro sports coats that only a certified fashionista could get away with.

“Oh, he can be very demanding,” acknowledges Jennings. “I’ve said ‘good bye’ to a suit because he wasn’t happy with it. And that’s as it should be. I’m meticulous myself, and I’m expensive.” Indeed, an average Kenneth Jennings Saville Row Bespoke Tailors’ suit sells for $2,500, with some topping out at $10,000.

Magrane favors blues and grays as well as dark stripes and peak lapels. It’s all about “context” and looking “dignified,” he explains.

“It’s important to look classy,” Magrane underscores. “Just like it’s important to be well-mannered. I guess I’m ‘old-school’ on this one.

“As a player, I always thought it was an honor and a privilege to wear a big league uniform,” points out Magrane. “It was important to make a good impression when fans saw you, and you weren’t in a Woodstock tee-shirt and flip flops.”

Among the few places you’ll find the dressed-down Magrane these days: Old Memorial Golf Course, Dubliner’s Irish Pub in South Tampa and within the 6,500 well-appointed square feet of his North Tampa Avila home – nestled next to the Avila links’ 11th hole. He resides there with his wife of 15 years, Renee, and daughters Sophia, 9, and Shannon, 11, students at the Academy of Holy Names in Tampa. All manner of framed family visages — not sports or celebrity memorabilia — dominate the décor.

As does the Magrane sense of humor, according to Renee.

“He tells me I have whoopee-cushion humor, and he’s dry,” she says. “But, yes, he’s always funny around the house.”

And according to Renee, always making the best of found family time in the travel-challenged life that is the cross-country lot of a Major League Baseball broadcaster. That varies from shuttling his daughters to school in the off-season to engaging in animated games of catch in the back yard.

“He has a roughhouse side and he’s a ‘man’s man’ sort,” notes Renee, “but his little girls absolutely steal his heart. He’s a good family person, and he believes in putting time and energy into his kids – and making sure they know right from wrong.”

Between baseball seasons the Magranes make it a point to set aside a weekly “date night.” It’s either a movie or dinner out with close friends. The Capital Grille in International Plaza is a favorite venue as are nearby Roy’s and Flemming’s. On occasion, they’ll escape to a mini get-away at the Don Cesar resort on St. Pete Beach.

However many times he crosses the Howard Frankland Bridge, Magrane says he never takes the commute for granted.

“I never fail to notice what a neat area this is,” says Magrane. “When the sun hits the water, it’s like a post card. And we have it year round. How lucky is that?”

Magrane: The Player

Des Moines, Iowa native Joe Magrane was an All-American pitcher at the University of Arizona and a first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985. He signed for a bonus of $110,000.

In 1987 he finished third in balloting for the National League’s “Rookie of the Year” honors. The next year he led the league in ERA (Earned Run Average) at 2.18. In 1989 he won 18 games for the Cardinals and finished fourth in the NL’s MVP voting.

Little did he know, however, that he had peaked in his third season. A series of arm ailments and three elbow surgeries prematurely ended his career in 1996 at 32.

He joined Tampa Bay – along with broadcast partner Dewayne Staats – and began his 10-year association with the Rays in their inaugural season of 1998. Magrane and Staats are signed through 2008.

Banter Up

* “Steroids in baseball: That’s like putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.”

* “No, I don’t begrudge today’s players making what they do. Hey, you can’t take it with you. That’s why there are no luggage racks on hearses.”

* “I was having dinner the other night with Bono, and he said, ‘Joe, nobody likes a name-dropper.'”

* “There’s a parallel between being a pitcher and a broadcaster. Once the words leave your mouth, there’s no getting them back – just like a bad pitch. I know.”

* “I live on a golf course. Far enough away to not be in the line of fire, close enough to hear the expletives over a missed putt.”

* “Last year Dewayne (Staats) and I reached the exalted status of having our own bobble head give-away. We became caricatures of ourselves. Maybe we are anyhow.”

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