Vin Scully Will Extend His Unbreakable Record for One More Season

"I know, right? Can you believe I'm coming back for another season?!" (h/t Deadspin)
“I know, right? Can you believe I’m coming back for another season?!” (h/t Deadspin)

 

One of the things baseball fans like to debate is which records are unbreakable.

There are certain records that fall into this category because the game is completely different and will never go back to the way it would have to be for the record to be broken.  A lot of pitcher records fall into this category: Cy Young’s 511 career wins is an obvious one, as are Old Hoss Radbourn’s 59-win season in 1884 and Matt Kilroy’s 589⅓ innings in 1887.  Those can never be broken because the game is just not played that way anymore.

Then there are the records that are virtually unbreakable: technically possible, even with the game played as it is today, but so unlikely as to not even warrant serious consideration.  Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak of 2,632 (and, to the end, his consecutive innings streak of 8,264); Chief Wilson’s 36 triples in a season for the 1912 Pirates; Hank Aaron’s 25 All-Star games; even Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is arguably in this territory.

But one record almost never gets mentioned, even though nearly everyone would agree that it is probably impossible to break: Vin Scully’s 66 years of broadcasting games on a regular basis for a major league baseball team . And now comes the word that Vin will be extending that record by returning in 2016 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 67th and final season which, at that level, makes it exponentially more likely that his record will indeed never be broken.

You might be thinking at first, hey, good call on mentioning Scully’s streak as a baseball record that’s unbreakable. (I confess that I myself had never considered it before hearing the announcement this morning.) But then you might be thinking, wait, this one will certainly be broken someday, won’t it? After all, each generation lives longer than any generation before it.  People living into their nineties and even past 100 is becoming way more common, and soon might even come to be commonplace.  So we can’t really call a record of 67 seasons in the broadcast booth totally unbreakable, can we?

Technically, you’d be right to think so, and maybe you’d even be proven right some day. But there are also a few mitigating circumstances to consider.  For one, Vin Scully came into the booth as one of the youngest broadcasters ever to call a major league game, during the 1950 season at the age of 22.  By contrast, the youngest baseball broadcaster today, Aaron Goldsmith of the Seattle Mariners radio network, started his major league broadcasting career just shy of his 30th birthday. The likelihood of any major league team hiring a kid in his or her early 20s to be a regular on their broadcasts is very slim.

For another thing, in order for someone to call 67 straight seasons of baseball as a regular for a major league team, they would almost certainly have to do so into their 90s, living to which becomes increasingly less likely as you pass through your eighties.  When you as an American male turn 80, for instance, your chance of dying that same year is 1 in 16 (contrasted with 1 in 430 at age 40 and 1 in 88 at age 60).  That drops to 1 in 8 by Vin’s age of 87, and 1 in 6 by age 89. Put another way, 87% of all American males born in a given year will have died before their 90th birthday. And even though the odds that an American female will live into her nineties is much greater at about 24%, it will be a long time before females are hired as regular major league team broadcasters at a rate that makes it just as likely that a woman will call games into her nineties as it is for a man to do so.  So even with today’s extended mortality levels and tomorrow’s egalitarianism in broadcaster hiring, that is still a long, long shot.

Lastly, the chances that someone will remain with a major league team, any major league team, for 67 seasons without getting fired, or without quitting for another job or to go to a network, makes the odds longer still that this record will ever be broken.

Roll that all around in your head, and once you have, you will come to a fresh, new appreciation of the magnitude of the record that Vin Scully sets every time  he steps back into the broadcast booth to begin another season, which he will do yet again next spring.

That is beyond amazing, and we are beyond blessed for living in these times so we can witness it.

Congratulations to you for your long and successful career, Vin Scully, and thank you for returning to the booth to entertain us for another year. And special thanks to your lovely wife, Sandi, for allowing you to do so.

(This article has been edited, with a revised headline, from the original to include reference to 2016 as Scully’s final season.)

Tribute and Outrage: Two Sides of the Coin after Red Sox Can Don Orsillo

Shortly after it was announced that the Red Sox are going to dump Don Orsillo, their long-time play-by-play voice, from their telecasts on NESN, the tributes started coming in, and the outrage within Red Sox nation started boiling over.

Boston.com, the Internet arm of the venerable Globe newspaper, provided a nice historical overview of top Bosox broadcasters that fans throughout New England have bonded with, resurrecting such names as Jim Britt, Tom Hussey, Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin and some of the younger whippersnappers, which you can read here:

Play-by-play announcers enjoy special place in Red Sox Nation

Jerry Thornton, a sometimes stand-up comedian who appears regularly on the The Dale & Holley Show on WEEI-FM, posted a nice retrospective of Orsillo’s funniest moments on his blog on the station’s website, featuring his five favorites.  This one is my personal favorite, since it makes good fun of Jerry Remy’s Masshole accent:

You can read his post and see the other clips here:

TRIBUTE TO DON ORSILLO’S FUNNIEST NESN MOMENTS

The other side of the coin from tribute is outrage, and there is no shortage of that here, either.  The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy casts this incident as just another of a series of botched moves in a lost season that have culminated in the firing of Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington as well:

With Don Orsillo news, Red Sox drop the ball again

Alex Reimer over at Boston Magazine believes that this firing was not just a dumb move by a clueless organization.  He maintains that this change is a calculated move that “could signal a dark, propaganda-filled turn for Red Sox telecasts.”

Don Orsillo’s NESN Departure Is the Biggest Loss of the Red Sox Season

Yikes!

Meanwhile, one of the eggheads over the Bston’s NPR affiliate, WBUR (OK, E. M. Swift was a writer at SI for for three decades, but still …  😀 ) makes very clear that even while he is largely unimpressed with practically every other announcer he’s ever heard—including Vin Scully, for cry eye!—Don Orsillo is the very best he has ever heard. Ever.

Another Loss For The Sox: An Appreciation Of Ousted Play-By-Play Announcer Don Orsillo

Most of all, though, it is the fan base that have been making themselves heard in the only way they can: through social media. Head on over to Twitter:

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23DonOrsillo&src=tyah

Or to Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/search/str/%23donorsillo/keywords_top

And get a taste of what The People have to say about this incident.

All we can add to this at this point is, we wish all the best of luck to you, Don.  Here’s hoping everything comes up roses for you.

Curt Schilling’s Lesson Learned: Fleeting Bad Actions Can Have Permanent Bad Consequences

By now it’s pretty well known—even by people who don’t care about baseball, media, or baseball media—that Curt Schilling made a horrible decision to tweet the following:

Schilling did not create the meme in question—he “merely” tweeted it out.  I put the word merely in quotes because the gravity of his action is hardly mitigated even by the realization that he merely agrees with the sentiment enough to repeat it publicly, rather than authoring the sentiment himself.

You can’t see the tweet live anymore, since Schilling has deleted it from his feed.  Too late to reverse the condemnation he has received, of course, but at least he’s not doubling down on the sentiment by maintaining its presence on his feed or, worse, tripling down on it by defending or flaunting it, as some might.

As a result of this loose cannon act, Schilling swiftly lost his job as an analyst on ESPN’s Little League World Series baseball telecasts. Swiftly as in same day.

Now comes word that Schilling’s punishment by ESPN is extending to his regular gig on their Sunday Night Baseball telecasts as well, as The Worldwide Leader announced late last night that Schilling is being pulled from this week’s Cubs-Dodgers tilt.  No word yet on whether the ban will extend beyond this week, but it’s hard to envision Schilling returning to the booth any time this year, given how raw the original story is at the moment.  There’s a lot of noise surrounding Curt Schilling right now, and if there’s one thing megabillion multinational media and entertainment companies despise, its noise of exactly this type.

Curt Schilling is a very smart man, so he had the good sense (and decency) to express a feeling resembling remorse over his bad decision:

This tweet occurred the same day as his LLWS telecast suspension.  It is, at the moment of this post’s publication, his most recent tweet, so we do not yet know publicly his reaction to his removal from this Sunday’s telecast.

Now, articulating “my bad” for expressing an opinion is not the same as feeling shame for having the opinion in the first place.  Schilling must certainly understand that difference, and while I can’t read the man’s mind, it strikes me as doubtful that he feels any differently about Muslims (extremist or not) today than he did two days ago. But the bar at hand does not extend as high as prohibiting the most secret thoughts and opinions a man might want hold in his head.  It extends only to expressing them in a public forum.  In America and most of the rest of the First World, you have the freedom to express such thoughts, but that freedom does not extend to exemption from the consequences of expressing them.

Schilling is smart also because, unlike some knuckleheads imploring him to “NEVER apologize for telling the truth especially if the PC bullies don’t like it“, he understands that when you are the public face of a very high profile organization, the thoughts you express for public consumption, even in your off hours, reflect on the organization you’re associated with.  Schilling does not work 24 hours a day seven days a week, but The Walt Disney Company does, so there is no off-hours period of freedom from his public representation of them. Plus, The Mouse as a corporation has accountability to an international and multicultural audience that extends far beyond defending the right of their employees and representatives to publicly express whatever they believe their truths to be, never mind any obligation to maintain their full status in good standing within the corporation afterwards.

Whether this will cost Schilling any chance to work a booth at any point in the future is still unclear.  What is clear is that any sports broadcasting concern interested in maintaining politics-free output will think twice about hiring someone who, intelligent though he may be, has a history of exhibiting poor impulse control and bad judgment when it comes to putting his innermost political thoughts out there for the purpose of the entire world enjoying them.

George Frazier, Long-Time Rockies TV Announcer, is Bidding Adios After the Season

It’s fairly common for ex-major leaguers to show up in the broadcast booth playing second banana as analyst to the team’s play-by-play announcer, but it’s somewhat less common for ex-players to sit in the first chair and describe the action itself. George Frazier was one of the latter.

A ten-year middle reliever with five clubs, mostly in the 80s, Frazier spent nearly two decades on various TV channels describing the activities of the Colorado Rockies baseball club to fans dotting a vast stretch of the Rocky Mountain region.

Dusty Saunders, a columnist for the Denver News, wrote a very nice piece that provides an overview of Frazier’s career in the broadcast booths at Mile High Stadium and Coors Field. With the permission of Saunders and his boss at the Post, Torin Berge (himself a ex-pro), we reproduce it in its entirety below.  Click here if you would prefer to read it on the original website.


 

Dusty Saunders: George Frazier bowing out of booth at season’s end

Frazier made his Rockies debut as a “tryout” TV analyst and color man

Former Rockies manager, Jim Tracy, left, takes a bite from a sandwich while talking with Rockies baseball television analyst, George Frazier in his office

Former Rockies manager, Jim Tracy, left, takes a bite from a sandwich while talking with Rockies baseball television analyst, George Frazier in his office hours before a game at Coors Field. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)

George Frazier, after 19 seasons and more than 1,800 games, will say goodbye to Root Sports and Rockies fans Oct. 4, when he will be at AT&T Park in San Francisco for the Rockies’ final game of the season.

“I’ll miss all things Rockies,” said the veteran broadcaster, who lives in Tulsa, Okla. “But it’s time. After 28 years (overall) in broadcasting booths, I want a new challenge.”

Frazier, 60, made his decision a year ago, telling Root Sports management that he didn’t want to renew his contract after this season.

“I’m not going to hibernate on my front porch in Tulsa,” Frazier said. “Baseball remains a big chunk of my life. I want to stay involved, maybe by showing kids what a great game it is. I could work in the minor leagues, and Oklahoma University has new TV technology which interests me. My career door is wide open.”

Frazier made his Rockies debut as a “tryout” TV analyst and color man during the last three games of the 1997 season.

“Dave Campbell was leaving and I had a shot at replacing him,” Frazier said. “I don’t remember that first game score, only that the Rockies won at home against the Reds. I was nervous. I liked Denver and wanted to work here. There was so much fan enthusiasm for the Rockies.”

He did well enough to get offered a full-time contract for the 1998 season — joining play-by-play man Dave Armstrong, who was replaced by Drew Goodman in 2002.

Frazier’s career as a broadcaster began in 1988 after 10 years as a big-league pitcher, mostly as a middle reliever. He had a career 35-43 record with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians.

Frazier’s first TV job was covering Big Eight Conference men’s and women’s basketball for Prime Sports. That led to baseball coverage at Home Sports Entertainment, the Baseball Network, ESPN, Fox Sports and with the Twins.

Last weekend, when the Rockies were playing in St. Louis, Frazier told viewers about his close relationship with Hall of Famer Lou Brock.

“Lou was my lockermate during his final years. We became good friends,” Frazier said. “I idolized the guy … still do.

“When I was talking about Lou on Root Sports, he was visiting in the Cardinals’ TV booth next door with Tim McCarver, telling viewers about our relationship.”

As Rockies fans know, Frazier loves to talk about baseball. His style has irritated some fans. He also has been accused of being too much of a “homer,” a charge made against many big-league broadcasters.

“I love to talk, particularly about baseball,” Frazier said. “I provide a lot of information about the game that often ties into my knowledge about the past. A lot of fans like that. Criticism has never bothered me. I never wanted to change my broadcasting style.”

Frazier’s favorite Rockies memories include the team’s run to the 2007 World Series and Ubaldo Jimenez’s no-hitter vs. the Braves in Atlanta in 2010.

“But even more important to me has been watching guys like Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez play regularly,” Frazier said. “They’re in my Hall of Fame.”

Frazier, who considers himself “a country boy at heart,” will spend a lot of time hunting and fishing near his Tulsa home and cruising around in his 23-year-old Chevy truck, which has 288,000 miles on it.

His retirement from booth duties also will give him more time with his wife, Kay; their children, Matthew, Brian, Parker and Georgia; and five grand- children.

“Speaking of families,” Frazier said, “I’ll miss Drew and the Root Sports gang. It may sound like a cliché, but a broadcasting organization is family, particularly after 19 years.”

Parker is a pitcher in the Oakland Athletics’ farm system. Georgia, recently crowned Miss Oklahoma, will compete in the Miss America Pageant, which ABC will televise Sept. 13.

“I’ll be there cheering loudly for my daughter,” Frazier said. “People will probably hear me, although I won’t be in a broadcasting booth.”

The Excellent Case for Jack Graney to be Enshrined in the Hall of Fame

Barbara Gregorich is a long-time SABR member who has written a boatload of books on a number of subjects ranging from women in baseball to children’s books to mystery novels. I don’t know whether she types her output on an old Remington Rand, which would be really cool, but either way, she’s a prodigious author of repute.

Barbara is also a big champion of Jack Graney, the Canadian-born slick-fielding outfielder for the Cleveland Indians during the heart of, and then the waning days of, the dead ball era.  Upon his retirement he remained in The Forest City to sell Fords during the roaring 20s, before moving into investments and eventually back to auto sales. Once the Depression hit, car sales started to evaporate, but fortuitously, the business of broadcasting baseball games was just starting to take hold.  The Tribe hired Graney on as the first-ever ex-ballplayer play-by-play announcer for a major league team.

Graney held onto the mike as the first great Cleveland Indians radio broadcaster until 1953, and he is currently memorialized in the press box at Progressive Field, as well as having been enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

And this is where Barbara comes in. She believes that Graney deserves the top honor any baseball broadcaster can achieve: enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown as winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence.  She made the excellent case for this on her blog last week, and with her permission, we are reproducing the piece in its entirety below.

If you would prefer to read it on her original blog, click here.


 

Jack Graney and the Broadcasting Dawn Era

In September of this year a research team of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will release a list of candidates for the 2016 Ford C. Frick Award, to be given to a broadcaster who worked during the Broadcasting Dawn Era (roughly 1930-55). The award is given for “major contributions to baseball.” During the month of September fans will get to vote for their favorite candidate on the Hall of Fame’s Facebook Page; in October a final list of ten will be given to the Ford Frick Award Committee, who will make a decision in November. The committee members who cast ballots are asked to base their selection on the following criteria:

• longevity
• continuity with a club
• honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star games
• popularity with fans

When it comes to the 2016 Ford Frick Award, I don’t know who the Broadcasting Dawn candidates will be or who the committee will select. I do know who I think is most worthy of the Award, and that man is Jack Graney.

Jack Graney was born in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada on June 10, 1886. He grew up playing hockey and baseball. During Jack’s youth, Canada native Bob Emslie [Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, 1986], a former major leaguer turned major-league umpire, noticed Jack’s athletic abilities and later recommended to the Chicago Cubs that they sign him. [See Adam Ulrey’s SABR biography, Jack Graney.]

328px-Jack_Graney_baseball_cardIn 1907 the Cubs did just that, signing Graney as a pitcher. Despite pitching well in the minors, Jack was sold to the Cleveland Naps at the end of the season. Although he played a few games for the 1908 Cleveland team, he was sent to the minor league Portland Beavers. While there, he once pitched an 18-inning game that ended in a 1-1 tie due to darkness.

At the end of that season Graney was selected as a member of the Reach All-Americans, a team composed of minor and major leaguers [SeeVintageball article.] The team played in Japan (winning all 17 of its games) and in other Asian countries. The Reach All-Americans constituted the first-ever team of professional ballplayers to tour Japan. Thus one of Jack Graney’s many firsts was that he played on the first professional baseball team to tour Japan.

That word “first” is important because Jack Graney, by both disposition and happenstance, was a man of many, many firsts. He was called up to the majors in 1910 and assigned to play League Park’s left field, which at one spot extended 505 feet. He was assigned to the first position in the batting order. Graney had a keen eye for balls and strikes and, because of his discerning eye, often drew walks. [He led the league in walks in 1917 (94) and 1919 (105).] As leadoff batter Jack often posted the first hit of the season, or the first run of the season, for his team.

In 1914 Jack Graney was the first player to face a new Red Sox pitcher, George Herman Ruth. Graney was also the first player to collect a hit off Ruth. Because he was a productive player and a team builder, other teams expressed interest in Jack Graney. The Tigers were interested, as were the White Sox. But Graney did not want to be traded: he was loyal to Cleveland all his life.

hp_scanDS_882910575444_2When Cleveland trainer Doc White brought a young bull terrier to spring training in 1912 and gave it to the team as a mascot, Napoleon LaJoie ended up giving the dog to Graney. Thus Jack became the first (and only) player to own a dog which was also the team’s official mascot. Larry performed tricks before the game not only in Cleveland, but also in other American League cities. He was the first dog ever formally introduced to a President of the US [Woodrow Wilson]. Graney, of course, performed the introduction.

In 1916 Jack Graney and teammate Tris Speaker tied for the American League doubles record. And in 1920 they played on Cleveland’s first pennant-winning team, which became Cleveland’s first World Series-winning team.

These facts about Jack Graney are interesting but only partially relevant to why I believe he is worthy of the Ford Frick Award. I say “partially relevant” because all these things show what kind of person Jack Graney was — one totally unafraid of the new or unknown (Japan, bull terriers, Babe Ruth, Woodrow Wilson). One willing to step in and be the first, even when the results weren’t guaranteed.

It is due to Jack Graney’s courage, love of baseball, and character that he stepped into the future in 1932, when he became the first former major leaguer to become a baseball broadcaster. And that was for the team he had dedicated his playing life to: the Cleveland Indians.

jack-graney-jcu-collectionTeams did not send their broadcasters on the road in those days, so for away games Jack worked with tickertape. When the team was away, tickertape would tell the stay-at-home broadcaster what happened on each pitch. The broadcaster would then re-create the game as if it were live. Jack Graney, who had played in all the American League stadiums for more than a dozen years, re-created the games vividly. He was able to describe the stadiums, the fences, the grass, the dugouts, even the scoreboards that a long ball bounced off of. Through his player’s knowledge as well as his broadcaster’s knowledge, Graney was able to bring the game to life for radio listeners. In doing these things, Jack Graney set the standard for future play-by-play broadcasters. Ted Patterson, author of The Golden Voices of Baseball, wrote that Jack Graney’s “ability to re-create a game from just a telegraphic report has never been paralleled.” [See also Ted Patterson’sJack Graney, The First Player-Broadcaster.]

Graney, who had a family to support, also worked as a car salesman in Cleveland, and some of his WHK broadcasts were from a glass-enclosed room within the dealership. People could stop by and watch Jack broadcasting games. He, in turn, could keep an eye on customers.

A caring, gregarious person, Graney shared his knowledge of the broadcasting booth with others. Jimmy Dudley [Ford C. Frick Award, 1997] was relatively new to broadcasting when, in 1947, Bill Veeck teamed him with Jack Graney. Dudley recalled his association with Jack as “one of the greatest I have ever known.”

As a broadcaster Jack Graney brought the same professionalism and dedication to his new baseball career as he had to his previous one. In 1934 CBS asked him to do the national broadcast for the World Series. But Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who ruled with an iron hand, forbid it on the grounds that a former baseball player could not broadcast impartially.

Baseball, Graney sketch.jpegJack Graney wrote a letter to Landis, protesting the decision and stating that he was now a broadcaster, not a player: that he was a professional and knew how to behave as an impartial broadcaster. The result was that Landis relented. (I don’t know, but perhaps Jack Graney getting Landis to relent was also a “first.”) In 1935 Graney broadcast the All-Star Game for CBS and then, along with Bob Elson [Ford C. Frick Award, 1979] and Red Barber [Ford C. Frick Award, 1978], he broadcast the 1935 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers.

Thus Jack Graney was the first former baseball player to nationally broadcast a World Series. Through his letter to Landis and his professional behavior in the broadcasting booth, he opened the door for other players-turned-broadcasters, such as Joe Garagiolo [Ford C. Frick Award, 1991] and Bob Uecker [Ford C. Frick Award, 2003]. These player-broadcasters stand on the innovative and helpful shoulders of Jack Graney.

Print Courtesy of AndersonsClevelandDesign.com

Throughout Cleveland, and also throughout southern Ontario, Jack Graney was a much-loved broadcaster. His voice came over the radio all summer long. His daughter, Margot Graney Mudd, remembers that on summer days you could walk down every block in Cleveland, and from every porch came the voice of Jack Graney on the radio. Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Bob Dolgan wrote: “When he [Graney] talked you could smell the resin in the dugouts, feel the clean smack of ball against bat and see the hawkers in the stands. He was a careful reporter and observer. He was short on ego and long on talent. His voice dripped with sincerity and crackled with vitality.”

On April 16, 1940, Jack Graney was behind the mike when Bob Feller threw his first no-hitter. That was on Opening Day, Comiskey Park. Feller’s feat remains the only Opening Day no-hitter. And Jack Graney was behind the mike during the 1948 World Series, when the Indians won their second World Series, this one against the Boston Braves.

Bob Feller and Jack Graney, on Jack Graney Day

After 23 years of play-by-play broadcasting, Jack Graney retired in September, 1953. In his honor, the Cleveland Indians celebrated Jack Graney Day, and fans paid their respects. Today the Indians honor Jack Graney with a large mural of him broadcasting a game. The mural is in the press room at Progressive Field, and its presence ties the Cleveland team of today to the Cleveland teams of the past, including the team that won the 1948 World Series and the 1920 World Series-winning team that Graney played on.

Jack Graney's Plaque, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Jack Graney was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1984, the second year of the Hall’s existence. And in 1987 the CBHOF instituted the Jack Graney Award, to be given to a member of the media for their contributions to baseball in Canada. This is a double-sided award: it honors not only the recipient, but each time it’s given it honors Jack Graney — his character and his baseball contributions. American broadcaster Ernie Harwell [Ford C. Frick Award, 1981] received the Jack Graney Award in 2002. In 2011 the Jack Graney Award was given to W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams was based.

In 2012 Jack Graney was elected to the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. In bestowing the award, the Cleveland Indians used their electronic scoreboard to show photos of Jack Graney as both a baseball player and as a broadcaster.

Looking at the criteria for the Ford C. Frick Award once again, it is clear that Jack Graney qualifies on all counts:

• longevity — Yes, 23 years as a broadcaster
• continuity with a club — Yes, 23 years with the Cleveland Indians
• honors — Yes, broadcasting the 1935 All-Star Game, the 1935 World Series, induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, namesake of the Jack Graney Award
• popularity with fans — Yes, he was very popular during his Broadcasting Dawn days, with fans throughout northeastern and even southern Ohio and also northwestern Pennsylvania and southern Ontario. Many of these fans still remember Jack Graney’s broadcasting today

Jack Graney's 1920 World Series ring, 1948 World Series ring, and 1984 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame ring, Photo Courtesy of Margot Graney Mudd and Perry Mudd Smith

If Jack Graney should be awarded the 2016 Ford Frick Award, which he so highly deserves, his name would take its rightful place alongside the other awardees. By his presence he would expand the breadth of the Ford Frick Award. Jack Graney would be the first Canadian-born broadcaster given the award. Someday there may be others: but Jack would be the first.

And Jack Graney, if given the award, would become the first Ford Frick recipient born in the 19th century. Not only the first, but most likely theonly. Ever. Think about the significance of that for a moment. Each and every one of the 39 Ford Frick Award honorees was born in the 20th century. Although baseball broadcasting did not come into being until the 20th century, baseball as we know it was born in the 19th century.

When Jack Graney was an infant, a batter needed five balls to take his base. When Jack was a toddler, the rule was changed to four balls. When Jack was just learning how to judge a pitch and swing a bat, major league pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60’6”. If young Jack happened to favor a bat with one flat side, he had to give it up at the age of seven: that’s when bats were required to be rounded.

During Jack’s major league days a cork center was added to the baseball. And the spitball was outlawed. Toward the end of his playing days, the first broadcast of a baseball game took place [August 5, 1921, on KDKA]. When asked to step into this new world of baseball broadcasting, Jack Graney met it with the same courage, attentiveness, and dedication he had met other challenges. He stepped into the broadcasting booth and brought the game to millions of fans. Not only that, he shared his hard-earned knowledge of how to do things on radio with newer and younger broadcasters.

Jack Graney is highly worthy of the Ford C. Frick Award.-dbe0d841fdddfcef

Working The Game: An Interview with Chuck Freeby, Notre Dame Radio Play-by-Play

In this installment in our “Working the Game” series of interviews, in which we seek to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day-to-day basis, we take our first trip to the college campus and have a conversation with Chuck Freeby, the radio play-by-play announcer for Notre Dame baseball.

Born in South Bend, Ind., and a graduate of Elkhart (Ind.) CentCHUCKFREEBYral High School and the University of Notre Dame, Freeby has been in sports media in the South Bend area for more than three decades. Since 2004, he has served as sports director at WHME, a part of LeSea Broadcasting, and is a contributor at WNIT. He was a sportscaster for WNDU for 17 years.

Freeby, who is married with six children, has been the play-by-play voice of Notre Dame baseball since 2009.

What’s the most important thing that you have to include in every broadcast?

You can’t say the score and the inning enough, especially considering you’re on radio. You don’t have any graphics to show the score and the inning.

Did you ever use the egg timer during your career?

Absolutely. (iconic Detroit Tigers broadcaster) Ernie Harwell is the first one I remember reading about who used the egg timer. He’d flip it over and if that egg timer ran out, it was time to give the score again. I try to make sure I give it at least once within every batter. Mentally, that’s my goal.

You’d like to think everyone hears every single second of your broadcast, but they don’t?

They don’t. Let’s face it. When we grow up listening to baseball, a lot of times it’s in the car. You’re getting in and out of the car. You’re running an errand. You’re getting back in the car and the first thing you want to know is the score. You don’t want to have to wait 15 minutes, 45 minutes to hear that.

Baseball play-by-play lends itself to a different cadence than, say, other sports you called like football, basketball or hockey, right?

With hockey, (giving the score) kind of naturally falls in to the action. You’re re-setting things every couple of minutes. It’s a much different pace and a different flow.

What else is important?

You’ve got to tell (the audience) who the batter is, who the pitcher is, the count, outs, that kind of thing. While you’re weaving all that in, the next important thing is to paint the picture. Where are the fielders? What’s the situation? Why are the fielders where they are? Is the third baseman playing in on the grass? Why? It’s usually because he is expecting a bunt. What about this situation dictates a bunt?

What else?

You tell stories about the players. You tell stories about the game. Especially with college baseball because the players aren’t as well-known as Major League Baseball. What is it that’s intriguing about this guy at the plate right now or this guy on the mound?

You know these stories because you travel with the team and you are around them talking to them all the time?

For Notre Dame, yes. For the opposing team, I spend a lot of time researching on the web. Early in the year when you don’t know exactly who’s going to play, you’re researching maybe 30 players. Once you get into the season a little bit more and have a better idea, it’s more like 20. You don’t have to waste too much time on subs. You stay with the starting lineup, starting pitchers and key relievers. You find out what they throw, what their upbringing was, all kinds of things.

Can you tell us about an unusual call?

We had a home game once where the top reliever for Rutgers did not bring his regular uniform with him and was wearing a different uniform number. When the head coach filled out the lineup card, he used the regular uniform number. So when he went to bring him into the game, Notre Dame’s head coach said, ‘wait a minute, No. 25 is not on the roster.’ The umpires got together and wound up calling the league office. Of course, at no time are they indicating to any of us in the press box what’s going on. All I know is that there is a discussion on the field going on that continues for about 20 minutes. I’m trying to fill time as much as possible, never knowing when we’re going to get back to live action. I can throw to a break occasionally, but it’s not like a rain delay. I wound up doing a full sportscast with scores from around the big leagues and anything I could get my hands on. Finally, we found out that the player was ruled ineligible to play that night and Notre Dame ended up winning that night against a player who was not prepared to come in and close.

So an announcer has to have to ability to filibuster?

Absolutely.

Do you also hope that in college, minor league or high school ball, the umpire lets the folks upstairs know about changes or rulings in some way?

When they change outfielders or make multiple position changes, very rarely is it communicated up to the press box. Who’s batting in what position? In high school ball, you’ve got the courtesy runner.

That’s when it helps to be able to recognize mannerisms, right?

By the time we got into the (Atlantic Coast Conference) tournament this year, I could look into the bullpen and see well enough where I could make out if it was a righty or lefty, [and] who was tall and angular, or short and stocky. You get to learn your guys really well and you hope you’ve done enough research on the other team to speak knowingly about them.

Do you hear much from the opposing fans, saying you gave us credit or you were a homer?

You always hear both. It doesn’t matter all that much too me, but you’re always going to hear criticism and it’s nice to get praise from the other team’s fans. We were doing a series at Maryland, where they didn’t broadcast the games, and a parent came up to me and said, I’m going to listen to Notre Dame games a lot in the future because I really enjoyed the way you called the game. Those are nice things to hear.

What about other instances?

I remember my first or second year and we were playing Connecticut and they had a player named Pierre LaPage who later played in the Cubs system. He liked to compare himself to (Boston Red Sox standout) Dustin Pedroia. They both were built similar and played second base. I said on-air, ‘Pierre LaPage is a good player but he’s no Dustin Pedroia.’ The next day, his dad came up outside the window and said, ‘I heard what you said about my son last night.’ The only thing I said that he was not Dustin Pedroia who the last time I checked was a major league all-star. You’re son is not a major league all-star. Someday, maybe he will be. But he ain’t right now.

Can you tell me about working baseball games with or without a partner?

I work most of the games by myself. I’ve had a color man a couple of times. There are ways that makes it easer and there are ways that makes it tougher. From an ease standpoint, I have to come up with less to say.  You have something else to play off. On the other hand, a lot of times the color person does not have a lot of experience broadcasting. Most of the time, I have to set them up to their strength, or what I perceive as their strength, and lead them into things. In doing so it may distract me from doing as much storytelling as I would normally do during a game.

What do you do to keep the listener’s attention when the game gets out of hand?

Before I always look up what happened on this date in Notre Dame baseball history or I might talk about the opponent in terms of its significance to Notre Dame history. If it’s Michigan, there are all kinds of tales you can tell about the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry. Or it might be, when was the last time Notre Dame came down to Georgia? Has Notre Dame done anything with this school in anything else? You start to weave those things into the fabric of the broadcast.

What is the difference between broadcasting baseball on radio and on TV?

I’ve done a little bit of baseball on TV (other than Notre Dame) and it’s completely different. On radio, I’ll have to say it was a two-hopper, a line drive, a high-arching fly ball or little looper. I have to describe all of that. On TV, I don’t have to say any of that. It’s more about putting captions on pictures. TV is more the color analyst’s game. They have the (graphic and replay) tools to show what’s going on. They can analyze and talk about strategy. Radio is more of a play-by-play man’s medium because you’re painting the picture the whole time.

What expectations does Notre Dame have for you on your broadcasts?

They want me to promote upcoming home games, season ticket sales and things like that. But they’ve never come to me and said don’t say this or that. I will praise a Note Dame player when he does something well. I will also criticize him when he does something poorly. I tend not to second guess (head coaches), but I will do something that (Chicago White Sox radio analyst) Steve Stone talks about, which is first-guessing. Let’s say there’s a runner on first with one out and a 3-2 count on the batter. Am I sending that runner from first on a 3-2 pitch or not? Some of that depends on the guy you have up at the plate. How good a contact hitter is he? How fast is that runner at first? I try to present those situations. Sometimes I’ll flat out say, I would do this but I’m not the manager or head coach. If you suggest things ahead of time, it’s not so much second guessing [as it is] first guessing.

Baseball fans do this kind of thing all the time, right?

The beauty of baseball is that it’s so easy to strategize along with the manager. I’m blessed that our coaches trust me enough to look at the scouting reports of the opposing teams before a game. I can say that this is what they expect to do in a certain situation. They’re going to try to work him away with a breaking ball here.

You also call a lot of different sports, especially high school football and basketball. What rings true with all your broadcasts?

No matter what kind of game I’m going to do, preparation is the key. It’s not just about showing up and having a couple of rosters in front of you. It’s really about spending the time learning the players, learning the coaches, learning the game.

It’s important to develop a relationship and a trust with the coaches and some will be more trusting and giving than others?

It’s a personality thing. College (baseball) coaches want as much publicity as they can get for their game. It’s a tough sell these days. It gets so little attention nationally that coaches are usually forthright in sharing.

Book Review: “The Best Team Money Can Buy”

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Former ESPN reporter Molly Knight’s new book, The Best Team Money Can Buy, covers baseball’s most polarizing and entertaining franchise of recent years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in a retrospective piece made easier without the pressure of newspaper reporting deadlines.

“How does the “The Best Team Money Can Buy” compare to Moneyball?” I was asked by a librarian at the Duluth Public Library after I had checked out the book.

I explained my excitement. “Basically, this book is about baseball, but you do not have to be a fan to understand it. From what I have read in some of the reviews, it’s an extremely behind-the-scenes look at the Los Angeles Dodgers as they transition from a bankrupt owner embroiled in the midst of a divorce, to a team with a $200 million payroll and $2 billion cable TV contract.”

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While at ESPN, Knight covered then-Dodger owner Frank McCourt’s divorce, and in the first chapter uncovers the nooks and crannies of the Dodger auction including, for example, McCourt’s chess moves of filing for bankruptcy, and the machinations of selling the team. The Guggenheim Group owns the team today. Los Angeles Laker legend Magic Johnson serves as the face of the franchise, but operations are headed up by experienced Major League Baseball executive Stan Kasten.  Knight uses as her sources on the transition such insiders as former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and current Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman.

In the Best Team Money Can Buy, Knight was not present for any closed door meetings, but she deftly utilized her sources to attend them virtually. She was also allowed extensive one-on-one  interviews with Dodgers players. By contrast, Moneyball author Michael Lewis was present at and recorded every meeting in and outside of the Oakland A’s front office.

This book reminds me of Moneyball in several ways.

  • Both writers had experience in other industries that translated well to their work on their current books. Knight’s main career objective was not to write this book. She had been on the pre-med track at Stanford University before she realized it was not the career for her. She moved to New York, where she bartended at night while writing during the day. Lewis earned his degree in Art History from Princeton and worked with a New York art dealer before completing his MA at the London School of Economics.
  • Reading Lewis’s book, I was able to visualize Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane pumping his fist in the air as some other team drafted an overvalued high school pitcher. In Knight’s book, I can see Zack Greinke standing up in a players’ only meeting and declaring, “all players are not flushing after taking a ‘number two’ in the men’s locker room”.
  • Both Lewis and Knight explain how and why each person arrived in each organization and how they fit strategically into the marathon regular season and crapshoot postseason. Due to the smaller sample size of games, the failure in the playoffs by both the Dodgers and the A’s stands in stark contrast to their regular season triumphs.
  • Lewis profiles Scott Hatteberg as he transitions from washed up backup catcher with the Boston Red Sox to starting first basemen for the Oakland, where he batted .280/.374/.433.
  • Knight shows how a struggling player, the aforementioned Greinke, overcomes his social anxiety, finds his personality, and overcomes the whispers of the naysayers to win the American League Cy Young Award.
  • While reading this book, readers will feel the excitement as the Dodgers or Athletics win.

I would put The Best Team Money Can Buy up with other baseball literature classics Moneyball, Jonathan Eig’s Luckiest Man: the Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm, and Robert Creamer’s Babe: The Legend Comes to Life.  Many, if not all, of these classics are probably available at your own public library. But what some taxpayers may be unaware of is that the library may also be able to order new books upon patron request. This helps with updating the collection and, of course, with circulation. The Duluth Library ordered this book for me, and I will look forward to returning it so it can be available for the next patron.

Interview With S.I. Writer, Bloomington Native, Steve Rushin

Ever wondered how the jockstrap was invented? Or how about the evolution from catching balls with bare hands to the gloves of today? It was said that shaking hands with a catcher without any protection was like “shaking hands with walnuts.
Sports Illustrated writer and Bloomington, Minnesota native Steve Rushin wrote about the jock strap, how Americans were more skilled throwing grenades compared to their European allies because of baseball and more historical oddities.

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The book is called 34-Ton Bat, The Story of Baseball as told through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jock Straps, Eye Black and 375 Strange and Unusual Objects. Here are 10 questions about his life growing up in Bloomington, The Met, how he landed his Sports Illustrated writing gig and about his recent visits to Target Field with his young children.

 

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Q: In 1979 on your 13th birthday you became an employee of the Minnesota Twins and as you say in your book “it unlocked a hidden world”. Tell me about your memories of the Met in your hometown of Bloomington, Minnesota. What was the highlight?

A: Before I worked at the Met, I went as a fan. I’m one of five kids and my Dad would stop at Cal’s Market on Old Shakopee Road after Mass on a Sunday and buy a one-pound bag of peanuts to last the day. Late in the game, we might get a Frosty Malt, but we weren’t allowed to sail the lids onto the warning track, like so many of our lucky peers were doing.

When I started working at the Met, in the commissary, making the food that the vendors sold, it was a revelation. I was backstage, in the ballpark before it opened to the public, and saw people like Reggie Jackson from ten feet away. When you’re 13, and have only ever seen someone like Reggie on TV, it’s a shock to see him up close, unfiltered by a screen, as if you never realized he existed in the flesh.

The highlight of working those games—and there were so many—was getting to pull the tarp when it rained. To be 13 and running across a big-league field, in front of about 8,000 fans with garbage bags on their heads? I knew even then that life was unlikely to get better.

Q: Did you know Twins Daily Writer and Founder John Bonnes, @TwinsGeek on twitter, growing up in Bloomington?

A: I didn’t. If I had, I’d know much more about the Twins now. And then. But growing up in Bloomington you were never more than one degree of separation from the Twins. My brother was a lefthanded pitcher at Bloomington Lincoln and claims to have owned Hrbek whenever he pitched against Kennedy. I mentioned this to Hrbek once and he just laughed. I think he’s heard that from a lot of guys he faced in high school.

Q: Was there a certain moment that inspired to you be a writer? Did you have a mentor?

A: I learned to read watching Sesame Street and cereal boxes were my earliest literary influence. Another early influence was Oscar Madison, the sportswriter on “The Odd Couple.” He was a slob, ate hot dogs at ballgames and spent a lot of time loafing around his gigantic apartment in New York. That seemed like a good life. I once spent an evening with Jack Klugman for a Sports Illustrated column and thanked him for the inspiration. He said I wasn’t the first sportswriter to tell him that.

My Mom, more than any one person, made me a writer. She got me a library card and encouraged me to read and would leave me at the B. Dalton bookstore for an hour when she shopped at Southdale. I would completely lose track of time, or even my surroundings, and get absorbed in a book. I didn’t know it then, but reading is the best preparation for writing.

Q: Is there an unusual story about landing your job at Sports Illustrated?

A: A junior college basketball coach had a three-on-three basketball tournament in his backyard in Bloomington. A buddy and I played in it. It was called the Saunders Hoop Invitational Tournament, or S.H.I.T. We were in high school. Sports Illustrated ran a long story on a huge 3-on-3 tournament in Michigan, and I wrote a letter to the editor of SI about our 3-on-3 tournament in Bloomington.

The trophy was a Cool-Whip tub covered in aluminum foil. The author of the article in SI, Alexander Wolff, wrote to me to ask me more about our tournament, because he was writing a book on pickup basketball in America. So I wrote back to him, we became pen pals, and when I started writing stories in college, I’d send them to Alex, who passed one along to an editor SI, and eventually—just before I graduated from Marquette—the magazine ran my story. That got me a three-month internship as a fact-checker there and I never left. The junior college basketball coach who hosted the S.H.I.T., incidentally, was Flip Saunders.

Q:What baseball writers do you most admire? Past and present?

A: Where to begin? I grew up reading Pat Reusse and Doug Grow in Minneapolis. My Dad traveled a lot, and in the age before the internet he’d bring home three-day-old newspapers from L.A. or New York, so I’d get to read columns by Jim Murray and Red Smith. I read all of Roger Angell’s books. They were some of the books I’d lose myself in at B. Dalton. When I arrived at SI, we had Peter Gammons and Steve Wulf and later Tom Verducci and Tim Kurkjian, all of whom were so good that the main thing I learned from them was not to try to be like them. There is more good baseball writing than there has ever been, and I won’t list all the current people I read for space considerations and fear of leaving someone out.

Q: I see that you recently visited Minnesota and took in a game at Target Field with your children. What did that mean to you and was there a certain part of baseball that you felt you needed to teach them? For example, did you explain the meaning of Minnie and Paul to you daughter who thought one of them was Babe Ruth?

A: The kids, thank goodness, like baseball. We were in Minneapolis when the Twins were out of town and took a tour of Target Field. The kids have this fantasy of being locked into a stadium overnight, like in “Night at the Museum,” and getting to eat all the popcorn and nachos and batting helmet sundaes they can, while running the bases and attempting to go yard. Sadly, we were not locked in at tour’s end, but we did come back on our last night in town for the Twins’ homestand-opener against the Orioles. They saw Hicks make a catch with his back to the plate and Dozier win it with a walk-off home run, and my 6-year-old son did ask—while pointing at the Twins logo in centerfield—“Who’s Babe Ruth shaking hands with?” We live in New England, and mostly go to Red Sox games, so it was nice to give them the experience I had as a kid: watching the Twins outdoors while learning how to crack open peanut shells.

Q: What got you interested in writing your current book, the 34-Ton Bat, The Story of Baseball as told through Boobleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jock Straps, Eye Black and 375 Strange and Unusual Objects?

A: That book evolved from wanting to know my grandfather. My Mom’s Dad was a member of the 1926 New York Giants but only played in one game, at catcher. I wanted to know what it was like to be at the Polo Grounds that Sunday afternoon in June of 1926, in hot flannel uniforms, without batting helmets, during Prohibition, and so forth. My uncle happened to still have the catcher’s mitt my grandfather wore that day, he mailed it to me, and I put it on and it was like shaking hands with the grandfather I never knew. My grandfather, Jimmy Boyle, died before I was born. I did what anyone would do with a baseball mitt, and placed it over my nose and mouth like an airplane oxygen mask. I could smell this ballpark in Harlem from 85 years ago. That led to me writing about the most compelling objects of the game—hats and mitts, of course, but also bobbleheads and ballpark organs and beer cups—all those things that beguiled me while working at the Met as a teenager.

Q: Could you discus the process you went through at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in researching the book?

A: The Hall of Fame Library is a wonderful place. You have to put on white gloves to handle the files, so everyone in there looks like Mickey Mouse. I pored over files on ballpark concessions and novelties and souvenirs. I found an old foil hot dog wrapper in one file folder full of old newspaper clippings on hot dogs. Tom Shieber, the curator, was walking past me when it happened and took the wrapper to file elsewhere. I loved that this guy has a job in which he files foil hot dog wrappers from, I don’t know, Shea Stadium in 1978. I’d take those photocopied files home, and if I had any other questions, when I couldn’t be in Cooperstown, a brilliant researcher there named Bill Francis would try to help me answer them. I knew I was on to something when Bill had not been previously aware of some minor fact. He hadn’t realized that Milwaukee had a bring-your-own-beer policy in the ‘50s and ‘60s, or that the urinals at Ebbets Field were a disaster. These discoveries were a small triumph for me, because Bill knows everything.

Q: Is there a story that stands out to you in the book that you enjoyed researching and writing about? Anything that surprised you?

A: There is an interesting, otherwise-lost-to-history story in the book about an eccentric guy named Foulproof Taylor, who invented a protective cup for boxers and later a batting helmet, neither of which boxing or baseball was yet ready for in the 1920s and ‘30s. Foulproof was once famous in New York boxing circles for wearing his cup to gyms and asking fighters—world-famous fighters like Primo Carnera—to punch him in the groin as hard as they could. Most of them happily obliged. Foulproof was once the world champion of sack racing, but he began a slow fade into obscurity in the 1960s. A relative of his—a writer named Diane Taylor–proved a great source in keeping Foulproof’s story alive, and I was happy to tell that story in the book.

Q: What new project is in the works? Any new books?

A: I’m writing a memoir of my ‘70s childhood, specifically my growing up in the ‘70s in—of all places—Bloomington, Minnesota.

Working The Game: An Interview with Jim Weber, Toledo Mud Hens Radio and TV Play-by-Play

In this installment in our “Working the Game” series of interviews, in which we seek to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day-to-day basis, we take our first trip to the minors leagues and have a conversation with Jim Weber, the long-time radio play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

Raised in the south end of Toledo, Ohio, Weber began his radio career in 1969, announcing high school football and basketball

Jim Weber is in his 41st season as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Jim Weber is in his 41st season as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

games. He has covered Bowling Green State University football and basketball and appeared on radio and TV talk shows throughout the International League. He has announced two Triple-A All-Star Games (1990 in Las Vegas and 2006 in Toledo), which were heard on over 100 U.S. stations and on Armed Forces radio. The longest tenured broadcaster in the IL, Weber called his 5,000th consecutive game for the Mud Hens in 2013 and the streak has continued from there. He has worked every game that Toledo broadcast since the mid-1970s.

How did you get started in broadcasting?

I actually started doing high school games back in 1969. They had a small FM station west of town. I met a kid who actually did the games and asked me if I wanted to do color. I played sports and all so I did it. I didn’t even get paid. When he quit, they asked me to take over. I did that for several seasons. In 1975, I got the Mud Hens on the air. They hadn’t been on for 10 years.

You started little and just got bigger?

We were on a small station in ’75. We went on the biggest station in the city with a partial schedule in 1978. That got it rolling. We did 80 games a year out of 140. In 1982, we finally got to put the whole schedule on (and that continues to the present).

Do you remember that first Mud Hens game?

That first game was in 1975 in Charleston, W.Va. , old Watt Powell Park. It was a dilapidated old place. The (Mud Hens) GM actually liked the job I did. He said, I thought maybe we’d get rid of you after two games but you did a good job. He left after 1977 and we’ve had Gene Cook and Joe Napoli ever since.

This is your 41st season. Did you think you’d come anywhere near 41 years?

No. When you start something like this, you think maybe it’ll last five or 10 years.

What about the streak?

I’m up to 5,231 tonight (July 2 against the Indianapolis Indians at Fifth Third Field in Toledo). I’ve been sick for a few, but I’ve made them all. I would get a cold for 48 hours and it would got into my throat and I was barely able to talk. But I was able to threw it. At home, I had help. On the road, I was by myself. I did a doubleheader in Denver at Mile High Stadium. I started talking softer and turned the mike way up.

You are also the traveling secretary for the team?

The trainers used to do it. Around 1984, we had a trainer who lost a parent when we were on the road. He had to leave right now. He called me down to his room and threw everything on the bed — the bus schedules and everything — and said you have to take over. I did it for the rest of that season. Then our GM at the time, Gene Cook, asked me if I’d be the guy who does the travel, then I can justify you being full-time. That’s how I got started.

So you know your way around the Triple-A circuit?

Now a lot of the teams in the league will call me for suggestions because I’ve done it for so long. I know how to deal with the airlines, the bus companies and the hotels. I don’t do the players’ meal money. (The Mud Hens pay for 30 people to travel. If the parent club wants to send more, they pay for it and are build by Toledo). The budget is $200,000 to $225,000 a year to cover all the travel.

What is your game-day preparation like?

It’s more than a lot of guys because we also do a pre-game show that we simulcast on radio and TV (for home games). We have a producer and a director that gives us a script. We go through our game notes for each player that’s in the lineup. You get yourself familiar with everyone who’s in the game. It doesn’t take too long once you get used to doing it. I’m usually at the park three hours before a game.

How do you find out about some of the baseball news of the day?

We get it either from our own media person or I check websites that give minor league transactions. We got on MiLB.com, which has every move as it happens. We keep up with that pretty good.

What are the basic differences in broadcasting a game on radio versus TV?

On radio, you talk more. On TV, you can rest because (the viewers) can see it. When you do a simulcast, you try to go right in the middle. You don’t want to shut up too much. We have one of the best TV operations in the league. We have more than $1 million in this operation. We have the best replay machines and graphics. I might get replays from four different angles. We’ll say, we’re going to look at this again for those of you watching and then the people listening on radio know what we’re doing. It’s a little tricky, but not that bad.

Do you have an analyst at home and then you fly solo on the road?

Almost all of us are by ourselves on the road. There are some teams who send two guys on the road.

Can you describe a Jim Weber broadcast?

It’s not a comedy show, but I like to interject comedy. Especially if it’s a boring game or we’re getting beat. I have 40 years of experience and I have all these stories. There’s always something that happens that reminds me of a story.

You were close with former Toledo pitcher Jose Lima?

It’s such a sad story. He died when he was 37 years old. We did everything together. When he was with us back in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, we had fun. He’d call me up at midnight or 1 in the morning and we’d go shoot pool somewhere. What a nice guy. When he was with Houston, he’d always call me to come out to his post-season parties and I’d make an excuse. When he died, I was so sorry. He pitched the best game I’ve ever seen from a Mud Hen. It was one out from a perfect game (in 1994). Eric Wedge (the Pawtucket catcher) walked on a 3-2 pitch that was this far outside (holding hands far apart). Wedge later told me that they should have never let him walk on that pitch. Lima was dealing and they weren’t going to touch him.

Are there “musts” in your broadcast, elements that you have to get in?

We have a sponsor for the starting pitchers and for the starting lineup. We also have a script of 20 or 30 live reads that we have to interject into the broadcast.

Do you have a signature call?

Back in the ’70s, I came up with the “Hen Pen” and some guys wrote about that. Now, everybody uses that.

As a lifelong Toledo resident and employee of the team, do you find yourself rooting for the players?

Sure, sometimes. But I have no problem with telling it how it is. I believe that you don’t sugarcoat anything.

What are some of the biggest changes in broadcasting the past 40 years?

The technology. There were no computers when I started. We did everything by hand with calculators. We’d have a ticker with scores. That game hasn’t changed, the technology has.

Do you ever think about retirement?

Retire from what? Watching baseball? Nope, I can’t retire. You just keep on going until your flop over and whatever.

Gifford Sparks Inquiry Into Baseball’s Player-Play-By-Play Pipeline

Earlier this week, Chuck Hildebrandt noted the death of Frank Gifford on this blog. While Gifford wasn’t a baseball announcer, he worked with a number of commentators who were.

That post prompted some discussion on Twitter about the fact that, while most of you can probably name several former baseball players who have assumed play-by-play duties, the world of football has fewer similar examples.

So I did what most of you have the common sense not to do and dove headlong into another set of data.

I can find 12 people who have been NFL players that did NFL play-by-play, though I admit to not having done an exhaustive comparison of the list of NFL announcers against the NFL encyclopedia. They’re listed below.

NFL Players Turned PBP Announcers
Pat Summerall (534 games)
Frank Gifford (273 games)
Red Grange (172 games: local Chicago stations; then CBS, 1947-63)
Tom Brookshier (77 games: CBS, 1981-87)
Ray Bentley (55 games: Fox, 1998-2001)
Tom Harmon (35 games: local stations in the 40s and 50s; CBS Cowboys crew, 1961)
Paul Hornung (15 games: CBS, 1975-76)
Dan Dierdorf (12 games: CBS, 1985 and then once in 2004)
Mike Adamle (11 games: NBC, 1980-81)
Wayne Walker (8 games: CBS, 1986)
Johnny Sauer (7 games: CBS Eagles crew, 1965, with Brookshier)
Mike Haffner (2 games: NBC, 1982)

Like many of you, my first thought is that baseball has had way more than 12 of these guys. But going strictly down the play-by-play section of our national-telecast database (creating an apples-to-apples comparison), I get all the way down to two appearances before I find 12 ex-players.

MLB Players Turned PBP Announcers
Dizzy Dean 444
Joe Garagiola 255
Don Drysdale 59
Dave Campbell 46
Ken Harrelson 17
Steve Busby 11
Jim Kaat 5
George Kell 5
Duane Kuiper 5
Tommy Hutton 4
Phil Rizzuto 3
McCarver, Uecker, Bench 2

That suggests to me that baseball and football have been similarly stingy about putting ex-players on network mikes.

The difference is, of course, at the local level: something football really doesn’t have in the way baseball does. Because, pulling only from current announcers, here are some names you don’t see on the list above:

Buck Martinez
Ed Farmer
Darrin Jackson
Ron Darling
Mike Shannon
Don Sutton

Another of baseball’s features that lends itself to ex-players doing play-by-play is that the games are subdivided into innings: a broadcast crew can easily phase in a less-experienced announcer by letting him call play-by-play for a few innings. In fact, most major-league radio booths do split their innings among two or more voices. In football, where the game doesn’t ebb and flow as much as it constantly spews out another play 25 seconds later, this is less feasible.