Radio personality Ralph Barbieri is Sharks Fan #1 at KNBR 680, and has been screeching his way into the hearts of many Bay Area listeners for many years, but never mine.
So, what do you do when your own personal, love-to-hate on-air personality reveals, as told today by San Francisco Chronicle writer Scott Ostler, that he has been battling Parkinson’s disease since 2002?
What do you do when your pariah is really a stand-up gentleman, consummate professional and courageous, loving father?
Gut check time.
Full disclosure, Ralph Barbieri has always flown the Teal flag proudly, and he might be the only local on-air evangelist for the San Jose Sharks that there is. Most other guys will hit the Sharks topic only during clinching playoff games, free agent splashes or during slow news days, but not Ralph. Barbieri, over the years, has regularly welcomed Sharks players and coaches on the air, talked actual hockey for entire segments, put Sharks callers on the air, religiously traveled to home and away games…and yet something about the guy has always rubbed me raw.
Maybe it was his incessant shilling for Amici’s pizza that did it, or maybe it was his routine hammering of some person in the news as being pretentious or egotistical right before he sent listeners to commercial with his personal, nauseating tag line of “angels fly, because they take themselves lightly”.
I mean, who do you know in your own life that actually does take themselves lightly…and has an friggin’ personal tagline?
Maybe it was the relentless reminding of his Wharton post-graduate pedigree, or seeming desire to have to constantly wow you with his command of effete, obscure vocabulary every five minutes. Maybe it was just his voice, which is an aural, Wiccan marriage of early Joe Pesci and ESPN’s Chris Berman, after Berman’s voice has gone into full gravel-gargle mode late Sunday nights.
Maybe it was all of this wrapped up into one arrogant, garish package and stuck before me on television and radio for the majority of my life here on the Peninsula that made me cringe whenever I heard him.
Know what though? I still listened to him didn’t I? Through all of it, never turned that channel or flipped the station. Barbieri drives me utterly, flipping crazy, and I keep coming back for more, because in the end he entertains me with what I find to be reckless provocations, authoritative know-it-all rants, blind condescension…and yeah, that crazy voice.
As a good friend once counseled me that in writing, if you’re not causing some sort of visceral reaction with your points in either emotional direction, then you’re just not doing your job. At your very best, your words should be sparking arguments, offering unique perspective that causes people to adjust their thinking a little, and yeah, along the way hopefully tick a few people off.
More specifically, when writing in the post-apocalyptic, free-for-all blogosphere, it can be a little hard to see through the troll haze as your family and dog (?) are coming under attack because you teased the Los Angeles Kings a little. Thing is, every comment offered is always proof positive that you, at the very least, are motivating somebody to spend part of their limited time on Earth in telling a complete stranger where to shove it.
Ralph Barbieri cannot be ignored. Seriously, I’ve tried.
I am not going to change my opinion of his polarizing style simply because it has been revealed that he’s been struggling with Parkinson’s disease. I mean, I don’t know him, but I would expect he’d hate it if people starting using his disease as a reason to blunt the edges of their reactions. I will say I owe him an expression of respect from one unknown character…to one not so much unknown here in the Bay. Ralph Barbieri is a time-tested professional, whose extreme personal character, as reflected today by Ostler, puts him into a very rare company of men.
Finally, I owe it to Barbieri to continue getting riled up by his half-baked points and tangents as I tune into KNBR 680, like the true glutton for punishment I apparently am. I owe him the respect of cringing when that Amici’s spot comes on for the 8th or 28th time. They make me pine for the rarity that are Tom Tolbert’s “Sleep Train” spots. I mean, it’s great pizza already, I get it, but eating it won’t get me closer to perfect self-realization. I owe him the hate-texting exchange my buddy and I engage in, when he starts railing on the USF sports program, as if the entirety of the Bay Area was hanging with baited breath on what Ralph’s opinion of their former director of athletics was.
Ralph, I can’t stand your points on just about everything in sports, but can only hope that I would have the grace to face what you are doing, and do it in such a classy manner.
Now please, we are all waiting…go ahead and take credit for Alex Smith’s recent performance. I know it’s coming Ralph, and the suspense is maddening…or vexingly neddlesome as you might term it.
God Bless and Go Sharks!
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