Don Zminda has been a baseball writer, a VP at STATS LLC, and a SABR member for close to four decades, so it’s fair to say that Don knows a lot about baseball. He’s a big fan.
Don’s also a collector, and one of the things he’s collected over the years is baseball broadcasts. In fact, Don is in the process of uploading several radio broadcasts to a new YouTube channel he just created called “Don Zminda“. Simple and elegant name, no?
Don has uploaded (so far) 14 radio broadcasts of baseball games, and there are some real beauties in there. Eleven of them are postseason games, eight of them World Series, and included to date are five of the six 1981 World Series games miked by Vin Scully and Sparky Anderson; two 1982 ALCS games called by Ernie Harwell and Denny Matthews; and that famous 1988 World Series game in which Jack Buck could not believe what he just saw.
The set of three regular season games is composed of the broadcast of a 1965 tilt helmed by Ford Frick Award Winners Bob Elson and Milo Hamilton; the 1984 Jack Morris no-hitter against the White Sox called by then Pale Hose radio men Joe McConnell and Lorn Brown; and the infamous 1982 Fred “Chicken” Stanley game between the Tigers and A’s in which the protagonist appeared to get intentionally picked off second to open up the base for Rickey Henderson to try to surpass Lou Brock’s single season stolen base record.
The quality varies from broadcast to broadcast, as you might expect from the technology available at the time, but they are all at least quite listenable, and some of the broadcasts are clean and clear. These games would make for a pretty good companion on long drives, or as background while puttering around the house.
Again, here is the link to Don Zminda’s YouTube channel:
Live, from the Viceroy of India on Devon Avenue in Chicago!
Well, no, not live. It’s recorded. But it is recorded at the Viceroy of India on Devon Avenue in Chicago, so … there’s that.
This new monthly podcast features a get-together and conversation about the latest news and hot-button issues in baseball, including media issues, from the perspective of four SABR members who by all rights should be too old to work this podcast thing-y:
Jim Walker, Professor Emeritus of Communication at Saint Xavier University in Chicago and author of the seminal baseball media books Center Field Shot and Crack of the Bat, detailing the history of baseball as broadcast on television and radio, respectively.
Each pod runs about 20-25 minutes, a length which fits quite nicely as a quick listen into your own lunch schedule.
As with any new periodic broadcast venture, the first episode is decent listen for a first try; the second episode is a better listen; and we can promise that the third episode will be even better still. So stay tuned for the next pod due out in early March.
We will let you know when the next episode is uploaded, but you can also be automagically informed by following Jim’s SoundCloud account. Just click the orange “Follow” button below:
By now, you might have seen the tweet from one Brooks Marlow, of whom probably very few of us had ever been aware ( I know I wasn’t), but with whom we are quite familiar this morning:
Now, it’s one thing to criticize a broadcaster for their style, delivery, diction, explicit homerism, knowledge of baseball, or any number of legitimate attributes. And I think practically all reasonable, intelligent people would agree that not every criticism of a woman is due to misogyny on the part of the critic. But, I mean, come on: Marlow explicitly and categorically stated that “no lady needs to be on espn talking during a baseball game”. It doesn’t matter that he followed up with “specially Mendoza”, or even tossing off a “sorry” for, I guess, impact reduction purposes—Marlow is categorically rejecting the idea that any woman should work on any ESPN baseball broadcast, ever. He is disparaging and dismissing an entire sex for reasons he does not explain, but explanation or no, this tweet is a practically textbook example of misogyny on the part of Brooks Marlow.
The Astros organization, to their everlasting credit, jumped all over this tweet, following up with one of their own within five minutes of the Marlow original:
Good for them. They acted quickly and decisively to stanch a problem that could have potentially grown to who knows what proportions.
And then, a little more than an hour later, the follow-up tweet from Marlow that leaves a lot to be desired:
Wow. There is a lot to unpack here:
Marlow says he “needs” to apologize. Not that he apologizes, or that he wants to apologize—he needs to apologize. Well, yeah, he needs to apologize, because the organization is obviously making him do it.
Marlow also says he needs to apologize for his tweet “regarding Jessica Mendoza”. Note that he is not actually apologizing to Jessica Mendoza. He is apologizing to the Twittersphere about Jessica Mendoza. In other words, Jessica Mendoza is a prop Marlow is using in some apology-resembling tweet directed to someone else, and not a person directly to whom he should be apologizing. Come on, Brooks: Jessica Mendoza is a person, not a thing.
Marlow terms his tweet as being “inappropriate” and “insensitive”, words which looks awfully familiar-r-r-r .. oh, right! Those are the exact words the Astros organization used in their statement! Now, granted, young baseball players are not considered among the most articulate, eloquent or thoughtful writers, but the lazy parroting of team language here makes Marlow’s apology-adjacent statement come off as perfunctory rather than heartfelt.
Lastly, Marlow wraps up with an exoneration of himself: he says the tweet “does not reflect who I am”. This is the funniest and most ironic part of his fauxpology, in that anyone would reasonably conclude that his original tweet reflects exactly who Brooks Marlow is. But even if his internal moral compass is straighter than he displays in that tweet, his self-serving attempt to excuse himself looks, at best, weak. That he ends with this seems to be an indication that how he comes out looking in all this is of greater concern to him than is delivering an honest apology to his target.
Why is it important that Brooks Marlow learn quickly from his many mistakes here? Because he’s a guy who was drafted out of college in the 29th round by the Astros in 2015, and who “hit” .205/.302/.329 in 300 plate appearances as a 23 year old in High A this season. In other words, Brooks Marlow is, to all appearances, not going to be a professional baseball player for very much longer, which means he will be working in the real world very soon, a world in which he is going to have to learn to treat female work associates as beings equal to him in their humanity, and not as objects.
I’ll be rooting for Brooks Marlow to learn quickly.
The 2016 baseball season is now officially in the books, and in broadcasting terms, it was one of the most momentous in history. Two Ford Frick Award-winning broadcasters, Vin Scully (1982) and Dick Enberg (2015), have stepped away from their baseball mics for good and now head off to their next adventure. (Not for nothing, but Bill Brown, radio play-by-play man for the Astros for the past three decades, is also hanging up the mic, although he has not yet received the Ford Frick Award himself.)
Enberg had a great career, no doubt, but It is universally acknowledged that Scully had been, for a span of at least a decade and a half, the unchallenged, unquestioned dean of baseball broadcasters, mantles previously held by such luminaries as Red Barber, Bob Elson, Byrum Saam, Jack Brickhouse, Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Chuck Thompson, and Ernie Harwell.
Now that Scully is gone, and that Enberg and Brown have headed off into the sunset with him, we now need to contemplate who among the current mikemen should now be considered the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters. That’s what I am asking you, the reader, to do here today: vote for who you believe should take on that exalted title.
The Game is currently blessed with dozens of great, long-time baseball play by play and color commentators. In fact, no fewer than thirty current broadcasters have 30 or more years in the business, an unprecedentedly high number. Not all of them, of course, can qualify for Dean status. But in our opinion, the eight broadcasters who have 40 or more years of experience can qualify, so those are who we would like you to vote on today.
The eight on this ballot include:
Jaime Jarrín: With the Dodgers since 1959, he is the currently the longest-serving Spanish-language radio play-by-play broadcaster in history. In 1998, Jarrín received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Dave Van Horne: Hired as the first Expos English-language radio play-by-play announcer in 1969. Moved to the Marlins in 2001. In 2011, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
Denny Matthews: Hired in 1969 as the first (and still only) radio play-by-play announcer for Kansas City Royals. In 2007, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
Bob Uecker: Began calling play-by-play for the Brewers’ radio broadcasts in 1971. In 2003, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
Mike Shannon: Hired as radio color commentator by the Cardinals in 1972; became the lead voice after Jack Buck’s death in 2002.
Marty Brennaman: Reds radio play-by-play announcer since 1974. In 2000, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
Ken Harrelson: Hired by the Red Sox in 1975 for the TV broadcasts, moving to the White Sox in 1982. Became White Sox GM for 1986, took up with Yankees TV in 1987 before settling in with White Sox TV broadcasts in 1989. “Hawk” was a Frick award finalist in 2007.
Jon Miller: Also well-traveled, first with the A’s for the 1974 season, and had subsequent tenures with the Rangers (1978), Red Sox (1980) and Orioles (1983) before landing with the Giants in 1997. In 2010, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
And now is the time for you to vote for who you believe the Dean of broadcasters should be, below. You may vote for one, two or three broadcasters you believe deserve this august title. Teams and first year broadcasting are shown next to the nominees’ names.
Much has been said about José Fernández during the past 30 or so hours. I can only repeat, rather than add anything new to, the things that have been said about him. He was most assuredly on the Hall of Fame track, a two-time All-Star in four seasons before he turned 24 and author of one of the highest K/9 career totals in history. He also had a compelling personal story surrounding his childhood in and escape from Cuba, extending to his actually saving a life in the process. As I say, all this has been well covered during the past couple of days and there’s nothing new or important I could possibly add to the eulogy of José Fernández.
I can, however, share with you a couple of stints José did on baseball broadcasts. One occurred on August 13, 2014 during a Marlins home tilt against the Cardinals, while he was rehabbing from his Tommy John surgery, and during which he actually spent time in the booth:
The thing that strikes me in these clips is how poised José is. These are videos of, respectively, a 22- and 23-year old kid, speaking a second language he did not pick up until he teens, and doing so using educated-adult-level vocabulary and grammar in a voice that barely hints at an accent. I would venture to say that between these and his 150-watt smile, José Fernández had a broadcasting career assured upon his retirement far into the future.
Our deprivation of seeing that occur wanly pales in comparison to the deprivation José’s family feels today, and we want to add our condolences to the tens of millions that have already been offered up to his family.
It’s pretty well accepted that Vin Scully is, at this moment, baseball’s master storyteller. His 67 years in the booth have bequeathed upon him a wealth of experiences from which to draw anecdotes. It would be totally understandable if you were to believe that Vin has a steel-trap memory that loses nothing over time.
Well, that might be true, but that also doesn’t mean that Vin comes up with his stories all on his little lonesome. There is a team of two helping him with every broadcast, stage manager Boyd Robertson and camera operator Rob Menschel, who have been working with him since 1989 and who not only do their nominal jobs, but also do some of the research that helps Vin develop the stories he will share on a given night’s broadcast.
Take the time the Beatles played Dodger Stadium on the 1966 farewell tour. There is a really great story about how they had trouble eluding fans while trying to leave after having given a concert. What are the chances Vin Scully is knowledgeable enough about Beatles lore to have any idea about the Dodger Stadium incident? Given that Vin was already 38 years old at the time, you would have to conclude the chances are darn slim, at best.
That’s where Rob Menschel, on this case anyway, comes in. He’s an actual music fan, so when Vin drops any kind of reference to rock n’ roll, it usually comes from him. Between himself, Rob and Boyd, Vin can develop a full plate of stories from a wide buffet of topics any one of them may not be expert enough to develop all on his own. The trick for Boyd and Rob, of course, is to find stories that will work in Vin’s voice, including stories about such hip, edgy, current topics as the Beatles.
I won’t relay the Beatles story here. Instead, I encourage you to read the VICE Sports article written by Eric Nusbaum about the process of bringing together all the stories that Vin Scully tells during the course of a typical broadcast.
Committee Member Dr. James Walker, a prolific author of several baseball broadcasting books such as Crack of the Bat and Center Field Shot, penned an article over at the Conversation about this year’s Ford C. Frick Award, Graham McNamee.
McNamee could be considered a somewhat controversial selection for the Frick award. Even though he was the first-ever popular national baseball announcer, there were several holes in what we would consider his professional veneer—meaning that, by today’s standards, he would likely be considered a poor baseball announcer. But McNamee had a strong and pleasant voice that was cut for the stage, and that was exactly the thing that the earliest fans of baseball on the radio wanted from their announcer. In the early and mid-1920s, McNamee was baseball on the radio.
Dr. Walker has generously consented to allow us to reproduce the article in full here.
The 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee you’ve never heard of
When the National Baseball Hall of Fame held its 2016 induction ceremony on July 24, the names of the two player inductees – Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza – were recognized by even the most casual baseball fan. Serious fans (and most New Englanders) celebrated the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writers.
But the fourth name on this year’s list, Graham McNamee, winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters, resonated only with devoted historians of the national pastime. In “Crack of the Bat,” my history of baseball on the radio, I reviewed McNamee’s seminal contribution to the popularization of World Series broadcasts.
Most other Frick winners have been honored during their lifetimes. (Vin Scully won in 1982 and is still broadcasting today.) But McNamee hasn’t broadcast a game in 75 years; he died at 53 in 1942, when television was only an experiment and radio was just over two decades old.
McNamee’s long wait for recognition raises two questions: Who was Graham McNamee? And why did it take 74 years for the Hall of Fame to honor his contribution to baseball broadcasting?
The right voice at the right time
McNamee came to New York in the early 1920s to study singing, only to join the chorus of Gotham’s thousands of struggling vocalists. However, the city was also the center of a nascent network radio industry that had only just begun to generate substantial advertising revenues.
McNamee was in the right place at the right time, with the right voice. In 1923, he joined RCA-owned WEAF (later WNBC) as a staff announcer. WEAF was the nation’s most popular station and ran the first-ever radio commercial, a 10-minute ad for apartments in Jackson Heights paid for by the Queensboro Corporation.
Like all first-generation radio announcers, McNamee did every kind of programming: music, news events and sports. His first significant sportscast was a middleweight championship fight in 1923. While boxing had been broadcast before, stations usually used a ringside reporter who relayed the action by phone to an announcer at the station, who then broadcast the play-by-play to listeners.
McNamee, however, broadcast live from ringside. His breathtaking firsthand account of the contest as it unfolded before his eyes captivated listeners. Big-time, live, emotional sportscasts – just like McNamee’s – were beginning to sell a skeptical public on the new medium of radio.
Boxing was a start, but McNamee’s big break in sports came at the 1923 World Series. The previous year’s World Series had been called by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, but Rice loathed the assignment and refused to broadcast baseball again.
So in 1923, Rice’s colleague at the New York Tribune, W.O. McGeehan, took the mic on WEAF. But after two games he’d had enough. Like Rice, McGeehan found radio’s demand for a steady stream of words very challenging; the medium provided little time for composition and none for editing. So the newspaperman left his post in the fourth inning of Game 3, leaving the mic to his assistant, Graham McNamee.
A radio star was born.
The naysayers emerge
For the next eight years, McNamee became RCA’s voice of the World Series. As the Series’ broadcast reach expanded from the Eastern Seaboard to the Midwest and, finally, to the entire nation, McNamee’s fame grew exponentially. After the 1925 World Series, McNamee received 50,000 letters from fans of his broadcasts. Listeners loved his strong, pleasant voice and detailed, enthusiastic descriptions of the action, which allowed them to better visualize a game they could only see in their minds.
But not every baseball fan was a McNamee fan. From time to time, his attention would stray from the game and to the celebrities in the stands or a letter he had received. He’d be prone to forget the count and even the batter’s name. According to baseball broadcast historian Curt Smith, McNamee freely admitted to being “an entertainer first and broadcaster second.”
So as the novelty of World Series broadcasts faded, some baseball writers became less impressed with broadcasting’s first superstar.
After one game of the 1927 Series, columnist Ring Lardner famously observed, “I attended a double-header, the game [McNamee] was describing and the game I was watching”; a New York Sun headline read “M’Namee’s Eye not on the Ball: Radio Announcer Mixes Up World Series Fans”; and in a scathing criticism, the Boston Globe identified eight problems with McNamee’s call of the opening game, including forgetting to report balls and strikes and leaving the mic for several minutes to get a soft drink.
But most fans still loved McNamee’s style; plus they had few baseball broadcasts to compare with it. In the 1920s, not many teams – and none in New York, Philadelphia or Washington – regularly broadcast games. For most Americans, McNamee’s World Series calls were all they knew.
McNamee also added a number of other high-profile broadcasts to his resume: the inauguration of Calvin Coolidge, the 1927 Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney “long count” heavyweight fight, the 1927 Rose Bowl game and Charles Lindbergh’s return to New York after his solo transatlantic flight.
But by the end of the Roaring Twenties, many announcers began to specialize in covering the national pastime. They included Hal Totten, Quin Ryan and Pat Flanagan in Chicago; Ty Tyson in Detroit; Fred Hoey in Boston; France Laux in St. Louis; Tom Manning in Cleveland; and Harry Hartman in Cincinnati. Each developed his own unique style and vast, local followings.
Meanwhile, though he covered the World Series from 1923 to 1931, McNamee was only working a handful of baseball contests per year because New York teams rarely broadcast regular-season games.
Famous for being the first
Baseball broadcasting was passing him by. Major League Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis valued seasoned professional announcers and pushed NBC (RCA’s network) to move McNamee to pregame coverage for the 1932 World Series. Though McNamee continued to be involved in coverage of the Fall Classic – including narrating a newsreel of Game 3 of the 1935 World Series – he’d been marginalized.
Given his initial fame and role in pioneering the coverage of baseball on radio, why has McNamee been overlooked for so long by the Baseball Hall of Fame?
All previous Frick winners have had long careers, usually with one team. Although some eventually had national profiles, most cut their teeth on the day broadcasts, slowly winning the adulation of a team’s fans. But McNamee was baseball’s broadcast primal star, famous for being the first but not necessarily the best. Longtime Braves and Astros announcer Milo Hamilton, himself a Frick winner, gave a succinct explanation for why McNamee wasn’t in the Hall of Fame: “He didn’t broadcast baseball long enough.”
But in 2013 the Hall of Fame launched a new system for selecting winners that alternates consideration of announcers from three eras. The era for this batch of inductees – the one ending in the mid-1950s – gave McNamee a second chance.
It’s taken the Hall of Fame some time, and many would call it long overdue. In his 1970 book “The Broadcasters,” famous broadcaster Red Barber celebrated the medium’s pioneers, including Graham McNamee.
As Barber explained, what made them so great was “that nobody had ever been called upon before to do such work. They had to go out and do it from scratch. If ever a man did pure, original work, it was Graham McNamee.”
Many knowledgeable baseball fans are already aware of the website MLB Trade Rumors, started by Tim Dierkes in 2005 as a catch-all clearinghouse for … well, major league baseball trade rumors. Since its launch, Dierkes has become pickier about which scoops he runs with, as he has become more savvy about how the rumor market works in baseball, with players, agents, teams and reporters all pariticpating with interest in some way in order to increase their chances of being signed or traded, or to gain a competitive advantage versus another team, or to reward allies and punish rivals.
To me, the most interesting part of the article is how certain members of the the traditional baseball media further their own agenda as power-brokers of the game. Here’s an interesting snippet to consider:
If a player’s reportedly gaining interest from a very specific number of teams—say: “12 teams interested in Yasiel Puig”—that’s information being planted by the agents. “Either the reporter called 12-plus teams, or more likely, the agent told the reporter and they went with it,” says Dierkes. Which highlights the other, more insidious way through which rumors proliferate, which in turn makes it even more difficult to read the hidden messages.
“You see the favor exchange between journalists and agents, and that’s kind of slimy,” says Dierkes. Notice a national reporter mentioning a player who wouldn’t generate interest in a 19-team NL-only fantasy league? That’s a favor to an agent. See a reporter bashing a free agent signing? That reporter didn’t get the information he wanted. “You’d think if that agent was a good buddy of the reporter, he wouldn’t have written that same article,” says Dierkes. “Quid pro quo can be pretty dangerous.”
Now, it’s understandable that when you’re confronted by a fire hose of information every day as the modern print or web reporter is, it seems defensible to sometimes make the decision to go with the tip from an associate in the biz without exhaustively checking it out. But the “favor exchange” seems to be walking the fine line between acceptable and slimy, and we know where Dierkes comes out on it.
Dierkes notes, too, that it’s not only agents reaching out to reporters with a thin statement they hope might blossom into a full-blown reportable rumor. Players, too, participate in this charade, and baseball bloggers operating just off the beaten path of baseball journalism can develop relationships with various players to help them get a leg up on their richer corporate media rivals:
“The [new] wild card is players,” Dierkes says. “They’re becoming sources more than they were pre-Twitter. Young reporters have made names for themselves by messaging some of these players directly, forming relationships that way.”
One such reporter is Dave Williams, a blogger for Barstool Chicago since 2012. While he didn’t get into baseball writing to break rumors, his access has grown alongside his readership. This past year, Williams has seen both the highs and lows of dipping into the rumor mill.
Over the winter, Williams announced that the White Sox had signed Yoenis Cespedes. They did not. “I got burned,” Williams says. Since, he’s been more careful about what he runs, and has been rewarded. On June 10, he announced the team was calling up shortstop prospect Tim Anderson. “I got a text from a minor league teammate of his,” he says. This came a week after his biggest scoop of the year, when he broke the story that the White Sox had traded for James Shields. How’d he get the scoop? “A guy I bought tickets off of followed me on Twitter because he thought I was funny,” he says. “He heard from his mother’s sister’s father’s girlfriend type of deals.”
One quick email to a San Diego beat writer later, and there was enough for Williams to post. With the news soon proven legit by the official announcement of the trade, national reporters had no choice but to admit they’d been scooped by a new breed of trade-rumor reporter—an inadvertent master of Internet discourse, mostly just doing it for fun. “It’s a rush,” Williams says.
Committee member Norm King has shared a link to something any sports media acolyte should relish: a History Channel documentary called “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”, a 1999-2000 effort that was narrated by Joe Mantegna and that features interview pieces with luminaries such as Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, Bob Costas, Jack Whitaker, Jim McKay, author Curt Smith, a young David Halberstam, and more.
The tone of the documentary is rather heroic and superficial, with the kind of dramatic martial type musical bed frequently associated with televised sports in general. But that is, of course, perfectly fine, because the point of the doc is to feature historical clips of TV and radio calls of yore, as well as to give us some topline backgrounding on the history of sports broadcasting and its most famous practitioners.
This is a VCR recording converted to digital to be uploaded to YouTube, so it includes commercials from its broadcast. I am assuming this was the broadcast premier of the doc, since one of the commercials is for Ameritrade, and during the spot they have an offer to rebate half your trade commissions if you open an account “between 1/1/00 and 2/29/00.” This was back during the go-go stock trading atmosphere of the Dot-com Bubble which came crashing down later that year, and I apologize for dredging up flashbacks if your own portfolio got creamed in the melee. (My 401(k) certainly took a hit). But as a snapshot in time, not only does this video capture vintage broadcasters in their relative youth (or even alive), but it reflects a unique moment in American history.
This doc also contemplates more than just baseball, giving a significant amount of time over to the history of the broadcasting of football as it, too, was emerging to prominence.
The doc wraps up around the 49:00 mark but runs another fifteen minutes of commercials and the intro to the next program, the NBA All-Star Game Slam Dunk contest on TSN. Not relevant to the doc, of course, but again, if you’re an amateur anthropologist, you might have an amateur’s interest in how a person viewed TV in the year 2000.