Kelly Saunders, the former WJZ-TV reporter who holds the distinction of being the first female to serve as the public address announcer for the Orioles, has died. Sanders, who was 62, passed away early Friday morning from cancer, according to DCRTV.com.
A veteran of Washington, D.C.-area radio stations, Saunders also worked in radio in Baltimore at WBAL-AM and WIYY-FM. But it was her pinch-hitting appearance for legendary Orioles PA announcer Rex Barney in 1992 that made her the answer to a unique O’s trivia question. Here is a YouTube video of a 1989 WJZ-TV interview with rock ‘n’ roll legend Del Shannon before an appearance in Baltimore.
Barney, the former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, was in his 23rd season as the club’s primary PA voice in 1992 when he was hospitalized in late May following the amputation of his right leg below the knee due to circulatory problems, a complication of diabetes.
While Barney was recuperating, the Orioles auditioned possible back-up announcers. According to this Associated Press article, Sanders was suggested by someone in the team’s sound department. She served as the PA announcer for a June 20 game, a 9-5 loss to the New York Yankees at Camden Yards
“My hat is off to the Orioles for being this innovative to give a woman this chance,” said Saunders, who acknowledged she was surprised the team contacted her. “Maybe if I do well, it will give women the same chance in other organizations.”
At the time, it was believed - based on information from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and Major League Baseball - that Sanders was the first woman to ever serve as a PA voice in the major leagues. It was later learned that she was the second woman to serve in that capacity, though it is unclear exactly who beat Saunders to the microphone.
Since then, several teams have utilized women as their ballpark voices. Leslie Sterling served in that capacity for the Red Sox from 1994-96, becoming the first African American woman to perform the role, and the San Francisco Giants have perhaps the longest-tenured female PA announcer in Renel Brooks-Moon, a local radio personality. Brooks-Moon has had the gig since 2000, after replacing another female voice, Sherry Davis, who was the PA announcer at Candlestick Park from 1993 to 1999, when the Giants moved into AT&T Field. Brooks-Moon, currently the lone female PA voice in the majors, was recognized as the first woman to call a championship game in any major sport when she worked the 2002 World Series.