How to Say Goodbye, and Thank You, to Ralph Strangis
Is it possible to put 25 years of memories into context?
Of all the things I read in the immediate aftermath of Ralph Strangis announcing he was leaving the Dallas Stars, this one struck me the most:
1 last thing RE: @RalphStrangis. Don't eulogize. He just took back his life & is probably more alive now than in a long time. Celebrate.— Trey Hill (@squarerootof9) April 23, 2015
He's right. The decision for Strangis, while surely a tough one, is at its heart an opening of possibilities for him personally.
We always talk about how athletes should hang them up at the right moment, finding that balance between when the will and skill start to diminish and before they're a shell of who they once were. It's a hard time and a sad time for everyone involved when it happens, but only they know when it's the best decision for the long-term.
Strangis felt this was that time for him.
It is undoubtedly the end of an era for Stars fans and the organization, the vast majority of whom know nothing other than Strangis as the play-by-play announcer. And that end of an era deserves to be celebrated and remembered and, yes, mourned a bit. Just like the athletes he covered for a quarter of a century, Strangis has decided to hang them up and move on to other pursuits, and just like when the only other comparable Stars icon - Mike Modano - retired, that leads to both happy and sad feelings.
Because Strangis was the voice that brought NHL hockey to Texas, and he was the play-by-play voice that taught the sport to generations of hockey fans. Kids that listened to Ralph call Stanley Cup playoff games in the late 1990s now bring their children to games and use Strangis as the voice to explain all things Stars.
He was as accessible as any member of the organization to both those who could be around the team regularly and those who only made it to one practice or game in their entire time as a fan. He deeply cares about the team beyond the results on the ice, and that came through in every broadcast.
Two thousand games (plus more, but who's counting?). It's hard to put into context just how long that is in sports years, where a player like Brett Hull can be remembered as team legend with a tenure not even 10 percent of that.
Assuming there's no overtime, and we all know that's not true given the Stars affinity for multiple overtimes in the playoffs, that's 120,000+ minutes of hockey. It's at least 83 days of playing time and likely closer to 90 when you consider all the overtime, both regular season and playoffs.
For comparison, Modano played (more or less) 30,700 minutes for the Stars/North Stars franchise in his 1,459 games, or less than a quarter of what Strangis guided the fan through.
That comparison to Modano isn't just because of tenure. As others have said already, Modano was the face of the franchise, but Strangis was its voice. He, along with color man Daryl Reaugh, could break into giggles when players made faces at each other through the glass, be somber when serious incidents occurred and burst out with excitement upon a brilliant play.
They were the soundtrack for the franchise's highs, lows and every in between, taking fans through the initial introduction to the eventual championship, through the valley of bankruptcy and back to the start of a new rise. Reaugh remains in the broadcast booth, but it will be different. Not necessarily better or worse, but different.
Beyond that though, Strangis was a guest in Stars fans home for 20 percent of the nights each year. When a fan flips on a broadcast and turns up the volume, they are in essence welcoming guests for the evening to guide them through a game. It's a strangely intimate, if one-sided, relationship between the people who guide you through an event and those who are invested in the outcome.
In his open goodbye letter to the fans, Strangis said the broadcaster's chair was never his to begin with. That may be true on some level - everything does eventually change, no matter how much we wish it wouldn't - but on another it will always be his. You never forget your first love, after all, and Strangis was as much a part of the team that every Stars fan fell in love with at some point as anything else.
That's what makes the goodbye so difficult and, yes, a little sad. It's the end off a special part of an often underappreciated relationship. There will be no more Ralph and Razor at the helm as there has been for the last 18 years.
In his novel The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler wrote "To say goodbye is to die a little," and that holds true for Stars fans. Goodbyes are hard to say to anyone, let alone a person as singularly identified with this franchise as any other.
Since the decision came so suddenly and after the season was over, though, Stars fans didn't get a chance to say goodbye properly, to thank Ralph for everything he gave to the franchise over the years. Hopefully some time next season they will get the chance to salute the man who will always be the first true voice of the Dallas Stars.