Category Archives: Broadcast TV

With Scully and Enberg Retiring, Who Will Now Be the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters?

He's gone, he's gone, and nothin's gonna bring him back ...
He’s gone, he’s gone, and nothin’s gonna bring him back …

The 2016 baseball season is now officially in the books, and in broadcasting terms, it was one of the most momentous in history. Two Ford Frick Award-winning broadcasters, Vin Scully (1982) and Dick Enberg (2015), have stepped away from their baseball mics for good and now head off to their next adventure.  (Not for nothing, but Bill Brown, radio play-by-play man for the Astros for the past three decades, is also hanging up the mic, although he has not yet received the Ford Frick Award himself.)

Enberg had a great career, no doubt, but It is universally acknowledged that Scully had been, for a span of at least a decade and a half, the unchallenged, unquestioned dean of baseball broadcasters, mantles previously held by such luminaries as Red Barber, Bob Elson, Byrum Saam, Jack Brickhouse, Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Chuck Thompson, and Ernie Harwell.

Now that Scully is gone, and that Enberg and Brown have headed off into the sunset with him, we now need to contemplate who among the current mikemen should now be considered the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters. That’s what I am asking you, the reader, to do here today: vote for who you believe should take on that exalted title.

The Game is currently blessed with dozens of great, long-time baseball play by play and color commentators. In fact, no fewer than thirty current broadcasters have 30 or more years in the business, an unprecedentedly high number. Not all of them, of course, can qualify for Dean status.  But in our opinion, the eight broadcasters who have 40 or more years of experience can qualify, so those are who we would like you to vote on today.

The eight on this ballot include:

  • Jaime Jarrín: With the Dodgers since 1959, he is the currently the longest-serving Spanish-language radio play-by-play broadcaster in history. In 1998, Jarrín received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Dave Van Horne: Hired as the first Expos English-language radio play-by-play announcer in 1969. Moved to the Marlins in 2001. In 2011, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Denny Matthews: Hired in 1969 as the first (and still only) radio play-by-play announcer for Kansas City Royals. In 2007, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Bob Uecker: Began calling play-by-play for the Brewers’ radio broadcasts in 1971. In 2003, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Mike Shannon: Hired as radio color commentator by the Cardinals in 1972; became the lead voice after Jack Buck’s death in 2002.
  • Marty Brennaman: Reds radio play-by-play announcer since 1974. In 2000, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Ken Harrelson: Hired by the Red Sox in 1975 for the TV broadcasts, moving to the White Sox in 1982. Became White Sox GM for 1986, took up with Yankees TV in 1987 before settling in with White Sox TV broadcasts in 1989. “Hawk” was a Frick award finalist in 2007.
  • Jon Miller: Also well-traveled, first with the A’s for the 1974 season, and had subsequent tenures with the Rangers (1978), Red Sox (1980) and Orioles (1983) before landing with the Giants in 1997. In 2010, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.

And now is the time for you to vote for who you believe the Dean of broadcasters should be, below. You may vote for one, two or three broadcasters you believe deserve this august title. Teams and first year broadcasting are shown next to the nominees’ names.

 

Who Now Becomes the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters?

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Watch and Listen to José Fernández in the Broadcast Booth

Much has been said about José Fernández during the past 30 or so hours. I can only repeat, rather than add anything new to, the things that have been said about him. He was most assuredly on the Hall of Fame track, a two-time All-Star in four seasons before he turned 24 and author of one of the highest K/9 career totals in history. He also had a compelling personal story surrounding his childhood in and escape from Cuba, extending to his actually saving a life in the process. As I say, all this has been well covered during the past couple of days and there’s nothing new or important I could possibly add to the eulogy of José Fernández.

I can, however, share with you a couple of stints José did on baseball broadcasts. One occurred on August 13, 2014 during a Marlins home tilt against the Cardinals, while he was rehabbing from his Tommy John surgery, and during which he actually spent time in the booth:

The other was during a broadcast on September 9, 2015 during a game against the brewers, while he was finishing up another DL stint for a right biceps strain:

The thing that strikes me in these clips is how poised José is.  These are videos of, respectively, a 22- and 23-year old kid, speaking a second language he did not pick up until he teens, and doing so using educated-adult-level vocabulary and grammar in a voice that barely hints at an accent.  I would venture to say that between these and his 150-watt smile, José Fernández had a broadcasting career assured upon his retirement far into the future.

Our deprivation of seeing that occur wanly pales in comparison to the deprivation José’s family feels today, and we want to add our condolences to the tens of millions that have already been offered up to his family.

New Video on YouTube: “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”

Committee member Norm King has shared a link to something any sports media acolyte should relish: a History Channel documentary called “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”, a 1999-2000 effort that was narrated by Joe Mantegna and that features interview pieces with luminaries such as Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, Bob Costas, Jack Whitaker, Jim McKay, author Curt Smith, a young David Halberstam, and more.

The tone of the documentary is rather heroic and superficial, with the kind of dramatic martial type musical bed frequently associated with televised sports in general. But that is, of course, perfectly fine, because the point of the doc is to feature historical clips of TV and radio calls of yore, as well as to give us some topline backgrounding on the history of sports broadcasting and its most famous practitioners.

This is a VCR recording converted to digital to be uploaded to YouTube, so it includes commercials from its broadcast. I am assuming this was the broadcast premier of the doc, since one of the commercials is for Ameritrade, and during the spot they have an offer to rebate half your trade commissions if you open an account “between 1/1/00 and 2/29/00.” This was back during the go-go stock trading atmosphere of the Dot-com Bubble which came crashing down later that year, and I apologize for dredging up flashbacks if your own portfolio got creamed in the melee. (My 401(k) certainly took a hit). But as a snapshot in time, not only does this video capture vintage broadcasters in their relative youth (or even alive), but it reflects a unique moment in American history.

This doc also contemplates more than just baseball, giving a significant amount of time over to the history of the broadcasting of football as it, too, was emerging to prominence.

The doc wraps up around the 49:00 mark but runs another fifteen minutes of commercials and the intro to the next program, the NBA All-Star Game Slam Dunk contest on TSN.  Not relevant to the doc, of course, but again, if you’re an amateur anthropologist, you might have an amateur’s interest in how a person viewed TV in the year 2000.

Enjoy!

2016 MAJOR LEAGUE BROADCAST REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are the rankings. Thanks for reading!

 

THE RADIO BROADCASTS

AMERICAN LEAGUE

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

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

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

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

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

Houston Astros: Robert Ford has projectable skills. B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE TELEVISION AND CABLE BROADCASTS

AMERICAN LEAGUE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A             Gary Cohen, Mets TV

A-           Brian Anderson, Brewers TV

A-           Duane Kuiper, Giants TV/radio

A-           Jon Miller, Giants radio/TV

A-           Vin Scully, Dodgers TV/radio

B+           Dick Bremer, Twins TV

B+           Tom Hamilton, Indians radio

B+           Pat Hughes, Cubs, radio

B+           Ryan Lefebvre, Royals TV/radio

B+           Howie Rose, Mets radio

 

TOP TEN COLOR ANALYSTS (sorted alphabetically within grades)

A-           Ron Darling, Mets TV

A-           Ken Singleton, Yankees TV

B+           Jim Deshaies, Cubs TV

B+           Steve Stone, White Sox TV

B             Mike Blowers, Mariners TV

B             Ray Fosse, Athletics TV/radio

B             Jeff Huson, Rockies TV

B             Mike Krukow, Giants TV/radio

B             Jose Mota, Angels radio

B             Jerry Remy, Red Sox TV

 

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

How Audio Mixers Make Sports Sound Great on TV

You may already know about the website Vox.com.  It is a feature content website that typifies a genre that has come to be called “Explanatory Journalism“, the kind also engaged in by Upshot, FiveThirtyEight, and a few others.  They take issues both significant and inconsequential and fashion their stories in such a way as to explain how the subject works.  Sometimes the overture will be obvious (“El Niño, explained“), sometimes a bit more subtle (“Bryce Harper Should Have Made $73 Million More“), but either way, the style will be pedantic, didactic. and quite often both exhaustive and exhausting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Personally, I like explainer articles, particularly for subject I am ignorant of or otherwise insufficiently knowledgeable about. It’s also not always everyone’s bag.

When the subject at hand is one you do have an interest in, such as the way baseball covers the media, having a key aspect of it that you didn’t know much about, or thought much of, explained to you is a pleasure. That’s how I felt when I came across this Vox article about how the people who mix the audio for the sports broadcasts we all enjoy actually do their jobs.  This article is very much in the vein of the “Working The Game” series we’ve been featuring occasionally on this here site, sans the interview part of it.  The author of the Vox piece, Phil Edwards, did interview The Toronto Blue Jays audio mixer, Andrew Stoakley, for the article, but You will see this is not an interview piece. It’s an explainer.  And Edwards does a bang on job of explaining the art and science of audio mixing.

The full article is reprinted below.  You can also read the piece in its native habitat here.


How audio mixers make sports sound great on TV

Can you hear a home run when you see it? If so, there's a reason.
Can you hear a home run when you see it? If so, there’s a reason. | Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

When you watch a baseball game, you’re also listening for the hum of the crowd and the crack of a baseball bat. People like Andrew Stoakley make that happen.

He mixes audio for teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, which means he combines a tangle of audio feeds to create the soundscape you hear when you watch the game at home. And he’s done it for a long time, too, with experience including hockey, NBA, lacrosse, and almost every other game that needs sound. Oh, and he’s very Canadian — in the winter months, he mixes curling.

He was nice enough to guide me through how he helps sports sound amazing, answering some questions I’d never thought to ask before: How do they keep the crowd from cursing into the microphones? What makes a baseball bat sound so good? And what’s it really like making all that noise into an incredible show?

1) Mixers show up six hours before game time

The Rogers Centre while empty. | Shutterstock
The Rogers Centre while empty. | Shutterstock

Stoakley walked me through a typical Blue Jays game. He’s worked a lot of them this year, and as an “A1,” he leads their sound mixing.

When the TV truck arrives, he and his assistants get to work. They’ll show up at 1 for a 7 pm game, since they have a lot of work to do.

Stoakley runs audio lines from the TV truck to the “patch room,” which serves as a clearinghouse for connections to the stadium’s audio lines. As Stoakley patches in, his assistants are busy placing the TV station’s mics on the field, which will stay there during a home series.

A large stadium like the Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play) has an audio and visual system built into it, plus a circulatory system for TV. Though audio mixers might need to improvise more at other venues, big stadiums are made for mixing a broadcast as easily as possible.

2) Hidden mics capture home plate excitement

The sound of a baseball bat cracking a home run is instantly recognizable, but for home viewers, that’s only because of a careful audio mix.

Look at the two square Blue Jay images in the photo below. Those birds hide the microphones Stoakley uses to record the sound for home games:

These two logos hide the mics that capture home runs. | YouTube
These two logos hide the mics that capture home runs. | YouTube

You can hear the result in a typical highlight reel, where the sound of the ball hitting the glove is incredibly clear and the sound of a bat hitting the ball is even better:

It takes more than luck to get a sound like that. Stoakley uses two parabolic dishes with lavalier mics that, together, mix for stereo sound (you can read more about them here). Imagine a tiny mic in a handheld satellite dish, and you get the idea.

“You want to hear that ball,” Stoakley says. “My mix tends to be a little sharper, and when you hit a ball on a bat, you have a deeper sound, and that’s characteristic of the dish with the lav.”

That sound — which defines a baseball game for the home viewer — can vary wildly by A1 and by the mic type used by the stadium.

3) Each key sound needs its own special mic

 

“I have a parabolic dish at first base and third base for pick-off mics,” Stoakley says. “I have two microphones in the bullpens, so you’ll hear the pitcher and catcher’s mitts. I might put mics on cameras that can get into the dugouts.”

That arsenal of microphones gives the team a veritable soundscape of gameplay to select from. And when it comes to players, that requires discretion.

4) Players need to be mixed carefully … especially when they’re angry

The players are a wild card that mixers like Stoakley need to interpret on the fly. If somebody’s made a bad play, Stoakley might not track the audio for a player who’s upset (and likely to curse). But if they’re celebrating, he’ll throw in some of their cheers.

In curling, a huge sport in Canada, the expectations for hearing players are a lot different. Players’ grunts, chants, and shouts are a huge part of the broadcast mix. In a featured game, mixers will put a mic on every team member and mix that in with the game’s announcers. You end up with sound like this, from an epic shot in the 2014 Grand Slam of Curling:

But some of the most important sounds aren’t from the players at all.

5) A great mix captures the crowd — but not the drunk fan swearing

This Blue Jays fan might not be rowdy. But if she is, she could screw up a mix. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images
This Blue Jays fan might not be rowdy. But if she is, she could screw up a mix. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

“I have a series of six microphones that I use to pick up crowd noise,” Stoakley says. From those, he composes the ambient sound that most of us take for granted.

Translating the crowd’s roar is harder than it might seem. Sometimes that means noticing that a drunk guy is shouting into one of your mics. Mixers have to quickly fade him out so he doesn’t overwhelm the sound.

“Baseball is not like hockey,” Stoakley says (he mixes those games as well). Hockey is noisy both on and off the ice, which can mask one or two unruly fans. But baseball has more silences, so mixers need to be vigilant to fade out that one person “who will sit and scream, and no matter what you do you’re gonna hear them.”

Mixers also have to deal with the blaring public announcement system, which TV listeners at home don’t want to hear. “The PA is the bane of every audio person’s existence. You can’t eliminate it — you just try to minimize it.”

Even the building itself can change the sound. “My bat cracks sound different when the roof is closed versus open,” Stoakley says. “You have a giant dome that acts as a reflective surface, but when the roof’s open, the sound escapes.” He prefers the open roof: “It allows the sound and the city to come in.”

6) Mixing all that together happens live in a very noisy truck

A Blue Jays game in early September. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
A Blue Jays game in early September. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

There’s a ton of raw audio coming into Stoakley’s truck parked outside.

“I have the director, producer, color commentator, play-by-play person, host, on-air talk back, master control, and studio mix on,” he says — and that’s in addition to the many mics in stadium. That means he’s listening to all of those feeds on speakers as he creates a mix for both the TV broadcast’s play-by-play announcers and the audience at home.

The art of the job is mixing it all together.

When Stoakley described what it’s like inside the truck, I couldn’t help but think of a bizarre, slightly dated reference: a scene in 2006’s Superman Returns, where Superman hovers above the Earth, listening to millions of voices and trying to make sense of them all.

“There is a din,” he says, and the truck’s audio room becomes its own mini-stadium as he creates his mix. That’s necessary to hear everything going on, from the guy yelling, “You suck!” over and over to the cues coming from a broadcast announcer. To whip to a third-base speaker in time for a tag, he has to pay close attention.

7) This sound mixer appreciates the quiet, too

Stoakley’s been mixing sports since 2008 (after decades of audio TV work prior to that), and it’s a loud environment even in the trucks. Part of the reason he moved from Toronto to Niagara Falls was to get a little more quiet when he came home from work. After a long Blue Jays season and more gigs, from curling to hockey, on the horizon, he told me he’s taking a week off soon for the very quiet sport of golf.

He appreciates that an audio mix is subjective and intense. The setup is long and hard, but his work affects how we feel a game. That’s because everyone at home, whether they know about audio mixing or not, can appreciate the perfect sound of a home run.

The Humble (Ad-Free!) Origins of the First World Series Broadcasts

Committee member James Walker, author of such seminal baseball media books as Center Field Shot and the recently released Crack of the Bat, just published a terrific new article over at The Conversation about the origins of World Series broadcasts, the first of which took place in 1921.  Dr. Walker volunteered to us the article for a reprint in its entirety, and so we have, below.

There are some revelations that will surprise us media-savvy consumers of the early 21st Century, not the least of which is the commercial- and broadcast rights fee-free nature of those early broadcasts.  Another significant difference from today’s broadcasts is the multiple network coverage of the Series, as CBS joined NBC in broadcasting the Fall Classic in 1927, with Mutual becoming the third radio network to do so simultaneously starting in 1935.  Both these circumstances yielded a permanent solution starting in 1939, which you can read more about below.

As enjoyable as this article is to read, the most fun part about it might well be the two minutes and forty-five seconds you can spend watching various footage taken of the 1921 World Series in the video embedded within, which includes not only real-time speed footage, but also what can only be characterized as “super slo-mo” footage, which we are now used to seeing for events taking place in 2015 but which look completely and wonderfully anachronistic when seen for events taking place almost a century ago.

This is a fascinating read. Enjoy!


2015-10-27_11-35-36

by James Walker, October 27, 2015 6.09am EDT

This year, FOX Sports paid Major League Baseball about half a billion dollars for the rights to broadcast the national pastime.

While the package includes some playoff games and regular season contests, the crown jewel is still the World Series; despite decades of declining ratings, baseball’s postseason is still a revenue machine.

But World Series radio broadcasts had humble beginnings, which I detail in my recent book Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio.

In fact, for the first 13 World Series broadcasts, radio networks paid zilch to carry the national pastime’s showcase tournament. The broadcasts started as a promotion for a new radio station and coverage was amateurish. In fact, the first voice on the first live broadcast of a World Series didn’t even know the score at the end of one game.

In October 1921, WJZ, a new station based out of Newark, New Jersey, needed a big event to announce its arrival in the New York metro area. The all-Gotham series between the Giants and Yankees (eventually won by the Giants, five games to three) provided the perfect opportunity.

The voice for this first radio World Series belonged to a Westinghouse engineer named Tom Cowan, but its eyes belonged to another. Unlike Cowan, Newark Call newspaper reporter Sandy Hunt was actually at the Polo Grounds.

Footage from the 1921 World Series, which pitted the New York Yankees against the New York Giants.

 

Hunt relayed the plays by telephone to Cowan, who was lodged in a cramped 15-by-20-foot “contractor’s shack” atop Newark’s Edison plant, where the WJZ transmitter was located. In his calls of the games, Cowan simply parroted whatever Hunt told him – mind-numbing work that offered few breaks.

After one exhausting game, Cowan reported he “couldn’t even collect [his] thoughts enough to tell who had won.” When a WJZ colleague asked him who won, he could only say, “I don’t know, I just work here.”

In 1922, the two-person team was replaced by a single eyewitness at the games – and a famous one, at that. Grantland Rice, perhaps the best-known sportswriter of the day, traded in his typewriter for a microphone during the World Series rematch between the Yankees and Giants.

While offering solid description, Rice would occasionally take extended breaks to “rest his voice,” leaving listeners adrift for minutes at a time. Like Cowan, Rice found the new communication medium daunting; he would later tell legendary commentator Red Barber that one radio World Series “was enough for me for all of my life.”

For Grantland Rice, announcing one World Series was enough. irishlegends.com

After these early experiments, National League owners, fearing that broadcasts would hurt World Series attendance, voted to end all World Series coverage. But the new commissioner, a former federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis, overruled them. Landis viewed the nation’s newest mass medium as a potent promotional machine, and developed a policy promoting the widest possible coverage of the games: all stations and networks would be welcomed to cover the games for free.

The next year, 1923, Graham McNamee, a failed singer, became the nation’s first “superstar” sports announcer. For the next several years, he announced the World Series over RCA’s regional network and, later, NBC’s national network. In 1927, CBS joined NBC in providing national radio coverage for the World Series. A third radio network, the Mutual Broadcasting System, would join the fray in 1935.

Interestingly, the networks initially saw coverage of the World Series as a public service, with no sponsors and no commercials. The radio networks supplied the announcers, paid the AT&T line charges and essentially donated airtime to bring the World Series to the nation’s rapidly expanding radio audience.

In the process, Major League Baseball reached a national audience, while the networks became identified with the country’s most popular sport.

However, as attendance and revenues declined in the pit of the Great Depression, Commissioner Landis looked to radio for a new revenue stream.

Over the years, many companies approached the networks with offers to sponsor the World Series. But the networks feared a backlash if the games were broadcast with a commercial sponsor.

Back then, the advertising supported model of broadcasting was not fully entrenched; unlike today, listeners didn’t simply assume commercial interruptions would take place.

Even the pro-business, future Republican president Herbert Hoover thought it “inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for [radio] service…to be drowned in advertising chatter.”

As one NBC executive put it, “The minute we begin to commercialize this type of service we will soon have difficulties on our hands from various groups that are not friendly to broadcasting.”

Despite the chance of listener backlash for signing on sponsors, in 1934 Landis went on to sign a US$100,000 deal with the Ford Motor Company to sponsor the World Series.

The players got 42% of the take, and the clubs took the rest. Both parties were overjoyed with the commissioner’s radio windfall. The Ford deal made the World Series too valuable to remain unsponsored, ending the era of sports programming as a public service.

Landis still insisted that the maximum number of networks and stations carry the games, and throughout the 1930s, the World Series saturated the airways each October. Sponsors, however, balked at paying network charges for redundant coverage on multiple networks; by 1938 no sponsor could be found.

Landis quickly adjusted to the changing realities of radio advertising by granting exclusive rights to broadcast and sponsor the event, which would focus the attention of audiences on one network and one company.

In 1939, Landis granted Mutual exclusive rights to broadcast that year’s World Series, with an option for the 1940 contests. Meanwhile, Gillette signed on to sponsor the World Series at a cost of $100,000. But in paying only one network, they dramatically reduced the distribution costs. (Other stations could take the feed if they paid the line charges.)

Gillette would be the official sponsor of the World Series for over 25 years. Digital Deli Online

Mutual would maintain exclusive radio rights until 1957 while Gillette was the exclusive sponsor on radio – and, later, television – until 1966.

Landis’ contract established the modern structure of World Series rights: sponsorship on a single network. Network exclusivity made the games more valuable for the carrying network, but also reduced the radio (and, eventfully, television) footprint of the World Series.

As the NFL exploded in popularity and the number of postseason baseball games and competing television networks rose in the 1980s and 1990s, the supremacy of the World Series in the national consciousness faded. While networks continued to pay higher rights fees to cover the World Series, the television audience for the games declinedfrom a high of 44.3 million viewers in 1978 to a low of 12.7 million in 2012.

When it was unsponsored and on every network, the World Series became the “Fall Classic.” Meanwhile, sponsorship and exclusivity increased revenue beyond Judge Landis’ wildest dreams.

And, fortunately for fans, every announcer since 1921 has known the score at game’s end.

He’s Been Everywhere: Why Vin Scully is Baseball’s Forrest Gump

In case you missed it, there’s a really fun article over at The Sporting News, written by Jason Foster, that describes and shows video of many of the iconic plays that Vin Scully has called during his career.

You would expect a boatload of them from someone like Scully who has worked the course of two-thirds of a century, and I’m sure you’ll be able to name many right off the top of your head: Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series; Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs in 1965; Kirk Gibson’s gimpy game-winning homer in Game 1 of the 1988 Series; Bill Buckner’s five-hole fielding gaffe in Game 6 of the 1986 series; the list goes on, and I might have left off your favorite call.

But there are also a bunch of calls of iconic moments that I bet you didn’t know, or at least didn’t remember, Scully making the call on. For instance, did you know that Scully called Joe Carter’s Series-winning home run from 1993?

How about the epic 1991 Series Game 7 between Jack Morris and Jon Smoltz? Did you remember that Scully called this one as well?

But above all, if you knew that Scully called the following play, then you must immediately be crowned the King of Vin Calls:

I, myself, had no idea about this one, so I bow to you, Your Majesty.

You can check out the entire very-well-written article over at the Sporting News here:

He’s been everywhere: Why Vin Scully is baseball’s Forrest Gump

Joe Ritzo’s Baseball Dream Leads to the San Jose Giants’ Broadcast Booth

It’s not often that a young kid dreams of being on his hometown professional baseball team and then actually achieves it.  It might be even less often when the kid wants to be a broadcaster instead of a player, and the hometown team is the local High-A ballclub.

That’s what has happened with Joe Ritzo, the young radio (and sometime TV) broadcaster for the San Jose Giants of the California League. Sure, he’s looking to make the move up to the majors at some point. Every kid wants to be a major leaguer when he grows up, and every minor leaguer eventually wants to be a big leaguer, too, whether a player or not. The majors is always the ultimate goal for any baseball professional serious about his craft.

In the meantime, though, Ritzo seems very happy to be toiling for his hometown’s minor league Giants, as evidenced by the story below that first appeared in the Los Gatos Weekly-Times, part of the Bay Area News Group, and written by Dick Sparrer. You can read the story on its original website here, if you prefer.

If you are also a fan of our Working The Game series, pay particular attention towards the end, in which Sparrer briefly describes Ritzo’s typical day when there is a 7:00 pm home game. Spoiler alert: it’s a really long day, and there’s more to it than just talking into a microphone.


Baseball dream leads to the broadcast booth

It’s not uncommon to find youngsters scrambling around the grounds of Municipal Stadium during San Jose Giants games, proudly wearing their baseball caps and gloves while chasing down foul balls and playing catch between innings as they play out their dreams of one day making it there themselves.

Joe Ritzo was no different … well, maybe just a little.

He cherished his time at the ballpark as a kid because he loved the game of baseball so much. It’s just that he left his glove at home and brought his tape recorder along instead.

As it turns out, just as those boyhood dreams came true for guys like Joe Panik and Matt Duffy as they flashed leather on the infield at San Jose Muni on their road to become Major League baseball players, so too is the dream coming true for Joe Ritzo, who pushed the record button on his way to earning his place as the play-by-play broadcaster for the San Jose Giants.

“I always felt that I could talk a good game,” said Ritzo. And now he does, at least 140 times a year–mostly from his small perch in the booth atop Muni Stadium, but also from some less glamorous locales throughout the California League.

Still, while there may be more exciting places to visit than Rancho Cucamonga or Bakersfield, and more pleasant ways to get there than by riding a bus, Ritzo is very happy to be a Giant, even if it is at the Single A level. Because San Jose won four Cal League championships in over a six year span (from 2005-2010), and many of those Giants who have gone on to win three World Series titles played for those teams as they passed through San Jose on their way to San Francisco.

GIANTS PRIDE

“All of us here have a real sense of pride, not just because they’ve made it to the majors but because of the success they’ve had,” said Ritzo of the Giants. “It’s been an unbelievable ride.

“They were very successful here, so no one was real surprised after seeing the talent that rolled through here,” he added. “They were all great and a pleasure to be around. They were all approachable and very respectful people. We were lucky to have a great clubhouse.”

In that clubhouse were the likes of Panik and Duffy, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt and Andrew Susac, and so many more.

“We knew we were seeing something special when [Posey and Bumgarner] were here,” said Ritzo. “Posey was still trying to feel his way out, but he was a quiet leader, and [a 19-year-old Bumgarner] was still learning how to deal with the media and fans when they talked to him.”

And who were his favorites? Panik and Susac ranked near the top.

“I really liked talking to those guys,” said Ritzo. “They each have a lot of personality.”

Ritzo got a chance to reacquaint himself with Susac recently with the young catcher back in San Jose during an injury rehab. Of course, this time Susac came back as the owner of a World Series ring.

“It’s almost like they come back and they’re all grown up,” said Ritzo of the rehabbing big leaguers. “Our players really look up to these guys and watch how they prepare for a game and everything else they do.”

But it’s not only the young players who get enthused when the San Francisco Giants make appearances in San Jose–the fans like it, too.

“We try to take advantage of that opportunity for our fans,” said Ritzo. “There’s always a buzz; it’s electric.”

Especially when guys like Susac and Belt return to San Jose and blast home runs like they did this year during their rehab stints.

PASSIONATE FANS

“We have a very passionate fan base,” added Ritzo. “We see that on a regular basis, but it really comes out during a rehab.

“We have knowledgeable fans, and I’m entrusted to tell that story and try to make it interesting and entertaining every night,” he said. “Every game is its own entity, and I try to paint that picture as best as I can.”

In the true tradition of line, “I saw it on the radio,” from Terry Cashman’s song “Play By Play,” Ritzo can paint a picture with his words.

When he said on an Aug. 15 broadcast, “A bouncing ball snared by Kobernus as he drops to his knees … sliding, lunging to the ground on the infield dirt with a nice play,” we could almost see the dust fly as the third baseman made the play.

It’s just that sort of picture painting that could be Ritzo’s ticket to the next level.

“Just like a player, I have aspirations to get to the Major Leagues,” said Ritzo, who lives in Redwood City and will marry Emily Schwartz in October. “I like the aspect of being connected to a big league club. At the same time, it’s a very competitive field.

“I knew that going in,” he added. “If I never get to that level that’s fine. I love what I do and I’m happy to work for my hometown team.”

In that role he had the chance to join a Giants broadcast with Hall of Famer Jon Miller and his booth partner Dave Fleming in San Francisco.

“I got the chance to jump in with them to talk about our team here,” he said.

For a 31-year-old who grew up a Giants fan, that was a moment to remember.

“I never had idols,” he said. “I would get to a game and turn to look at the booth to see what the broadcasters were doing.”

So while Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow and the other Giants were going about their business between the lines, Ritzo was paying more attention to Miller, Hank Greenwald and Ted Robinson.

Robinson “had a real influence on me,” he said. “He was great. He would talk to me about the things I could do to improve.”

BASEBALL FAMILY

It’s not like Ritzo never played the game. He grew up in a baseball household. He is named for his paternal grandfather, Joseph Ritzo, who played the game professionally, and his father Dale, a doctor in San Mateo, was a pitcher at USC. Young Joe played on the infield and pitched a bit in the Palo Alto Little League and later the Babe Ruth League before playing at Palo Alto High School.

“It was in my blood,” he said of baseball. “I grew up loving the game.”

As a player, he said, “I was OK, but I always knew I wanted to get into broadcasting; that’s where my heart was.”

“I always knew that I had a good handle of what was going on,” he added, “even if I couldn’t play.”

So there was never a thought in Ritzo’s mind to pursue baseball as a player; he had his sights set on the broadcast booth. In pursuit of that goal he headed to Santa Clara University to major in communications “and get involved in their radio station.”

He did that and then some. Growing up in Palo Alto he was a Giants fan, and in addition to attending games at Candlestick Park he went to many San Jose Giants games–with his tape recorder, of course. But he also attended many games at Stanford University as a teenager and managed to find his way into the press box.

“They even let me jump on [the broadcast] for an inning, and I loved it,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re pretty good. Why don’t you do a little more?’ So here I was a 17-year-old high school junior doing Stanford games. I was very fortunate; it was really exciting that I had that chance.

“That’s probably how I got the job here,” said Ritzo, who sent his tapes to Giants executive Mike McCarroll in 2003, just a year after his high school graduation. “He said that my tape sounded great, and I came in to do six or seven games. I was 19 when I started here, and by my senior year [of college] I was doing half of the home games.”

It was only a few years later when his position went fulltime. That was 2007, and he has been doing all of the home and road games ever since.

A TYPICAL DAY

For Ritzo, his day includes more than just a few hours in the broadcast booth. His typical day begins at 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. He provides coaches with statistics and other information, visits the clubhouse to talk to players and coaches to gather facts for his broadcast, “grabs someone for the pregame interview” that he tapes for airing before the game and compiles packets for the visiting media.

“Then I spend a fair amount of time preparing for the broadcast,” he said. And when that radio broadcast begins, he’s all alone on the air (Joe Castellano joins Ritzo for color commentary on televised games).

But Ritzo’s night doesn’t end when the umpire signals the final out–far from it, in fact. There’s the full post-game show, followed by a write-up of a game recap that he sends to the media and posts on the team website and social media sites.

After having dinner at home at about midnight, he puts together game notes, and his usual day ends at about 2 or 2:30 a.m.

It’s that sort of work ethic that will serve Ritzo well as he attempts to live up to the claim on the San Jose Giants website: “Listen to the stars of tomorrow today.” That, and the fact that he comes across as a no holds barred, tell it like it is play-by-play man–which can’t always make those long bus rides home with the very players and coaches he critiques too comfortable.

And on Aug. 24 he’ll be back on that bus, heading south to San Bernadino to call the play-by-play for the Giants in a game against the Inland Empire 66ers that night, so that local fans can “see it on the radio.”

New Biography: 1966 Atlanta Braves Broadcasters

A new biography about the Atlanta Braves broadcasters of their maiden season of 1966 was written by Bob Barrier for the SABR Biography Project, and has also been published here on the SABRmedia.org website:

1966 ATLANTA BRAVES BROADCASTERS

If you have written a biography about a figure in baseball media, whether on the broadcast or print side, please consider allowing us to add it to our site.

 

Read More about Long-time Astros Broadcaster Gene Elston, 2006 Ford C. Frick Award Winner, Who Passed Away on Saturday

The Houston Astros announced this past Saturday that Larry Elston, who called Houston Astros games from the team’s inaugural season of 1962 through 1986, has passed away at the age of 93.

Elston was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award, aka became a Hall of Famer, in 2006 for “major contributions to baseball”, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a broadcaster.  At the time he was only the thirtieth to be so honored in the entire 90+ year history of baseball broadcasting.

The Houston Astros released the following statement:

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Gene Elston. Gene helped introduce baseball to Houston as a part of the original broadcast team of the Colt .45s when the franchise was born in 1962. For 25 seasons, he served as the lead voice of the Colt .45s and Astros and called many of the great moments in franchise history. The memories he helped create are cherished fondly by the generations of Astros fans that he touched. On behalf of the entire Astros organization, I send my deepest condolences to Gene’s family members and to his many friends and fans.”

You can read more about Elston on the Astros website, or you can choose from among the many current stories that have been published recently about Gene Elston by clicking on this link:

Google News: Gene Elston

We offer our fullest condolences to the family of Mr. Elston and to the entire Houston Astros organization.