For a team that has not done a great job of honoring its former players, the Mets have a few former players that the fans have decided to honor themselves with their love and support. One of those former players is Ron Darling, who announced a leave of absence from the broadcast booth due to the necessary removal of a mass from his chest.
“Over the last couple of months, I have not been feeling well. A series of tests revealed a large mass on my chest which will require surgery next week to remove. The doctors have told me if there are no complications I should be back on air talking baseball sometime next month. I would personally like to thank my family, friends and media partners for all their support during this difficult time.”
Darling had a good career on the Mets, winning 99 games, putting up a 3.50 ERA, 25 complete games, 1148 strikeouts, and a 101 ERA+. But it is perhaps as a broadcaster that Darling has left his most indelible mark on the franchise.
Since 2006, along with Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen, Darling has been one of the voices of the Mets on television, and his commentary has been the soundtrack to the modern day team. Darling is a sharp color man on the Mets’ broadcasts, bringing a pitcher’s perspective to the game, often discussing pitch sequence and general strategy when on the mound. As the Mets are a team, then and now, built around pitching, Darling’s analysis is a vitally important piece of the home-watching experience.
But more than that, Darling, along with Hernandez, also lets his personality bleed through into every game he calls, whether it is making Warren Zevon references or discussing brunch in Brooklyn. While Keith discusses red wine and his cat, Ronnie talks about being a new dad again, or humble-brags about going to see Steve Aoki. Keith is the mythic figure, sighing loudly and seeming larger than life. Ron seems more like a guy you’d encounter at a backyard cookout, who tells you what he’s listening to or reading at the moment.
He and Cohen clearly enjoy each other’s company, with gentle ribbing and laughter emanating from every game. Occasionally, they throw a relatively obscure early 80s punk reference out there, and music geeks like me jump up from our couches. Even if you’re not an X fan, Ron, Keith, and Gary all bring such personal anecdotes and let their tastes come through, whether it Keith’s recent disdain for cotton candy or the continued debates over the best way to keep score, that you feel like these are people you know and care about.
Because of that familiarity, both earned by 13 years in the Mets’ booth and assumed by his natural style on the air, when news of Darling’s illness hit, it felt like a gut punch. Because of his regular presence in our lives, this feels more shocking and urgent than news of Tom Seaver’s dementia or Ed Kranepool’s need for a kidney, though no less sad or tragic. And, because his book, 108 Stitches has recently made headlines, Darling was in the public eye even more lately.
On a personal note, I had a chance to interview Ron earlier this month about his book, and found him gregarious, forthcoming, and a delight to talk to. We only had about a minute of pre-and post-interview chat, but he thanked me for taking the time and apologized for having rescheduled from an earlier date. We’ll contrast this with a former broadcaster who now has a position on a team’s managerial staff, who I spoke with a few years ago. He pushed our interview off for six straight hours, every half hour asking for more time, and then hung up on me when I was trying to thank him for the interview. Ron was pure class to deal with, and it shows whether you hear him on SNY, or have the opportunity to interact with him outside of the broadcast booth.
And so, we take this time to wish Ronnie well, and hope that we don’t have to suffer through whoever the broadcast equivalent of a bench player is, for too long. Mets games just aren’t the same without Ron in the booth.
Get well soon, RJ.