2016 MAJOR LEAGUE BROADCAST REVIEWS

Many baseball fans have their favorite and least favorite broadcasters. This preference is often correlated with what team follows (or hates). This was especially true long ago, when you could only hear the local clubs or those you’d pick up at night over a transistor radio. But the Internet age—thanks, MLB.com—has made it possible to hear and see every club’s broadcasts, both on radio and television.

As a student of baseball broadcasting history, I thought it might be appropriate to “rate” the current MLB radio and TV broadcast teams. This involves listening to and watching a lot of baseball (not a terrible thing, right?) not only for the result but also for the way the games are delivered.

I rated these men and women—well, woman, anyway—on voice quality, knowledge of the game, analytical skills, and interaction with their partners. (And does anyone really think that Jenny Cavnar, Jessica Mendoza, or Jeanne Zelasko wouldn’t be qualified to work games? I can think of some current play-by-play men that I’d replace in a minute.)

Overall, I’m a pretty tough sell; while no individual or club rated below C-, there also aren’t a lot of A’s. Most clubs have at least an average broadcast, with few announcers, analysts, or overall game packages rating below B-. The narrowing of the types of broadcasters hired—most emerge from broadcasting schools with similar “professional” voices and pedigrees—has raised the floor for broadcast quality but also lowered the ceiling.

These ratings are sorted by American and National League franchises, partially because I’m a cranky traditionalist but primarily because it makes these lists easier to read.

In addition to rating the broadcast teams, I’ll also offer my top ten play-by-play voices and ten favorite analysts. (Note that radio has fewer high-rated “analysts”; this is because there are fewer analysts in general. Many clubs go with a pair of professional voices on radio rather than a play-by-play and a color announcer, as is usually done on television.)

Please also note that there are more broadcasters that I rate B+ and B than fit on these top 10 lists.

While I would love to rank the Spanish-language broadcasts—and all teams now have it except the Orioles, Indians, Tigers, Blue Jays, Braves, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, and Nats—my skills en Español are not really up to par. (And that’s to say nothing of the Korean broadcasts the Dodgers offer.) So I’m challenging you bi- or tri-linguals out there: which Spanish MLB broadcasts and broadcasters are the best?

Below are the rankings. Thanks for reading!

 

THE RADIO BROADCASTS

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Baltimore Orioles: On a good day, the play-by-play men are inoffensive. Jim Hunter can and has risen above the others. C

Boston Red Sox: Ex-Pittsburgher Tim Neverett is the new second man to Joe Castiglione. Using two capable play-by-play men with different styles works here. B

Chicago White Sox: Apparently, you either love Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson or you don’t get them at all. C

Cleveland Indians: Tom Hamilton is among the best, and minor league vet Jim Rosenhaus helps. But this solid two-man duo begs for some analytic component. B

Detroit Tigers: Lead voice Dan Dickerson is fine, but Jim Price—who carried Ernie Harwell in his final few seasons—is slowing. B-

Houston Astros: Robert Ford has projectable skills. B-

Kansas City Royals: Denny Mathews, with the team since its inception, is in his victory lap. Ryan Lefebvre deserves the #1 job if he wants it. B-

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Serviceable announcers, serviceable broadcast. B-

Minnesota Twins: Twins voice Cory Provus is a pro (vus), but he needs more help than he’s getting. B-

New York Yankees: John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are entertaining, I’ll give ‘em that! B-

Oakland Athletics: Longtime play-by-play man Ken Korach is solid. B

Seattle Mariners: While neither Rick Rizzs nor Aaron Goldsmith will light you on fire, they’re enough. B

Tampa Bay Rays: Pretty marginal, but congrats to Andy Freed and Dave Wills for working their ways up. C+

Texas Rangers: Eric Nadel remains a quality voice and Matt Hicks is getting there. B

Toronto Blue Jays: They really need to turn down the PA feed during home broadcasts. It’s beyond irritating. B-

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Arizona Diamondbacks: Greg Schulte has a hearty timbre uncommon among modern baseball announcers. B-

Atlanta Braves: There’s not much excitement here, but it goes down easy. B-

Chicago Cubs: Pat Hughes is entirely in his milieu. B

Cincinnati Reds: The overall show is weak, but at least Marty Brennaman offers the possibility of a non-P.C. eruption. C+

Colorado Rockies: Thrills are not on offer here. C+

Los Angeles Dodgers: This franchise deserves better. A few years ago, they tried internet broadcasts with Jeanne Zelasko and Mark Sweeney. Why not them? C

Miami Marlins: Thrills are definitely not on offer here. C

Milwaukee Brewers: Not sure if either of the new guys are fit to replace Bob Uecker, but the franchise may elect to find out anyway. B-

New York Mets: Among the top listens in the game despite a lack of ex-player analysis. B+

Philadelphia Phillies: There’s no A-level talent here, but many teams do far worse. B

Pittsburgh Pirates: Five reasonably solid guys, good play-by-play and some decent analysis. The rotating between TV and radio is a bit disorienting. B+

St. Louis Cardinals: Mike Shannon is an institution, but he’s no longer adept at play-by-play—if he ever was. John Rooney sounds … comfortable. B-

San Diego Padres: Ted Leitner, like poutine, stuffed pizza, and the runza, appears to be a dish that you have to be a local to enjoy. C+

San Francisco Giants: Jon Miller and Dave Flemming are the top MLB duo on radio. A-

Washington Nationals: Their radio voices are trained, experienced, and unexciting. B-

 

THE TELEVISION AND CABLE BROADCASTS

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Baltimore Orioles: For one thing, Gary Thorne and his “three-RBI homer” have to go. C+

Boston Red Sox: Dave O’Brien is a stable replacement for Don Orsillo. This is one of the better telecasts in the game. B

Chicago White Sox: Jason Benetti? A comer. Steve Stone? One of the very best analysts. And then there’s the Hawk. B-

Cleveland Indians: These guys are capable, if a bit dry. B-

Detroit Tigers: Mario Impemba is a student of the craft, but these telecasts lack quality analysis and imagination. B-

Houston Astros: While TV does not mandate an overly busy delivery, it does call for some excitement. B-

Kansas City Royals: Ryan Lefebvre is awfully good, a distinction that his Royals TV cohorts cannot claim. B-

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Almost annoyingly average. How is “Drive…home…safely!” anyone’s idea of a thrilling walk-off call? B-

Minnesota Twins: Dick Bremer is still well above par. B

New York Yankees: Ken Singleton is that rare bird—an ex-player excellent at analysis and quite good at play-by-play. B

Oakland Athletics: Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse have rapport. B

Seattle Mariners: One of the more enthusiastic broadcasts you’ll see; Dave Sims is quite the spicy enchilada. B

Tampa Bay Rays: DeWayne Staats isn’t really any worse than he ever was. Brian Anderson is helpful. B-

Texas Rangers: Fill-in Dave Raymond has injected some much-needed professionalism into this telecast. C

Toronto Blue Jays: Hiring Dan Shulman to do play-by-play for 30 telecasts this year only makes Buck Martinez look worse. B-

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Arizona Diamondbacks: Zing-less presentation of a dull team. C

Atlanta Braves: This franchise used to be a model of how to do a baseball telecast. That was a long time ago. C+

Chicago Cubs: Jim Deshaies can blend humor and analysis, but an endless stream of in-game ads and promotions limits him. B

Cincinnati Reds: Even Chris Welsh has slipped a little. C+

Colorado Rockies: Drew Goodman & Co. deliver a quality view with good chemistry and analysis. B

Los Angeles Dodgers: Nobody could fill Vin Scully’s shoes, but better Joe Davis tries to than Charley Steiner. B

Miami Marlins: The decision to release Tommy Hutton from his color duties has harmed the product. B-

Milwaukee Brewers: This telecast really suffers when Brian Anderson is covering the NBA. B

New York Mets: The best baseball broadcast around: fine play-by-play, flow, humor, and incisive commentary. A

Philadelphia Phillies: The parts are reliable enough and they mesh okay. Matt Stairs is a rich man’s John Kruk. B-

Pittsburgh Pirates: More than decent all the way around. B+

St. Louis Cardinals: The play-by-play men talk far too much and the analysts are only average. C+

San Diego Padres: While Dick Enberg, in his last season, retains some charm, the broadcast will be better with Don Orsillo. B-

San Francisco Giants: Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow are in the top echelon, but as ex-players, they could provide more analysis. A-

Washington Nationals: At least nobody has to listen to Rob Dibble any longer. C

 

TOP TEN AT PLAY-BY-PLAY (sorted alphabetically within grades)

A             Gary Cohen, Mets TV

A-           Brian Anderson, Brewers TV

A-           Duane Kuiper, Giants TV/radio

A-           Jon Miller, Giants radio/TV

A-           Vin Scully, Dodgers TV/radio

B+           Dick Bremer, Twins TV

B+           Tom Hamilton, Indians radio

B+           Pat Hughes, Cubs, radio

B+           Ryan Lefebvre, Royals TV/radio

B+           Howie Rose, Mets radio

 

TOP TEN COLOR ANALYSTS (sorted alphabetically within grades)

A-           Ron Darling, Mets TV

A-           Ken Singleton, Yankees TV

B+           Jim Deshaies, Cubs TV

B+           Steve Stone, White Sox TV

B             Mike Blowers, Mariners TV

B             Ray Fosse, Athletics TV/radio

B             Jeff Huson, Rockies TV

B             Mike Krukow, Giants TV/radio

B             Jose Mota, Angels radio

B             Jerry Remy, Red Sox TV

 

Stuart Shea wrote Calling the Game: Baseball Broadcasting from 1920 to the Present, published by SABR in 2015.

Recently Discovered: Excerpt of Cubs at Dodgers, April 22, 1958, WGN Radio

Today we are reposting a post from the blog Inches per Second, maintained by Bob Purse, a self-described “father of two amazing young women” who’s “married to the most wonderful woman in the world”. (Lucky man!)

His website is  dedicated to playing historical audio as captured on reel-to-reel tapes. Not all of it is baseball-related—in fact, as far as I can see, almost none of it is—but his latest posts features a terrific find by Committee member Stu Shea, generously mentioned within, featuring an interview and game coverage of the Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers on April 22, 1958, a game that was, in fact, the fourth-ever regular season major league baseball game ever played in Los Angeles. (Spoiler alert: Dodgers beat the Cubs, 4-2.)

Here’s the story, with audio, below. Enjoy!


 

With the Chicago Cubs currently leading all of baseball, posting the best record seen by any team in 32 years, and the best Cubs start in 109 years, what better time for a bit of radio and baseball history, involving the Cubs.

Today’s tape was generously donated to this site by my best pal Stu Shea, who has written several books, including several on baseball and music, among other things, and who also often offers up comments on this site and my other blog. THANK YOU, STU!!!

Here’s what Stu has to say about this tape:

This is a recording of the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers on WGN radio, Chicago, from April 22, 1958. This is the first season that the Dodgers were in LA after having moved from Brooklyn.

Included is a pregame interview between Cubs broadcaster Lou Boudreau and Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese–then 39 and in his last year as an active player–and some of the game’s action.

There are not many tapes in existence of Jack Quinlan, the Cubs’ play-by-play radio announcer, from his time in Chicago. He was a very highly regarded baseball voice who died in a car accident during 1965 spring training. He was just 38.

A couple of things to add. This was the very first time the Cubs or their announcers were seeing the L.A. Coliseum as it was in those days reconfigured for baseball. It was, as I’ve read, perhaps the least appropriate venue for major league baseball in history, and much of the discussion in these segments concerns the various aspects of the park.

I’ve divided the tape into the pregame interview and lead-up to the game, followed by the play-by-play of the first inning (which is all that’s on the tape of the actual game). Also worth noting is the lack of a commercial break at either the half-inning point or after the first inning, and, in a bit of sad irony, Quinlan makes note of a noted basketball coach who had died that day in a car crash, just as Quinlan himself would, seven years later.

Download: Lou Boudreau and Jack Quinlan – Pregame Show with Pee Wee Reese and Comments Before the Game

Play:

Download: Jack Quinlan and Lou Boudreau – Cubs Vs. Dodgers, First Inning

Play:

As the tape spooled down to its last few minutes, whoever recorded the Cubs broadcast switched over to a faintly received St. Louis station, and captured just a few minutes of a Cardinals broadcast, featuring two already well-known men, both of whom would become even more famous broadcasters in the coming years, Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola. And even here, the oddities about baseball at the L.A. Coliseum end up being discussed! Here is that brief segment:

Download: Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola – Cardinals Broadcast:

Play:

And in case you’ve never seen one, here is a picture of the L.A. Coliseum, as it was configured for baseball:

LA Coliseum 1958

How Radio Gave Baseball Its Voice (Paul Dickson)

The National Pastime Museum is a website rich with historical baseball articles written by some of SABR’s brightest lights, as well as some of the top working journalists in the game.  If you haven’t been there yet, head on over when you’ve got a few minutes to kill.

An interesting baseball media article published there recently was written by Paul Dickson, who is probably most famous in baseball circles for publishing The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, which you can buy here or, if you have at least a halfway decent library available to you, check it out from there.  But Dickson has authored enough baseball and non-baseball books, over 65 of them, to have a pretty impressive Wikipedia page dedicated to him.

The article Dickson recently published, which we republish in full below, is titled “How Radio Gave Baseball its Voice“, and while it’s not a comprehensive history of baseball on the radio, it does include some of the key figures of the early radio business, and is a nice, easy, breezy read.

Thanks to Becki Hartke, Director of the National Pastime Museum. You can join almost 2,500 other followers of their twitter feed at @TNPMuseum.


 

HOW RADIO GAVE BASEBALL ITS VOICE

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On August 5, 1921, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a 25-year-old studio announcer for radio station KDKA sat in a box seat behind home plate in Forbes Field. Using only a converted telephone as a microphone and some jury-rigged equipment, Harold Arlin broadcast the first Major League Baseball game, calling every play in a game between the Pirates and the Phillies, which the Pirates won 8–5.

Arlin later recalled that this pioneering event was merely an experiment—a “one-off”—and that most of the staff at the station thought that baseball would never be commercially viable on radio.

For the moment the conclusion reached by Arlin and his peers seemed on target. That year’s World Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants was broadcast locally, and the broadcast the following year of the 1922 World Series was linked to more than one station, but these were novelties with little impact on the regular baseball season or the consciousness of the fans.

The first great radio success came in 1923 with the Chicago Cubs, which was due to the open-mindedness of Phil Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, and his progressive president William Veeck—not to be confused with his son Bill Veeck. Wrigley, a great advocate of advertising, had been the perfect owner for Veeck to work with. One of the combined legacies of the two men was radio, which both men saw as the perfect vehicle for selling the Cubs as a regional franchise. Veeck especially welcomed free radio coverage of Cubs games, and one of the reasons he gave for this was that radio educated new fans in the subtleties of baseball, and this was especially true for women. Wrigley firmly believed that radio would increase ticket sales and yield a wider regional fan base.

Late in the 1923 season, Judith Waller, managing director of radio station WMAQ, came to Wrigley asking for a 30-day trial of broadcasting live Cubs games. At the end of the trial, listeners were asked to send in letters expressing their feelings about the broadcasts. The letters came in bundles from all over the Midwest. A Wisconsin dentist wrote, “I have had no trouble with my patients since I installed the radio for the Cubs games. They sit and listen and let me work.” An Indiana farmer wrote that he had a radio rigged in his field and caught the score as he finished each turn of the plow. He said, “Don’t stop it.”

The experimenting continued and culminated on June 1, 1925, when WMAQ became the first station in the United States to broadcast every home baseball game, an arrangement that continued for many seasons. Surprisingly, the deal with WMAQ was not exclusive, and the Cubs allowed other broadcasters to set up next to the press box and provide live accounts of the game on the radio. At any given moment through the late 1920s, as many as five radio stations carried the games live. But the key was WMAQ, a clear-channel 50,000-watt monster that could be heard over much of the Midwest in the day and over most of the East Coast at night when the AM signal was stronger. “The middle as well as the country at large was becoming Cub-conscious,” newsman John P. Carmichael later wrote of the WMAQ deal. “The team was on its way to fame and fortune.” [i]

In his 1946 history of the Cubs, journalist Warren Brown maintained that beyond spreading the Cubs gospel, radio did increase attendance for the team. His evidence: from 1918 to 1924, when the Cubs averaged fourth place in the National League standings, they drew 3,585,439 patrons for that seven-year period; and from 1925 to 1931, with a club that averaged fourth place in the National League standings, the Cubs, for that seven-year period, drew 7,845,700 patrons. To quote Brown, “That represents a gain of 119%. Over the same period, the other seven clubs gained 27% in home attendance.”

But despite the success of the Cubs as the decade wore on, a majority of the other teams were increasingly fearful, believing radio would cut down on ticket sales by allowing the lukewarm fan—or the fan with little disposable income—to stay home and get a word picture of the game for nothing. The Boston teams—the NL Boston Bees (later the Braves) and the Red Sox—began broadcasting some of their games in 1926.

Baseball Magazine, July 1930

Then along came the crash of 1929 and the fear of broadcasting seemed to intensify. Owners pointed to the declining sales of sheet music and phonograph records as evidence of radio’s negative impact on traditional media. But there was one notable exception—in 1929 the Cincinnati Reds became the second club to air regular radio broadcasts of all their home games.

In December 1931, 11 of 16 Major League teams came to the winter meetings in Chicago planning to establish a ban on all radio coverage, but the measure had to be tabled. The night before the ban was to be discussed, the Cubs had agreed to a new radio contract for the 1932 season, infuriating those who feared the consequences. President William Harridge of the American League intimated that if radio became an issue with the newspapers, he would recommend that broadcasts be eliminated. “Newspaper publicity made baseball,” said Harridge, who had the support of the Baseball Writers Association, which had expressed the belief that radio was cutting down on the sale of “EXTRA” editions of their newspapers.[ii] [iii]

As the Depression deepened, the opinion of the majority of owners solidified around the notion that radio kept fans from the ballpark. Nowhere was this belief more strongly held than in the greater New York area, where, in 1934, a five-year pact between the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and the New York Yankees went into effect banning all radio coverage. Added to this fear that radio was sapping the vitality of baseball was the emergence of serial melodramas known as soap operas, which often ran when afternoon games were played.

If radio was declared the enemy of baseball in New York, it was not universal. The Cincinnati Reds reported that radio was adding to ticket sales, and the commitment to the medium redoubled when Powel Crosley, the largest manufacturer of radios in the world, bought the team in 1934.

Crosley’s general manager was Larry MacPhail, the red-faced, sandy-haired, heavy-drinking protégé of Branch Rickey who had revived the ailing Reds and turned them into a money-making contender. His innovations in Cincinnati included regular radio broadcasts employing another redhead—a young Floridian named Red Barber—and night baseball.

MacPhail was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers during the winter of 1938–39, and on February 5, MacPhail announced that the Dodgers would be the first team to break the New York area radio ban, and all of the team’s games would be broadcast on WOR—a 50,000-watt powerhouse of a station. Sponsors had been lined up, and broadcaster Red Barber was hired to be the voice of the team.

Source: The Trading Card Database, www.tradingcarddb.com

Later in the month at the National League winter meeting, the Giants announced they were also opting out of the radio agreement. At the end of that meeting, the only radio holdout in either league was the New York Yankees, which succumbed shortly thereafter. [iv]

Meanwhile, after being first hired by MacPhail, Barber went to spring training to get the lowdown on the players so that he could talk about them—and not just what they did between the white lines. New Yorkers had heard him before—and apparently liked him despite or because of his homespun southern delivery—as the announcer for the 1938 World Series and radio voice of the Army–Notre Dame football game staged at Yankee Stadium a few months earlier. His voice, made for radio, was soothing, and his approach to calling a game was colorful and rich in rural metaphor—Ebbets Field would soon become “the Flatbush pea patch.” Barber was a man of “you alls” and “yes, ma’ams” headed for a place mocked for “dems” and “dose.” [v]

Barber was one of the most influential of the new broadcast personalities who gave the game its voice through the war years and beyond and in the process became as important to the face of many teams as the players themselves. Another such figure was Mel Allen, another southern voice, who became the Yankee’s first play-by-play man. During his long radio career, Allen called more World Series (20) and All-Star Games (24) on radio than anyone in history. Barber, who later went to the Yankees after 15 years with the Dodgers, was also instrumental in the development of another brilliant redhead, Vin Scully. Beginning with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, Scully apprenticed under his watchful eyes and critical ears. The amazing Scully has called Dodgers games on two coasts in seven decades including the present one.

As it turned out, radio became the vehicle by which baseball thrived. As Gerald Nachman put it in his book Raised on Radio, “Radio quickly became a crucial arm of sports in America, spreading the gospel of baseball in the 1920s to 1950s.”

When television came along, the fear was that radio would be the loser to the new medium, but radio remains vital today as teams set up their own networks to keep far-flung fans connected to their favorite teams. Currently, the last team to buy into radio has 52 stations linked on the Yankees Radio Network, which reaches across 15 states including Alaska.

 


[i] Carmichael, 1993, Chicago Daily News, biography.
[ii] San Jose News, December 8, 1931.
[iii] Normally reserved for a crisis—but often extended to baseball—these were special editions hastily printed and hawked by street vendors. During a World Series, there would be at least one newsboy on every corner.
[iv] Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1938.
[v] The Sporting News, March 16, 1939, p. 6.

Major League Broadcast Booth Changes Don’t Open Minor League Doors

The Major League Baseball season consists of 2,430 games played over the next six months, and with each of those games broadcast on television and radio, hundreds of commentators get involved. While the phrase “you can’t tell them without a scorecard” originally applied to players, with more than 40 of those announcers changing jobs this winter, we thought it might be good to give them a rundown as well.

If you caught ESPN’s Opening Night broadcast on Sunday, you discovered a new top team for the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ coverage of the national pastime. While Dan Shulman begins his sixth season in the booth, his partners are both gone. John Kruk returns to Baseball Tonight, while Curt Schilling’s month-long departure from the Sunday night booth last September has become permanent.

Just as she did last fall, Jessica Mendoza replaces Schilling: Aaron Boone slides over from Monday-night duty to replace Schilling. Eduardo Perez will join Schilling in the analyst chair on Monday nights, with Karl Ravech or Dave Flemming handling play-by-play.

When Fox starts its coverage this weekend, it too will make a change at the top, with John Smoltz replacing the duo of Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci.

Below is a look at the changes coming to local broadcasts around the league, broken down by division. But before we get there, let’s get the easy listings out of the way: if you’re a fan of the Rays, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Twins, Astros, Angels, Mariners, Mets, Braves, Nationals, Giants or Reds, you’ll get more of the same from last season.

While 17 teams changed something about their broadcasts, that doesn’t appear to have created any vacancies at the AAA level. Every new major-league play-by-play voice save one came from a supporting role at a national network or from another major-league booth, and the lone exception jumped from NCAA Division I to MLB.

In fact, the directory at Broadcaster411.com lists just two new lead play-by-play voices in AA and AAA:Tyler Murray takes over at AA New Hampshire while Chris Adams-Wall steps in at AA New Hampshire.

American League East

Former Red Sox second sacker Jerry Remy has a new partner in the television booth this season as the organization sacked Don Orsillo following a 15-year tenure. Dave O’Brien moves from the radio booth to TV, and New Hampshire native Tim Neverett moves in from the Pirates’ broadcast crew to replace O’Brien on the radio.

Dan Shulman continues his gig as the play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, but also returns home for 30 Blue Jays telecasts on Sportsnet, where he’ll join Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler.

In Baltimore, Fred Manfra will cut back to about a third of the Orioles’ games. Jim Hunter, who was one of several analysts on the television side, will lead the committee to replace him.

American League Central

The White Sox move radio flagships from WSCR 670 to WLS 890, paving the way for the Cubs to take over CBS’s 50,000-watt all-sports station in the nation’s third-largest radio market. With the Blackhawks on WGN 720, the Bulls on WMVP 1000 and the Bears on WBBM 780, all five major Chicago sports teams are on different Class A stations for the next few months.

On the television side, the Pale Hose make another change, and it’s one that will be met with jubilation or despair but not much in between: Ken Harrelson will cut his schedule in half for his 27th straight season in the booth. “The Hawk,” who turns 75 over Labor Day weekend, has taken the unusual step of cutting his schedule back to predominantly road games because each home game comes with a 100-mile commute one way from his home in Granger, Ind. Jason Benetti, a 32-year-old Syracuse University graduate who called games at the local AAA team before joining ESPN in 2011, will handle the remaining half of the schedule.

The Tigers will swap play-by-play announcers between TV and radio for 13 games this season with Mario Impemba moving to radio and Dan Dickerson handling TV duties. Michigan native Dick Enberg, who is signing off from the Padres booth after the season (more on that below), will also step in for a game.

American League West

A Rangers broadcast crew with three 60-something announcers will get a bit of relief as 43-year-old Dave Raymond joins the staff. A Stanford graduate who was one of three men splitting in the Astros radio booth from 2006-12, Raymond will work 43 games on radio with Steve Busby, permitting Tom Grieve to dial back his schedule. Raymond will also fill in for Eric Nadel on the radio side, working with Matt Hicks.

In Oakland, Mark Mulder will join the television booth for 20 games.

National League East

The Miami Marlins dispense with television analyst Tommy Hutton after 19 seasons. The Miami Herald reported that the team believed Hutton was too negative: as media columnist Barry Jackson observed, “Hutton’s dismissal serves as a disconcerting reminder that many teams prefer cheerleaders in the booth, announcers who won’t rock the boat and certainly won’t openly question coaching or personnel decisions.”

Eduardo Perez, Preston Wilson and Al Leiter will alternate alongside Rich Waltz in Hutton’s place, leaving Leiter in the unique position of working local telecasts for both the Yankees and Marlins.

In Philadelphia, the Phillies will have just one flagship station instead of two as they drop WPHT 1210 for an exclusive home on WIP 94.1.

National League Central

The Pirates, who lost Tim Neverett to Boston, ransack divisional rival Milwaukee for a replacement. Joe Block steps aside as Milwaukee’s no. 2 radio voice to join Greg Brown in the Steel City, where the announcers alternate TV and radio duties from one game to the nexr.

With Block out, Jeff Levering assumes the title of “Bob Uecker’s backup” in Milwaukee: he serves as the secondary play-by-play announcer for home games and leads the broadcast when Uecker is absent on the road. Last year, Levering was the third man on the totem pole, which meant he joined Block to do color on the road. That means that Levering is, in effect, partnering with his own replacement this year: Lane Grindle steps in after a decade covering baseball at the University of Nebraska.

Longtime Cardinal voice Mike Shannon cuts road games out of his schedule after trimming most non-division road games some time ago. Rick Horton and Al Hrabosky, who also work the television side of things, were the fill-ins last season, and Jim Edmonds is set to join Fox Sports Midwest this year.

As mentioned above, the Cubs slide from one CBS radio station to another, departing WBBM 780 for WSCR 670.

National League West

The Rockies require two men to replace the retired George Frazier in the TV color chair: Ryan Spilborghs and Jeff Huson will join Drew Goodman on Root Sports Rocky Mountain.

At the age of 81, Dick Enberg has decided that the 2016 season will be his last with the Padres on Fox Sports San Diego. Former Red Sox voice Don Orsillo is the successor in waiting: he will cover a part-time schedule of TV and radio games this season before taking over full-time on television next spring.

Ted Leitner returns to the Padres radio booth as the play-by-play man, despite the fact that sounds to me like the guy who reads the fine print at the end of car commercials. He has a new partner, as Bob Scanlan shifts to working for Padres.com and former fill-in Jesse Agler steps in beside Leitner.

Up the California coast, another legend prepares to say goodbye. Vin Scully, who was in his second year covering the Dodgers when Bobby Thomson smacked the Shot Heard ’Round The World in 1951 and whose broadcasting career spans 67 years, says the 2016 season will most likely be his last. Joe Davis of Fox Sports, who is nearly 60 years Scully’s junior, joins the broadcast booth at Chavez Ravine, where he’ll cover 50 games on television.

Jeff Munn departs the Diamondbacks radio booth, where he was the pregame and postgame host who also pinch-hit on play-by-play occasionally. Mike Ferrin leaves MLB Network on SiriusXM to replace him.

So, if you’re keeping score, the Giants are the lone NL West team to return all of its on-air talent.

Grantland Rice’s Legacy in the Deadball Era

The Deadball Committee of SABR has done terrific yeoman’s work in expanding the knowledge base of the baseball that was played during the era 1900-1919. There are nearly four hundred super-dedicated and knowledgeable members in the Committee; they have a solid library of historical newsletters available; they even have a very active Yahoo Discussions group.  The Committee is chaired by John McMurray, who also happens to be the vice-chair of the Baseball and the Media Committee as well.

While there is an impressive body of work detailing the players of the era, they also contemplate the era’s non-players, in this case, the sportswriters.  McMurray has recently published an overview of Grantland Rice, considered one ofthe most famous writers from the era, and he has graciously consented to allow us to reprint it here in full for your enjoyment.


 

McMurray: Grantland Rice’s legacy in the Deadball Era

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the SABR Deadball Era Committee’s February 2016 newsletter. To learn more about the Deadball Era Committee, click here.

By John McMurray

Even with the large number of new books on the Deadball Era published annually, it is worthwhile on occasion to recall prior works which illuminate figures who may have fallen a bit outside of the Deadball Era Committee’s view. One such person is writer Grantland Rice. Known best for his writing for the weekly magazine Collier’s, Rice himself was never a major league beat reporter, recognized instead for his prolific columns that touched on many sports and which often included a poem and clever twists of phrase. While Rice’s connection with baseball may seem attenuated relative to, say, the more regular interactions with players that Ring Lardner or Heywood Broun enjoyed, Rice nevertheless was influential in several important episodes of the Deadball Era.

Rice’s impact is given a comprehensive and thoughtful treatment in Sportswriter: The Life and Times of Grantland Rice by Charles Fountain, published in 1993. That Rice — a colossal figure in American sportswriting — has been the subject of only a few biographies (though two other volumes on him were published in the 1990s, including one by William Harper of more than 600 pages) may suggest that Deadball Era researchers would be better served to spend more time examining the role of reporters of the time, as these writers served as an essential liaison between the game and its burgeoning fan base.

Consider that when Ty Cobb famously sent postcards under various fictitious names to try and promote himself as a young player, he sent them to Rice, recognizing the impact of the then-local reporter’s writing. “He is a terrific hitter and faster than a deer,” said one, while another asked: “Have you seen Ty Cobb play ball yet? He is the fastest mover I’ve seen in baseball.” Rice subsequently wrote a column about the budding star which was overflowing with praise. That Cobb was in the major leagues within a year is often credited in large part to his surreptitious interactions with Rice.

In 1916, as Babe Ruth was firmly establishing himself as a star pitcher, it was Rice who suggested that praise for Ruth’s pitching prowess was overblown. Fountain noted that, in contrast to the praise that Rice often bestowed on young stars, he chided Ruth for being out of shape and exclaimed that “Ruth is still too young at this business to be classed with Rube Waddell or Eddie Plank or Nap Rucker.” Rice went on to say “quite a stretch of time lies between Ruth and lasting greatness.” It is reasonable to infer that the biting comments from Rice’s widely-read column made Ruth’s eventual switch to being a full-time hitter somewhat more palatable to his readers.

In 1917, Rice also used his platform to insist that John McGraw should be suspended for an incident with National League President John Tener. Rice’s columns, along with those of several of his contemporaries, drew attention to to the matter, applying pressure which resulted in McGraw’s eventual suspension.  Still, Rice is recognized more so today for helping to shape opinion of the Black Sox as the 1919 World Series scandal grew. He pointed out inconsistency in Eddie Cicotte’s play, for instance, saying, “Eddie, instead of jumping swiftly for the ball, took his time with all the leisure of a steel striker.” Playing up what Fountain called “the out-of-character aspect of (the team’s play),” Rice also used the word “fix” in print early on and also was outspoken on the deleterious effects that the performance of the Black Sox had on the game itself. Again, Rice moved and shaped popular opinion, having an effect on events that followed.

Of course, all contemporary baseball writers enjoyed outsized influence, essentially serving as the voices for particular teams to an audience which had few other outlets. But Rice himself had a disproportionate impact on the sporting scene of the early 20th century. In an interview with The Inside Game, Fountain said: “Rice was a combination of baseball-reference.com, the whole ESPN empire, and whoever passes as sports journalism celebrity today.” His column had an extraordinary influence.

There were other moments when Rice was ahead of his contemporaries. Rice himself noted “Every one (sic) knows the reserve clause in baseball will not stand the test of American law,” a sentiment uttered by few in the press at the time. There was also an element of craftsmanship to his writing, as Rice was strategic in his pronouncements while retaining an air of positivity. As Fountain points out in the book, although Rice disapproved of Connie Mack selling his Philadelphia Athletics players, thereby plunging the team into mediocrity, Rice did not take Mack to task for it in print; rather, he praised Charles Comiskey for being aggressive in purchasing players, as Rice knew that his own opinions about Mack would be inferred by readers.

Rice in part set the tone for sportswriting of the time, writing with what Fountain calls “respect for the intelligence and the involvement of the reader.” The same approach applied when Rice was writing about minor league baseball for the Nashville Tennessean from 1907 through 1910, his only time as a baseball beat reporter. Rice’s approach was literary and classically-based, deriving in part from his appreciation for Latin and the subtleties of language more generally. A phrase such as “the tumult dies” (in Rice’s famous “Game Called” poem from 1910) or a reference in a column to “crack slabsmen” imbue his work with creativity.

With time, Rice’s reputation has suffered as the core principles of journalism have changed. No longer do reporters ignore or brush aside the off-field behavior of athletes, as Rice did, nor do they serve as universally-happy mythmakers, intent on shaping a positive view of sports from top to bottom. “The role of the sportswriter at that time was to sell newspapers and tickets, and not necessarily in that order,” Fountain said.

Fountain suggests in the book that Rice’s rhapsodic, and usually uncritical, approach to covering star players would likely see him today banished to a local paper reporting on the exploits of high school athletes rather than taking on the hard-hitting issues of the day in professional sports. But the opposite side of that coin, according to Fountain, is that even if Rice had wanted to expose the character flaws of players he covered, he likely would not have had a receptive publisher:

“Had Rice written a piece about Ty Cobb that showed Cobb in all his complexity and nuance, Rice would have had a hard time finding a place to publish that,” Fountain said. “I doubt very much whether his syndicate of newspapers would have wanted that in a sports column, and I doubt very much whether Collier’s or any of the magazines that he wrote for would have wanted that in a profile. Readers wanted heroes in those days, wherever they were. He delivered what newspaper publishers and readers and magazine publishers and readers wanted at the time. Had he delivered anything else, they wouldn’t have bought it.

Rice now is often impugned for his lofty prose, with critics typically referencing his effusive 1924 column about Notre Dame’s football team. (“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again,” Rice wrote. “In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”) Still, whether he was analogizing major sporting events to Civil War battles or linking star athletes to figures from Greek mythology, Rice’s soaring prose helped to define sportswriting in his era.

Independent of whether one appreciates Rice’s writing style and approach, he is an important figure in the history of sports journalism and one who impacted the Deadball Era. Fountain’s work makes one appreciate how intertwined Rice was with the Deadball Era, even if Rice himself, because of the wide scope of his writing, is not viewed as a baseball reporter first and foremost. Rice’s baseball columns are one illustration of the impact that Deadball Era writers and reporters could have on the game, and his extensive body of work underscores how important a role a writer could play at a time when newspapers were indeed king.

JOHN McMURRAY is chair of SABR’s Deadball Era Research Committee. Contact him atdeadball@sabr.org.

Here’s Your Bullet Point Guide to the Garber v. MLB Broadcast Lawsuit Settlement

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. ..."
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. …”

A lot of pixels have been spilled about the settlement in the lawsuit named Garber et al v. MLB et al, aka, the lawsuit to strike down too high prices for baseball packages and those ridiculous blackout restrictions to boot.

There are a lot of facts about what the settlement means to us, the regular fans, flying around in multiples stories, so I thought it might be helpful summarize everything in a handy-dandy series of bullet points.

So, without further ado, here is what the settlement in Garber v MLB means to us fans as of today:

  • Single-team packages will be made available at a cost of $84.99 for the 2016 season.  These single-team packages will be available to out-of-market viewers only, e.g., Tigers games for fans in Tampa; Cubs games for fans in Phoenix; Cardinals games for fans in Chicago; you get the idea. If you’re a Tigers fan living in Detroit, the Tiger team package will still not be available to you. You will not need to authenticate your credentials with your cable or satellite provider to get this package.  So, cord cutters welcome here.
  • The cost of the MLB.TV Premium will also be lowered as part of the settlement, from $129.99 to $109.99.  What Premium gives you over MLB.TV Basic is away radio audio overlay; a free MLB At Bat app (worth ~$20); and access to games on devices other than just computers and laptops, including smartphones and “over the top” devices such as Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, etc. Click here for a current device list.
  • For the next five years, the price for the single-team and MLB.TV packages can rise each year by only the greater of (a) 3%, or (b) the annual national cost-of-living adjustment.  That means the most the package will cost in 2020 is $95.99 for the single-team, and $123.99 overall.  (This part in particular is how you can tell that it was lawyers who worked out this settlement.)
  • In addition to the MLB.tv streaming service, satellite and cable providers may also elect to offer single-team packages for out-of-market teams as well.  However, at least in the case of national providers, they would have to offer packages for all 30 teams and not just, say, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs only.  Price of this is still TBD.
  • Extra Innings packages, available through DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity and several other providers, will reduce their prices from 2015 levels by 12.5% for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.  Actual prices are yet to be determined and should be available to DirecTV customers in early February.
  • If you are a fan living in an area that is “unserved” by any satellite or cable service at all, you will be able to get an exemption to the in-market blackout rule and buy packages that include your market’s team, based on your (billing?) address.
  • By the All-Star break, MLB.tv will offer an additional option called “Follow Your Team”.  This is completely different from the single-team package above.  FYT will allow you to watch the out-of market broadcast (only) of your in-market team when they are playing out of town. For example, if you’re a Tigers fan and they’re playing the Twins at Target Field, with this option you will be able to tune into the Twins telecast (but not the Tigers telecast) if you are physically in the Tigers market at the time.  This option will cost $10 on top of your MLB.tv subscription. Understand four things, though: (1) Your local RSN has to give consent for fans in their area to participate in this offer; (2) even if they do consent, to get this, you will need to authenticate your credentials through your cable or satellite provider—cord cutters not welcome here; (3) you can’t just get the FYT as a $10 standalone. It’s available only an add-on to a full MLB.tv subscription; and (4) you will still not be able to see any of a in-market team’s home games on MLB.tv at all while physically in that market.
  • Blackout rules are not affected by this settlement at all.  They still apply in the same way they always have. So if you live in Iowa, Las Vegas or Hawaii, you will still not be able to watch those six blacked-out teams’ telecasts on your MLB.tv, same as before, except if you subscribe to their “Follow Your Team” feed, and then only their away games, and even then only the away team’s telecasts, and even even then except if they’re playing another team that also happens to be blacked out in your area!

Separately from (although likely spurred by) this case, last November, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a three-year deal in which the fifteen regional sports networks controlled by FOX Sports would begin offering in-market streaming of games during the 2016 season, provided FOX regional sports network viewers authenticate with their cable or satellite provider.  Last Tuesday’s settlement extends this deal to Subscribers of DirecTV and Comcast’s sports nets as well. The only teams now not covered by this separate agreement are the Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Red Sox.

You can read the entire case settlement here:

Garber et al v. MLB et al

The $64 question at hand: Is this settlement a win for the fans? That depends on your point of view. If you believe that any loosening of the labyrinthine MLB broadcast restrictions counts as a positive, and it would for many fans, then yes, this is a win for them.  If your definition of “win” is complete freedom to watch any team in any market on any device you choose, then there is a long way to go before you will be able to claim that level of victory.

Nevertheless, many industry observers believe this settlement is a key step toward positioning MLB’s digital arm, BAM Tech, for a future of viewing untethered to expensive cable, in which BAM Tech will be able compete with Netflix, Hulu and other like content providers in delivering original content.  This future would have to include the erosion of the blackout restrictions still in place for it to be a serious contender among those original content providers, but given the rate at which people have been cutting the cord of late, it seems to be a pretty good bet that Baseball and its affiliate clubs will find a way to rework its Luddite restrictions sooner than later to achieve this end.

 

Baseball’s Upholding of the Pete Rose Ban: Least Surprising Outcome Ever.

So it looks as though, finally, Baseball has closed the door on Pete Rose’s reinstatement, locked it, and thrown away the key for good. Did anyone seriously expect otherwise? Maybe those people with big hopes who believe in the kind of magic that changes hardened hearts and minds—maybe they thought there was a chance. Pete’s suffered enough, they say—25 years is a long time, too long. C’mon, he’s the Hit King™, for cry eye, one of the greatest players in baseball history. There are lots worse guys than Pete in the Hall of Fame. Give the guy a break, would ya?

For those of us who, for better or worse, are grounded in the Realpolitik of the everyday world, though, this outcome was always a foregone conclusion.

The wailing of Pete’s most ardent apologists notwithstanding, I think most people are very comfortable with this (presumably) final decision. Pete has repeatedly shot himself in the foot on this subject from the word “go”, up to and including his September 24 meeting with Manfred, during which Pete not only denied any memory of betting on games he was involved in as a player, a fact which had been revealed in an ESPN report earlier this year, but also, in horrifyingly clueless fashion, admitted that he still likes to gamble on baseball these days.

Maybe there was no way Rob Manfred was ever going to let Pete back into the game under any circumstances, but Pete’s admissions in their meeting made this a far easier task for Manfred than he had a right to hope for.

But this no-brainer decision was not just about Pete Rose. It was also about maintaining the global integrity of Baseball’s position on gambling on ballgames. After all, what would have happened had Manfred relented and let Pete back in? Wouldn’t Baseball have to let back in everybody else who’d ever been declared permanently ineligible for gambling, including all the Black Sox? And wouldn’t Baseball have to forego the permanent ineligibility death sentence, which has been etched into its rules for a century, for all future in-game gambling incidents that might arise? And if Baseball simply ignored such inconsistencies and decided that Pete Rose was a special case for whatever reason, wouldn’t they have to explain and defend that decision over and over again in the public square in perpetuity? That scenario represents a parade of horribles that Baseball wisely wanted no part of. Regarding the situation in that light, it’s easy to see why his continued banishment was a fait accompli.

Of course, Baseball has a huge skeleton in its own closet when it comes to their current relationship with Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) behemoths DraftKings and FanDuel.  For the moment, Baseball can still maintain that DFS is, as the industry mantra goes, a “Game! Of! Skill!“, although a recent decision by the New York Supreme Court begs to differ on that point. (DFS sites are currently still operating in New York under a stay of injunction while the decision is being further reviewed.) Whether the ink-stained wretches go after Manfred on their DFS connection and hold his feet to the fire in the wake of the Rose decision remains to be seen.

None of that matters as it relates to Pete Rose, though. That particular horse has left the barn, and it ain’t coming back.

Below is a re-posting of an article we originally published in April, after the announcement that Pete would join FS1’s major league pre-game coverage, in which we originally presented our case that not only would Baseball not reinstate Pete this year, but they in fact can never, ever reinstate Pete Rose.

Enjoy!


It was announced this past Saturday afternoon that Pete Rose had been hired by Fox Sports to be a guest analyst on the MLB pregame shows airing on the broadcast network and on Fox Sports 1, as well as being a commentator on several other Fox baseball programs. Since Fox Sports is not part of Major League Baseball—at least not technically—Rose’s permanent ineligibility status does not extend to its game broadcasts.

“No, I am not Elton John. Why the hell are you asking me that!?”

In the FoxSports.com article that broke the story, “Rose said that he is not joining FOX with the idea that it will help him gain reinstatement.  ‘I don’t even worry about that. I’ve never thought about that,’ Rose said. “I’m just trying to give back to baseball …'”

If that sounds disingenuous to you, don’t blame yourself for being a nasty person not willing to give poor Pete the benefit of the doubt. Pete Rose is, after all, a proven liar when it comes to how his gambling behavior interfaced with his roles as an active performer either playing or managing in major league baseball contests.  At first he claimed he never bet on baseball games he was involved in.  But then he said that he had indeed done so, but admitted such only once he believed that coming clean would help his case for reinstatement. But hey, don’t worry, Pete says: I never bet on my team to lose.

We’ll probably never know the truth about that one, though, since Baseball agreed to halt its continuing investigation of Rose once he agreed to accept the permanent ineligibility penalty for the involvement he did admit to.  In the final analysis, Pete struck out with his delayed honesty strategy.

I suspect the last couple of paragraphs read as though I am anti-Pete Rose. I’m really not, as far as it goes.  It’s true I’m not a fan of the guy—never have been, perhaps in part because I grew up in Detroit as an American League fan. Maybe that’s why I’m not clamoring for his reinstatement as are so many of my age peers who grew up with Charlie Hustle as their #1 baseball hero. I do recognize, though, that other things being equal, a man with his on-field résumé should receive a slam-dunk, first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. Other things are decidedly not equal, though, and a Hall of Fame induction can’t happen for Rose until Baseball reinstates him.

And despite that Rob Manfred has said that he will be taking “a full and fresh look” at the Pete Rose case, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict, right now, that there is no way Manfred, or any number of his successors, will ever reinstate Rose. I believe that the only way Baseball can reinstate Pete is if they change the rules and start allowing players and managers to bet on baseball games they are involved in. But as long as they intend to keep the rule intact, they are duty-bound to keep him out.

(There is a third alternative: keep the rule intact for everyone except Pete. But then Baseball would have to explain why they are making an exception just for Pete, though, and they definitely don’t want any part of that exercise.)

I get why a lot of people want Pete Rose in, and I am sympathetic to their argument that after 25 years, Pete Rose has suffered enough and should be reinstated by Baseball so he can take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.  But even granting that, I have no sympathy for Pete Rose himself, because since 1921 or thereabouts, posted in every major league clubhouse is rule 21(d):

BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared
ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

This is as clear and unambiguous as it gets.  Bet on a game you’re not involved in: one-year ban.  Bet on a game you are involved in: permanent ineligibility.  Not a “lifetime ban”, mind you. Permanent ineligibility. That’s substantially different.

Pete Rose and his supporters might have a case if his penalty had been applied capriciously or dictated by personal fiat.  Neither is the case. The penalty is written in plain black and white and was posted in the clubhouse for Pete to see during every one of the 3,562 games he played and the 785 games he managed.  No major league player since since the 1920s can claim ignorance of either the rule or its consequences, least of all Pete himself.

To reinstate Pete Rose would be to open up every other case of permanent ineligibility handed down for gambling on baseball games in which the baseballer had a duty to perform, including the eight men put out for the Black Sox scandal. That might suit many people just fine, perhaps including a few of our friends on the Black Sox Scandal Committee. But it would also call into question how Baseball can maintain this penalty for future infractions.  They couldn’t, of course, so they would have to take a considerable amount of time and effort to debate what an alternative proper penalty should be.

Pete Rose Baseball
 I know you are, Pete. I know.

Such a debate, in addition to an actual reinstatement of Rose, would dominate the baseball headlines for years afterwards, casting a pall on the whole of the sport, including on all the actual baseball games that Baseball is working so hard to market to fans so they can continue reaping their annual billions in revenue and profits. All this while trying to maintain, with a straight face, that the competitive integrity of the game of baseball is now as ever above reproach, even as they ease up on the strictures and penalties against players and coaches gambling on games they are involved in.

Given that, why on Earth would Major League Baseball ever reinstate Pete Rose?  Besides creating a lot of noise around the game for years and years, what’s in it for them?  Where is the “there” there?

I don’t think there is a “there” there.  Baseball depends on the goodwill of not only its fan base and corporate sponsors, but of Congress, the guarantor of its precious Sherman antitrust exemption. Because although this exemption is worth billions to Baseball, it also gives Congress the right to stick its nose into Baseball’s business when it feels like it, and Baseball can do nothing but grin painfully and say “be my guest” while they do so.  So the last thing Baseball wants, or needs, is congressional oversight in the wake of any perceived weakening of its stance on in-game gambling by people in a position to affect the game’s outcome. Just give us our antitrust exemption, please, and you won’t hear a peep out of us.  We promise to be good boys.

I just can’t see any other alternative for Baseball, regardless of how well Pete Rose does in his new broadcast gig on Fox.  If they want to continue to limit the amount of noise surrounding the game and keep Congress, the majority of fans, its corporate sponsors and random moralists at bay, I don’t see any other practical choice for them but to deny Pete Rose’s request for reinstatement yet again, now and forever.

Link to Article: The Changing Beat (SI.com)

There is a very long (5,800+ words!), sort of rambling, kind of stream-of-consciousness, but still quite interesting take on the changing nature of beat writing over at a section of SI.com called The Cauldron, an area which bills itself as “Intelligent Sports Storytelling. Shared.”

The name of the article is “The Changing Beat”, with a subhead of “Once the province of beat writers and their ‘exclusive access,’ the sports media landscape keeps shifting.”  It is essentially a treatise of how the new world of computers, with its facility at crunching numbers for analytics, seems to be endangering the art of the “game story” to such a degree that its practitioners risk ceding this responsibility to AI sportsbots spitting out dry accounts of fact after fact, at the expense of narrative and storytelling.

Whether you view this with equanimity or with alarm all depends on what you want from your sports journalism.  Once upon a time the game story was the essential link between the games and its fans. It was the only way for many fans to even know what was happening with the favorites. Nowadays, it is arguably the game story that is the least read feature in all of sports journalism.

Check it out for yourself and see what you think.

The Changing Beat (cauldron.SI.com)

Mets Radio Producer Chris Majkowski, Backbone of the Broadcast, Loves his Job

Regular readers may remember that the “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year. (And for those of you who don’t remember, “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year.)

On the electronic media side, those articles typically featured only broadcasters, but as we all know, there is an entire team of dedicated professionals whose jobs are just as important in putting together a baseball broadcast as the jobs of those we hear on the microphones. Producer Chris Majkowski is one of those people. Already fairly well known among loyal listeners of Mets radio broadcasts, notably for his Twitter feed @MetsBooth, Majkowski has been working as a producer on Mets radio broadcasts for a couple of decades now.

The article below, which was first published on SB Nation’s Amazin’ Avenue blog, provides a rare glimpse into the kinds of things producers have to do not only to ensure that the radio broadcast we listen to goes off without a hitch, but also to maintain the thinly-veiled illusion that the broadcasters themselves are merely just showing up and speaking off the cuff when relaying the details of the unfolding game to us. Again, we all understand that’s not how it really works, but a successful execution of that illusion is the sign of a good broadcast. After all, just as with umpires, the best baseball radio broadcast producers do their job so seamlessly that we do not realize they are there, even though we really know they are.


Mets radio producer Chris Majkowski, backbone of the broadcast, loves his job

By  

Majkowski-1Mets fans haven’t always had a great team to root for, but they have been treated to outstanding broadcasts of the team’s games on the radio and television for decades. The current incarnations of those booths are beloved: Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling in the SNY booth for TV, and Howie Rose and Josh Lewin in the WOR booth for radio.

Chris Majkowski, the producer and engineer who operates behind the scenes in the radio booth, isn’t exactly an unknown among die-hard Mets fans. He hasn’t taken a day off in over twenty years, a streak that has had Howie Rose calling him “‘The Immortal’ Chris Majkowski” on broadcasts for years. And his Twitter feed, @MetsBooth, is popular.

Majkowski doesn’t really think of what he does as work. He considers his seat the best one in the house, or at least the next-best to Rose’s seat. He clearly appreciates that he gets to do what he does for a living and thoroughly enjoys it.

A lifelong Mets fan, Majkowski who grew up in Albertson, New York, a town in Nassau County, and graduated from Fordham University in The Bronx, where he got the radio bug while working at WFUV, the school’s well-regarded radio station. He remembers the first game he attended as a child, sitting in the back rows of the field boxes at Shea Stadium for a double-header between the Mets and Reds on a sweltering day. But it was tough to see much of anything from those seats, and they only stayed for the first game.

His first vivid memories of sports came in 1973: the Mets’ playoff push late in the regular season, Rusty Staub dislocating his shoulder against the A’s in the World Series, and literally running home from school to catch playoff games—which were all played during the day—on the black-and-white television in the basement at home.

Majkowski got his start in the radio business about a year after he graduated college when Bob Jewell, who was the chief engineer at WFUV, told him he knew a couple of guys that were looking for someone who could handle radio equipment and had an understanding of sports, someone who could keep a scorecard and know when timeouts were coming up to assist the broadcasters.

“Oh, well that sounds like something that would be up my alley,” Majkowski thought.

So he started with those guys: Joel Blumberg and Brian Ferguson. Some of the first games he worked were Hofstra football and Islanders hockey. And he worked his first baseball games at Shea for visiting broadcasting legends Harry Caray of the Cubs and Harry Kalas of the Phillies.

“Harry Caray was funny because I had to go and find him to record the manager’s show. Harry didn’t do anything when he recorded the manager’s shows, except he took a hold of the microphone. You had to go with a tape deck at the time, hand Harry the microphone, tell him, ‘okay, we’re recording,’ hit a stop watch, and signal,” he says as he holds up one finger at a time, “one minute, two minutes—because you’re supposed to do four minutes—three minutes, four minutes, and then he knew we had to wrap it up.”

Majkowski-2

The technology in the booth at the time wasn’t nearly as advanced or useful as what’s available today. Majkowski filled out lineup cards for Murphy with home run and RBI totals. He laughs a bit and says, “We didn’t get into the on-base and the slugging and everything else that we pull in today.”

Out-of-town scores, which can be tracked easily in real time in a number of ways now, were a bit of a production.

He did some work at Madison Square Garden, too, and the Mets’ gig opened up in 1993. He went to work with Bob Murphy, the Mets’ own legendary broadcaster, and Gary Cohen in the radio booth.

“We used to have this sports ticker and this roll of paper that would keep spitting out. And at that time, it made a bit of a racket, but if you were doing it long enough—it was a dot-matrix printer,” he says as he mimics the sound of it. “If you did it long enough and you were sitting next to this thing for hours upon end like I was, a home run had a certain rhythm to it. You know somebody hit a home run, not even by looking at it, just by hearing how that thing was going—’oh, that’s a home run, I better check that out.’”

Majkowski-3

A couple of decades later, he might not feel like he’s at work, but Majkowski says the longest days are the first days of a road series or a home stand. He sets up the booth on those days—running cables and checking mics—and is naturally fond of long home stands.

There isn’t quite as much work to do before the following games of a series, but there are still things that need to be done. There’s research for ‘This Date in Mets History’ and the compilation of clips from MLB.com and the piecing together of the pre- and post-game shows.

My conversation with ‘Maj’ took place during the next-to-last game of the Mets’ regular season. It’s late in the game, and Max Scherzer is in the midst of pitching a no-hitter against the playoff-bound Mets. Jerry Seinfeld has just departed the booth after an impromptu guest appearance on radio following his appearance in the SNY booth.

Majkowski-4

The game is zipping along, but Majkowksi, Rose, and Wayne Randazzo, who handles the pre- and post-game shows but is filling in for Rose’s regular partner, Josh Lewin, as co-host, have to make up for lost time. The regular mix of promotions went out the window while Seinfeld was visiting, but they all still have to be worked into the broadcast.

So Majkowski rapidly exchanges sheets of paper with both Rose and Randazzo, making it all look seamless as he tends to all of his other regular duties. His left hand operates the sound board, which has microphones all over the place, while his right mostly works on his laptop. To the right of the laptop, there’s a small, portable printer, which spits out the parts of the broadcast that Majkowski writes and passes up to the broadcasters.

To the left of the laptop, there’s a stopwatch, which he still uses to time commercial breaks, even though he has a finely-tuned mental clock for such things. And there’s a small recording device, too, for saving things on the fly and piecing them back together later.

Majkowski is essentially the drummer of the band that is the Mets’ radio broadcast. Constantly doing multiple things at once, his desk—on which his rig fits perfectly—is slightly elevated and a sits a couple of feet behind the broadcast’s front-men. He’s the backbone of the production, keeping everything in order and working with the broadcasters in front of him to maximize everyone’s collective talent.

And like any good drummer, Majkowski has a great sense of humor. He has, on at least a couple of occasions, worked pranks into the scripts he writes. And at least one of those jokes once made it on the air a couple of years ago, even if that wasn’t necessarily the intention.

“Let’s just say we laugh a lot,” says Howie Rose. “He keeps the place loose.”

Hear Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, a Modern Day Re-Creator, Call a Game

A couple weeks ago, we published an article discussing the aesthetics and significance of re-created baseball broadcasting, written for a journal of baseball essays by Committee member Bob Barrier.  It received a lot of attention, including from a gentleman named Jesse Goldberg-Strassler who, among other things, broadcasts games for the Lansing Lugnuts of the Class A Midwest League.

Goldberg-Strassler does something that no other broadcaster we know of: every season, he re-creates one game out of the 140-game Lugnuts season, as an homage to the great baseball broadcasters of yore who had to deliver re-created broadcasts on a routine basis. Goldberg-Strassler doesn’t have to do this. It is something he chooses to do, and his excellent article below explains why he does and part of how he does it.

Also included in the article is a link to his re-created game from the 2015 season. I highly recommend you read his article, but if you just can’t wait, the link to his broadcast is in green, toward the bottom of his piece.


 

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler at work in various settings, including re-creating a game, top center. (jessegoldbergstrassler.com)
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler at work in various settings, including his annual re-creation of a game, top center. (jessegoldbergstrassler.com)

Baseball is an ideal medium for a radio broadcast, providing the freedom and space for story, analysis, and visual description through unhurried words. You can relax in your living room, take a loose hold of your steering wheel, or go about the duties of an outdoor chore while the game fills the background and instructs your mind’s eye.

This is the challenge – and the delight – of the game re-creation broadcast: putting the broadcaster in an equally blind situation, cut off from the field, with only imagination and the barest communicated play-by-play to guide description forward.

It is understandable why broadcasters were forced into game re-creation broadcasts. Even today, broadcasting with a secure connection from a remote diamond is no sure thing, and lodging and transportation cost money. The complications caused by sending a broadcaster on the road with his employer club could well cause more trouble than it was worth, even for major league teams, in the 1930s-1950s.

Over a half-century later, once a year, I re-create a live Minor League baseball game on the FM radio airwaves in Lansing, Michigan. My first re-creation broadcast occurred my rookie season, mandated by my team president. I had no choice in the matter. My second came from pure desperation and resulted in one of the most memorable games I’ve never seen.  Since then, I have spent the last seven seasons putting together an annual August re-creation broadcast in tribute to those great broadcasters and re-creators of yore.

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In the independent Can-Am League in 2005, future Major Leaguer Chris Colabello was a rookie on the expansion Worcester Tornadoes. My team was the Brockton (MA) Rox, a team that churned out attention-getting promotions as much as any other Goldklang Group club, if not more.

In a past life, Rox team president Jim Lucas had formed a noted team with blind color commentator Don Wardlow; the visual description of a baseball broadcast circulated from the heart of their broadcasts. (One of their other favorite elements was the opening of a pack of baseball cards live on the air, conversing about each card that they revealed. They were uniquely entertaining.) On this night, Lucas benched lead broadcaster Dave Raymond and sent Brockton’s other two broadcasters, Matt Meola and myself, in to the radio studio. There one of us listened to the game’s goings-on and wrote notes to the other to re-create, banging mini-bats together for the crack of the bat, slapping a ball into the glove for every pitch taken (or swing and a miss), trying desperately to capture the true pace of the national pastime. As I remember it, I had a devil of a time, Matt excelled, and Dave, on his way to a Major League job the following season, was proud of us both.

Three years later, a terrible thunderstorm swept through Chicagoland. (My team was the Frontier League’s Windy City ThunderBolts, and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” roared out before each home game. Perhaps we were courting trouble, or perhaps it was just part of the region’s expectations.) The opponent in the other clubhouse was a road squad, the Midwest Sliders; they did not have a radio broadcaster on their staff. With the Sliders as the opponent, Windy City had the responsibility of broadcasting for both teams. But the storm had knocked out all internet in the press box. No broadcast connection, no broadcast. We were stymied.

A Plan B emerged. There was still working internet in the team’s front office, located down the third base concourse in a separate building. If a broadcast was to be held, that would have to be its site, away from a vantage point to the field. Catalyzed by a memory of my 2005 re-creation (while concurrently trying to forget how difficult and exhausting it had been), I swept into the souvenir shop and grabbed a baseball and a pair of team mini-bats. A semblance of a broadcast booth was set up at a desk in the main office, not ten feet away from the box office windows and the reception area. For the first three innings, a team intern messaged the game’s details from a vantage point just outside the office, and I slapped a ball into a glove and cracked mini-bats together, delivering vivid depictions to the cubicle wall in front of me. (My amused ‘Bolts co-workers paraded past, mimicking peanut vendors and outraged fans.) We switched for the middle three innings, placing broadcast assistant Nick Kovatch at the controls of the mini-bats and the listeners’ imaginations, and then switched again for the final three. Of all things to occur: The ThunderBolts defeated the Sliders, 13-0, and 22-year-old left-hander Isaac Hess posted the first no-hitter in franchise history. If nothing else, it sure sounded special.

That 2008 re-creation, caused not by a promotional stunt but by our obligation to broadcast the game, has left a lasting impression. The participating players and their fans are the primary concern, and the broadcaster is the liaison.

With each subsequent re-creation, from 2009 through this past season, the broadcast gets slightly more polished and realistic. I use canned crowd noise, recorded during a routine Sunday tilt from weeks earlier, and spice in a canned roar or crescendo of boos if I am feeling courageous. The crack has shifted from mini-bats to wooden spoons to broken game-used bats, though nothing sounds quite right yet. (That slap of a ball into the glove remains as perfect as ever.) There is no subterfuge. At the start of each half-inning, it is made clear to the listening public that this is an historic Re-Creation Broadcast, a tribute to an important part of baseball’s heritage.

During each re-creation, I inch closer, too, to understanding the true mechanics of an ideal broadcast. If fans listening from their couch, car, and patio can’t see the game, the picture needs to be painted for them. What separates one pitcher’s windup from another? What is the weather and how will it affect play? What are the idiosyncrasies of the ballpark? What are the batter’s strengths and what plan does he bring to home plate?

(The audio to the 2015 game re-creation)

The day after my game re-creation broadcast, returning to the broadcast booth, an open window, and a direct view of play, I absorb and deliver everything so much clearer: the smell of the barbecue, the whip of the bat, the speed of the shortstop, the admiration in the crowd. The game unfolds as the sun rolls away.

There is a story tied to Ronald Reagan in which the ticker went down and a re-creating Reagan frantically bought time: in one telling, reeling off a string of foul balls; in another telling, bringing a dog onto the field to frolic a delay the proceedings.  In either case, we can imagine the listener sitting at home and wholeheartedly buying it. Why? Perhaps it is unfettered trust; the right play-by-play person earns as much unquestioned good faith as an old friend. Or perhaps it is that wonderful knowledge that this is baseball, and most anything at all can happen during a ball game.

No matter how removed we are from the field, we can still see it clear as day.

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Jesse Goldberg-Strassler

Radio Broadcaster

Lansing Lugnuts

Providing information and historical research about how the media cover baseball both as news and as an event.

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