Sacramento River Cats

Area baseball beat: Leon Lee is having a ball talking baseball

In his more than 40 years in professional baseball, Leon Lee has been a player, coach, hitting instructor, manager, Pacific Rim coordinator and technical adviser and actor for the 1992 movie “Mr. Baseball.”

He now can add broadcasting to that list.

Lee, 61, has joined veteran broadcaster Johnny Doskow in the River Cats’ radio booth for all home games on 650 AM.

Doskow, 47, who began broadcasting games with Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League in 1973 and is in his 14th season with the River Cats, believes the chemistry he has with Lee is special. He said having Lee on the broadcast makes his job easier.

“It’s been amazing” said Doskow, who has worked more than 3,200 games. “I met Leon back in 2002 when he was a hitting instructor with the Iowa Cubs. I found him to be a very amiable human being. I really liked him.”

Late last season, Lee walked into the media room at Raley Field and began reminiscing about his years of personal experiences. Soon, everyone gravitated toward his smooth, magnetic voice.

“Leon was a Godsend,” Doskow said. “When I heard him speaking, I knew then I had to get him on the air.”

The timing and chemistry was there from the start. River Cats broadcasts have become expanded with the easy manner between Doskow and Lee.

“He adds so much to the game,” Doskow said. “His baseball intelligence is off the charts. It’s an education every night. He’s taught me so much in such a short time about the ins and outs of the game. Even more, he’s able to tell fascinating stories while keeping the pace of the game natural. He keeps everything positive and tells it straight. He’s a natural. He really gets it.”

Lee certainly knows the game well. In seven minor-league seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals’ system, the Grant High School graduate hit .280 with 62 homers and 340 RBIs, and in 10 seasons in the Japanese League, he batted .308 with 268 homers and 884 RBIs. He’s still very popular in Japan, and reporters from Japan have tracked him down at Raley Field.

And Lee loves any chance he gets to talk about baseball.

“Doing games on the radio gives me a legitimate forum to talk baseball,” said Lee, who had no experience as a broadcaster. “I’ve had the privilege to enjoy baseball worldwide and have seen a side of baseball few people have ever experienced. I hope I bring baseball knowledge and game experiences to the table.”

For Lee, it’s been an eye-opener.

“I’ve learned how complicated Johnny’s job truly is,” Lee said. “He’s a master multitasker. All I hope to do is stay out of his way, make things easier for him and give him a chance to refresh himself from time to time.”

As smooth as the duo sounds, the timing and rapport they share should have taken years to perfect.

“What we have works because we don’t compete with each other,” Lee said. “I’m not in the same ballpark (as an announcer) with Johnny and never will be. There are no egos involved here. We complement each other. He makes me better, and I hope there’s an appreciation that I make him better.”

Doskow would like to see Lee – who works as a volunteer – become a permanent fixture in the booth.

“Johnny and Leon are a great combination, and we have been very happy to have Leon join us in the booth,” River Cats general manager Jeff Savage said. “Leon brings a unique perspective to the game and is a wonderful compliment to Johnny. I know Johnny loves his time with Leon, as we all do.”

Doskow hopes to keep his new sidekick.

“Having never done radio and being as good as Leon’s been is amazing,” Doskow said. “When you have a good partner – I mean a really good partner – everything is better. I look forward to every broadcast. Leon is one of the great ambassadors for the game of baseball.”

Lee, who runs California Futures Academy at McAuliffe Memorial Ballparks during the summer, has enjoyed his short time on the airwaves.

“After that first time in the booth last season, Johnny could easily have said, ‘Thanks for coming’ and never brought up working together again,” Lee said. “Instead, he invited me back. I’m having a ball.”