Larry LaPidus photo by Howie Magner
It was a good night to be a part of the Milwaukee Brewers postgame press conference.
Moments before, in the bottom of the ninth, Blake Lalli hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to the left-field warning track, giving the Brewers a 4-3 mid-April win over the San Francisco Giants.
But when manager Ron Roenicke walked into the pressroom, there wasn’t the flurry of questions a Miller Park media newcomer might expect from a room full of sports writers. Instead, as Roenicke sat down at the microphone, the room remained silent.
All eyes were on an older reporter sitting front and center with his glasses far down his nose, gray tufts of hair floating above a pair of hearing aids and a comb in the pocket of his green and blue plaid shirt.
The man broke the silence with a gravelly whisper. “Ron,” he said into his tape recorder, putting a name to the quotes that were about to follow.
And then he dove in, asking the first postgame question of the night, something he’s been doing at Brewers home games for more than 20 years.
In 1992, Larry LaPidus shuffled into a crowded manager’s office after a game in Milwaukee’s old County Stadium. Having worn hearing aids since the third grade, he found his usual spot in the front row and clicked on his tape recorder.
The full-time Milwaukee County social worker and part-time WQFM sports radio host didn’t know then-manager Phil Garner well, but that was about to change.
As LaPidus waited for someone else to ask the first question, Garner decided he’d had enough of the silence.
He pointed to Larry and said, “You will ask the first question every day, and I don’t want one of these types of ‘What was the turning point in the game’ questions. I want a real good question.”
As LaPidus recalls the story 21 years later, the sense of disbelief that overwhelmed him in Garner’s “shoebox” of a manager’s office returns to his face, accented by his now-faded mustache.
“No one in their right mind would ever dream this would happen,” he says. “That’s how a tradition was born. I’ve had the first question ever since.”
LaPidus, now 68 years old, can’t remember what he asked Garner that first day, but he must have started on a high note, because he’s now kicked off more than 1,500 press conferences, asking first questions to eight different Brewers managers.
“I never dreamed that I would last as long as I’ve lasted,” he says. “I live in my own Walter Mitty world, because I’ve got a chance to meet and work with people that the average individual only dreams of meeting.”
LaPidus’ path to becoming a fixture in the Brewers press box was rooted in strong relationships and graced with a bit of luck.
He was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1944 and moved to Wisconsin when he was 10 years old. In 1970, the Brewers’ inaugural season, the self-proclaimed “shortest Texan ever born” worked part time for the team’s public relations department. It was then that he met popular Milwaukee Sentinel sports cartoonist Frank Marasco.
Marasco was in his late 70s and had trouble driving at night, and LaPidus, who lived nearby in Shorewood, became his chauffeur. “We wound up with a beautiful partnership,” LaPidus says. “He became like a grandfather to me. The Brewers were kind enough to give me a parking pass and a season pass, because they knew I was like Frank’s grandson.”
In January 1980, Marasco passed away. LaPidus, still bitten by the baseball bug, began to look for another way to get back into the ballpark. He made a series of audition tapes for radio stations and was hired just before opening day of 1980. His first interview was with former Milwaukee Braves shortstop Denis Menke.
“You get away from the hero worship, and you just take the conversation with the man,” he says, “and you find out there’s so much more to most of these people than just baseball.”
LaPidus’ career in radio took him to several stations, his longest stay being a decade at WQFM, and to Wisconsin’s premier sporting events. It was a stark contrast from his day job. “I kiddingly would say, ‘I work with indigents during the day and multimillionaires at night,’” he says. “I got the whole spectrum of life.”
For LaPidus, radio was a godsend. “I’ve always loved baseball. I was never a good athlete,” he says. “Radio is a love, and I enjoy people, so the two kind of fit into one.”
LaPidus retired as a social worker in 2004 after more than 28 years with Milwaukee County, but today, he continues to live for baseball season. For the last 10 years, he’s worked part time for a wire service located in Philadelphia called The Sports Network.
His main duties for the network include conducting postgame interviews and calling in quotes. He doesn’t have a cell phone, so he makes the calls from a Miller Park landline.
His duties used to include providing in-game updates, but those days have passed. LaPidus has other ways to stay busy during games, though.
After Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse held the Giants hitless through the first three innings of that game in April, Larry scribbles the numbers 0 through 9 on pieces of scrap paper, pops up from his seat in the press box and collects a dollar from 10 eager sports writers. The LaPidus no-hitter pool is underway. Draw the number that corresponds with the batting order slot of the player who breaks up the no-hitter, and you win the pool.
“Very long odds,” Larry says shaking his head as one reporter pulls “0” out of the hat. “You’re hoping for a no-hitter.”
After the flurry of activity, Larry returns to his notepad, waiting for the first-question-worthy moment to happen. “It’s difficult every day to try to think of something new,” he says. “You just always hope that the question you come up with is a good, intelligent question, because you work 81 games with these guys. I can assure you I’ve had many duds.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt was there when Garner anointed Larry with first-question duties. Out of all of Larry’s questions through the years, Haudricourt remembers one in particular that caught him off-guard. “Larry rarely asks a confrontational question,” Haudricourt says. “It’s usually more a case of him getting the manager’s point of view on one particular aspect of the game.
“But once, he asked Ned Yost, ‘How much longer are you going to keep Dave Bush in the rotation?’ Bush was struggling, but Larry rarely, if ever, put a manager on the spot like that, so we all were taken aback somewhat, including Yost.”
LaPidus hasn’t taken a single Brewers game for granted, but he has noticed that it’s easier to ask the first question after some games than others. “The worst thing you can have is a losing streak,” he says. “You have a five-, six-, seven-game losing streak, nobody in that media room is happy.”
But Larry never shies away from his leadoff obligations. “No matter how tough the loss or great the victory, Larry goes first,” Haudricourt says. “So he is the official ice-breaker, no matter what the situation. The rest of the media recognizes that and is pleased to let Larry ask the first question.”
On a few occasions, a Brewers media rookie has jumped the gun, but Larry lets the faux pas go. “It happens, and when it does, fine. I don’t say anything,” LaPidus says. “After awhile, people learned I have the so-called honors.”
And Larry doesn’t bear those honors lightly. “Sometimes, the pressure does get to you a little bit, because some games are not always that exciting,” he says.
He still doesn’t know why Garner called upon him that day in County Stadium, but he wouldn’t claim that it’s because he’s special. “I’m not above-average,” he says. “I’m just a normal person. People have been very nice to me.”
As long as he has a job that gets him into the ballpark and is healthy enough to take his seat in the press box, Larry says he’ll be there after the game to ask the first question, either to Roenicke or the next Brewers manager.
He knows, however, that it won’t last forever. “I kiddingly say I’ve got to start grooming someone,” he says. “Everybody’s replaceable in this world. There’s no one that’s not. And the day that I pass on or get too sick, there’s someone waiting in the wings, and he’ll probably be much better than me.”