By Michael Fitzpatrick
As a college pitcher in the 1970s, Fred McLeod one day dreamed of pitching in the Major Leagues.
A right-handed pitcher who was good enough to go undefeated (13-0) during his college career at Point Park University as a reliever/spot starter, he ended up with a career in pro sports, only not as a pitcher, but instead, as the television play-by-play man for two NBA franchises.
McLeod, who has been doing the Cleveland Cavalier broadcasts with Austin Carr since the 2006-2007 season, said a career in broadcasting seemed like a natural progression for him.
“I would do play-by-play in my backyard (as a kid growing up). It was just ingrained. I would listen to other broadcasters and would know their names. All around the country, not just locally,” said McLeod, who lives in Bay Village with his wife, Beth McLeod, who does the weather on WOIO Channel 19 and its sister station, WUAB Channel 43.
Fred McLeod was actually born in Strongsville, but moved with his family to the Pittsburgh area when in middle school.
He was a good enough high school basketball player to average 12 points a game as a No. 2 guard, and good enough in baseball to play in college.
It was while playing baseball during his senior year in college he caught the break that got him in the door that would eventually provide an opportunity to do play-by-play work in the NBA, with the Cavs and, prior to that, the Detroit Pistons.
McLeod and his teammates had traveled to St. Joseph, Mo., to play in the College World Series. While sitting in his hotel room, McLeod found himself flicking through the channels when he came across a local newscast on KQTV. McLeod noticed the station had the weather guy also doing the sports. With the knowledge that he likely wasn’t going to pitch for a living, and with a background in broadcasting (he’d interned at a Pittsburgh NBC affiliate), McLeod called the station’s news director.
“I said do you think at any point you’ll be looking for a sports guy. And he said they were,” McLeod recalled.
McLeod blew off his team’s practice that day, telling his coach he was sick, and headed down to the station to cut an audition tape.
A week later he got a call telling him he was hired.
McLeod had no doubt he could do the job.
“I felt I was ready. Sometimes you think you are cut out and born to do something and that was it. I graduated on a Friday and loaded up my car and was on air the next Monday,” said McLeod, who talked about his career after a recent Cavs’ shoot-around at the team’s practice facility in Independence.
From Missouri he went to Stuebenville, and by the age of 26 had already made his way to Cleveland where he worked as sports reporter at then WJKW TV-8 and as a television announcer. By 1979, he was doing Indians games on TV with Joe Castiglione, who has gone on to become the longtime radio voice of the Boston Red Sox.
McLeod left Cleveland for San Francisco and did broadcast work for the Oakland A’s before heading to Detroit where, in 1984, he began doing play-by-play on Detroit Pistons telecasts — a job he held until he came back to Cleveland in 2006.
During his time in Cleveland, McLeod has become known for his signature calls, such as “Right down Euclid” which he’ll use to describe a wide-open layup or “The bottom” when a Cavs player drains a jumper.
“You just feel it,” McLeod said when asked how he came up with his signature calls. “When people enjoy it, then you go to it. The important thing is not to overuse it. Maybe once a game. Euclid Avenue is our main avenue, so that’s our lane. That’s where those things organically start.”
Although he played baseball and announced some Major League baseball, he prefers calling NBA games.
“I just love the speed of it. Baseball, I inherently knew more, but now 34 years into it (working NBA games), you learn more, you study it. I just love keeping up with the speed of the game,” McLeod said.
Another thing McLeod loves, he said, is living in Bay Village.
“It’s sort of a homecoming for my wife,” McLeod said of he and his wife’s decision to live in Bay. “She went to elementary school there. We love how the people are so community-oriented and just the parks and the lake. We love going home. So the summers, we don’t really go anywhere. How are you going to beat it?”
A Clevelander through and through, McLeod was as emotional as any fan after the Cavs broke through and won the NBA title in June, ending the city’s 52-year title drought. McLeod, who was actually calling the game with Austin Carr for the fans who watched the game at Quicken Loans Arena, famously broke down into tears after the final buzzer sounded.
A video of the moment shows McLeod seconds after the buzzer sounds bury his face in his hands and start to cry with emotion, his shoulders shaking.
“That’s living here,” McLeod said when asked where did all that emotion bubble up from. “Memories of my Dad on Father’s Day and listening to the Browns when they won the championship and all those memories came flooding back. Fifty-two years, I’m a Clevelander through and through,” McLeod said.
He’s also an expert on the NBA who had a front row seat to watch Michael Jordan when Jordan was playing for the Bulls and McLeod was calling Piston games, and has also gotten to watch many years of LeBron James’ career. That all said, it’s interesting to hear McLeod’s opinion on who he’d rather have if he were starting an NBA franchise: MJ or the “Kid from Akron” as McLeod often calls LeBron.
McLeod pauses for a moment before answering.
“Hmm. Man, Jordan’s still the best, but LeBron’s body of work is still growing, so we’ll see what happens. I would venture to say he impacts the game in not more ways but just as many. Let’s see what happens when he’s all done. He’s got a lot of miles left.”
And as for advice to any youngster who might want to one day follow in McLeod’s footsteps?
“Learn to write and just being incredibly passionate about your craft and know there is no substitute for preparation,” McLeod said.
He forgot to add one other suggestion: Make good use of your sick days. He sure did.