Today we are reposting a post from the blog Inches per Second, maintained by Bob Purse, a self-described “father of two amazing young women” who’s “married to the most wonderful woman in the world”. (Lucky man!)
With the Chicago Cubs currently leading all of baseball, posting the best record seen by any team in 32 years, and the best Cubs start in 109 years, what better time for a bit of radio and baseball history, involving the Cubs.
Today’s tape was generously donated to this site by my best pal Stu Shea, who has written several books, including several on baseball and music, among other things, and who also often offers up comments on this site and my other blog. THANK YOU, STU!!!
Here’s what Stu has to say about this tape:
This is a recording of the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers on WGN radio, Chicago, from April 22, 1958. This is the first season that the Dodgers were in LA after having moved from Brooklyn.
Included is a pregame interview between Cubs broadcaster Lou Boudreau and Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese–then 39 and in his last year as an active player–and some of the game’s action.
There are not many tapes in existence of Jack Quinlan, the Cubs’ play-by-play radio announcer, from his time in Chicago. He was a very highly regarded baseball voice who died in a car accident during 1965 spring training. He was just 38.
A couple of things to add. This was the very first time the Cubs or their announcers were seeing the L.A. Coliseum as it was in those days reconfigured for baseball. It was, as I’ve read, perhaps the least appropriate venue for major league baseball in history, and much of the discussion in these segments concerns the various aspects of the park.
I’ve divided the tape into the pregame interview and lead-up to the game, followed by the play-by-play of the first inning (which is all that’s on the tape of the actual game). Also worth noting is the lack of a commercial break at either the half-inning point or after the first inning, and, in a bit of sad irony, Quinlan makes note of a noted basketball coach who had died that day in a car crash, just as Quinlan himself would, seven years later.
As the tape spooled down to its last few minutes, whoever recorded the Cubs broadcast switched over to a faintly received St. Louis station, and captured just a few minutes of a Cardinals broadcast, featuring two already well-known men, both of whom would become even more famous broadcasters in the coming years, Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola. And even here, the oddities about baseball at the L.A. Coliseum end up being discussed! Here is that brief segment:
The National Pastime Museum is a website rich with historical baseball articles written by some of SABR’s brightest lights, as well as some of the top working journalists in the game. If you haven’t been there yet, head on over when you’ve got a few minutes to kill.
An interesting baseball media article published there recently was written by Paul Dickson, who is probably most famous in baseball circles for publishing The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, which you can buy here or, if you have at least a halfway decent library available to you, check it out from there. But Dickson has authored enough baseball and non-baseball books, over 65 of them, to have a pretty impressive Wikipedia page dedicated to him.
The article Dickson recently published, which we republish in full below, is titled “How Radio Gave Baseball its Voice“, and while it’s not a comprehensive history of baseball on the radio, it does include some of the key figures of the early radio business, and is a nice, easy, breezy read.
Thanks to Becki Hartke, Director of the National Pastime Museum. You can join almost 2,500 other followers of their twitter feed at @TNPMuseum.
On August 5, 1921, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a 25-year-old studio announcer for radio station KDKA sat in a box seat behind home plate in Forbes Field. Using only a converted telephone as a microphone and some jury-rigged equipment, Harold Arlin broadcast the first Major League Baseball game, calling every play in a game between the Pirates and the Phillies, which the Pirates won 8–5.
Arlin later recalled that this pioneering event was merely an experiment—a “one-off”—and that most of the staff at the station thought that baseball would never be commercially viable on radio.
For the moment the conclusion reached by Arlin and his peers seemed on target. That year’s World Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Giants was broadcast locally, and the broadcast the following year of the 1922 World Series was linked to more than one station, but these were novelties with little impact on the regular baseball season or the consciousness of the fans.
The first great radio success came in 1923 with the Chicago Cubs, which was due to the open-mindedness of Phil Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, and his progressive president William Veeck—not to be confused with his son Bill Veeck. Wrigley, a great advocate of advertising, had been the perfect owner for Veeck to work with. One of the combined legacies of the two men was radio, which both men saw as the perfect vehicle for selling the Cubs as a regional franchise. Veeck especially welcomed free radio coverage of Cubs games, and one of the reasons he gave for this was that radio educated new fans in the subtleties of baseball, and this was especially true for women. Wrigley firmly believed that radio would increase ticket sales and yield a wider regional fan base.
Late in the 1923 season, Judith Waller, managing director of radio station WMAQ, came to Wrigley asking for a 30-day trial of broadcasting live Cubs games. At the end of the trial, listeners were asked to send in letters expressing their feelings about the broadcasts. The letters came in bundles from all over the Midwest. A Wisconsin dentist wrote, “I have had no trouble with my patients since I installed the radio for the Cubs games. They sit and listen and let me work.” An Indiana farmer wrote that he had a radio rigged in his field and caught the score as he finished each turn of the plow. He said, “Don’t stop it.”
The experimenting continued and culminated on June 1, 1925, when WMAQ became the first station in the United States to broadcast every home baseball game, an arrangement that continued for many seasons. Surprisingly, the deal with WMAQ was not exclusive, and the Cubs allowed other broadcasters to set up next to the press box and provide live accounts of the game on the radio. At any given moment through the late 1920s, as many as five radio stations carried the games live. But the key was WMAQ, a clear-channel 50,000-watt monster that could be heard over much of the Midwest in the day and over most of the East Coast at night when the AM signal was stronger. “The middle as well as the country at large was becoming Cub-conscious,” newsman John P. Carmichael later wrote of the WMAQ deal. “The team was on its way to fame and fortune.” [i]
In his 1946 history of the Cubs, journalist Warren Brown maintained that beyond spreading the Cubs gospel, radio did increase attendance for the team. His evidence: from 1918 to 1924, when the Cubs averaged fourth place in the National League standings, they drew 3,585,439 patrons for that seven-year period; and from 1925 to 1931, with a club that averaged fourth place in the National League standings, the Cubs, for that seven-year period, drew 7,845,700 patrons. To quote Brown, “That represents a gain of 119%. Over the same period, the other seven clubs gained 27% in home attendance.”
But despite the success of the Cubs as the decade wore on, a majority of the other teams were increasingly fearful, believing radio would cut down on ticket sales by allowing the lukewarm fan—or the fan with little disposable income—to stay home and get a word picture of the game for nothing. The Boston teams—the NL Boston Bees (later the Braves) and the Red Sox—began broadcasting some of their games in 1926.
Baseball Magazine, July 1930
Then along came the crash of 1929 and the fear of broadcasting seemed to intensify. Owners pointed to the declining sales of sheet music and phonograph records as evidence of radio’s negative impact on traditional media. But there was one notable exception—in 1929 the Cincinnati Reds became the second club to air regular radio broadcasts of all their home games.
In December 1931, 11 of 16 Major League teams came to the winter meetings in Chicago planning to establish a ban on all radio coverage, but the measure had to be tabled. The night before the ban was to be discussed, the Cubs had agreed to a new radio contract for the 1932 season, infuriating those who feared the consequences. President William Harridge of the American League intimated that if radio became an issue with the newspapers, he would recommend that broadcasts be eliminated. “Newspaper publicity made baseball,” said Harridge, who had the support of the Baseball Writers Association, which had expressed the belief that radio was cutting down on the sale of “EXTRA” editions of their newspapers.[ii][iii]
As the Depression deepened, the opinion of the majority of owners solidified around the notion that radio kept fans from the ballpark. Nowhere was this belief more strongly held than in the greater New York area, where, in 1934, a five-year pact between the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and the New York Yankees went into effect banning all radio coverage. Added to this fear that radio was sapping the vitality of baseball was the emergence of serial melodramas known as soap operas, which often ran when afternoon games were played.
If radio was declared the enemy of baseball in New York, it was not universal. The Cincinnati Reds reported that radio was adding to ticket sales, and the commitment to the medium redoubled when Powel Crosley, the largest manufacturer of radios in the world, bought the team in 1934.
Crosley’s general manager was Larry MacPhail, the red-faced, sandy-haired, heavy-drinking protégé of Branch Rickey who had revived the ailing Reds and turned them into a money-making contender. His innovations in Cincinnati included regular radio broadcasts employing another redhead—a young Floridian named Red Barber—and night baseball.
MacPhail was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers during the winter of 1938–39, and on February 5, MacPhail announced that the Dodgers would be the first team to break the New York area radio ban, and all of the team’s games would be broadcast on WOR—a 50,000-watt powerhouse of a station. Sponsors had been lined up, and broadcaster Red Barber was hired to be the voice of the team.
Later in the month at the National League winter meeting, the Giants announced they were also opting out of the radio agreement. At the end of that meeting, the only radio holdout in either league was the New York Yankees, which succumbed shortly thereafter. [iv]
Meanwhile, after being first hired by MacPhail, Barber went to spring training to get the lowdown on the players so that he could talk about them—and not just what they did between the white lines. New Yorkers had heard him before—and apparently liked him despite or because of his homespun southern delivery—as the announcer for the 1938 World Series and radio voice of the Army–Notre Dame football game staged at Yankee Stadium a few months earlier. His voice, made for radio, was soothing, and his approach to calling a game was colorful and rich in rural metaphor—Ebbets Field would soon become “the Flatbush pea patch.” Barber was a man of “you alls” and “yes, ma’ams” headed for a place mocked for “dems” and “dose.” [v]
Barber was one of the most influential of the new broadcast personalities who gave the game its voice through the war years and beyond and in the process became as important to the face of many teams as the players themselves. Another such figure was Mel Allen, another southern voice, who became the Yankee’s first play-by-play man. During his long radio career, Allen called more World Series (20) and All-Star Games (24) on radio than anyone in history. Barber, who later went to the Yankees after 15 years with the Dodgers, was also instrumental in the development of another brilliant redhead, Vin Scully. Beginning with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, Scully apprenticed under his watchful eyes and critical ears. The amazing Scully has called Dodgers games on two coasts in seven decades including the present one.
As it turned out, radio became the vehicle by which baseball thrived. As Gerald Nachman put it in his book Raised on Radio, “Radio quickly became a crucial arm of sports in America, spreading the gospel of baseball in the 1920s to 1950s.”
When television came along, the fear was that radio would be the loser to the new medium, but radio remains vital today as teams set up their own networks to keep far-flung fans connected to their favorite teams. Currently, the last team to buy into radio has 52 stations linked on the Yankees Radio Network, which reaches across 15 states including Alaska.
[i] Carmichael, 1993, Chicago Daily News, biography. [ii]San Jose News, December 8, 1931. [iii] Normally reserved for a crisis—but often extended to baseball—these were special editions hastily printed and hawked by street vendors. During a World Series, there would be at least one newsboy on every corner. [iv]Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1938. [v] The Sporting News, March 16, 1939, p. 6.
The Major League Baseball season consists of 2,430 games played over the next six months, and with each of those games broadcast on television and radio, hundreds of commentators get involved. While the phrase “you can’t tell them without a scorecard” originally applied to players, with more than 40 of those announcers changing jobs this winter, we thought it might be good to give them a rundown as well.
If you caught ESPN’s Opening Night broadcast on Sunday, you discovered a new top team for the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ coverage of the national pastime. While Dan Shulman begins his sixth season in the booth, his partners are both gone. John Kruk returns to Baseball Tonight, while Curt Schilling’s month-long departure from the Sunday night booth last September has become permanent.
Just as she did last fall, Jessica Mendoza replaces Schilling: Aaron Boone slides over from Monday-night duty to replace Schilling. Eduardo Perez will join Schilling in the analyst chair on Monday nights, with Karl Ravech or Dave Flemming handling play-by-play.
When Fox starts its coverage this weekend, it too will make a change at the top, with John Smoltz replacing the duo of Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci.
Below is a look at the changes coming to local broadcasts around the league, broken down by division. But before we get there, let’s get the easy listings out of the way: if you’re a fan of the Rays, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Twins, Astros, Angels, Mariners, Mets, Braves, Nationals, Giants or Reds, you’ll get more of the same from last season.
While 17 teams changed something about their broadcasts, that doesn’t appear to have created any vacancies at the AAA level. Every new major-league play-by-play voice save one came from a supporting role at a national network or from another major-league booth, and the lone exception jumped from NCAA Division I to MLB.
In fact, the directory at Broadcaster411.com lists just two new lead play-by-play voices in AA and AAA:Tyler Murray takes over at AA New Hampshire while Chris Adams-Wall steps in at AA New Hampshire.
The White Sox move radio flagships from WSCR 670 to WLS 890, paving the way for the Cubs to take over CBS’s 50,000-watt all-sports station in the nation’s third-largest radio market. With the Blackhawks on WGN 720, the Bulls on WMVP 1000 and the Bears on WBBM 780, all five major Chicago sports teams are on different Class A stations for the next few months.
On the television side, the Pale Hose make another change, and it’s one that will be met with jubilation or despair but not much in between: Ken Harrelson will cut his schedule in half for his 27th straight season in the booth. “The Hawk,” who turns 75 over Labor Day weekend, has taken the unusual step of cutting his schedule back to predominantly road games because each home game comes with a 100-mile commute one way from his home in Granger, Ind. Jason Benetti, a 32-year-old Syracuse University graduate who called games at the local AAA team before joining ESPN in 2011, will handle the remaining half of the schedule.
A Rangers broadcast crew with three 60-something announcers will get a bit of relief as 43-year-old Dave Raymond joins the staff. A Stanford graduate who was one of three men splitting in the Astros radio booth from 2006-12, Raymond will work 43 games on radio with Steve Busby, permitting Tom Grieve to dial back his schedule. Raymond will also fill in for Eric Nadel on the radio side, working with Matt Hicks.
The Miami Marlins dispense with television analyst Tommy Hutton after 19 seasons. The Miami Herald reported that the team believed Hutton was too negative: as media columnist Barry Jackson observed, “Hutton’s dismissal serves as a disconcerting reminder that many teams prefer cheerleaders in the booth, announcers who won’t rock the boat and certainly won’t openly question coaching or personnel decisions.”
Eduardo Perez, Preston Wilson and Al Leiterwill alternate alongside Rich Waltz in Hutton’s place, leaving Leiter in the unique position of working local telecasts for both the Yankees and Marlins.
In Philadelphia, the Phillies will have just one flagship station instead of two as they drop WPHT 1210 for an exclusive home on WIP 94.1.
With Block out, Jeff Levering assumes the title of “Bob Uecker’s backup” in Milwaukee: he serves as the secondary play-by-play announcer for home games and leads the broadcast when Uecker is absent on the road. Last year, Levering was the third man on the totem pole, which meant he joined Block to do color on the road. That means that Levering is, in effect, partnering with his own replacement this year: Lane Grindle steps in after a decade covering baseball at the University of Nebraska.
Ted Leitner returns to the Padres radio booth as the play-by-play man, despite the fact that sounds to me like the guy who reads the fine print at the end of car commercials. He has a new partner, as Bob Scanlan shifts to working for Padres.com and former fill-in Jesse Agler steps in beside Leitner.
A lot of pixels have been spilled about the settlement in the lawsuit named Garber et al v. MLB et al, aka, the lawsuit to strike down too high prices for baseball packages and those ridiculous blackout restrictions to boot.
There are a lot of facts about what the settlement means to us, the regular fans, flying around in multiples stories, so I thought it might be helpful summarize everything in a handy-dandy series of bullet points.
So, without further ado, here is what the settlement in Garber v MLB means to us fans as of today:
Single-team packages will be made available at a cost of $84.99 for the 2016 season. These single-team packages will be available to out-of-market viewers only, e.g., Tigers games for fans in Tampa; Cubs games for fans in Phoenix; Cardinals games for fans in Chicago; you get the idea. If you’re a Tigers fan living in Detroit, the Tiger team package will still not be available to you. You will not need to authenticate your credentials with your cable or satellite provider to get this package. So, cord cutters welcome here.
The cost of the MLB.TV Premium will also be lowered as part of the settlement, from $129.99 to $109.99. What Premium gives you over MLB.TV Basic is away radio audio overlay; a free MLB At Bat app (worth ~$20); and access to games on devices other than just computers and laptops, including smartphones and “over the top” devices such as Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, etc. Click here for a current device list.
For the next five years, the price for the single-team and MLB.TV packages can rise each year by only the greater of (a) 3%, or (b) the annual national cost-of-living adjustment. That means the most the package will cost in 2020 is $95.99 for the single-team, and $123.99 overall. (This part in particular is how you can tell that it was lawyers who worked out this settlement.)
In addition to the MLB.tv streaming service, satellite and cable providers may also elect to offer single-team packages for out-of-market teams as well. However, at least in the case of national providers, they would have to offer packages for all 30 teams and not just, say, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs only. Price of this is still TBD.
Extra Innings packages, available through DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity and several other providers, will reduce their prices from 2015 levels by 12.5% for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Actual prices are yet to be determined and should be available to DirecTV customers in early February.
If you are a fan living in an area that is “unserved” by any satellite or cable service at all, you will be able to get an exemption to the in-market blackout rule and buy packages that include your market’s team, based on your (billing?) address.
By the All-Star break, MLB.tv will offer an additional option called “Follow Your Team”. This is completely different from the single-team package above. FYT will allow you to watch the out-of market broadcast (only) of your in-market team when they are playing out of town. For example, if you’re a Tigers fan and they’re playing the Twins at Target Field, with this option you will be able to tune into the Twins telecast (but not the Tigers telecast) if you are physically in the Tigers market at the time. This option will cost $10 on top of your MLB.tv subscription. Understand four things, though: (1) Your local RSN has to give consent for fans in their area to participate in this offer; (2) even if they do consent, to get this, you will need to authenticate your credentials through your cable or satellite provider—cord cutters not welcome here; (3) you can’t just get the FYT as a $10 standalone. It’s available only an add-on to a full MLB.tv subscription; and (4) you will still not be able to see any of a in-market team’s home games on MLB.tv at all while physically in that market.
Blackout rules are not affected by this settlement at all. They still apply in the same way they always have. So if you live in Iowa, Las Vegas or Hawaii, you will still not be able to watch those six blacked-out teams’ telecasts on your MLB.tv, same as before, except if you subscribe to their “Follow Your Team” feed, and then only their away games, and even then only the away team’s telecasts, and even even then except if they’re playing another team that also happens to be blacked out in your area!
Separately from (although likely spurred by) this case, last November, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a three-year deal in which the fifteen regional sports networks controlled by FOX Sports would begin offering in-market streaming of games during the 2016 season, provided FOX regional sports network viewers authenticate with their cable or satellite provider. Last Tuesday’s settlement extends this deal to Subscribers of DirecTV and Comcast’s sports nets as well. The only teams now not covered by this separate agreement are the Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Red Sox.
The $64 question at hand: Is this settlement a win for the fans? That depends on your point of view. If you believe that any loosening of the labyrinthine MLB broadcast restrictions counts as a positive, and it would for many fans, then yes, this is a win for them. If your definition of “win” is complete freedom to watch any team in any market on any device you choose, then there is a long way to go before you will be able to claim that level of victory.
Nevertheless, many industry observers believe this settlement is a key step toward positioning MLB’s digital arm, BAM Tech, for a future of viewing untethered to expensive cable, in which BAM Tech will be able compete with Netflix, Hulu and other like content providers in delivering original content. This future would have to include the erosion of the blackout restrictions still in place for it to be a serious contender among those original content providers, but given the rate at which people have been cutting the cord of late, it seems to be a pretty good bet that Baseball and its affiliate clubs will find a way to rework its Luddite restrictions sooner than later to achieve this end.
Regular readers may remember that the “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year. (And for those of you who don’t remember, “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year.)
On the electronic media side, those articles typically featured only broadcasters, but as we all know, there is an entire team of dedicated professionals whose jobs are just as important in putting together a baseball broadcast as the jobs of those we hear on the microphones. Producer Chris Majkowski is one of those people. Already fairly well known among loyal listeners of Mets radio broadcasts, notably for his Twitter feed @MetsBooth, Majkowski has been working as a producer on Mets radio broadcasts for a couple of decades now.
The article below, which was first published on SB Nation’s Amazin’ Avenue blog, provides a rare glimpse into the kinds of things producers have to do not only to ensure that the radio broadcast we listen to goes off without a hitch, but also to maintain the thinly-veiled illusion that the broadcasters themselves are merely just showing up and speaking off the cuff when relaying the details of the unfolding game to us. Again, we all understand that’s not how it really works, but a successful execution of that illusion is the sign of a good broadcast. After all, just as with umpires, the best baseball radio broadcast producers do their job so seamlessly that we do not realize they are there, even though we really know they are.
Mets radio producer Chris Majkowski, backbone of the broadcast, loves his job
Mets fans haven’t always had a great team to root for, but they have been treated to outstanding broadcasts of the team’s games on the radio and television for decades. The current incarnations of those booths are beloved: Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling in the SNY booth for TV, and Howie Rose and Josh Lewin in the WOR booth for radio.
Chris Majkowski, the producer and engineer who operates behind the scenes in the radio booth, isn’t exactly an unknown among die-hard Mets fans. He hasn’t taken a day off in over twenty years, a streak that has had Howie Rose calling him “‘The Immortal’ Chris Majkowski” on broadcasts for years. And his Twitter feed, @MetsBooth, is popular.
Majkowski doesn’t really think of what he does as work. He considers his seat the best one in the house, or at least the next-best to Rose’s seat. He clearly appreciates that he gets to do what he does for a living and thoroughly enjoys it.
A lifelong Mets fan, Majkowski who grew up in Albertson, New York, a town in Nassau County, and graduated from Fordham University in The Bronx, where he got the radio bug while working at WFUV, the school’s well-regarded radio station. He remembers the first game he attended as a child, sitting in the back rows of the field boxes at Shea Stadium for a double-header between the Mets and Reds on a sweltering day. But it was tough to see much of anything from those seats, and they only stayed for the first game.
His first vivid memories of sports came in 1973: the Mets’ playoff push late in the regular season, Rusty Staub dislocating his shoulder against the A’s in the World Series, and literally running home from school to catch playoff games—which were all played during the day—on the black-and-white television in the basement at home.
Majkowski got his start in the radio business about a year after he graduated college when Bob Jewell, who was the chief engineer at WFUV, told him he knew a couple of guys that were looking for someone who could handle radio equipment and had an understanding of sports, someone who could keep a scorecard and know when timeouts were coming up to assist the broadcasters.
“Oh, well that sounds like something that would be up my alley,” Majkowski thought.
So he started with those guys: Joel Blumberg and Brian Ferguson. Some of the first games he worked were Hofstra football and Islanders hockey. And he worked his first baseball games at Shea for visiting broadcasting legends Harry Caray of the Cubs and Harry Kalas of the Phillies.
“Harry Caray was funny because I had to go and find him to record the manager’s show. Harry didn’t do anything when he recorded the manager’s shows, except he took a hold of the microphone. You had to go with a tape deck at the time, hand Harry the microphone, tell him, ‘okay, we’re recording,’ hit a stop watch, and signal,” he says as he holds up one finger at a time, “one minute, two minutes—because you’re supposed to do four minutes—three minutes, four minutes, and then he knew we had to wrap it up.”
The technology in the booth at the time wasn’t nearly as advanced or useful as what’s available today. Majkowski filled out lineup cards for Murphy with home run and RBI totals. He laughs a bit and says, “We didn’t get into the on-base and the slugging and everything else that we pull in today.”
Out-of-town scores, which can be tracked easily in real time in a number of ways now, were a bit of a production.
He did some work at Madison Square Garden, too, and the Mets’ gig opened up in 1993. He went to work with Bob Murphy, the Mets’ own legendary broadcaster, and Gary Cohen in the radio booth.
“We used to have this sports ticker and this roll of paper that would keep spitting out. And at that time, it made a bit of a racket, but if you were doing it long enough—it was a dot-matrix printer,” he says as he mimics the sound of it. “If you did it long enough and you were sitting next to this thing for hours upon end like I was, a home run had a certain rhythm to it. You know somebody hit a home run, not even by looking at it, just by hearing how that thing was going—’oh, that’s a home run, I better check that out.’”
A couple of decades later, he might not feel like he’s at work, but Majkowski says the longest days are the first days of a road series or a home stand. He sets up the booth on those days—running cables and checking mics—and is naturally fond of long home stands.
There isn’t quite as much work to do before the following games of a series, but there are still things that need to be done. There’s research for ‘This Date in Mets History’ and the compilation of clips from MLB.com and the piecing together of the pre- and post-game shows.
My conversation with ‘Maj’ took place during the next-to-last game of the Mets’ regular season. It’s late in the game, and Max Scherzer is in the midst of pitching a no-hitter against the playoff-bound Mets. Jerry Seinfeld has just departed the booth after an impromptu guest appearance on radio following his appearance in the SNY booth.
The game is zipping along, but Majkowksi, Rose, and Wayne Randazzo, who handles the pre- and post-game shows but is filling in for Rose’s regular partner, Josh Lewin, as co-host, have to make up for lost time. The regular mix of promotions went out the window while Seinfeld was visiting, but they all still have to be worked into the broadcast.
So Majkowski rapidly exchanges sheets of paper with both Rose and Randazzo, making it all look seamless as he tends to all of his other regular duties. His left hand operates the sound board, which has microphones all over the place, while his right mostly works on his laptop. To the right of the laptop, there’s a small, portable printer, which spits out the parts of the broadcast that Majkowski writes and passes up to the broadcasters.
To the left of the laptop, there’s a stopwatch, which he still uses to time commercial breaks, even though he has a finely-tuned mental clock for such things. And there’s a small recording device, too, for saving things on the fly and piecing them back together later.
Majkowski is essentially the drummer of the band that is the Mets’ radio broadcast. Constantly doing multiple things at once, his desk—on which his rig fits perfectly—is slightly elevated and a sits a couple of feet behind the broadcast’s front-men. He’s the backbone of the production, keeping everything in order and working with the broadcasters in front of him to maximize everyone’s collective talent.
And like any good drummer, Majkowski has a great sense of humor. He has, on at least a couple of occasions, worked pranks into the scripts he writes. And at least one of those jokes once made it on the air a couple of years ago, even if that wasn’t necessarily the intention.
“Let’s just say we laugh a lot,” says Howie Rose. “He keeps the place loose.”
Goldberg-Strassler does something that no other broadcaster we know of: every season, he re-creates one game out of the 140-game Lugnuts season, as an homage to the great baseball broadcasters of yore who had to deliver re-created broadcasts on a routine basis. Goldberg-Strassler doesn’t have to do this. It is something he chooses to do, and his excellent article below explains why he does and part of how he does it.
Also included in the article is a link to his re-created game from the 2015 season. I highly recommend you read his article, but if you just can’t wait, the link to his broadcast is in green, toward the bottom of his piece.
Baseball is an ideal medium for a radio broadcast, providing the freedom and space for story, analysis, and visual description through unhurried words. You can relax in your living room, take a loose hold of your steering wheel, or go about the duties of an outdoor chore while the game fills the background and instructs your mind’s eye.
This is the challenge – and the delight – of the game re-creation broadcast: putting the broadcaster in an equally blind situation, cut off from the field, with only imagination and the barest communicated play-by-play to guide description forward.
It is understandable why broadcasters were forced into game re-creation broadcasts. Even today, broadcasting with a secure connection from a remote diamond is no sure thing, and lodging and transportation cost money. The complications caused by sending a broadcaster on the road with his employer club could well cause more trouble than it was worth, even for major league teams, in the 1930s-1950s.
Over a half-century later, once a year, I re-create a live Minor League baseball game on the FM radio airwaves in Lansing, Michigan. My first re-creation broadcast occurred my rookie season, mandated by my team president. I had no choice in the matter. My second came from pure desperation and resulted in one of the most memorable games I’ve never seen. Since then, I have spent the last seven seasons putting together an annual August re-creation broadcast in tribute to those great broadcasters and re-creators of yore.
In the independent Can-Am League in 2005, future Major Leaguer Chris Colabello was a rookie on the expansion Worcester Tornadoes. My team was the Brockton (MA) Rox, a team that churned out attention-getting promotions as much as any other Goldklang Group club, if not more.
In a past life, Rox team president Jim Lucas had formed a noted team with blind color commentator Don Wardlow; the visual description of a baseball broadcast circulated from the heart of their broadcasts. (One of their other favorite elements was the opening of a pack of baseball cards live on the air, conversing about each card that they revealed. They were uniquely entertaining.) On this night, Lucas benched lead broadcaster Dave Raymond and sent Brockton’s other two broadcasters, Matt Meola and myself, in to the radio studio. There one of us listened to the game’s goings-on and wrote notes to the other to re-create, banging mini-bats together for the crack of the bat, slapping a ball into the glove for every pitch taken (or swing and a miss), trying desperately to capture the true pace of the national pastime. As I remember it, I had a devil of a time, Matt excelled, and Dave, on his way to a Major League job the following season, was proud of us both.
Three years later, a terrible thunderstorm swept through Chicagoland. (My team was the Frontier League’s Windy City ThunderBolts, and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” roared out before each home game. Perhaps we were courting trouble, or perhaps it was just part of the region’s expectations.) The opponent in the other clubhouse was a road squad, the Midwest Sliders; they did not have a radio broadcaster on their staff. With the Sliders as the opponent, Windy City had the responsibility of broadcasting for both teams. But the storm had knocked out all internet in the press box. No broadcast connection, no broadcast. We were stymied.
A Plan B emerged. There was still working internet in the team’s front office, located down the third base concourse in a separate building. If a broadcast was to be held, that would have to be its site, away from a vantage point to the field. Catalyzed by a memory of my 2005 re-creation (while concurrently trying to forget how difficult and exhausting it had been), I swept into the souvenir shop and grabbed a baseball and a pair of team mini-bats. A semblance of a broadcast booth was set up at a desk in the main office, not ten feet away from the box office windows and the reception area. For the first three innings, a team intern messaged the game’s details from a vantage point just outside the office, and I slapped a ball into a glove and cracked mini-bats together, delivering vivid depictions to the cubicle wall in front of me. (My amused ‘Bolts co-workers paraded past, mimicking peanut vendors and outraged fans.) We switched for the middle three innings, placing broadcast assistant Nick Kovatch at the controls of the mini-bats and the listeners’ imaginations, and then switched again for the final three. Of all things to occur: The ThunderBolts defeated the Sliders, 13-0, and 22-year-old left-hander Isaac Hess posted the first no-hitter in franchise history. If nothing else, it sure sounded special.
That 2008 re-creation, caused not by a promotional stunt but by our obligation to broadcast the game, has left a lasting impression. The participating players and their fans are the primary concern, and the broadcaster is the liaison.
With each subsequent re-creation, from 2009 through this past season, the broadcast gets slightly more polished and realistic. I use canned crowd noise, recorded during a routine Sunday tilt from weeks earlier, and spice in a canned roar or crescendo of boos if I am feeling courageous. The crack has shifted from mini-bats to wooden spoons to broken game-used bats, though nothing sounds quite right yet. (That slap of a ball into the glove remains as perfect as ever.) There is no subterfuge. At the start of each half-inning, it is made clear to the listening public that this is an historic Re-Creation Broadcast, a tribute to an important part of baseball’s heritage.
During each re-creation, I inch closer, too, to understanding the true mechanics of an ideal broadcast. If fans listening from their couch, car, and patio can’t see the game, the picture needs to be painted for them. What separates one pitcher’s windup from another? What is the weather and how will it affect play? What are the idiosyncrasies of the ballpark? What are the batter’s strengths and what plan does he bring to home plate?
The day after my game re-creation broadcast, returning to the broadcast booth, an open window, and a direct view of play, I absorb and deliver everything so much clearer: the smell of the barbecue, the whip of the bat, the speed of the shortstop, the admiration in the crowd. The game unfolds as the sun rolls away.
There is a story tied to Ronald Reagan in which the ticker went down and a re-creating Reagan frantically bought time: in one telling, reeling off a string of foul balls; in another telling, bringing a dog onto the field to frolic a delay the proceedings. In either case, we can imagine the listener sitting at home and wholeheartedly buying it. Why? Perhaps it is unfettered trust; the right play-by-play person earns as much unquestioned good faith as an old friend. Or perhaps it is that wonderful knowledge that this is baseball, and most anything at all can happen during a ball game.
No matter how removed we are from the field, we can still see it clear as day.
Yesterday we posted a 1932 article published by the Sporting News revealing the results of a poll the paper took of their readers as to the latter’s feelings about broadcasting games live on the radio. Almost 260,000 votes were cast, with the Sporting News concluding that public opinion in favor of live broadcasts was “practically unanimous”.
This overwhelming fan sentiment did not prevent eight of the sixteen teams from banning broadcasts of their games by local radio stations the following season. (In fact, the Indians ended up dropping radio in 1933 before picking it up again for the 1934 campaign.) But eventually the teams and the leagues did come to see the light, and that light led them to enter into the Major League Broadcasting Agreement just prior to the 1939 season.
So, what did this Major League Broadcasting Agreement actually look like? What were its provisions, and what practices did it allow and forbid? Fortunately for us, this is something we can see for ourselves, thanks to the miracle that is the Internet. Goldin Auctions, a company that conducts auctions of sports memorabilia, had conducted one consisting specifically of baseball documents this past August, and which included a signed copy of this 1939 broadcasting agreement, complete with original signatures from representatives of all 16 clubs, including many club presidents who are still well-known today.
However, the best part about all of this is that there are .JPG files for each page of the document on that web page. You can go there and peruse the entire agreement if you like—or you can simply click on the images below to see and read the document.
Having read the agreement myself, I am struck by how short and simple it is by today’s standards. Even allowing for names of the participating parties and for definition of terms, it looks like they were able to bring in the entire agreement under 2,000 words. By contrast, the iTunes Store terms and Conditions yawns on interminably for over 20,000 words.
Secondly, there are several interesting aspects to the agreement that I think are worth mentioning here:
The agreement prevented a team from broadcasting its games on any radio stations located within fifty miles of any other team’s stadium.
In two-team cities, the agreement prevented one team from broadcasting any of its games as long as the other team was playing a home game, at least until that other team’s game had concluded.
The New York Giants and New York Yankees together constituted a two-team territory, but the Brooklyn Dodgers, only about a dozen miles away and even then technically located within New York City for the prior 40 years, constituted its own one-team territory. So, if the Giants were away and the Yankees were at home, the Giants could not broadcast its away game (and vice versa, of course). However, if the Giants and the Yankees were both away, the Giants could broadcast its away game even if the Dodgers were playing a home game.
The agreement specified that ball clubs could broadcast only between 550 and 1600 on the AM band, but specifically forbade broadcasting on shortwave or other “high frequency” stations. (FM was not contemplated because the first FM station in a major league city did not sign on until that November.)
The agreement defined “broadcasting” as including not only radio, but telephone.
After this agreement was signed onto, no baseball team ever again refused to broadcast its games live for any reason other than financial. (As it happens, both the Giants and Yankees did not air their games during the 1941 and 1943 seasons due to inability to sell broadcasting rights for what they deemed to be their minimum asking price).
Click on any of the images below to open them in a new tab. Enjoy!
Among people who have read up on the history of baseball broadcasting, it’s pretty well known that putting games on the radio was a very controversial topic during the first decade-plus of the practice. Many owners believed that broadcasting live games, especially home games, would cost them at the gate. This opinion was prevalent especially in the crowded Northeast corridor, where fandom extended generally to the ends of the transit lines needed to get to the ballpark. The Midwestern teams (as well as the Boston clubs) were the first to regularly broadcast starting in the late Twenties. By contrast, the three New York teams entered into a formal agreement in 1934 placing a moratorium on all game broadcasts. This agreement remained in place until the major leagues signed the Major League Broadcast Agreement just before the 1939 season (more on that in a post tomorrow).
It’s not as though the fans kept their thoughts on the matter to themselves, though. The Sporting News conducted a poll on the question in 1932, in conjunction with a vote for the most popular baseball broadcaster (won by Arch McDonald, then at WDOD calling Chattanooga Lookouts games) and a contest paying cash prizes (up to $25!) for the best-written letters sent in. In the words of the paper, the results of the poll were “practically unanimous”: fans demanded the “continuance of radio broadcasting of baseball games”, with a “remarkable number of women” responding “showing an increased interest in the game by the fair sex” and revealing that, directly as a result of the broadcasts available at the time, interest was “particularly empathic from the small hamlets, where baseball enthusiasm apparently (ran) higher than in the larger cities.”
The article, shown below in its entirety, featured several of the winning letters sent in by respondents, some of whom confirmed that were it not for the broadcasts, they would scarcely be aware that the major league baseball even existed, and that listening to the games only whetted their appetite to see games live at the ballpark. According to the article, a staggering 259.865 votes were cast in the poll which concluded that only five percent of respondents would have rather listened to the game on radio than see the game in person.
One interesting revelation is that fans wanted all games broadcast, both home and away—except for Saturday and Sunday games, since “the fans usually have leisure on these days to attend the games and that the radio should not be a substitute for attendance on those days.”
This article ran in the issue of September 29, 1932, a season during which only nine of the sixteen major league teams were broadcasting their games. Click on the article to open it in a new tab, then click the article in that new tab again to see it in full size. Yes, we know the very bottom of the article is practically illegible.
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.
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
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:
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
“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
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 in2006’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.
Very few of us reading this article ever heard an actual re-created baseball game on the radio, but game re-creation was the norm for away games for nearly every team broadcasting their games on radio from the dawn of broadcasting well into the 1950s. Almost all of us knew that already, but if you didn’t, you know now.
But even though we know, intellectually, that this was the state of the baseball broadcast art, probably very few of us have thought very deeply about how this art was executed. We perhaps don’t often close our eyes and imagine what a re-created baseball game would sound like, and the effort that went into making it sound like a real, live baseball game.
Committee member Bob Barrier has, and he wrote a nice little piece a few years ago about, as he terms it, the aesthetics of re-creating a road ball game on the radio for a team’s fans to enjoy at home. While the whole idea of re-creating a baseball game from a telegraph wire might sound a bit like a silly exercise to undergo, sending broadcast equipment and an announcer on the road was prohibitively expensive at the time, and besides, teams usually had room to house only one broadcast team, obviously for the home team’s broadcast (which probably explains why the Brooklyn Dodgers re-created road games even at the New York Giants’ Polo Grounds, less than 15 miles away). But the fans still wanted and needed to hear their own team play even when they were playing on the road, and thus: the re-creation.
Barrier’s piece is reproduced in full below, having first appeared in the tome entitled Baseball/Literature/Culture: Essays, 2006-2007. Especially illuminating is his interview with Nat Allbright, little known today but widely considered the “king of the baseball re-creators” throughout the Fifties, having worked some 1,500 Brooklyn Dodger road games for the Mutual Network from his studio in, of all places, Washington D.C. During the interview, Barrier asked Allbright to simulate a baseball re-creation for him, and … well, I invite you to just read it, below.
Only the Game Was Real
The Aesthetics and Significance of Re-created Baseball Broadcasting
Robert G. Barrier
The huge success of XM Satellite Radio’s Major League Baseball broadcasts the past two years has highlighted a truth almost forgotten. Even in these days of high-definition television, streaming Internet video, and play-by-play graphical Web sites, baseball on the radio still remains the most compelling, imaginative, nostalgic, and personal way to participate as a “spectator” from a distance. Indeed, radio announcers maintain the seams of nostalgia, and in their different ways make the listener a daily participant in the game. But for some of these listeners, particularly those who lived in the rural South and Midwest from the 1930s to the 1950s, the imaginary stadiums constructed for them came from announcers re-creating the actual games from Western Union tickers miles away from the actual game. The re-created games, which often relied on recorded crowd noises, audio clips of bats hitting the ball or the ball hitting the glove, were also embellished by the imaginative patter of word artists, such as Red Barber or Graham McNamee, who created broadcasts in many instances under the illusion that listeners were hearing a real game from a real stadium.
Early on, electronics connected the nation of fans with largely factual accounts devoid of creative imagination. The earliest commercial radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, broadcast scores during the summer of 1921 and carried the first live broadcast on August 5. The
following year, RCA-Westinghouse broadcast the 1922 Series from the Polo Grounds, arranging for famous sportswriter Grantland Rice to report to an audience, which was called by the New York Tribune “the greatest audience ever assembled to listen to one man” (qtd. in Tygiel 65). Even competing stations in New York went silent so that listeners could hear the broadcasts. But for all of Rice’s brilliant poetry, the creator of the famous image “the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” failed in on-air reporting. He simply described what happened in “a little flat, atonal voice somewhat awkwardly modulated and unmistakably Southern.” Of this experience he would later report, “The broadcast officials wanted me to keep talking. But I didn’t know what to say” (qtd. in Tygiel 68).
The tradition of the personalized broadcast began in 1923 with Graham McNamee’s conveying the atmosphere and the imagination of on-air baseball. A singer brought to New York to develop his talent, he “understood pacing, style, and performing for an audience, even one he could not see” (Tygiel 69). Whereas the Western Union operator was expected to remain, “perfectly cool and collected, no matter what happens … and would be chided by the manager if he did bring in personality,” McNamee recognized that the new medium required a different approach: “to avoid dead silence, I found myself more than ever falling back on general description. And that is where the imagination comes in” (qtd. in Tygiel 69).
Though sportswriters groused and criticized the showmanship, McNamee successfully made every listener a spectator, enabling them “to use their eyes” by “paint[ing) word pictures that other minds could feast upon…. Very little imagination was required … especially when the announcer turned his microphone on the roaring, booing and cheering crowd” (Tygiel 71). Very soon teams in the Midwest began regular season broadcasts, especially in Chicago, but not in the eastern cities where there were larger population centers as well as many more major newspapers. In more scattered areas of the Midwest, broadcasts could extend the drawing area to 100 miles or more. Even the Sporting News, self-described as “baseball’s bible,” criticized broadcasts because of economics—fans wouldn’t pay for what they got free. Essentially, radio coverage democratized Major League Baseball, making it more accessible and intimate to those far away from the stadiums; as Jules Tygiel observes, “the process had become more familial or individualistic, replacing the communal experience with a more isolated one” (72).
As the listening audience expanded, so too did the need for announcers like McNamee who approached the game with a showman’s view. Many of the most popular announcers of the 1940s and 1950s were southerners, including industry legends like Red Barber, Mel Allen, Arch McDonald, Ernie Harwell, and Russ Hodges, all of whom made famous peculiar southern expressions and maintained a narrative rhythm reminiscent of the southern oral traditions of local color and humor. Perhaps it is this storytelling tradition—and their professionalism—that enabled so many of these broadcasters to approach baseball games as story, humor, and spectacle while maintaining the reportage narrative that was their main duty. Harwell, recently retired after 56 years of broadcasting, accounts for the distinctive southern voice as a natural result of the southern oral tradition, so many stories told at evenings on the porch or in the kitchen (Kaufman).
One might trace this loquaciousness back to Mark Twain and the southwestern humor tradition, but there remains a significant difference. Whereas the point of a Simon Wheeler or a Eudora Welty character is to stray far afield from the initial conversational subject, southern baseball announcers restrained themselves to commentary between pitches (Harwell says he never told a story he could not finish within the inning and he insisted upon giving the score as often as possible). It was a studied but natural patter of talk, not an extended yarn. And also there was the distinctive southern accent:
Ernie Harwell still sounds like old radio…. His style is conversational, sure, but he’s not just talking. He’s broadcasting…. People talk about his Southern lilt, and you can hear it on the air if you’re listening for it, but more noticeable is the precise, clipped diction of a 1940s radio man who has to make himself understood through the static and noise of a distant Philco (Kaufman).
Likewise, southerners also played a significant role in the lost art of re-creating live baseball games for later broadcast. In the first radio recreated games, which date to 1921, a reporter telephoned details of the action to a radio announcer, who in turn dictated the game to a very limited audience. Many re-creators made no bones about the fact that they were re-creating but others went to great lengths for the illusion of reality. Willie Morris, in North Toward Home, praises McNamee for making each game an epic contest and recounts how he won money from his childhood acquaintances by predicting upcoming events in re-created games after he had heard the real games earlier via shortwave. And even though, according to Dodger re-creator Nat Allbright, the law required re-creator announcers to make a statement that the game was re-created at both the beginning and the end, most listeners thought the games were real. In the ’30s and ’40s, almost all teams—major and minor—re-created games,with most teams re-creating only away games to save money. Many older fans recalled how they preferred the created game to the actual, since the re-creator had a 10 to 30 minute lead time, except that occasionally the teletype would fail. Ronald Reagan, who did Cubs games throughout the Midwest, had to invent, on more than one occasion, marathon foul balls, fights, or power failures.
Perhaps the most popular of the studio broadcasters, Allbright led the second largest network (next to Mutual’s Game of the Day) –26 states and 117 stations—out of Virginia from 1950 to 63. Allbright
calls what he did a science, using both high and low technology. High-tech resources included tape recordings of “background roar” and “excited crowd” noises; a recording of each stadium’s separate singing of the national anthem; and having a colleague listen to the live game in the next room, or following it via Morse code. Low-tech tools included rapping a pencil against the table for the crack of the bat, crinkling a cigarette wrapper for thunder, or having someone in a nearby bathroom play the role of the echoing PA announcer (Allbright).
Although they had a lead-time from the actual games, the successful re-creators also had to follow the broadcast atmosphere created by McNamee and other live announcers. To Allbright and other re-creators, the artful process required pacing, pause, timing, and building to control the whole tempo of the broadcast. Having the extra time gave a re-creating announcer an opportunity to add the effective comments for his team. For example, broadcasting live, Russ Hodges is famous for screaming after Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard around the world” in the Giants -Dodgers playoff in 1951:”The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Allbright, the Dodger re-creating announcer, did it this way:
I announced that Clem Labine was coming in to pitch, then had to change it to Ralph Branca when that was corrected. Suddenly, my associate in the next room started waving his arms like the ball was gone. When he handed me a piece of paper confirming what had happened. I said, ‘A drive to left field—back, back, and that ball is gone! … Unbelievable! It’s out, and I’ll see you next season” (qtd. in Heller).
To further illustrate the pacing and process of re-created games, Allbright, during a personal interview, agreed to re-create a game from the ’50s, while sitting in the glass-enclosed office. While the action below likely only exists in his mind, one should notice how he still uses pacing, byplay, tempo, imagery, and building to make this imaginary game come alive:
Alright, Let’s see…. We’ll open it up in the top half of the ninth inning. The Dodgers lead 3-2. The Giants have the tying run at third and the go-ahead run is at first base with one down. Mueller is on at third and he’s talking now to Leo Durochcr. That’s the tying run and Dusty Rhodes at first for the New York Giants. Dusty came in and hit for Jorgenson here in the ninth and singled to right in front of Carl Flunk. And the batter will be Willie Mays—number 24. He has one for three, right-handed batter. He doubled in the fourth and drove in a run.
Don Newcombe on the mound for the Dodgers, pulls off his cap, walks over now, picks up the rosin bag, looks toward third.
Gil Hodges with the go-ahead run at first base will play close to the bag. He will play the runner Rhodes. He will not be in back of him. Andy Palko back in deep left. Duke Snider, left center. Carl Furillo in right-center field. With Don Hoak third. Pee Wee Reese at shortstop and … Jackie Robinson at second and Gil Hodges at first.
Campanella, in front of the plate, holds up one finger now. Runners on the corners as Willie Mays moves into the batter’s box. Don Newcombe cannot pitch around Willie Mays because the on-deck hitter is Bobby Thompson.
Mays swinging his club back and forth. Newcombe stretches. Looks back to first. Now takes his foot off the rubber. Wipes … pitching hand across DODGERS on the front of the uniform.
Game time tomorrow evening. Friday, will be at seven. Saturday afternoon at one and Sunday at one. And that will finish up the four game set.
The Dodgers lead the National League by four games over these Giants. Newcombe ready, comes in with the pitch … and it’s … inside, close for a ball.
Mays steps out of the batter’s box … goes down for a handful of dirt. It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right. [Three second delay.]
Newcombe ready on the mound, looks in for the sign, set and delivers. And a SWING and a MISS for a strike.
It’s one and one for Willie Mays. We’re in the bottom half of the ninth inning. Bobby Thompson on deck and it’s a 3-2 ball game. The Dodgers lead by one. Tying run is at third.
Newcombe … on the mound. This guy can let it go. He can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet.
Don Newcombe. Ready. Set. Comes down with the pitch. There’s a GROUND ball past the mound, going to Reese. Reese up with it, over to Robinson. THERE’S ONE. Back to first: A DOUBLE PLAY AND THE DODGERS GET OUT OF IT IN THE NINTH and WIN THE BALL GAME by a score of 3 to 2 over the New York Giants.
So they win the first game of this four game set. And Newcombe and Roy Campanella down below celebrating. There’s Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Gil Hodges. And it’s the HATED Giants GO DOWN in the first game of this four game set.
This is Nat Allbright at … Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. Re-created and … tomorrow game time will be at seven.
I’ll be back right after these words from … YOUR local … beer dealer.
Without the constant noise level of the imaginary crowd, the hum and buzz of excitement, note how Allbright moves in a controlled tempo, with few breaks in the delivery and only one mistake (calling the Giants’ inning the bottom half though the game was at Ebbets Field—perhaps unconsciously thinking of the infamous Thompson home run?). In fact, Allbright’s abilities to convey the color and tension of a real game by his delivery stand out even more without the canned noise. Notice also that Allbright makes the event and his “telling of it” personal without intervening in the game: ‘It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right,” hesitating, as if he were actually checking the pennants blowing in the outfield. Another aspect of the “personal” in Allbright’s above sample that differs from some earlier broadcasters and many current ones is that he functions first as a reporter, rather than a fan. Though obviously a “homer” he refrains from pulling directly for the Dodgers, an element many modern team network broadcasters bypass.
The Allbright re-creation transcribed above reveals how “reportage” can be made vivid by rhythm, figurative language (Newcombe “can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet”), pauses, and pacing. As an indication of the difference in engagement between re-created baseball by Nat Allbright and on-site baseball broadcasting, one might compare the 1950s’ broadcasts of Mutual’s Game-of-the-Day (live) and Nat Allbright’s re-created Dodgers games. By that time, many major league teams were playing games at night during the week and so many weekday games came from Wrigley Field or from minor league venues. I recall coming home from school September afternoons to hear those Mutual games from Chicago and even sometimes from Yankee Stadium when the weather turned too cold for night games: those were long afternoons filled with leisurely and slow games, the action interspersed with banter, such as how announcer Bob Neal’s last name backwards seemed to spell “Lean,” a conversation I somehow recall from fifty years ago! Though I did not perceive of it until recently when I heard the Allbright re-creation, the re-created games from the Dodger network were far more appealing because of the constant hum and ebb and flow of canned background ”noise far louder than any real stadium could be, each inning rising to a climactic sound level, almost like eighteen horse races. In another indication of the ”reality” of the re-created broadcasts, Allbright recounted during the interview how some of the thousands of listeners from small towns of the South and the Midwest attending spring training games in Florida would seek out the Dodger’s broadcast booth and refuse to accept that Red Barber was the only on-site announcer. Indeed, I remember my own friends in 1957 ready to fight me for telling them that Nat Allbright’s broadcasts were re-created, a fact I had learned from the Sporting News.
Allbright remembers Mel Allen telling him that the baseball re-creator had the best of both worlds, broadcasting the games yet getting to remain at home and “sleep in (his) own bed at night.” In many similar ways, the lucky listeners of those re-created games also had the best circumstances possible: the ability to hear the results of the game, the opportunity to listen to a word artist’s re-creations, and the pleasures of the imagination to participate in the game itself in one’s mind’s eye—and ear.
Allbright. Nat. Personal Interview. 1 Match 2006.
Heller, Dick. “Nat Allbright was the Dodgers to many fans in the 50s.” The Washington Times 10 March 2003: A10.