Dynamic Duos II: “Game of the Week” Dominates Frequent Pairings

Earlier this week, we started looking at the 20 most frequent two-man announcer combinations in the SABR national-telecast database by sharing combos 20 through 11. Jim Simpson appeared three times, between 11th and 18th, but with legends like Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola not showing up on that list, there’s clearly more star power to come.

The Game of the Week, in its various iterations and networks, appears nine times in the top 10. Among those nine pairs are two pairs who worked together simultaneously for the same network and two sets of dueling duos who worked games that competed against each other for Game of the Week status.

BC stalwarts Tony Kubek, left, and Joe Garagiola each appear on several of the most common broadcast pairings in baseball history.
NBC stalwarts Tony Kubek, left, and Joe Garagiola each appear on several of the most common broadcast pairings in baseball history. 

But before we get to the top 10, three crews and an individual who didn’t make the top 20 deserve honorable mention. (Here, as always in this series, numbers are complete through July 19.)

Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz form the most common active pairing with 50 broadcasts together, a total affected by ESPN’s recent move to three-man booths for regular Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday night games. That’s tied for 29th all-time, and 21 games short of the Monte Moore/Wes Parker crew that sits in 20th.

Bob Carpenter, who worked at ESPN before moving on to the Cardinals, Nationals, and marketing his scorebook, and who has called the most games (437) of anyone who doesn’t appear on this list.

Finally, Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser (142 games together) and Al Michaels and Jim Palmer (117) each would have cracked the top 15 if this list included announcers who worked together as part of three-man booths. I guess they can blame Steve Phillips, John Kruk and Tim McCarver for their omissions here.

With the honorable mentions complete, strike up the “Think” music and see if you can come up with the top ten. The answers are below, of course, but you don’t actually learn anything by copying your homework answers out of the back of the book.

OK, ready?  Here we go …

10. Thom Brennaman/Bob Brenly (118 games)
While Joe Buck and Tim McCarver get the credit (or the blame, according to much of the Internet) for voicing Fox’s MLB broadcasts, Brennaman and Brenly were their original backups. From the day that sport premiered on that network in 1996 until Brenly left for the Diamondbacks dugout after the 2000 campaign, Thom and Bob handled the second game on Saturday’s totem pole of importance. In an era where Fox only had half of the playoffs, with NBC taking the other half, Brennaman and Brenly called at least one Division Series game in each of the five years.

9. Bob Wolff/Joe Garagiola (137 games)
Before Gowdy, Kubek or Costas took over the nation’s Saturday afternoons (in fact, starting less than a month after Costas’s 10th birthday), Wolff and Garagiola handled Saturday and Sunday afternoon broadcasts for NBC in 1962, 1963 and 1964. This is the first of three appearances in the top nine for Garagiola. Wolff, on the other hand, called nearly all of his 141 national broadcasts in that three-year span; he took advantage of the final three years that featured both Saturday and Sunday games on the same network to rack up his total before moving on to the New York Knicks.

8. Dave O’Brien/Rick Sutcliffe (168 games)
The only crew in the top 10 and one of only four in the top 20 that did not call primarily weekend games, Syracuse-educated O’Brien and Missouri native Sutcliffe handled Monday night games for the Worldwide Leader in Sports from 2002 to 2010 and also worked together for the playoffs, including the 18-inning NLDS Game 4 between the Braves and Astros in 2005. Even after Sutcliffe moved to Wednesdays, they reunited for a Yankees-Red Sox tilt on September 3, 2014. Behind Joe Buck, who appears below, O’Brien and Sutcliffe are no. 2 and no. 3 respectively on the list of active announcers.

7. Bob Costas/Tony Kubek (179 games)
The partner with whom Costas is most remembered was his analyst on the “B” game most weeks. After calling a single game in October 1982, Costas and Kubek handled NBC’s second-biggest game of the day for the final seven years of that network’s Game of the Week, 1983-89. The two men were at Wrigley Field for Ryne Sandberg’s eponymous game in 1984 and broadcast the American League Championship Series in the odd-numbered years during their run. This duo played second fiddle to the Vin Scully/Joe Garagiola pair, which covered NBC’s World Series in 1984, ’86 and ’88, for its entire run.

6. Curt Gowdy/Tony Kubek (192 games)
The second pair in the chronology of NBC’s exclusive Game of the Week and the first to crack this list, Red Sox voice Gowdy and former Yankee infielder Kubek straddled the New England/New York divide to handle the national Saturday broadcast from 1969 to 1975. They were the first crew to take a national audience to Canada with the Expos in 1969. While they called the World Series in all seven years they were together, none of those games counted toward the 192 total: under a network policy in place through 1976, they were joined by a home-team broadcaster for all 43 of those games.

5. Joe Garagiola/Tony Kubek (195 games)
Given that they followed the Gowdy/Kubek pair as Game of the Week voices, it’s only fitting that the Garagiola/Kubek tandem also follow them on this list as well after working together from 1974 to 1982. For the final two years of the Gowdy/Kubek pairing, Garagiola was the regular substitute when Gowdy was away to tend to other business (e.g., the NFL). Like their predecessors, Garagiola and Kubek were always part of a three-man booth for the World Series, with Tom Seaver joining them in 1978 and 1980 and Dick Enberg stepping in for 1982. They watched baseball restart after the strike at the 1981 All-Star Game and covered Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter later that year. While working with Garagiola, Kubek took the crown of most ubiquitous baseball broadcaster in 1978; he held that until Joe Morgan passed him in 2007.

4. Vin Scully/Joe Garagiola (197 games)
The first Game of the Week crew to handle a World Series as a duo, Scully and Garagiola worked together from 1983 to 1988, including the Fall Classics in even-numbered years. They handled Jack Morris’s opening-week no-hitter in 1984, opening and closing their season with Tigers wins when the Large Felines won the World Series. Vin and Joe were also on hand for the first official night game at Wrigley Field on Aug. 9, 1988, working together for the final time in that year’s World Series before Garagiola yielded their spot to Tom Seaver in 1989. But Vin and Joe had worked together before the ’80s: they also handled the 1963 All-Star Game in Cleveland, with Scully sitting in for Bob Wolff.

3. Dizzy Dean/Pee Wee Reese (201 games)
Before the Game of the Week was an NBC-specific fixture, CBS beamed the national pastime into living rooms around the country with its own Game from 1955 to 1964 before focusing on the Yankees exclusively in 1965. Or at least, they aired the games to most of the country: markets within 50 miles of major-league stadiums were blacked out. At any rate, Pee Wee Reese replaced Buddy Blattner as Dean’s partner in 1960 and the duo stayed together until the end of CBS’s GotW run: when NBC gained exclusive baseball rights in 1966, Reese switched networks and slotted in beside Curt Gowdy until 1968.

2. Joe Buck/Tim McCarver (395 games)
The son of a legendary Cardinal broadcaster teamed up with a longtime Cardinal to form the top crew on Fox from that network’s baseball debut in 1996 until McCarver’s retirement after the 2013 season. Together, they called 14 World Series, not counting the two (1996 and 1998) where Brenly joined them to make a three-man booth. A 2014 study on the Classic TV Sports blog put their 18-season run together as the fourth-longest streak in professional sports. All told, Buck and McCarver worked 467 games together: the 62-game gap between that and their total above traces back to six different third men in the booth.

1. Jon Miller/Joe Morgan (514 games)
For the first 40 years or so of Major League Baseball on television, the Game of the Week was clearly defined on CBS, then NBC, on Saturday afternoons. When baseball moved to CBS with the 1993 season, the number of games on broadcast network TV dropped precipitously (although it did give us 55 more Buck/McCarver duos, albeit with Jack Buck). But for the first time since the early ’80s, the national pastime aired on non-superstation cable stating in 1990, and Miller and Morgan anchored the Sunday night exclusive time slot for ESPN through 2010, their dual stranglehold broken only by Steve Phillips joining in 2009, followed by Orel Hershiser stepping in for 2010.

Among them, the top 20 crews handled 3,263 games, a little less than a third of the 10,500-plus national broadcasts. Next week, we’ll continue the series with a look at the more than 1,400 games that had more or less than two announcers.

Calling Minor League Games Might Mean Same Team, but Different Parent Club, the Following Season

One of the oddities of working in the minor leagues is that you might end up working for completely different parent clubs from season to season, even though you continue to work for the same employer.

That’s what happened to Doug Greenwald of the Fresno Grizzlies, Johnny Doskow of the Sacramento River Cats, and several other baseball play-by-play guys when their Pacific Coast League employers went through a daisy chain of affiliate change during the past offseason.

Greenwald, a SABR member who is also a legacy baseball broadcaster (his father is Hank Greenwald, former Giants play-by-play announcer and current SABR Baseball and the Media Committee member), finds himself shilling prospects for the Houston Astros after having called players in the San Francisco Giants system for most of the past 15 years; while Doskow now broadcasts games on behalf of a now Giants affiliate which had been the long-time top farm club of the Oakland A’s.

It’s an odd mix of continuity and landscape shift, but it’s one that is not unfamiliar to long-time minor league broadcasters, many of whom accumulate plenty of stickers on their trunks if they manage to fashion long careers, anyway.  Both Greenwald and Doskow have worked in seven and four different cities, respectively, in the two or more decades they’ve each spent in the play-by-play biz.

But as with any other long-time minor league employee, including the Memphis Redbirds’ Don Wade, whom we met in yesterday’s post, all the travel, all the grind, all the effort, all of it, point toward a single goal: making it to the major leagues. And you will see within this article that they would drop their mikes in a second—no offense, various PCL clubs—to make that final move up to the top.

The article below is reproduced in full with the permission of the author, John Shea, who penned it for his own employer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and if you prefer, you can read this same article in full there:

http://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/article/They-make-the-calls-wait-for-the-call-up-6374036.php#photo-7767068

Thanks, John!


Even in the minors, it’s a special calling

Doug Greenwald

Minor league baseball announcers Doug Greenwald, (left) and Johnny Doskow up in the press box before the start of the game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., as seen on Sat.. April 4, 2015. (Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle)

The kid went to work with his baseball-broadcasting father and always assumed he would be in the same line of work.

“I didn’t know there were other jobs out there,” said Doug Greenwald, who spent much of his childhood in the ’80s sitting in the Giants’ Candlestick Park radio booth with his dad, former play-by-play man Hank Greenwald.

This is the 20th season that Greenwald the younger, 40, has called baseball, but 2015 is providing a new twist. After calling Giants minor-league games 14 of the past 15 years, the past 12 in Triple-A, he’s the voice of the top affiliate for the Houston Astros.

But still sitting in the same seat.

While six Pacific Coast League teams played an unusual game of musical chairs in the offseason, a chain reaction of PCL relocation, Greenwald stayed with the Fresno Grizzlies because they’re his employers.

Just as Johnny Doskow, 49, stuck with the Sacramento River Cats, now the Giants’ top affiliate after 15 years under the A’s umbrella.

“The A’s were good to me. Those relationships will last forever. They gave me 34 big-league games in 2012,” Doskow said. “It’s been a fun transition. There are more Giants fans than A’s fans in the (Sacramento) area. It’s cool to cover the Giants again.”

Doskow was the original voice of the Giants-affiliated Fresno Grizzlies in 1998, the year the Giants were forced to move their Triple-A team from Phoenix after it became the territory of the expansion Diamondbacks in their first season in the big leagues. Doskow spent three years in Fresno before taking the gig in Sacramento.

He was among six play-by-play men who stayed in place while the teams they covered repositioned themselves.

Here’s the sequence:

The Giants, who helped push the circle of dominoes, moved from Fresno to Sacramento, the A’s from Sacramento to Nashville, the Brewers from Nashville to Colorado Springs, the Rockies from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque, the Dodgers from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City and the Astros from Oklahoma City to Fresno.

Whew.

Before the season, Greenwald and Doskow kept getting asked the same line of questions. “Doug, how do you feel about moving to Sacramento?” “So, Johnny, do you have your place in Nashville yet?” Over and over, they had to explain. The city’s the same, the affiliate is different.

“Now I walk in the clubhouse and see a brighter shade of orange and a lone star on the logo,” Greenwald said.

‘I’m a Giant guy’

Not that he’s complaining:

“Everybody knows I’m a Giant guy” — a Greenwald has been associated with Giants-affiliated broadcasts for 30 of the past 35 years — “and I look at it like this: I have a very good relationship with the Giants, and if I go work for another major-league team, there’s no penalty in that.

“Our goal, and I’m speaking for all minor-league broadcasters here, is like the players’ goals in the minor leagues. We play for all 30 teams essentially. If any major-league team swoops into a minor-league broadcast booth and taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘Do you want to broadcast for us?’ … you’d be out of there.

“We all want to be in the major leagues, but when the Baseball America directory comes out, and it shows all the teams and you see how many people are behind you, it’s like, ‘OK, I’d rather be here than other places in the minor leagues.’”

Ditto for Doskow.

“We keep it in perspective,” he said. “Obviously, we think about the big leagues all the time. I also think there are a lot of guys who would kill for a Triple-A job. The concept of getting paid to call baseball is pretty wild. I try not to take that for granted. We’re fortunate to have the jobs we have.”

If Greenwald, who has called five Giants regular-season games in his career, including one last month, or Doskow got a full-time major-league radio gig tomorrow, they wouldn’t miss a beat. They’re considered that good. Meanwhile, they’ve kept the passion and dream alive despite accommodations, working conditions and salary far inferior to their major-league brethren.

They’re the play-by-play guy, producer and roadie all in one. They never go “on assignment” — they usually work every inning of 144 games over 154 days. They stay at second-tier hotels and get to games in hotel courtesy vans, not luxury buses or limos.

When they fly, it’s commercial, not a charter with first-class seats throughout. Greenwald has done his team’s game notes — in the majors, PR staffs spew gobs of information. Doskow spends his offseason in the River Cats’ sales department. In the bigs, the offseason is off.

“I enjoy it,” Doskow said. “My office is the broadcast booth, so I have the best view in Sacramento.”

The biggest change for Doskow is the National League style of play. He’s describing pitchers hitting for the first time since 2000, his last season with the Grizzlies. In the minors, there’s no designated hitter when two NL-affiliated teams meet. AL-affiliated teams always use a DH even when playing NL-affiliated teams.

“I’m loving that,” Doskow said. “The double-switches, the strategy. It’s a crisp game.”

While Doskow got a kick out of chronicling the rehab assignments of Hunter Pence, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain and hard-throwing relievers Hunter Strickland and Mike Broadway before their promotions to San Francisco, Greenwald is associated with an organization rising in power and deep in prospects.

The Astros called up Fresno outfielder Preston Tucker, who was leading all minor-leaguers in homers and RBIs when promoted, and shortstop Carlos Correa, the top overall draft pick in 2012 who had seven homers and 19 RBIs in his first 25 big-league games. Pitcher Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford in 2013, is in Triple-A waiting his turn after a recent promotion from Double-A.

Posey on the rise

Greenwald called Buster Posey’s games at Fresno in 2009 and 2010, drawing parallels between Posey and Correa: “Both highly touted, very smooth, not flamboyant, similar personalities, very humble, a lot of buzz. (Derek) Jeter is Correa’s idol, and he can go deep in the hole, leap and get the ball to first like Jeter.”

A minor-league broadcaster can have a resume that reads like the old country hit “I’ve Been Everywhere.” While Doskow, in his 23rd year, has had stops in Cedar Rapids, High Desert, Fresno and Sacramento, Greenwald’s laundry list includes Bend, Lafayette, Burlington, Shreveport, Stockton, Modesto and Fresno.

Giants webcasts

Greenwald continued his Giants webcast games in spring training. In the past, it was a productive learning tool because he studied players who opened the season at Fresno. This year was odd, considering he jumped from the Giants’ training camp to a team of Astros prospects, who had trained in Florida.

Greenwald graduated from San Francisco’s Wallenberg High School and got a broadcast journalism degree at Boston University. He learned the trade from his dad and Bill King — “my American League father” — among others.

“I got to know and pester probably every National League broadcaster in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Greenwald said.

Doskow grew up in Los Angeles listening to Chick Hearn (“my guy”) and Vin Scully and was inspired by his father, Chuck, a law professor and baseball junkie who had a library of baseball books in the house. Doskow got a communications degree (radio/TV emphasis) from the University of La Verne (Los Angeles County).

“When I was 7 years old, I used to turn down the TV set and broadcast the game,” Doskow said.

They’re both still doing it, embracing it and flourishing at it, and the proof is on 1320 ESPN Radio in Sacramento and 1430 KYNO in Fresno.

A Minor League Broadcaster Still Loves the Game After 30 Years on the Job

Usually, when we contemplate long-time baseball broadcasters, we think of the major league greats: Allen, Barber, Scully, Harwell, Uecker, Kalas, Buck (Jack). The guys we all know and, mostly, love.

There is another class of baseball broadcast “lifer”, though: the long-time minor league play by play announcers.  These are the guys who, for love of the game (and need of the less-than-major-league paycheck), toil in the tiny booths of low-capacity ballparks that dot the small and mid-size cities of this great country of ours. There are probably not too many of those minor-league broadcasters that any of us can name, at least off the tops of our heads.

Steve Selby is probably one of those guys we should know.

Having done minor league games all over the south for 30 seasons now, Selby still dreams of making the big leagues someday. Everyone who’s a lifer in the minors does. But even while he continues to harbor the dream, he still hunkers down and does the job day after day for 144 games a year, currently for the Memphis Redbirds of the Pacific Coast League (the latter point a laughable notion given that AutoZone Park is some 1,300 miles from the closest point in the Pacific Ocean).

Don Wade of the Memphis Daily News, which serves as the source for daily news and information on business and commerce for the Memphis metro area, penned a nice biographical piece of this long-time broadcaster, which is shared with you, below. The original piece can also be read online at:

http://www.memphisdailynews.com/news/2015/jul/9/after-all-these-years-redbirds-broadcaster-steve-selby-still-loves-the-game-and-the-job/

Big thanks for Don for permission to reproduce the piece here.


 

A Baseball Guy

After all these years, Redbirds broadcaster Steve Selby still loves the game and the job

By Don Wade

Bottom of the first inning at AutoZone Park, and Redbirds first baseman Dan Johnson is in the batter’s box. Oklahoma City’s pitcher winds and delivers and Johnson, a left-handed hitter, swings and makes contact. Loud contact.

steve selby
Steve Selby, the radio voice of the Memphis Redbirds, broadcasts during a recent home game at AutoZone Park. Selby has been a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer for more than 30 years. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Up in the Redbirds’ broadcast booth behind home plate, Steve Selby’s ears know what that sound means. He’s heard it so many times before, at little Class A ballparks in the Carolina League to not-quite big-league venues in Memphis and Nashville. The baseball’s trajectory off the bat confirms what he just heard, but he almost didn’t even need to see it.

“Say goodbye to that one!” Selby tells his radio audience. “High and deep and onto the concourse in right field, headed to the barbecue shack. Dan Johnson, one day out of the lineup, says, `put me in, coach!’”

In more than three decades of doing minor league baseball radio play-by-play, Selby, 59, has called more than 3,500 games and probably more than 1,000 home runs. He has seen a good 32,000 innings and, oh, maybe 1 million pitches. So you’ll understand if he cannot summon a Greatest Hits list of his favorite calls.

Besides, the rhythms of the game don’t work like that. He’s describing every pitch, every play – from the tape-measure home runs to the routine groundballs to the second baseman – through 144 minor league games each season.

His career is a tip of the cap to Americana and can be followed with an atlas: Kinston (N.C.) Eagles (1986), Durham (N.C.) Bulls (1987-90), Sumter (S.C.) Flyers (1991), Huntsville (Ala.) Stars (1992-95), Nashville Sounds (1996-1999), and since 2000 the Memphis Redbirds.

He has carried the big-league dream around to all those places. In the last few years he has even had a couple of interviews for major-league jobs, one “pretty serious” and another, in retrospect, probably more of a courtesy.

Reaching the majors now is a long shot. But Selby isn’t just content; he still gets genuinely excited when a player who has been in the minors for a long time finally gets the call. During a recent home stand, the St. Louis Cardinals brought up 27-year-old pitcher Marcus Hatley, who had been in the minors since 2007 – or roughly one-third of his life.

“Congratulations to Marcus Hatley,” Selby says during that night’s pre-game show. “That is just great stuff for a good guy.”

Off air, Selby says, “I don’t feel pressure every night like I’m trying to create the perfect demo,” but he adds of getting to the majors, “It’s still a goal.”

As it is for everyone in the minors. But here’s what is forgotten: doing this for three decades isn’t automatic.

“You don’t get to hang around this long unless you have real ability and passion,” said Memphis manager Mike Shildt. “As a staff, we all respect and appreciate him.

“Beyond that, he’s a baseball guy.”

Do your job

The game does not suffer idle dreamers.

Selby still gets to the ballpark at 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, hours before he has to be in his open-air office overlooking Memphis’ most beautiful greensward. He still looks forward to the first pitch and all the rituals that precede it, from batting practice to preparing his scorecard. He lines up the different colored pens he’ll use to track balls (black) and strikes (red), and hits (green) and errors (red). The umpires’ names, of course, he writes down in blue.

“Never any complaints sitting up here,” Selby said as he leans into the microphone to begin another broadcast.

He has always wanted to be here, even before he realized it. Selby grew up in a time when boys collected baseball cards, but he and his two older brothers were more creative than most. The cards became their players in make-believe games played in makeshift stadiums constructed out of shoeboxes.

Add sponge dice and their homemade scoring system – double-sixes for a home run, a two, three or four for a strikeout – and you had a ballgame anytime you wanted.

When Selby finally got his first play-by-play job, it came with – as all low minor-league jobs do – extra duties. In this case, driving the team bus.

“We did our own play-by-play for every roll of the dice,” Selby said. “That’s where it started, really, when I was five years old in Monterey, California.”

The family would move to the Washington D.C. area and they’d all become frustrated Senators fans – a rite of baseball passage in some ways. By his early 20s, Selby was in commercial broadcast school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He rented a cheap apartment, without air-conditioning, and because South Florida was overrun with transplanted New Yorkers one of the Miami stations carried the Yankees games.

Many an evening he’d turn off the lights, lay down with the breeze from a box fan almost keeping him cool, listen to the Yankees’ broadcast and dream.

Well, unless the Yankees’ Class A team in Fort Lauderdale was at home, and then Selby would take his $19 Radio Shack tape recorder to the ballpark, find an empty radio booth and call the game. He was making his first demo tape, describing a young Willie McGee’s slashing hits and running catches in center field and a young Steve Balboni’s majestic homeruns and helpless swings at curveballs.

When he finally got his first play-by-play job in Kinston, N.C., it came with – as all low minor-league jobs do – extra duties. In this case, driving the team bus.

“At the time, Rush Limbaugh billed himself as the most dangerous man in America,” Selby said. “He was second to me.”

Finding his voice

But he survived – survival is the name of the game in minor-league baseball – and as the years have rolled by a Steve Selby broadcast has become more like that well-broken-in glove that fits and feels just right.

In years past, Selby often had a partner in the booth. He prefers having a partner, believes he’s better with a partner and this was never truer than in the years that the late Charlie Lea, a former big-league pitcher from Memphis, shared the broadcast for home games.

These days, Selby works alone at home and on the road. It’s a tricky thing, having nine innings and more than three hours of air time by yourself. It’s, well, a lot of rope.

Selby, however, has a clock in his head the same as a good shortstop knows just how much time he has to throw a ball over to first base. A well-timed release is more important than showing off how much power you have – be it in the arm or the voice.

A foul ball hit into the stands is just that, most of the time. But when a boy who brought his glove makes a catch behind the Redbirds’ dugout, that’s worth a little more. In this instance the boy, who is wearing a red cap, doesn’t milk the moment, but returns to his seat.

“Don’t sit down,” Selby says after describing the catch for listeners. “Curtain call.”

You hear the joy and the passion in what could be a throw-away moment. It’s not overdone, but done just right. Natural, sincere, the voice of a man who called his first home run after rolling double-sixes when he was younger than the boy who caught that foul ball.

But as much as Selby loves describing the plays – even his favorites, a triple or the rare inside-the-park home run – it is no longer what gives him the most satisfaction.

“I told our coaching staff this home stand, now the best part of what I do is around the batting cage, talking hitting, or sitting in the coaches’ office talking pitching or just reflecting on last night’s game, with all these guys that are lifers,” he said.

And Selby is a lifer. He and his wife Rhonda have three grown children and six grandchildren. He’s at the stage where retirement could be only a few innings away but, then again, Baseball Hall-of-Famer Vin Scully is still going strong with the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 87 and doesn’t even need the money. He keeps on because he’s a lifer, too.

So who knows? Selby might yet call a game with players who haven’t even been born yet.

“I’ve been in minor-league baseball 30 years,” Selby said, taking in the tireless view he could once only imagine. “I have to keep working.”

Dynamic Duos: A Look At Baseball’s Top Broadcast Pairings

One of the great things about baseball is that it pauses between pitches. These breaks may well be too long by now, but they give the players time to reset, the fans an occasion to notice what happened, the broadcasters space to articulate, and (in the case of a Texas League game I caught on the Internet last week) occasion to note that the Midland-Corpus Christi score mirrored an early-’80s film: “9 to 5.”

Each team has its own mikemen (or women), of course, and each fan’s tastes are different. A little of what the audience does or doesn’t want to hear mixed with the myriad combinations of talent to listen to creates a vast wasteland of opinions about whose dulcet tones ought to be bronzed and whose less-than-dulcet ones should fade into distant AM radio static. These opinions are a time-honored tradition: after all, the art of debating baseball must be only a few minutes younger than the game itself.

We may never satisfy the question of who was (or is) best, but the SABR national-telecast database gives us one window to that answer, through the eyes of whom the networks deemed worthy of putting on the air.

At the close of play on July 19, 175 broadcasters have done play-by-play of a Major League Baseball game on national television. The roster of TV analysts is even deeper, with 234 people filling that spot for the national pastime at least once. Simple math would suggest that those numbers leave about 41,000 possible combinations of one play-by-play announcer and one analyst.

(For the moment, we’ll limit ourselves to just the folks that work in the booth, or at least ply the conventional color-commentary trade, even if they do so from field level a la Doug Glanville.)

Of course, the vast majority of these combinations never happened, for a variety of reasons. Bob Stanton, who voiced the first MLB telecast in 1947, passed away in 1989. That means he couldn’t have worked any of the last 7,252 telecasts (and means he was off this planet a full two months before Matt Harvey was even born).

All told, 1,555 pairs of broadcasters have worked together at least once on national television, with about four-fifths of that total (1,224) covering a game together as the only two men in the booth. A little more than half of those pairs worked together exactly once, and two-thirds of the remainder worked together fewer than five times.

In this initial post, we’ll focus on the twenty broadcast tandems who have worked together the most often, in ascending order. Since 1961, the major-league season has been 26 weeks long, so at the very least, if these crews called on average one game per week, they would have to have worked together for at least 2½ years.

Before we begin, take a moment to ponder who you think might be named as being among the most frequent combinations. Some of them might not spring to mind immediately, but give it a shot (and try not to cheat by looking down the article for the answers).

I’ll give you a moment … cue the “Think” theme music

Have some in mind, now?  OK.

Here, then, are the bottom ten of the top twenty two-man pairings in the history of MLB on national TV.

20. Monte Moore and Wes Parker (71 games)
If you’re like me, your list was just proven incomplete right off the bat. Moore, the voice of the A’s in Kansas City and Oakland for 15 years, joined six-time Gold Glover Wes Parker on the air for parts of six seasons from 1978 to 1983. The duo had the misfortune of working on cable in its infancy, calling Thursday night games for USA Network, but also handled several backup telecasts on NBC’s Game of the Week.

19. Gary Thorne and Dave Campbell (75 games)
When ESPN picked up cable rights in 1990 and sent the amount of televised baseball through the roof, Thorne and Campbell were two of the primary beneficiaries. This duo was the primary Wednesday night crew in 1991 and 1992, two years that accounted for 58 of their broadcasts, including ESPN’s first visit to new Comiskey Park on April 24, 1991. They worked together for the last time in 1999.

18. Jim Simpson and Tony Kubek (85 games)
The third-most common voice heard on national baseball broadcasts, Kubek was to be expected on this list, and he’ll appear three more times. But before Kubek worked the playoffs with the men alongside whom he’s usually remembered, he spent three seasons with Simpson on NBC’s backup Game of the Week telecast from 1966 through 1968. Simpson is one of five men to call all four major sports on national TV: in their first season together, he missed the July 30 broadcast to handle the first American broadcast of a World Cup final.

17. Kenny Albert and Jeff Torborg (86 games)
Two men associated with the Fox broadcast network, Albert and Torborg didn’t appear together on your local Fox affiliate until 2004. During their first four years together from 1997 to 2000, the former Dodger catcher and the son of broadcasting legend Marv Albert worked weeknight games on FX and Fox Sports Net before resurfacing for nine regional Saturday afternoon games in 2004 and 2005.

16. Lindsey Nelson and Leo Durocher (94 games)
Nelson was known as “Mister New Year’s Day” for his work on the Cotton Bowl, but in his prime he added baseball, pro football and what might be dubbed proto-NBA to his repertoire. From 1957 to 1959, the Tennessean with the colorful sport coats joined Leo “The Lip” Durocher to call NBC’s Game of the Week, although it was blacked out in markets within 50 miles of major-league parks. Owing to a sponsorship conflict, for 47 of their games, a network of stations in the southeast heard only Nelson and Durocher for 4½ innings before they gave way mid-game to another set of announcers.

15. Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons (102 games)
The number-two crew at Fox for several years in the early 2000s, this duo covered a pair of League Championship Series in 2001 and 2002 and a pair of contests (Arizona/Atlanta in 2001 and Minnesota/Anaheim in 2002) that were split between Fox and Fox Sports Net. The pairing, like Lyons’ national career, ended abruptly when Fox dismissed Lyons for making racially insensitive comments during the 2006 American League Championship Series.

14. Steve Physioc and Dave Campbell (108 games)
When you say their nicknames back-to-back, “Phys” and “Soup” sound like a cooking experiment gone awry. The ESPN programming department, thankfully bereft of minds that work like mine, looked past that and combined the two for 106 contests (most of which started at 10:30 p.m. Eastern) from 1990 to 1993. In their third game together, they saw Brian Holman of the Mariners lose a perfect game to a home run with two outs in the ninth. When Campbell left for the Rockies’ booth in 1994, the pair reunited for two games on ABC in 1994 and 1995.

13. Jim Simpson and Sandy Koufax (113 games)
From 1969 to 1972, Simpson and Koufax covered NBC’s backup Game of the Week that was seen in markets in which the primary contest was blacked out. They got a dozen playoff games out of the deal, all in the League Championship Series, but (perhaps owing to the East Coast afternoon start time of most of their schedule) never visited Koufax’s Chavez Ravine stomping grounds and saw the Dodgers only twice.

12. Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner (116 games)
One of three pairings in this top 20 where both commentators played in the majors, Dean and Blattner were the first men tapped to call a national regular-season broadcast when they took the air for ABC on May 30, 1953. All of their games were blacked out in major-league markets, which probably explains how Dean lasted as long as he did despite speaking not quite the King’s English and singing “The Wabash Cannonball.” Dean and Blattner moved to CBS from 1955 to 1958, where they never called a World Series: however, they did call Jim Bunning’s first no-hitter, 57 years ago last Monday. They worked together in 1959 as well, but since that booth also included George Kell, those games do not count toward the total. Blattner went on to handle play-by-play for the 1964 NBA All-Star Game and was a three-time gold medalist at the table-tennis world championships.

11. Jim Simpson and Maury Wills (117 games)
After first Kubek and then Koufax moved on to greener pastures, Simpson teamed with another former Dodger on the backup Game of the Week from 1973 through 1977. Like Simpson and Koufax, Simpson and Wills never visited Los Angeles as a broadcast team, and Wills finished his NBC career calling the Dodgers’ NLDS loss to Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 1977. Simpson jumped to ESPN when that network started in 1979; Wills lasted through 1978 at the network level and then spent two years in the booth for USA Network.

In the second installment of this series, we’ll look at the top ten combinations, including two sets of ESPN stalwarts and a succession of legends in the booth at NBC.

Working the Game: An Interview with Gregor Chisholm, MLB.com Beat Writer

Today’s edition of Working The Game features Gregor Chisholm, the young writer who works the Toronto Blue Jays beat for MLB.com, a role he has filled since 2011.

Chisholm’s first regular job in journalism was at St. Francis Xavier Gregor ChisholmUniversity in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where as an undergraduate he was the sports editor of the student newspaper.  Upon his graduation he moved to Toronto where he received an advanced degree in Journalism from Ryerson University.  Chisholm first started with MLB.com as an associate reporter in 2007.  After this internship position he worked at the Toronto Sun as a copy editor before moving to the associate national sports editor position.  He returned to MLB.com in 2011 to become the Toronto Blue Jays beat writer.

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball beat writer or journalist?

I actually knew from a pretty early age. It was something I started preparing for while I was still in high school, probably grade 9 or grade 10.  I was obsessed with sports while growing up and I realized I wasn’t going to make a living playing it, so I wondered, how can I make a career doing something in sports?

When I was in grade 10, I emailed Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun and asked him, how do I become a sports journalist? Bob was kind enough to reply and give some suggestions on journalism schools I could attend, and what I could be doing as a young teenager to lay the groundwork for a career in sports journalism.  I took his advice and I did end up getting a post-grad journalism degree at Ryerson (University) in Toronto.  On top of that, he advised me to take advantage of as many opportunities as I could. So while I was at (St. Francis) Xavier University in Nova Scotia I was the sports editor of the newspaper there, and I did some freelance work for a couple of papers in the Maritimes (i.e., the eastern provinces of Canada). When I got to Toronto I put my name in with every possible organization, and I just wanted to write—it didn’t matter whether I got paid or not, I just wanted the experience.

As a Canadian aspiring to be a beat writer, did you imagine yourself more as an NHL beat writer than an MLB beat writer?

No, not at all, actually, I was never too much of a hockey fan. My two passions were baseball and basketball.  So when I went to Toronto in 2005 for my post-grad degree, my goal was to either cover the Toronto Raptors or the Toronto Blue Jays. I followed baseball more closely, so the Blue Jays would have been my first choice.  Hockey was never a passion of mine, even though my first journalism break was in hockey, covering the World Junior Hockey Championships in Nova Scotia in 2003.

What was the first baseball game you ever worked (if not exactly, then approximately), and how did you get the gig?

It was in 2007, and I was fortunate enough to get an associate reporter job with MLB.com, which is their internship program—probably one of the best programs around. I had been working at TSN, which is the Canadian equivalent to ESPN, because I had been expecting to pursue a broadcasting career at that point. I saw the posting for the MLB.com internship while I was at TSN and I thought it would be a good way to learn how to cover a beat.

That’s pretty amazing that your first experience covering a beat was for a major league team.  I don’t think that’s the norm.

Exactly, and that’s why the MLB.com internship program is so good—it’s very hands on, and you’re doing everything a regular beat guy does. That experience during that summer showed me exactly what I wanted to do, and it helped me make connections. So 2007, I went to the Toronto Sun as a copy editor and a layout person for a year and a half, and then was assistant national sports editor for well over 100 newspapers owned by The Sun until 2010.  Then I went back to MLB.com for the 2011 season.

Let’s talk about game day: What do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  You wake up in the morning, and you do … what, before the game? 

Well, I’m not a morning person.  I do sleep in because there are a lot of late nights in this job.  Usually when I wake up, I go through all the clips from the night before, which I do in the morning instead of the night before for more perspective, to see how people have approached a certain topic.  The first thing is to catch up on everything  that’s going on with the Blue Jays themselves, and then I do my morning reading of the opposing team, whoever the Blue Jays happen to be playing that day.

Then I’ll do my around-the-league stuff, looking at MLB Trade Rumors, mlb.com, ESPN, whatever the case may be, just trying to get a general sense.  Then when I get to the ballpark, I do the more in-depth type stuff, whether it’s figuring out what I’m going to be doing that day, delving into the stats to back up some of my stories, and developing a game plan for when the clubhouse opens, who I need to talk to, and the questions I need to ask when I’m there.

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark, and is it different at home versus on the road?

I’m usually there about 2:30 pm and the clubhouse opens at 3:30 pm. That gives me about an hour (to prepare), which feels like an appropriate amount of time.  I don’t like feeling rushed. On those days when I get there later and don’t get to have that prep time, I feel a little like a fish out of water. I can easily get by, of course, because I do cover the team every day, but I like to take that time, to have a coffee and go over whatever topics I think are going to come up.

What are those key things you do at the ballpark between the time you get there and the time the game starts?

I (always) go over the game notes, but otherwise it would be specific to that individual day’s stories.  For instance the Blue Jays’ bullpen got off to a slow start the first month of the season but have turned it around in the past couple of weeks, so I knew I wanted to write a story about the bullpen. Then it becomes a matter of making sure the numbers match up to what I had felt I would write about, so it’s about going into the stats and teasing out the specifics for the story. Sometimes the numbers don’t exactly support what you (originally) thought they did, so you have to adjust the story (to account for that).  There’s also a social component as well, so you’re also shooting the breeze with other reporters, which takes up your window as well. Occasionally something comes up, like a press release at 3:00 pm about a move, but usually it’s pretty set what I need to focus on for that day.

What time do you get into the press box before the game?

I will go straight up (as soon as I get to the ballpark) to set up there, (then) go down to the clubhouse at 3:30 pm, and then I am usually back up in the press box around 5:00 pm or 5:30 pm.  I’ll usually try to get the lead story up at that time, and maybe another one depending on what happens (in the clubhouse)—an injury update, something like that. Or maybe something comes out of the manager scrum that you didn’t have before, whether it’s a surprise comment or one of the reporters went in one direction and that led to something interesting information.  Then at 5:00 pm (or) 5:30 pm, I transcribe some of the quotes and try to get the story up before first pitch.

Once the actual game starts, what are you doing?  Are you working the entire time the game is going, and on what?

For the first few innings, I’m just watching the game.  Not a lot of writing going on because my goal is to get all the pregame stuff done by first pitch.  That’s not always possible—sometimes something breaks late, or sometimes there’s so much news that you find yourself still writing during the first inning or two.  I find that’s rarer now that I’ve been on the job for a while and I can write it up a lot quicker now than I used to, which makes a big difference.  I try to avoid being distracted while the game is happening.

Nowadays there’s a lot more that goes into watching the game as well, (where I’m) providing some things for fans along the way (on) Twitter and social media, sending out some observations and stats on the game, to give some insider insights to fans who follow me.  From the sixth inning on, that’s when I start to compile the game story, and find the angle and theme, because by that time you’ve had a number of innings play out. Sometimes it will change and you have to delete what you’re written, but by the sixth is when I start the writing and rewriting process.

What is your process once the game finishes? 

We go down (to the clubhouse) immediately after the game.  You’ve got to be pretty quick—you’ve got to file your story right away and get down to the clubhouse about ten minutes after the game.  You wait for the clubhouse to open and then you go in, and the manager will hold his media availability in press conference room at home, (or) in his office on the road.  That goes for about five minutes, and then the starting pitcher is someone you usually talk to. You might talk to a couple of hitters, or maybe a couple of relief pitchers—who else you focus on completely depends on what happened in the game.

Then we go upstairs after that and it’s repeating the process we follow before the game: you transcribe the quotes that you want, you put the finishing touches on the game story that you already wrote, and then we have additional sidebar (stories) on top of that, depending on whatever the big moment during the game was.  Maybe about a big hit, or a reliever who got lit, or there’s an interesting streak, the sidebar provides more comprehensive coverage about what happened during the game itself.

Do you do all your writing and filing of stories while at the ballpark, or do you write and file stories after you’ve gotten home or to the hotel room?

It’s all done at the ballpark, and the main reason for that is they want (stories published) as quickly as we can put it up there.

How soon does MLB.com want the game account posted?

It’s a little different this year than in years past. In years past it was a little more traditional in that they usually gave you a little more time, maybe an hour and a half.  They shifted the focus away from the game story because people generally already know what happened and don’t want to {just) see a recap. They want to know additional stuff. So MLB.com wants the focus on the other things.  If there’s a big moment for a hitter, they want that as its own story, and they want that as quickly as you can get it to them. The goal is to get all of your content in, however many stories you are writing, within two hours after the last pitch. The first story, they want within an hour after first pitch, but that depends how long it takes to get interviews done.

That’s the one nice thing about working on the web: the deadlines are strong suggestions. It’s not like when I was at the Toronto Sun where, if you don’t get it in by (an) exact time, it’s not going to make the paper.

How many stories are you responsible for submitting on a daily basis, or perhaps in the course of a week?

Usually two before the game, and then anywhere from three to four once the game starts and after the game is over.  If there’s a big catch or a guy extends his hitting streak to a high number during the game, we might file during the game, and then I will write around that after the game. So anywhere around five or six stories. We keep them a little bit shorter than we used to.  What we like to do now is to get more short stories out there rather than focusing on long ones, like five or six in the 500 word range rather than the 1,000 word range like I used to.

Who typically comes up with the idea for the subject of the feature?  You, your editor, combination?

Combination of the two.  Most (of the time) it will come from me.  The nice luxury is that our home office is in New York and my boss oversees the whole east division, both American and National League, so it’s nice to have that outside perspective.  Sometimes I’ll throw a few ideas at him and ask, which of these three do you think works best? Sometimes if it’s pretty obvious to me what makes a good story, then I will just shoot a quick email saying, “This is what I’m working on today.”

Do you get any vacation or free time during the season?

Yeah.  I don’t do every game.  I get basically eight days off a month, and most people do.  Mine tend to come in clusters.  By the end of the year I end up doing 125, 130 games.  If there’s a road trip where the Jays are doing three cities, I’ll do two of those.  There will be a couple times a month in which I get a nice little breather for three or four days at a time.

What are the easier things, and what are the harder things, for you to do as a beat writer during the season?

The hardest things would be stuff not specifically related to job.  The season is a grind for the reporters (just as it is for the players).  Life on the road is one of the more difficult things.  There’s a lot of benefit because I get to see a lot of cities across the United States that (I’d) never been to before this job, so that’s a perk.  The downside is working until 1:00 am or 2:00 am, and then waking up at 7:00 am the next morning to catch a flight to your next city, so there are often a lot of sleepless nights.  And then there’s the time being away from my home—not being able to see my friends or my family or my girlfriend.

The easiest things to me are everything else that’s associated with the job.  Baseball is my passion, and it’s been an honour to work in the game every day, and that’s what I’ve got to remind myself of, on those bad travel days.

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while covering a baseball team?

What I’ve learned over my five years is that it’s important to keep a level head during the entire process.  You can’t get caught up in the high moments or the low moments.  Small sample sizes—the team or a player might be going good for a couple of days, but you always have to think about the big picture.  You have to learn not to read too much into the highs and into the lows.

Beyond interviews and conversations, what are some of the top resources you use to keep informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?  You’d mentioned a few earlier like MLB Trade Rumors, MLB.com, ESPN—any others?

In terms of crunching numbers, Baseball-Reference is obviously a “go to” for any baseball journalist.  Fangraphs has become a very useful resource for me as well.  Brooks Baseball is another one.  Those are probably the top three I use on a daily basis, for the data I need to do my stories.  Baseball-Reference is the home page on my Google Chrome, so I use that one all the time.

As for non-data stuff, (there’s) MLB.com, ESPN—you know, honestly, I use Twitter for a lot of my stuff.  I use it as a news feed, and I follow all my favourite journalists, and journalists from other teams.  I might click on someone’s story from Twitter and just surf around from there.  It’s just as much a news feed for me as it is a tool to interact with fans and post my own content.

Are there any significant differences between being a beat writer for MLB.com versus being a beat writer for a newspaper such as the Sun?

I get that question a lot, and there really isn’t.  I’m a reporter, not a columnist, so everything I write needs to be factually correct.  I don’t insert a ton of opinion into my stories.  As a reporter you’re supposed to be right down the middle, whether it’s a story like (Yuniel) Escobar and the eyeblack (on which he featured) the homophobic phrase a few years ago, to Jose Bautista going completely off on umpires—there’s really nothing that’s off limits for us.  So my job is very similar to the job I had with the Toronto Sun in that respect. My opinions will come out on Twitter or my blog, but when you’re writing a story, you need to make sure it reflects (all) sides of a story, and numbers, stats, quotes, insider feedback—those are the things that make the story whether you’re at MLB.com, the Toronto Sun, or the Toronto Star.

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?  Do you get a day off too, or are you still working a full day?

Not working a full day, but I do some work.  That’s usually a good time to do an Inbox story, the same as one of the Mailbag columns a beat writer might do in the paper—I’ll take some questions from fans and put together a story on that.  Sometimes with something big that’s going on, I’ll take the opportunity to write a feature on it that day, or if something happened during the game that warrants a follow-up on the day after, then I’ll do that.   Or maybe there are roster moves—I’m always on call, still.  But once I write those kinds of things, unless there’s something going on with the team, then I’ll take the rest of the day off.

So when you take a travel series off, or say, during the All-Star Break, do you use those as real days off, or are you working and/or on call then, as well?

When I’m off a series, that’s when I get a full breather.  MLB.com will hire someone to cover for me those weekends.  I’m in Baltimore right now, but if I wasn’t here, then an associate reporter, that (same) intern job that I had back in 2007, a lot of times that person would jump over and cover the visiting team for that series.  If the Baltimore reporter and I were both scheduled to be off at the same time, the associate reporter would cover the home team and MLB.com would hire a freelancer to cover the visiting team.

But those are the weekends that I actually get a breather, but most times I’ll end up watching the game.  It’s rare when I don’t.  I only miss three or four games a year, only when I physically can’t, like I’m at a wedding or a birthday party or something.   But when I do take a week off, I will (still) watch the (Blue Jays) game because it’s a very enjoyable experience to see it from the fan perspective and not have to worry about writing on deadline.  I get to just sit back, watch the game and listen to the announcers, which I don’t get a chance to do when I’m working.

When you’re traveling with the team, what is your favorite thing to do while on the road?

Usually try to find some good places to eat—that would be the big thing, especially now that I’ve been around the league for a few years.  The first couple years I would try to do one of the touristy things.  I don’t have to get to the ballpark until 2:30 pm, so that gives me a chance to have a late morning lunch and a chance to do some sightseeing.  Now that I’ve done most of those cities quite a number of times, I don’t worry about doing that.   I just try to find a nice new restaurant, a new spot to try.  There’s really not as much time as I would have thought going in.  Time really does fly, whether getting ready for the game, sleeping in later after a late night work—the days do seem to go by fast.

That’s interesting—a lot of the guys I’ve talked to say what they enjoy most is sleeping in without the kids running in and waking them up!

Yeah, that’s funny!  I admire those guys.  I don’t have any kids—I have a long-time girlfriend and we don’t have kids yet.  I find this job is exhausting enough on its own.  A lot of times you don’t get home until 1:30 in the morning and I can sleep in until 11 o’clock no problem, but a lot of these other guys, they get home at 1:30 and then they have their kids coming in bouncing on them at 6:30 the next morning.  I don’t know how they do it.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

The offseason is still actually quite busy for us.  A lot of the other newspaper guys, or in the other media, have a lot more downtime, but we still write.  We’ll have one story going up every Monday to Friday during the offseason, so I’m (still) writing five days a week.  October is usually a pretty slow month.  They do like some content on the Jays, who haven’t made the playoffs since I’ve been with them.  But MLB.com likes to have reporters covering other teams, so every year I have done one playoff series covering another team.  In November the five-day-a-week schedule starts, and early on in the month you look at free agents who are available, or needs the team should address.

As you progress through the offseason the news starts trickling in.  You can fill up your time quite easily, and baseball is kind of rare that way. It’s really the (only) one of the major sports that’s a year-round thing.  (Editor’s note: This is how you can tell that Gregor does not work in an NFL city!)  The offseason hot stove is something that some people follow as closely as the season itself.  November and December leading into the Winter Meetings is always a busy time, and then things shut down a week before Christmas.

We get a complete break over Christmas, and then in January—it’s been different in recent years, but usually, most of the big names are off the (free agent signing) board and there are not much in the way of major moves afterwards.  So there’s not as much to write about, not as much as in November and December.  So it’s a little slower in January but then in February you’re starting with the preseason preview stuff, and then Spring Training.  I head down to Spring Training in the first or second week of February for the next six weeks.

After you’d become a beat writer, what was the one big thing about the job that’s true but you totally did not expect going in?

I was surprised at how much players actually read.  I was under the impression that I would come into this job and find that players are oblivious to everything around them.  I remember my first year, (the team’s PR department) would actually print out all of the media clippings.  They would print out these packages that they would staple together, containing every story written about the Blue Jays from the night before.  So you would walk through the clubhouse and you would see the (players) actually going through it.  It was a little bit off-putting, but it was a reality check.  It was a little bit awkward, because you might have written a story about how a guy is doing basically terrible over a number of weeks, calling his role into question and so on, and you look over and there is that guy reading that very story that you wrote!  And then you would have to go talk to him later on!

To me, it was an eye opener, and I think it’s a bit of a bad idea.  Ideally, these guys would be above all that and not get caught up in whatever we’re saying, because not much good can come of that.  In a lot of ways, these guys are like I was in high school, when someone writes about you in the local paper and you want to read that, and in a lot of ways these guys are still like that.  They don’t print out the media clippings anymore, but there are still times when I will get pulled aside by a player to talk about what I wrote the day before.  That’s OK, you have to be accountable for what you write and it all goes with being a journalist.  They’re usually very civil conversations—it’s rare when a guy comes out screaming at you.  It’s usually two guys just giving their take on a situation and moving forward from there.  But yeah, that was a very big surprise to me.

What baseball writers do you most admire, retired and/or currently active, and why?

It would certainly start with Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, from when I was a kid.  He’s a Hall of Fame writer and he’s done amazing work over the years.  He’s done an unbelievable job of promoting baseball in Canada.   He’s done a lot to grow the game over several decades, so to me, he will always be at the top of that list.  There are a lot of other guys in Toronto I admire and have a lot of respect for—Shi Davidi over at SportsNet, and he was at Canadian Press before that, (and) Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, one of those guys I admired long before I ever thought I was going to be a beat writer.  From around baseball, I think everybody has to respect what Ken Rosenthal does.  He’s probably the best in the business at breaking a story.  Jeff Passan at Yahoo, who a great writer with strong opinions, and whenever there’s a controversial issue in baseball, he’s someone I want to read.

If you were the King of Baseball Journalism and you could make any changes or improvements to the profession or to the process, what would they be?

To me, it would probably come down to media access.  The only part about this job I don’t like is the constant waiting around.  There’s lots of time I’m hanging out in the Blue Jays clubhouse for 30 or 40 minutes, (and) it’s their personal space.  We have to work there as well, but it’s their clubhouse.  It’s where they get ready for a game, where they shower, where they dress.  It’s not an ideal spot for a journalist and we don’t like to linger there.  Ideally, we’d like to get our (stories) and get out.  But we might have to wait for a particular player who’s in the back in the big lounge area where media is not allowed, so the bottom line is that if you’re waiting for the guy, you just have to wait around, in their space.  So it ends up wasting some of my time and it’s an inconvenience for the players to deal with, us hanging around all the time.  So if they could just make players available quicker, we could get our jobs done quicker and make the players more comfortable.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would want people, such as ordinary fans, to know about your job? Is there something you wish fans knew that they don’t know?

Nothing off the top of my head.  The one thing I would say is, especially with the older guys who have been around for a while, (and) with the new age of stats which I follow very closely, a lot of people like to tear down the old school approach, and I think that’s a mistake.  Just because the nature of sports journalism is changing so quickly, especially with social media, it gives people an opportunity to tear down journalists.  I’ve been lucky, I don’t have to deal with that much, but some of the guys who have been covering baseball for thirty or forty years, they (still) know what they’re talking about.  They’ve been around the game and talk to people in the game, but it’s very easy for people to sit at home and criticize.  (Baseball writers) have to balance a lot of balls in the air: relationships with players, relationships with scouts, and the front office, the kinds of things that go beyond the coverage. It’s easy for fans at home to say, why don’t you (write) this or that, and maybe I would have done the same as a fan.  But speaking from the Toronto perspective, there are a lot of great writers who have done great work covering the game for so long, and those are the guys who deserve a lot of respect for the time they have put into the game.

Hear Apu, Chief Wiggum and Moe the Bartender Do Play by Play for Famous Moments in Mets History

Nobody could confuse Hank Azaria with a real major league play by play announcer.  But it was still a lot of fun to hear him don his most famous characters while he visited MLB Network’s “MLB Central” show earlier this week, riffing some play by play for some of the most famous moments in Mets history.

A lifelong Mets fans—and really, don’t the funniest people in the world all seem to be? What’s the deal with that?—Azaria infuses his calls with the wry, arch fatalism that characterizes the Mets fan base in general.  So while his efforts here are not necessarily steeped in technical proficiency, they are, nevertheless, right on the money and funny as hell.

His entire six minute and thirty-three second segment is worth watching, but if you want to cut right to the chase, then go to the 4:48 mark and start watching there.

Enjoy!

 

Here’s the Best Reason for a Baseball Fan to Fly on JetBlue, at Least for Now

You get to watch major league baseball games for free!

By using JetBlue’s in-flight “Fly-Fi” content portal (which presumably presents itself after you log in to the plane’s free wi-fi service), you as a passenger can access major league games on either the MLB At Bat app on your smartphones, even if you don’t subscribe to MLB.tv through your app already; or through your laptop at the MLB.com website.

The service will offer “more than 2,500 live and archived games on demand per season” at “speeds up to 20 mbps per device”, meaning that “customers using Fly-Fi Hub can catch any Regular Season game being played by any of MLB’s 30 teams at any time.”

In other words: no blackouts apply.  Which makes sense, because how do you enforce blackouts while flying across the country?  It would be a terrible user experience to watch a Tigers games on a New York to Chicago flight, only to suddenly lose the game to blackout the moment you enter Michigan airspace, which would completely defeat what both JetBlue and MLB Advanced Media are trying to accomplish with this partnership.

JetBlue is making this service available on flights within the “contiguous” United States, meaning the lower 48 states only. The other main thing I notice in the press release about this service is that no launch date is mentioned, which I take to mean that it is available right now. If you’ve been on a JetBlue flight and this isn’t yet true, though, let me know and I will update this article.

Here is the JetBlue press release itself, if you’re interested:

http://blog.jetblue.com/index.php/2015/07/09/jetblue-adds-mlb-tv-streaming-taking-live-baseball-to-the-skies/

If You’re a Baseball TV Ratings Geek, You Will Really Enjoy This Story

I will totally cop to being a ratings geek.  Even when I was a kid and they would publish local TV or radio ratings once a quarter in the entertainment section of the paper, I would immediately glue myself to the story and memorize the numbers and rankings. I love ratings so much, I selected my college major and career path just so they could be a part of my work.  So when I see an article like Maury Brown’s in Forbes from the other day, it’s like handing me a pound of peanut M&Ms and saying, here you go, chow down.

Brown takes a good look at the Nielsen TV ratings for the 29 clubs based in the U.S. (Toronto is in Canada and thus is not measured by Nielsen, so they’re not included here.) I would recommend you go on over and read his story for yourself, but if you can’t make time, here are a few high points from it:

  • Local baseball telecasts continue to dominate their markets during prime time (defined as 8p-11p Eastern and Pacific, and 7p-10p Central and Mountain). Ten teams rank #1 in their markets, led by Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Another six come in at #2 or #3. This is amazing because almost all the telecasts run on cable regional sports networks, which do not have penetration into all the TV households in their markets, yet they routinely outpull even broadcast (aka “over-the-air”) stations in total viewers.
  • If you exclude broadcast stations from the analysis, baseball ranks #1 for 24 of the 25 local TV markets (except only Houston, who are handicapped by having to overcome a horrible TV situation with Comcast Sportsnet  from last year).
  • The Royals are riding their surprise World Series appearance and fast start this year to a +114% ratings increase versus last year, which puts them at the top with an astounding 12.7 household (HH) rating.  This means that 12.7% of all TV HH in Kansas City are tuned to the Royals at any given time. The Royals have both the highest rating and the greatest increase over last.  The Cardinals are second with a 10.2 HH rating. The Tigers (7.7), Pirates (7.6) and Mariners (6.3) round out the top five in ratings.
  • After the Royals, the  Cubs are riding a similar surge in win-loss record, plus exciting new young players, to a similar increase in ratings: +112% over last year, up to 3.1 from 1.5.  The Padres (+52%), Cardinals (+35%) and Nationals (+29%) round out this top five.  On the flip side, the White Sox are disappointing on TV as well as on the field, losing viewers at a -42% clip over 2014.  The Indians (-36%), Braves (-32%), Brewers (-27%) and Reds (-25%) have had similarly horrifying ratings losses, and yet, these latter four teams are still the #1 ratings grabbers in their markets.
  • In terms of total average viewers, big markets rule: The Yankees (206,000) and Mets (180,000) are 1-2, with the Red Sox (146,000), Tigers (141,000) and Cardinals (125,000) coming in at #3 through #5.

Here is the table from the Maury Brown story.  You can click through it to go directly to his story over at Forbes.

h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.
h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.

How General Mills Helped Shape Baseball Broadcasts

Committee member Jim Theilman, a published author who covered the big leagues for 16 years and also wrote a book about the 1965 Minnesota Twins AL championship squad, is a website manager by day for General Mills.  Every once in a while, he gets to marry his love for baseball with the practical demands for content on his employer’s behalf, and when that happens, you get a great article like this:

How General Mills Helped Shape Baseball Broadcasts

Through their efforts at promoting their cereal brands, General Mills was on the forefront of convincing big league ballclub owners to see the light and understand that putting their product on the radio was good for business, not bad.

Jim has given us permission to reprint the article in full, but we also urge you to cast an occasional eye towards Jim’s columns on the General Mills website, since he’s pretty good at finding ways to weave baseball into the conversation over there: http://www.blog.generalmills.com/author/jim-thielman/

Here’s the reprinted article:


 

By the time furniture that talked was nestled against a far wall in nearly half of American parlors in the 1930s, companies like General Mills were using those radio sets to tell people about their products.

Baseball was an ideal radio advertising vehicle. Games were played during the day, and most women worked at home. During the summer, kids listened, too.

The speedbump was the owners of professional baseball teams. As is usually the case with monolithic monopolies, progressive thinking wasn’t their style.

Most owners – influenced by newspapers that didn’t want broadcasts to disrupt their monopoly on coverage – believed that giving away the games to listeners would erode gate receipts.

Only a few owners like Chicago Cubs’ William Veeck Sr. understood the value. Kids who listened to broadcasts were tomorrow’s paying customers.

Women might be, too. Which is why the grandfather of St. Paul Saints’ owner Mike “Fun is Good” Veeck promoted a weekly Ladies’ Day at the ballpark. Women got in free.

That only a few owners understood marketing all seems silly today, as Major League Baseball’s 85th All-Star Game nears. The sport has more revenue streams than ever, yet no one has to watch a game.

Highlights from tonight’s game will be found on the Internet. No need to view the event. Of course, you’ll see plenty of advertisements along with the highlights.

Baseball owners didn’t see this coming about a century ago. Companies like General Mills did.

Shortly after radio – a set cost about $700 in today’s dollars – got a foothold in the U.S. in 1921, sellers of goods had demonstrated that radio could puff profits.

Boosted by General Mills’ sponsorship of baseball broadcasts on nearly 100 radio stations, Wheaties was filling cereal bowls nationwide. It had been largely a regional success before that.

By the time baseball’s seventh Major League Baseball All-Star game was played in 1939, 46 of the 51 players in the game were under contract with Wheaties.

General Mills was spending more than $1 million annually to sponsor major and minor league radio broadcasts as the 1940s dawned.

The company slid as unhesitatingly into TV as it had radio.

A  Wheaties commercial  in which broadcaster Red Barber sliced fresh fruit into a bowl of crispy flakes was the centerpiece ad spot on baseball’s first televised broadcast in 1939.

Barber, a radio staff announcer who did an occasional baseball broadcast, segued into full-time, Hall of Fame broadcasting career after discovering he was good at it. General Mills paid him $8,000 – a nice post-Depression salary – to broadcast Brooklyn Dodger games on the radio in 1939.

Before Barber there was no blueprint. An announcer might be joined in the booth by comedians and others who had nothing to do with the sport.

Once General Mills started to pay the freight, broadcasters met at an annual dinner. The company directed these men to be non-partisan and avoid criticism of players and umpires.

Sponsorship also brought experimentation to the booth.

In the 1940s, General Mills was behind the first woman baseball announcer. That was Helen Dettwiler, who was also the first professional woman golfer. She was said to be not qualified for the baseball commenting job.

But then many were not.

It took a pioneer like Barber to turn baseball broadcasts into summer’s sound track, capably narrating the daily melody.

Barber primed the pump of a listener’s imagination. He focused on reporting. If a baseball took four hops to reach the leftfielder, that’s what the listener learned.

Highly regarded as he was, Barber falls short of the highest-ranking baseball broadcaster employed by General Mills.

That would be a man who pronounced his name Ree-gan back in the ‘30s, when he announced Wheaties’ sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games.

Ronald Reagan was 25 when he was a sports announcer at WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa. He didn’t see the games he broadcast.

It was a practice for an announcer to be in studio, but deliver game play-by-play from telegraph reports as if he were at the game. Imagine calling a friend on your cell phone and reporting a game as a third person tweets the account to you from the ballpark.

In 1937, Reagan went to California to cover spring training, took a screen test and became a film star.

And eventually President of the United States.

Accounts maintain that Reagan had the talent to “rip and read” game accounts flawlessly. Which perhaps set the groundwork for his presidential nickname: The Great Communicator.

Editor’s note: The General Mills Archives provided information and images for this post. You can learn more about our past on GeneralMills.com and GeneralMillsHistory.com.

Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.

Subscribe to “A Taste of General Mills” by email – here – and we’ll notify you about our latest posts.


 

Jim Thielman is a manager in Global Communications for General Mills, based in Minneapolis. He manages content for the corporate website. He also is the author of “Cool of the Evening” about the 1965 Minnesota Twins. He began his career at General Mills in 2005. More posts by this author

Tonight’s Mariner-Yankee Game Will Be the First Game Broadcast in 8K. What Does That Even Mean?

You may have run across this story a couple weeks ago: tonight’s game between the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium will be broadcast in 8K.

“8K” is a short name for something that might seem somewhat big and confusing to understand, but I will try to explain it in simple terms.

If you already have a standard HD TV, its maximum resolution in pixels is 1920 (in width) x 1080 (in height).  This is the same kind of screen resolution terminology used for your laptop or computer monitor, and you can see what that is right now by going to WhatIsMyScreenResolution.com.  Maybe your computer already uses 1920 x 1080, which would match an HD TV. My laptop comes in at 1600 x 900. The most common computer screen resolution is 1366 x 768.

The next big advancement in screen resolution for TVs is 4K, which has a max resolution of 3840 x 2160. How did they come up with the name “4K”? Because 3840 is close to 4,000; thus, “4K”.  If you like the resolution you get on your current HD TV, you will love the resolution of a 4K TV, which you can see for yourself by going to any store that has an electronics department.

So, you can get a 4K TV today if you want, but you won’t be able to see much 4K content on it. Even though top providers like DirecTV and Comcast’s Xfinity already have 4K boxes customers can obtain, only a few odd movie titles and TV series even offer true 4K, and none of that content includes major networks like ESPN, HBO, USA … or, sadly, anything MLB.  That should change within the next few years, but for now, unless you have too much money sitting around or you crave cutting edge technology, you probably want to wait before buying a 4K TV set.

OK, so, what about 8K? The screen resolution for 8K is 7680 x 4320, which is four times sharper than a 4K resolution, and even though 4K as a technology has fairly recently been released and is probably within a couple of years of widespread adoption, 8K is already nipping on its heels.  In fact, some industry insiders are predicting that 8K is coming on so fast that it won’t even make sense for consumers to get a 4K set, because by the time 4K is ready to become commonplace, something four times as good will be ready to go. (That prediction doesn’t take into account the possibility of a coordinated controlled rollout strategy by electronics manufacturers so they can maximize revenue from 4K technology before they start an 8K rollout, but this isn’t a forum for the discussion on the nature of free markets versus corporate collusion.)

All of which brings us full circle back to tonight’s Mariners-Yankees game: it’s going to be broadcast in 8K. But you and I and everybody else aren’t going to be able to see it, so why bother? They are bothering because they want to gauge the feasibility of broadcasting the game in higher-than-today’s high definition, which includes both 8K and 4K.  Eventually, the new technology will be taken advantage of, so they want to start that evaluation process tonight by viewing an 8K-resolution game in the one Yankee Stadium suite in which it will be available in order to answer the question, “Can this actually be a thing?”

Major League Baseball probably does have a while to think about and work on it, though. Current estimates call for 22 million 4K TV shipments by 2017 and 1 million 8K TV shipments by 2019.  That might sound like a lot, but considering we live in a world with 1.5 billion TV households, including about 116 million in the US, you can see that there is a long way to go before most households will have either one, and most likely not until 2020-something.

So, it will probably be a while before you and I shell out the bucks for something better than the HD sets we have today.  But it’s also good to know what’s coming down the pike, too.

(NOTE: I had to do a significant edit to change the explanation how they arrived at 4K and 8K as an explanation.  As the kids of 1995 like to say, “my bad”.)