MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sometimes, the news hits all too close to home, as it does with this story.
We’re sad to report that longtime WCCO-TV sports personality Ralph Jon Fritz is battling cancer.
Fritz didn’t want friends and longtime viewers to learn about his fight second hand, so he took the direct approach of contacting as many friends as possible by way of an open email.
“This is without a doubt, the most difficult E-mail I have ever sent,” Fritz wrote. “Within the past week, I have been diagnosed with Stomach Cancer that is inoperable.”
While exuding a sense of confidence that he will continue living his life as normal as possible during his fight, Fritz goes on to express thanks and appreciation for what he’s been given and all the wonderful people in his life.
For all the times he made us laugh, the news is tempered with tears.
“That was the most human letter that I’ve ever read. Even facing the problems he’s facing he said he’s the luckiest man in the world to have friends and colleagues like he’s had in his life,” close friend and former colleague Don Shelby said. “If anybody, anybody in the world can beat this, it’s RJ.”
Fritz retired in 2005 after a 44-year broadcast career; most of it spent anchoring and covering sports at WCCO-TV.
Through that time he became known for his unique and, at times, quirky style of storytelling. Clearly he was both extremely clever and creative in the many voices and characters he’d include in his repertoire.
In an interview prior to his retirement, Fritz laughed, “Don’t get too serious about it. This is sports! Weather is the serious stuff!”
Mark Rosen remains close with Fritz and considers him one of his most important sports influences. Rosen says it was uncanny how many times Fritz would appear unprepared for an event, only to dazzle viewers once the camera was on.
“He’d have his script written on the back of a matchbook cover,” Rosen said.
He just had lunch with Fritz while down in Fort Meyers covering Twins spring training. They spoke by phone on Thursday morning.
“He wanted to let everyone know that, ‘I’ve got a battle on my hands, but I want you to know first-hand what I’m dealing with here,'” Rosen said.
Regardless of the story or sports event, Fritz had a special license to make reporting it fun, like the time Vikings coach Bud Grant let Fritz wear his father’s old leather football helmet without any face gear.
“With your nose you don’t need a nose guard,” Grant said.
Now the only game that matters is being there for a friend in need.
“He connected with people through the television screen, that’s why people gravitated towards him because he’s like your neighbor, just one guy you’d want to hang out with and play cribbage with and have a beer with.”
Fritz was also known to viewers for his syndicated program “Out ‘N’ About with R.J. Fritz.”