Category Archives: Interview

Baseball and the Media Committee Meeting: The Alain Usereau Interview

If you are planning to be at SABR 47 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, please consider carving out an hour in your calendar before dinner Saturday night to attend the Baseball and the Media Committee meeting, taking place Saturday, July 1, in the Empire State Ballroom at 5:15 pm.

We will be conducting a live “Working The Game” interview with Alain Usereau, play-by-play broadcaster who works major league baseball games for the French-language Canadian sports network RDS. Learn how Alain conducts live game broadcasts from RDS Montreal studios, how that differs from working games at the ballpark, how he deals with the unique challenges of doing live baseball broadcasts in French, his memories of the great Expos teams of the ’70s and ’80s, and much more.  The last 15 minutes of the meeting will be set aside for members of the audience to ask their own questions of Alain.

You do not need to be a member of the Baseball and the Media committee to attend and enjoy this unique experience.

We hope to see you there!

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play:

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

Play:

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

Download: Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola – Cardinals Broadcast:

Play:

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

LA Coliseum 1958

On the Road with Minor League Broadcaster Doug Greenwald

Back in July we ran an article reprint about SABR member Doug Greenwald, a SABR member who is the radio voice of the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.  Doug is also the son of long-time Giants broadcaster and Media Committee member Hank Greenwald. That article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and was written by John Shea.

Now comes to us an original article written by Gary Herron, another SABR member who specializes in New Mexico baseball history.  Gary corraled Greenwald as he was passing through Albuquerque with the Grizzles, who’d come to take on the local Isotopes in a Pacific League tilt. Gary submitted the article to Jacob Pomrenke, who then passed the article along to us for publication here on SABRmedia.org, and we are very pleased to do so here.


 

On the road with minor-league broadcaster Doug Greenwald
By Gary Herron

When the subject of father-and-son baseball broadcasters comes up, it’s easy to rattle off the Bucks (Jack and Joe), the Brennamans (Marty and Tom) and the Carays (Harry, Skip, and Chip.)

How about the Greenwalds?

Hank, the patriarch and a SABR member for more than 35 years, got some run in Curt Smith’s The Storytellers, first about seeing his batboy/son Doug picking up a bat dropped by the San Francisco Giants’ Brett Butler in 1989 and fearing pitcher Rick Aguilera was about to pitch to him, and later when he laments the drudgery of a pre-game show — and how a “lady of the evening” said she’d do anything for $100, and it was suggested she do the pre-game show for a week.

Weaned on the voice of Tigers broadcaster Harry Heilmann while growing up in the Detroit suburbs, Hank got his start on the air in 1957 while attending Syracuse University and describing the football exploits of Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.

After college, Hank called games for the Hawaii Islanders franchise of the Pacific Coast League, plus basketball games for the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors.

In 1979, KNBR hired him to work San Francisco Giants games, but after some problems with management at the radio station, he went to the other coast to do New York Yankees games for two seasons. He returned to San Francisco to do Giants games in 1989, working there until retiring in 1996.

All told, Hank broadcasted ballgames for 20 years. Yet despite his love for the game, son Doug says his father tried to discourage him from the wandering life of a baseball broadcaster.

The biggest difference between the two: Hank, now 80, didn’t care to get out and see the sights and, despite living in San Francisco, he’s never visited Alcatraz — “a place for bad guys,” is how he views it, Doug says.

Doug, 40 years old and the voice of the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League — a Giants farm team for 17 years until the big shuffle that preceded the 2015 season — can’t wait for an off-day to see the sights.

His Facebook friends are privy to his day trips before heading to the ballpark — and invariably there will be at least one post office among the photos, displaying its ZIP code. Ever heard of Sandia Park, Tijeras or Cerrillos in New Mexico? Greenwald recently ventured there, taking photos of post offices at each village, and visiting what is said to be the first ballpark west of the Mississippi to get lights. That’s found in Madrid, New Mexico, which, to Greenwald’s chagrin, didn’t have a post office. (Some scenes in the film Wild Hogs were filmed in Madrid.)

Doug Greenwald outside of the old ballpark in Madrid, NM, said to have been the first park west of the Mississippi to feature lights for night games. Photo: Gary Herron
Doug Greenwald outside of the old ballpark in Madrid, NM, said to have been the first park west of the Mississippi to feature lights for night games. Photo: Gary Herron

Doug has a fascination for post offices, and has a collection of at least 3,500 photos of different POs. And, yes, he has been told he should write a book: “Going Postal” has been a frequent suggestion for the title.

Born in Sydney, Australia, in 1974, where his parents had ventured hoping Hank could find a job, Doug was schooled in the Bay Area and later educated at Boston University.

It wasn’t hard to admire his father’s work, as Doug loved hanging out at ballparks.

“He did the Golden State Warriors for eight years, him and Bill King,” Doug explained. “Bill King was the man — and still is amongst all Bay Area broadcasters. Bill did the A’s, the Warriors, the Raiders. Bill was like an uncle to me.

“Baseball was always (my dad’s) first love,” he said. “The Warriors were his first major sport, on the West Coast.”

Candlestick Park, where the Giants played before AT&T Park was built, was remembered as “cold.”

“It was really where I grew up. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest ballpark in the world; even the ‘cookie-cutter’ ballparks of the 1980s were prettier,” Doug said. “I was pretty much, once school was out, at every Giants home game. … There were times when the Giants were on the road for an extended period of time and my parents would ship me off to summer camp. But I’m not into the wilderness, I’m into the ballparks.”

Candlestick Park “wasn’t the prettiest place in the world, the neighborhood wasn’t great, the weather was awful for baseball. There’s no dispute about that,” he said. “It is really where I cut my teeth.”

Being the son of a broadcaster had its perks, like being able to take a bunch of friends to Giants games, chatting with ballplayers, even spending time in the opposing team’s broadcast booth: “Vin Scully, the Brennamans, Jerry Coleman, Bob Murphy, Joe and Jack Buck. You can go down the list — I know I’m leaving out tons of guys.”

Doug decided when he was in high school that maybe that, too, would be the life for him.

“Sure, ideally, I’d like to be out playing every day,” he said. “But I’d only known what my dad had done for a living since I was five years old.”

In high school, Doug did morning announcements. At BU, where Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane once played, “They didn’t have much of a baseball program; in fact, they did away with baseball a few years after I graduated.” The Terriers were better known for their hockey team.

“The site of where BU is, the football field, is the same site where Braves Field was,” he said. “It’s a really good school for journalism, there’s no doubt about it.”

Being able to see Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics games enhanced the enjoyment of matriculating in Massachusetts.

Doug Greenwald earned his degree in broadcast journalism in 1996 and, he quipped, he minored “in sleeping.”

Next, he said, came “sending tapes everywhere and being willing to move.”

The first opportunity came in Bend, Oregon. As often happens in the real world, being in the right place at the right time is the key. Greenwald learned a friend of his had just left the broadcasting job in Bend; Greenwald made a few calls and had his first job.

“You take a short-season job to start, and then, from there, try to find a full-season job,” he said. “From there, Hawaii Winter League, 1996 and ’97. … Burlington, Iowa; Lafayette, Louisiana; Stockton, California … Shreveport, Louisiana, for two years.

“I found myself back in the Cal League in Modesto after 2001. It was ideally where I wanted to be, after being in the Texas League, but lack of openings or just lack of getting a job here or there,” he said. “I ended up in Fresno in 2003 and I’ve been there since.”

Greenwald has had a “handful of regular-season games with the Giants” and some spring training games broadcast exclusively on the Internet.

“You pretty much name the level, I’ve been there,” he said.

Greenwald also did Centenary University basketball games in Shreveport for about 10 seasons, until they dropped from Division I to Division III.

But, like his old man Hank, baseball is Doug’s first love, and his travels sometimes pop up, he said, in his play-by-play work, once describing a home run socked by Tommy Murphy of the Albuquerque Isotopes as possibly coming down in Santa Fe.

“I guess what makes me different is I like to share my experiences,” he said. “I’ll talk about that on the air. Most of the broadcasters in our league will joke with me: ‘Doug, what post offices did you see today?’

“I like to take advantage of, you know, we get to travel for a living on the company dime,” he said. “Yes, it’s a job; first and foremost, we’re at the ballpark three hours at a time — I’m not showing up (at the ballpark) a half-hour before a game, let me make that clear.

“But I take the early morning, let’s go out and see these places, let’s share what I’m doing today with the listeners. The listeners like you to paint a picture, not just of the ballpark, but what else is in the area?’ What other neat towns are in the area? There might be a fan out there, ‘Hmm, I’m going out to Albuquerque in two weeks. I didn’t know about this ballpark in Madrid. I didn’t know Santa Fe is unique because it’s more like an art gallery than an actual state capital.’

“What also might make me different is I like to get to know the players: Players aren’t [just] batting .267 with 12 homers and 70 RBIs; [rather,] players came from a college and learned from a certain coach. Players were raised by an insurance man and a baker, who took them to Little League. … If a player’s born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and goes to high school in Hollywood, I’ll ask what’s the connection?

“I don’t know if there’s many broadcasters that dig into that,” Doug said. “I don’t think that’s too personal. … Anybody can read from a media guide.”

And anybody can visit that 95-year-old ballpark in Madrid, but only one has done it.

“They know me as Hank’s kid,” he said, proud of the Greenwald lineage and someday hoping to be at the mic full-time for an MLB team.

Maybe someday, these adventures — Hank Greenwald refers to his son as the “modern-day Charles Kuralt” — could pay off in another occupation.

“If I had to choose another path, I would have gone into furthering my education and becoming a U.S. history professor,” he said. “I’m speaking as the world’s worst student, but that was one subject that I did like. … And it ties into baseball, because baseball goes back to the Civil War and the small mining towns (like Madrid) and the development of the New York City area in the 1850s … Cooperstown is just up the block.

“My appreciation of baseball history ties into U.S. history,” he said, not ruling out a job as a tour guide. “As a baseball broadcaster, you’re informing; that way you’re informing and teaching.”

For now, though, it’s time to “Play ball.”

Doug Greenwald’s advice for aspiring broadcasters:

  • “Don’t get caught up with, ‘He’s in Triple-A, he’s the next guy going up,’” when it comes to broadcasting. Knowing as much as he’d like to be doing Giants games, there’s no guarantee.
  • “You don’t get rich in minor-league baseball.”
  • “Be prepared; at some levels, the hours can be very time-consuming.” In Burlington, he said, he hadn’t read the contract language — “They looked at me more like the janitor and the grounds-crew person and the handyman more than they cared about the broadcast being done. … I’ve learned to ask the proper questions.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you ever use the egg timer during your career?

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

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

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

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

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

What else is important?

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

What else?

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

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

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

Can you tell us about an unusual call?

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

So an announcer has to have to ability to filibuster?

Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about other instances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you get started in broadcasting?

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

You started little and just got bigger?

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

Do you remember that first Mud Hens game?

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

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

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

What about the streak?

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

You are also the traveling secretary for the team?

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

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

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

What is your game-day preparation like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you describe a Jim Weber broadcast?

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

You were close with former Toledo pitcher Jose Lima?

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

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

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

Do you have a signature call?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you ever think about retirement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your process once the game finishes? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working the Game: An Interview with Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune Columnist

Our “Working The Game” segment today features our interview with Paul Sullivan, the long-time baseball columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune’s baseball writer, Sullivan covers the Cubs, White Soxchi-paul-sullivan and national news. From 1994-2013, he served as the Cubs beat writer for 14 seasons and the Sox beat writer for six seasons. A lifelong Chicagoan, he has also covered the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks and University of Illinois beats during his 33 years at the Trib, and he served as columnist Mike Royko’s legman from 1985-87.

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

After being transferred to the Tribune sports department in 1987.  I had been Mike Royko’s “legman” (reporter/researcher) for the previous two years and he decided I would be a better fit for Sports than Metro, where I started as a reporter. Actually I began as a copy clerk in 1981, then was city desk assistant for a few years before Royko hired me. Once I got in sports, my editors began giving me assignments at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, and I became the back-up to the beat writers for both teams. Also covered preps, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Illini hoops, etc., at different times, but ultimately landed in baseball.

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

I wrote a piece for Metro on the last day of the Cubs’ 1983 season, sitting with fans in the right field bleachers. That’s where I (would normally sit), so it was familiar territory. I interviewed Bill Veeck and some other fans. The headline was “Cubs Fans Never Lose Hope.” Of course, the next year was ’84 (when the Cubs won the National League’s East Division), so I wrote some features for Metro on the season.

My first big baseball assignment was during the 1983 ALCS between the White Sox-Orioles when I was assigned by Metro to provide “color” from Comiskey Park for story someone else would write. I interviewed the Sox co-owner, Eddie Einhorn, who was upset at Tito Landrum’s game-winning home run and had some not-so-nice things to say about the Sox’s play. The editors decided to let me write a sidebar for sports, and Einhorn was upset that his harsh comments were played up after the loss, threatening to sue the Tribune for defamation of character. I met him again years later when I took over the Sox beat, and he’s a very nice guy who was just being a frustrated fan.

My first baseball assignment for the sports department was June 10, 1987 when Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden returned from cocaine problems. I interviewed fans at Wrigley who were heckling him and the Mets’ psychiatrist, Dr. Allen Lans, who said: “They’re not unruly. They’re not violent or crazy. It’s not like a soccer match in England.” That story convinced me it would be a fun beat to cover someday.

How did you get your break covering a beat for a team?

I was assigned to the White Sox beat on July 15, 1994, replacing veteran beat writer Alan Solomon, who moved Metro. Since I’d been the back-up baseball writer since 1989, it seemed like a long wait. My first game as the Sox beat writer was the night Albert Belle was busted for using a corked bat and the Indians (later revealed to be Jason Grimsley) sneaked into the umpires’ room, stole the bat and replaced it with a clean one. It was quite a caper, and I wrote follow-ups all week. The Sox looked like they were going to the World Series, but then the strike happened and the season was cancelled, so I moved to (being the) Bears’ feature writer that Fall and went back to baseball the next spring.

As a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, are you actually covering a team per se, or are you more of a baseball generalist?

I was reassigned from the Cubs’ beat in August of 2013 after two decades on the baseball beats (including 14 years on the Cubs) to write long form features on baseball and baseball-related subjects—Beth Murphy’s (spokesperson for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association) fight with the Cubs, Ozzie Guillen’s (former manager of the Chicago White Sox) absence from baseball, etc.  It was an adjustment I wasn’t ready for, but survived. That job morphed into being the Tribune baseball writer the following spring after Phil Rogers left for MLB.com. I write columns and features on both teams, fill in for the beat writers on occasion and write a Sunday feature on a national topic or trend. I also do a graphic with one-sentence blurb on all 30 teams, instead of a power ranking, which I find boring and usually redundant. It’s a mix of stats and snark, so it’s not too serious.

On game day, what do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  When you wake up in the morning, what you do before you leave for the game?

I have a morning column for the web site that’s due around 9 a.m., so I wake up and have an hour or two to think of something, research and write it. I’m usually working on a few features at a time, so often I go to the ballpark to report and don’t actually write for print. I don’t do anything out of the norm to prepare for a game. Unless I have an assignment I like to go in with an empty notebook and find a story at the ballpark. Royko taught me not to plan the news, go find it instead. He came up with some of his best columns at 5 p.m., cranked it out and left by 7. I’ve never found there’s “nothing” to write about.

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

As a beat writer you’d get there about four hours before the game to set up and start working on blogs. As a columnist it varies, but usually by the time the clubhouse opens about 3 ½ hours beforehand. It’s the same access on the road. Back in the day you wouldn’t have to be there so early or write during the game. I recall watching the first few innings of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in the bleachers. Those days are history. The Internet changed the news cycle forever, and also there is less access clubhouse time so (these days) you can’t just stroll in and expect to talk to players.

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

Nothing. Set up your laptop. Go work the clubhouses and then go write something. It’s not exactly a science.

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

As a beat writer I was taking notes and keeping score while transcribing tape and writing my blogs and articles with occasional tweets. As a columnist I rarely keep score since I’m not describing the game itself but analyzing or giving an opinion.

What is your process once the game finishes? 

If the column needs an update, I work the postgame clubhouse after the game for the late edition. If not, I leave it alone.

What are the key differences in what you as a columnist do to prepare for a game, and your work process at the game, versus that of a beat writer?

I’m thinking big picture as a columnist and small details (roster moves, injuries) as a beat writer. The preparation is the same, but the mindset is different.

You’re unusual in that you cover both teams in Chicago.  How did you manage to swing that?  Do you spend more of your time on one franchise or the other?

Not that unusual for a baseball columnist. Jerome Holtzman covered both teams for decades. He taught me almost everything I know about this job, along with Dave Van Dyck. I probably spend more time on the Cubs since I live near the ballpark, but I do go to both ballparks a few games every homestand.

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

No set amount. I do have space reserved for the Sunday notebook and graphic, and write 3-4 days a week when space is available, plus the morning blogs during the weekdays. The digital side is important to the Tribune, so I’ve been doing more of that this year.

Who typically comes up with the idea for the subject of a feature that you write?  Is it you, your editor, combination?

I come up with most of my own ideas, though the editors do assign me stories once in a while. Last summer they assigned me to a project where I travelled through the minors to see the Cubs’ top prospects, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber. I have a half-dozen other features I’m working on at any given time, some which turn into Sunday columns.

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

As a beat writer you’d get home weekends off, or about six days a month. As a columnist you don’t have set days off. I haven’t taken more than 3-4 days off in a row in-season for the last 20 years because of the beat, but I do have a vacation scheduled for All Star week.

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

The easiest thing is the actual reporting and writing, which I’m used to at this point. The travel grind was hard, but now I’m embedded here in Chicago most of the time. Critiquing players or managers you like and respect is probably the most difficult part of the job as a beat writer or columnist. You hope they understand it’s your job, and fortunately most of them do. Criticizing a self-absorbed idiot is not difficult. I have met a few.

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while working as a baseball columnist?  Are they remarkably different from those a beat writer might face?

Not sure. I guess I’m still learning the pitfalls on this job.  The only pitfall of being a beat writer is getting too close to the people you cover and then trying to be objective. You can’t fool Chicago fans, so don’t try to pretend someone is doing a good job when he sucks.

Beyond interviews and conversations, what are some of the top resources you use to keep informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?

I scan every box score on a daily basis. My favorite web sites to peruse, outside of the Chicago papers, are Deadspin, ESPN, Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference… I’m not really a stats freak, but I’m adapting. I write for a general audience, and there are plenty of sites for in-depth statistical analysis, so hopefully stat nerds don’t hold it against me.

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

Depends on what’s going on. Some off days are your busiest days. I don’t do anything unusual if I’m not writing. I like to run a few miles, eat lunch, hang out, go watch a game with family or friends. Just your typical Chicago sports fan, doing what we do.

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

I’m a creature of habit and have places that I go to in every city, and bartenders that know what beer you drink even if you only see them once a year. I have old friends in many cities, so I get to see them. I don’t do touristy things, but I’ve gone to art museums in towns like Seattle and New York. I guess my favorite thing is going out after the game with the other writers. We abuse each other a lot in the press box, but can always have a beer or two afterwards. It’s the Stockholm syndrome perhaps.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

Mostly relax with family and friends. I also cover for the beat writers, who get their much-deserved time off, and report from the GM meetings and Winter Meetings. When I’m really off I just do the normal stuff- watch football, hockey, basketball, etc.

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

That most athletes are regular people despite being famous, or semi-famous. The ones who are the jerks stand out. And players that you sparred with at times during their careers are usually much friendly afterwards. I almost always go to other clubhouses to say hello to players I covered in Chicago.

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

I respect any beat writer who has lasted years, knowing what they’ve gone through, especially missing time with their families to cover baseball for 7 ½ months. I grew up reading Bob Verdi from the Tribune, the best game story writer I’ve ever read. Jerome Holtzman was my mentor, and also one of the greatest ever. I still miss him.

I’d hate to leave anyone out. Too many good ones. This is the golden age of baseball writing/tweeting/blogging.

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

More space in the paper, later deadlines, more clubhouse access time, better wireless in the press boxes. I would also ask that players stop spouting clichés and GMs to return their messages, but I know that’s a pipe dream.

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

It’s a great job. You all want to do it, I know. You tell me all the time. But it’s still a job, and writing on deadline is not as easy as it sounds. But yeah, I am damn lucky.

Working the Game: An Interview with Phil Rogers, Chicago-based MLB.com Writer

In today’s “Working The Game” installment, we hear from Phil Rogers, who writes columns almost daily for MLB.com, focusing on the two Chicago teams.

Rogers has covered baseball for more than three decades, including as a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune from 1997 to Phil-Rogers2013. He has written three books on baseball, including Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ’69 (2011); Say It’s So: The Chicago White Sox’s Magical Season (2006); and The Impossible Takes a Little Longer: The Texas Rangers From Pretenders to Contenders (1990). He spent 13 years as a reporter for his hometown Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News. Previously, he worked for the Shreveport Journal, Albuquerque Journal, and Florida Times-Union.

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

My parents were big newspaper readers and we always subscribed to two or three. I loved reading the sports pages, baseball coverage especially but really, everything. I wrote for the high school paper and loved it, and then got a chance to make some money covering high school sports when I was attending college and writing for the school paper (The Daily, at North Texas State). I probably did dream about being a baseball writer but told the girls I dated that I was going to be a lawyer.

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

I have trouble believing I did this now but when I was attending college I would apply for credentials from the local papers I worked for (Lewisville News Advertiser and Denton Record Chronicle) with the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, and was accommodated. So I would work visiting clubhouses and write timely columns—among those I remember, Carl Yastrzemski and Lenny Harris, after he had pumped out Rangers’ manager Frank Lucchesi. The veteran players were stunningly indulgent dealing with a snotty nosed kid (me). With the Times Herald, I took the Rangers’ beat in May and was suddenly flying on the team plane, seated alongside Frank Tanana, who asked me, “Who are you, and what are you doing on our plane?’’ The last game of that season (1984) was Mike Witt’s perfect game, and then I covered the Tigers’ roll through the World Series.

How did you get your break covering a beat for a major league baseball team?

Starting my newspaper career I was very willing to relocate as I worked my way up the food chain, and did so regularly. In about six years I started at the Shreveport Journal (where I got to cover some minor-league baseball), moved to the Albuquerque Journal and the Florida Times Union (Jacksonville) before joining the Dallas Times Herald, where I was hired to cover small colleges and be a general assignment reporter. I made it clear I wanted to cover a major beat and got the first one that opened up. Our Rangers writer, Randy Youngman, moved to the Orange County Register to cover the Dodgers and I got the chance to replace him.

When did you realize you were going to make it—really, truly make it—as a baseball beat writer?

I was lucky to compete against some great writers (and get to know them) when I was starting. My competition in Dallas included Tim Kurkjian, Tracy Ringolsby, Gerry Fraley, Paul Hagen, Jim Reeves and Randy Galloway. We competed fiercely against each other but I picked their brains and learned a ton. The first manager I covered, Doug Rader, often went ballistic after games and some of the players were tough; I was able to stand up to them. I am a good deadline writer, which helped a lot. One of the coolest things I covered early was Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record, and I loved everything about that experience. I knew this was the life for me.

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

This dates me a little compared to most of my colleagues but I keep a “day book.” It’s a log on all 30 teams that I update from box scores. I usually do the early games before I go to bed and then finish first thing up in the morning, over coffee. I write wins in red, losses in black, and keep the information basic — starter’s line, save, home runs, that sort of stuff. It probably takes 45 minutes a day. People will ask why do that when it’s all available online, but I like it because it guarantees that I’m going to have at least a little knowledge on every game played and because I can use it to quickly refer to any team — especially helpful when doing radio and TV. Other than that, I’ll surf the net to see what’s gone on with the teams over the last couple of days, if I’m not confident that I’m up to date.

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

Clubhouses open 3 1/2 hours before the game and you’re running late if you’re not there when they open. (That said, there are times I don’t mind running late, like when I know for sure what I’m going to write will depend on the game itself and interviews after the game.) The key thing to know every day is when does the clubhouse open? It’s easy to know during the regular season but tricky in spring training because it seems like every team has its own routine.

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

It’s all about conversations. For me, the two managers are generally most important, with the exception of the players I know I am going to write about. That said, I probably learn more talking to scouts and other writers or broadcasters. That’s often gossipy but can be helpful.

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

Well, I keep a scorebook. That’s a given. Beyond that, my routine has evolved as our business has evolved. Throughout my newspaper career, I always felt like I was writing—either early stories or running on game stories, as the games often ended right on deadline, and frequently after deadline. Now that I’m with MLB.com, deadlines aren’t such a difficult issue so I can spend more time watching and thinking about the game, which is nice. I do Twitter during games.

What is your process once the game finishes?

Hit the clubhouses and turn my idea into a column.   

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

Writing off a game, I will file from the ballpark; but if it is more of a feature column I might collect material at the ballpark and write at home. I live close to Wrigley Field so sometimes I leave the ballpark and walk home (10-15 minutes), organizing thoughts in my head as I walk. 

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

During the regular season I’m on the schedule for four or five columns a week although I could write more (and sometimes less) depending on volume of news. During the post-season (my favorite time of year) and spring training I will essentially write daily for weeks at a time.

In addition to game accounts, are you assigned additional feature stories to write?  If so, who typically comes up with the idea for the subject of the feature?  You, your editor, combination?

At MLB.com, this is a collaborative process. Sometimes I pick a topic and write it; sometimes I’m assigned topics. This is different at MLB.com than it was with the Chicago Tribune or other newspapers, simply because our staff of baseball writers is so large. There’s more planning involved to make sure that we cover all the bases and don’t have duplication between the writers. 

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

Throughout my career I’ve generally been able to get a week off during the 26-week season. Because the MLB.com staff is as large as it is, writers are able to get time off during the season. I think that’s really important. From the start of spring training until the end of the World Series, covering baseball is a crazy grind. It wears writers down. It’s important to take a little bit of time for yourself so that you aren’t burned out when the post-season begins. It’s the most important time of the year.

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

Breaking news is hard. Always has been; always will be. But there’s nothing better than when you have something significant first. Nothing’s easy; at least not as easy as it might look to others when you’re doing it well. 

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

One of the toughest things is to not be afraid to ask the hard question and write the unpopular column. More and more, writers work in packs. Much of the time interviews are done in packs and frequently competing writers even divide up the transcription after the interviews, to save some work. I’m not a fun of the pack approach. To me, the most common pitfall currently is to become a face in the pack rather than develop your own ideas and ask your own questions. It’s okay to be different but I see an awful lot of sameness out there.

Beyond interviews and conversations, what are some of the top resources you use to keep informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?

Like most in the business, national guys especially, I watch a tremendous amount of baseball—on my television, laptop and phone. You pick up a lot listening to the game broadcasts. I read a lot online and in the paper that arrives at my door. Because I do work for MLB Network, I have access to their daily research package. It is outstanding, a tremendous help when I head to the park to do something on a team I have not seen for a long time.

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

Lots of differences, the biggest being the absence of newspaper deadlines. While MLB.com has its own set of deadlines, they are not determined by time zones and are far more forgiving than newspapers. That gives our writers a tremendous amount of freedom to do post-game interviews, even under difficult circumstances. Because MLB.com is covering both teams at every game, our writers can cooperate with each other, sharing quotes from the two clubhouses. That’s a nice resource. Otherwise I think the experience is similar. 

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

As a national columnist, I’m not really subject to the 162-game schedule. I will say that off days are nice for beat writers because they have shorter days but generally they’re working on off day stories. I work at both Chicago ballparks. There are occasional holes in the schedule when neither day is in town. This is one of them, and it’s a slower week for me.

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

For years and years I complained about seeing only airports, hotels and ballparks while covering baseball. It’s really easy to fall into that trap because the work can be consuming. But when I look back now, I learned my way around America covering baseball, so I must have seen more than I gave myself credit for seeing. I am a passionate golfer, and did this once: covered a World Series game at Yankee Stadium, went directly from Yankee Stadium to the parking lot at Bethpage Black, tried to grab a couple hours sleep and then played this great public course, then went from Bethpage to LaGuardia, dropped my friend off and headed on to Yankee Stadium for the next night’s World Series game. So within 30 hours two World Series game and a round of golf at a course where you have to sleep in your car to get on the course. Pretty cool.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

Pretty sedentary life in Chicago. I do one or two appearances per week on MLB Network and write the usual four or five columns a week for MLB.com. Cover the GM meetings and winter meetings. I catch up on movies (try to see all the Best Picture nominees) and binge watch TV series that others recommend.

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

There are dozens of writers to like for thousands of reasons. Through the years, my favorites have been grizzled veterans who have retained their enthusiasm for baseball and their work. I’ll leave off some that I shouldn’t but I’m speaking of guys like the late Jerome Holtzman, the late Nick Peters, Ross Newhan, Peter Gammons, Tom Boswell, Bruce Jenkins, Lyle Spencer, Bob Elliott, Richard Justice and Tracy Ringolsby.

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

Is it possible to turn back the clock? I’d go back to the way it was in the 1980s, when I was starting, and make it possible to hang around the batting cage with managers and players and to do interviews with managers with a handful of people around, not in an interview room. It has gotten more and more difficult to develop relationships with those in the game because of the proliferation of credentialed media and the regulations put in place to deal with additional Internet and electronic reporters.

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

Almost all of us who do it know that we are very lucky to be paid to cover a sport we love. We are grateful, even if we don’t always show it.

 

Working the Game: An Interview with Len Kasper, Chicago Cubs TV

For this installment in our “Workng The Game” series, we speak with our first TV-only announcer: Len Kasper, the young(ish) play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Cubs.  In this interview, Len provides some sharp insights about what it is like to work a game for TV, specifically, and how to withstand the grind of a season requiring perhaps as many as 190 broadcasts.

Kasper is currently in the middle of his 11th season as the Cubs play-len-kasper-227x300by-play announcer, after having done three seasons doing play-by-play for the (then) Florida Marlins.  Prior to joining the Marlins, Kasper did play-by-play for select games for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1999 through 2001.  His broadcast career in Milwaukee included a stint as the morning sports anchor at WTMJ-AM, as well as hosting pregame and halftime shows for the Green Bay Packers radio network.  Kasper graduated summa cum laude from Marquette University with a degree in public relations in 1993.

 

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball broadcaster?

I like to say I was 12 or 13, but it could have been 10. I just know that I was mesmerized by the game from a very early age. I listened to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey on Tigers’ radio and watched TV with George Kell and Al Kaline on the broadcasts and once we got cable around 1982, I was stuck on the Braves and Cubs games every day. I believed baseball broadcasting had to be the greatest job ever. Now that I have realized that dream, I was most certainly correct.

It’s funny though. I thought I knew it all back then and if somebody had offered me a big league job when I was 22 or 23 I’d have not only jumped at it, but I’d have assumed I knew everything there was to know about the game. I’m now 44 and I don’t know close to even an iota of everything. In fact, I feel like I learn something new every day about the game. That’s why it’s so great. There is an infinite amount of conversations and nuances to be had and it seems like every day I talk new angles with people inside the game. I can’t get enough of it.

 

What was the first baseball game you ever broadcast, and how did you get the gig?

I could go with a few minor league innings with the Beloit Snappers in the late 1990s, but my first broadcast in terms of me leading it was a big league telecast in April 1999 — Brewers and Pirates in Pittsburgh. I was tabbed to fill in for Matt Vasgersian, the television play-by-play voice of the Brewers. I worked with Bill Schroeder, a friend with whom I had worked on a post-game radio show years before.

To say I was nervous is a huge understatement. Pretty sure I threw away the tape a few years ago after re-watching it because the on-camera open looked really awkward and I didn’t need to ever see it again. But it was a really neat moment for a kid who grew up wanting to do exactly that, although I envisioned it being on radio. I never in a million years saw myself as a TV guy. Fortunately, the Brewers took a chance on me, knowing that I had the motivation and aptitude to figure it out.

 

How did you get your break announcing major league baseball games?

I was working in Milwaukee at WTMJ Radio, the Brewers’ flagship station. I did a bit of everything—sports anchoring, sports talk, Packers pre/post-game—I was kind of a jack of all trades in the sports department there. But baseball was always my first love. I had a good relationship with the Brewers and after talking with them, it was apparent that if I ever had a chance to do big league games, I would need some play-by-play experience.

So I called Brett Dolan, who at the time was the radio voice of the Beloit Snappers in the Midwest League. They were the Brewers’ low-A affiliate. I basically asked him if it would be OK to find a few weekend dates where I could join him and get some reps. He could have easily said no since I was “invading” his turf, but it was just the opposite. Brett said it was a fun idea and he let me do three innings whenever I showed up. I’ll never forget that he did that for me and how gracious he was. It allowed me to simply give those tapes to the Brewers to show how serious I was about doing it.

So after maybe two summers of a handful of those games, in 1999, the Brewers called and asked me to do some fill-in TV work for Matt Vasgersian, who had garnered some national work. Again, I’m indebted to the Brewers, especially Tim Van Wagoner, who was running their broadcasting department, and to Matt, who really championed my cause. I ended up being his main fill-in for the next three seasons (Jim Powell would come over from the radio side to do a couple TV innings when Matt was gone). I loved working with Bill Schroeder. He and I had done a post-game radio show back in 1994 before he got the TV analyst job. I also did a few radio games during that time. It was a great learning experience. I don’t know if I was any good at it, but they kept asking me back!

 

When did you realize you were going to make it—really, truly make it—as a baseball announcer?

March 6, 2002. The day I was hired by Fox Sports Net Florida to be the Marlins’ TV play-by-play voice. At 31, I was starting to feel this strange sense of my opportunity passing me by. Not sure why I was feeling that way, maybe it was just general anxiety, but to have had a taste of doing fill-in games and feeling like I was destined to do this full-time, my mindset at the time was that it was time for this to happen.

I had been a finalist for the Brewers’ full-time TV opening after Matt Vasgersian left for San Diego following 2001 and also in Anaheim for one of the two radio openings after Daron Sutton got the Brewers TV job (Mario Impemba had also left the Angels to go to the Detroit Tigers). So I was really close, but just missed the cut that winter.

The Marlins thing came out of the blue. The process took no more than 2-3 weeks and I suppose that’s the perfect way for it to happen. No long, agonizing waiting period. I spoke to them on the phone, flew down for an interview, then shortly after I got the job. Even then, I was nervous about it. I had received the chance of a lifetime and I suppose I could have blown it. But I don’t think I ever truly thought I’d be doing anything else once I got the Marlins’ job. In fact, my mindset at the time was that I wanted to be the Marlins’ guy until the day I retired. I think that is the right mindset to have going into any big league job. I never looked at it as a stepping stone. The fact that it looked like it played out that way was not by design.

The Cubs’ opening also came out of the blue and while I have long thought it was the best job in the game, I never thought I would be a candidate for it.

 

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

This is an interesting one because I have definitely changed my routine over the years. In fact, I think that changing my methods every once in a while has been really good for me in terms of mixing it up and not feeling like I have to do this or that each day to get ready for a game.

I really aim to be event/game driven and not to over-prepare to the point where I jam in stuff where it doesn’t fit. They call it “letting the game come to you” in the business. I think I’m much better at it now than I used to be. But I digress …

First thing in the morning I definitely like to get on the Internet and look at the Cubs’ daily clips (the team’s media relations department emails out articles every day on the team). I do the same for that day’s opponent and usually the next opponent [on the Cubs’ schedule]. My thing is to usually start digging in on each team about three or four days before the series. So there are times when I’m kind of doing daily work on two to three teams, depending on the schedule that week. I also look at all the previous day’s game recaps to pull any interesting notes. I do the same with the MLB newswire. This all usually takes about an hour.

Then I try to work out at some point and do non-baseball things until maybe a half-hour before I need to head to the park. I will usually check to see if the lineups have posted so I have an idea of that before I get to the park.

 

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

For home games, my goal is always right when the clubhouse opens (three and a half hours before first pitch). On the road, I normally take the last bus to the park, which is anywhere from three to four hours before game time. I used to arrive four to five hours early, but I found that it led to mental fatigue at the worst time — during the game. I get enough work done at home or in the hotel to be totally prepared with just a few hours of ballpark time before the game starts. No need for me to arrive at 2 pm for a 7 o’clock start.

I normally go to the Cubs clubhouse first and check-in with the media relations people. This is a good time for me to talk to players and/or coaches about things I want to know for the broadcast. Usually around three hours before the game we [Cubs broadcasters] meet with Joe Maddon privately. It’s our 10-15 minute chance to ask him whatever we want. He’s a dream for us in that we just talk baseball and life every day with him, usually a couple things we can use for the broadcast and then a bunch of just general baseball talk. A great way to kick off the work day.

 

What are the key things you do at the ballpark before the game starts?

It’s pretty simple. The lineups are the absolute number one thing I need. Anything beyond that is gravy. I need to know what our TV open topics are — just a couple things we highlight right off the top of the telecast. I also need to know if we have any in-game guests, particularly at home with the celebrity seventh-inning stretch. I will eat in the press dining room about 90 minutes before we go on the air, then I put on my TV makeup (fun, fun!) around 45 minutes before air-time and by 30 minutes prior to the first pitch, I’m locked and loaded for a three-hour broadcast. Oh, and I always have to make one last trip to the men’s room as I have a notoriously tiny bladder. Too much information?

 

How long before the game do you step into the booth, and what are your final preparation steps?

I’m almost always in the booth two hours before the game. I need a good 45 minutes to fill out my scorecard (which is actually a[n Apple] Numbers program on my laptop) and do my final game notes research. Then after any production meetings and a meal, I like finding a few minutes to take a breath and clear my mind a bit. I have found over the years that less is more and if I am grinding too much on prep in the hours before the game, sometimes I just need a little quiet time without staring at the computer screen or monitor to reset the brain.

 

What is the easiest thing to do, and what is the hardest thing to do, while the broadcast is in progress?

“Easiest” is interesting. I guess with experience comes the ability to relax and have fun. Most days it flows well and doesn’t feel like work. So maybe the answer is, the easiest thing to do is enjoy it. Getting paid to watch and talk about a baseball game is pretty amazing when you think about it.

In terms of the hardest thing to do, it’s to always be in the moment. There are lots of distractions on a TV broadcast with people talking in my ear, live drop-ins to read and just a bunch of what I call “traffic cop” stuff I am charged with during the game. To always maintain a focus on the most important thing — the game — that’s where the “work” comes in, I suppose. And it’s that concentration that runs the mental tank close to empty by the end of the day. You actually should feel tired after a major league broadcast. It’s not an easy thing to do, as much fun as it is to do. I hope that makes sense. It’s a total blast every day and it’s tiring at the same time.

 

What do you do in between innings and during the seventh inning stretch?

I will check Twitter, I may talk to JD [Jim Deshaies, Kasper’s broadcast partner] off the air about something related to the game. Once or twice a game I do like to get up and leave the booth for a minute just to get the legs stretched and the blood pumping. I invariably have to make one trip to the men’s room due to my water and coffee consumption but I try to limit that for obvious reasons. Some press boxes aren’t conducive to such trips because they put the bathrooms about a mile away from the broadcast booths!

 

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while broadcasting baseball games?

Obviously keeping your eyes on the field as much as possible is paramount. Listening to your partner is another one. There’s nothing worse than getting distracted by something and your partner asks you a question and you have no idea what he said. Also, on television, you have to constantly take a peek at your monitor. Yes, you need to watch the field, but you want to work with your director and talk about things that viewers can see. And if you plan on getting into a topic that requires a shot of a specific player/coach/manager/area of the field, it’s always best to give the production crew in the truck a heads-up. TV is a visual medium and I hate to be talking about some random Joe Maddon fact while our director is on a closeup of the other team’s bullpen.

 

Once the broadcast is over, what are the final things you have to do before you leave the ballpark?

That’s a really good question. Early in my career, I would occasionally head down to the clubhouse and maybe talk to players or coaches after game, especially on the road. But now I almost never do it. I do try to hit the “off” button a few minutes after we are off the air. I do set up my scorecard for the following day. It takes me five minutes just to update the teams’ records and put the starting pitchers in, but that’s about it. After a long day, I try to turn off my broadcaster mode pretty quickly.

 

What are some of the top resources you use to keep you informed about the players, the teams and the game of baseball itself?

I’ve long said Baseball-Reference.com is the greatest baseball website ever created. I’ve had a chance to meet Sean Forman, the creator of the site, and I am 100% serious when I say this, I think he deserves Hall of Fame recognition. That site has just about everything you would ever need as a baseball broadcaster quite honestly. There are a lot of other sites I use to find info on players as well. Obviously, we get media guides and notes from each team’s media relations department. I also try to ask a lot of questions when I talk to players. At the end of the day, usually the best stuff comes directly from the people inside the game.

 

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?

I always try to work out. I love to jog so I’ll throw on the headphones and go for a run. That’s really important. Staying in physical shape is huge on a couple levels in this job, not just because of the physical rigors of traveling, but also for my mental health. I love to unplug and not think about anything important. There’s so much intellectual energy and focus required in the job that to grind away 24 hours a day can be counterproductive and probably take years off my life. Beyond working out, I’ll catch a movie or catch up on a TV show on my iPad or something. And then most definitely a late afternoon nap. The off-day nap around 4 pm when normally I’d be at the park is the best thing in the world.

 

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

Without a doubt, it’s finding a great breakfast place. I am definitely a routine-oriented person, but I’m trying really hard to break out of that and do different things and find new interesting places. So in that vein, I need the great cup of coffee and an omelet but I’m always on the lookout for a new cafe or some place I’ve never gone to on the road.

 

How do you spend time over the All-Star break?

I’m at home as much as possible. I’ve never taken a trip during the break. I mean, all we do is travel, travel, travel and to spend three or four consecutive days at home in the middle of the summer is something I always look forward to. It’s my mid-year detox. I usually make no plans. I just love hanging with my family and our dogs. Catch a movie, maybe watch a couple innings of the All-Star Game. Try to recharge the batteries.

 

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

I do as little “work” as possible. I don’t do any other sports. Because I broadcast 180-190 baseball games a year, I try to take the whole winter off to spend time with my family and to do all the things I can’t do during baseball season. I play tennis a lot, go to movies and rock shows, read books, watch a ton of NHL games and just generally be “on vacation.” It’s a unique lifestyle in that I go from zero to 60 and then back to zero every six or seven months but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Oh, and yes, I do jump on the laptop every single day in the off-season to check up on baseball news. That’s ingrained in my soul.

 

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

It’s hard to pinpoint one thing but I guess I’d say the amount of physical and mental energy it takes to do the 162-game grind. I deal with fatigue at certain points in the season and I’m just talking for a living. I can’t imagine how tough that is on a manager and coaches and players who are out there competing every single day. The baseball season is unrelenting. We have many stretches of 20 days without a break and while being at the ballpark every day is the coolest thing ever, it does require an incredible amount of mental stamina. The other thing is just the impact baseball has on people on a daily basis. Our voices are heard in homes and hospitals and bars all over the place every single day and so the bond that is created is pretty powerful. I felt that way towards my favorite broadcasters growing up but I never considered being that person on the other end of it with whom fans connect. It’s humbling and overwhelming to think about. And I take that responsibility very seriously.

 

What baseball announcers do you most admire, both retired and currently active, and why?

I always start this answer with Ernie Harwell, for a bunch of reasons. His voice was my childhood. I listened to Ernie and Paul Carey all the time (Fun fact: I later worked for Paul’s nephew Mike Carey at WMMI Radio in my hometown). I loved Ernie’s laid back, down the middle style. He also was a renaissance man—an author and a poet. He just seemed like the coolest guy ever. And when I got to meet him, he was the nicest person too. He was the broadcaster I always strived to be like. In terms of today, there are way too many great broadcasters to name, most of whom are good friends of mine. I would say the broadcasts I probably enjoy the most are the Giants — both radio and TV. Kruk and Kuip [Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper] are amazing together, and I think Jon [Miller] and Dave [Flemming] on radio are as good a listen as there is. Again, not to slight anybody else. I just always find myself tuning in when they’re on.

 

What’s are some of the things, or maybe even the one big thing, you wish ordinary fans knew about your job?

I think the main thing is that we often have information that fans at home don’t have and base our opinions and analysis on that information. Because of our access, we are able to talk to players and managers and coaches who give us background information, some of which we can use and some we can’t for strategic reasons.

I love that baseball lends itself to second-guessing and managing at home, but there is always a reason for everything a manager does. We often get labeled “company men”, but here’s the thing: we are in the position to be able to explain WHY managers do what they do in certain spots. I think an essential part of our job is to tell fans “This is why Joe likes to do X.” Fans may fundamentally disagree with the strategy or methods, but one of our main jobs is simply to explain. Yes, we do have our opinions, but calling the game is much more about the what, where, how and why than it is the knee-jerk reaction mode. Fans can rant and rave all they want. But I don’t watch games to hear the announcers do a shock jock talk show. I want smart, insightful, fun and informative, first and foremost.

 

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

Number one, I’d advise all broadcasters to be at least generally knowledgeable about modern technology. I don’t think it’s required to be on Twitter or Facebook, but there’s nothing worse than hearing a broadcaster act like it’s something from outer space. If Baseball’s goal is to cultivate new fans, we cannot thumb our noses at technology.

I think Twitter has changed our world fundamentally in that we are all—at least those who use it—immediately accessible to fans. It used to be you’d get a hand-written letter from a fan who sent it two months ago to the ballpark and you’d only get it after the team’s marketing department sorted it and delivered it to the booth. Now, it’s instantaneous. That scares some people, which I get. Some broadcasters don’t want to be taken to task for an opinion (or maybe even a fact) in real time. And yes, that can be a distraction. However, there is a happy medium between interacting with fans on Twitter and acting like you’ve never heard of it. There’s nothing that makes you sound more out of touch than taking uneducated shots at Twitter.

Working the Game: An Interview with John Sterling, New York Yankees Radio

In this installment in our “Working the Game” series of interviews, in which we seek to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day-to-day basis, we feature John Sterling, the long-time radio play-by-play announcer for the New York Yankees.

Sterling joined the Yankees broadcast team in 1989 from Atlanta’s John SterlingTBS and WSB Radio, where he called Hawks basketball (1981-89) and Braves games (1982-87). It marked a return to the town where he first hosted a talk show on WMCA from 1971-78, and called the Nets (1975-80, and as a fill-in, in 1997) and Islanders (1975-78) for WMCA, WVNJ, WWOR-TV and SportsChannel. Sterling also previously called Morgan State Football (eight years) and Washington Bullets basketball in 1981. In addition to his seven
years at WMCA and a year at WSB in Atlanta, he has also hosted talk shows on WFAN and WABC in New York. He has not missed a broadcast of any kind since the fall of 1981. Sterling has won a total of 12 Emmy Awards since 2003.

 

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball broadcaster?

I knew I wanted to be on the air when I was a little boy. I think when I got to be in my teens, early teens, I realized I wouldn’t be good enough to play pro ball.  So then I just wanted to get on the air.  I knew I was going on the air.  I’m very lucky—I have four kids, and I wonder whether they know what they’re going to do with their lives.  I’m lucky that I knew when I was 9, 10, 11 that I was going on the air. I listened to every disc jockey show, every newscast, every play-by-play of sports.  I loved sports since I was a child.  So even though this helped me in my vocation, it’s also my avocation.  I didn’t have any problems with that.  I knew what I was going to do.

 

What was the first baseball game you ever broadcast, and how did you get that gig?

I’d been on the air a long time.  I did so many things, and any broadcaster does on their way up.  I did, quote-unquote, “a big talk show” in Baltimore, one on radio and one on TV simultaneously.  I started putting sports in my talk show, and then I started filling in on basketball and football with the Bullets and the Colts.  Then I got a big sports talk show in New York, and I did hockey and basketball and football.  I made friends with Tal Smith, who was Gabe Paul’s assistant GM [with the New York Yankees]. So when Tal went to Houston to be president [of the Astros], I called him and said, if there’s ever a chance I can fill in there, I’d love to do it, because I wanted to do baseball.  So the first baseball I did was I did was a weekend in Philadelphia for the Astros.  Then I got to Atlanta and Bob Russler, who’d brought me there, put me on the Braves games in 1983.  That’s the first time I was a regular, and I did radio and TV with the Braves, and then I got to the Yankees in 1989, and I’ve been here ever since.

 

When did you realize you were going to make it—really, truly make it—as a baseball announcer?

With the Braves, I was the junior partner of the four, and we used to rotate innings among us.  Now, Atlanta is a great city; I was unmarried at the time, I had no responsibilities except to myself, and I loved it.  But when I took the Yankee job I took a big chance, because they had a habit of letting announcers go after a couple of years.  But I took the Yankees because I didn’t want to become an old man saying [in stereotypical old drunk’s voice] “Ahh, I shoulda done the Yankees!” So I took the chance and left Atlanta, and it was thrilling to me because now I was the #1 announcer, and I did all nine innings.  I’ve never missed a game in 27 years, but there’s no one point in which you pinch yourself and say, “Wow! I’m doing the Yankees! Gee, I’ve made it as a baseball announcer!”

I’ll tell you this, though: the Yankees were terrible when I first came in. But when Buck Showalter came in, in ’92, and I got Michael Kay as a partner, and the Yankees improved, and I started hearing a lot of what I did on the air come back, I think that is when I realized, “hey, this is really working.”  I never thought I would connect with an audience the way I connect with the Yankee audience.  And then “the Yankees win” and the home run calls became a thing—I didn’t know they were going to become a thing. It just happened to work out.

 

So the home run calls you’re now famous for, you first did those with the Yankees?  You didn’t have that in Atlanta?

Well, the home runs, I first did in Atlanta.  The old ballpark was called “The Launching Pad”, and it was double tiered stadium all the way around, a circular cookie-cutter football-baseball stadium.  So when the ball was hit out, the stands framed it, so you knew right away it was going to be out.  One day Doc Gooden threw Dale Murphy a breaking ball, and Dale hit it, and I could see it right away and that’s when I said “it is high, and it is far, and it is gone.”  I just did it, and that became a home run call.

I always kidded with ballplayers’ names.  When I did the [NBA New jersey] Nets, Bernard King was a big star for them as a rookie, and I called him “Bernard Sky BB King”.  In Atlanta, with Dominique Wilkins [of the NBA Hawks], he would make a great play and I would say, “Dominique is magnifique”.  And the Washington [Wizards of the NBA] coach Randy Wittman, who played for Atlanta, would do something and I would say, “Randy delivers a ‘Wittman’ sampler”.  Just nonsense, but it would catch on.  Now, I never knew it was going to catch on to the point where I would need a home run call for every player.  It began with Bernie Williams and “Bern, baby, Bern” and “Bernie goes boom”.

 

So for every player who comes up to the Yankees, from the very first game, are you thinking to yourself, “OK, I gotta get a home run call for this guy before he actually hits one”?

Well, the newspaper guys give me home run calls, and the fans do, too.  And in the winter, when we pick up a new player, I’m always asked, “well, what’s your home run call going to be for so-and-so?”  It wasn’t supposed to be a cottage industry—well, nothing is supposed to be. I mean, there are no rules.  But it’s a fun thing, and the fans get a kick out of it, and I get a kick out of it. And the players, I might add, also get a kick out of it.

 

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

I have a really good answer for this: I have prepared to do a ballgame by being a fan since I was about seven years old.  I do everything that a fan does: I read newspapers—I’m a big newspaper junkie, and I wish they weren’t dying and I wish New York still had eight of them because I’d read them all; I watch SportsCenter; I watch MLB (Network); and don’t forget, I’ve broadcast baseball games since 1983, which is 32, 33 years, so how many games have I broadcast?  And I haven’t missed a game with the Yanks.  So one game prepares you for the next game.   I don’t have to have a checklist of what to do.  So it’s easy.  Very easy.

So, how do I prepare? I’ve been watching baseball since I’m a little boy. Today, in my hotel room, I’m reading the Sunday papers, and I’m switching between the NBA playoff games and MLB. They had the Detroit-Kansas City game on, but they also had their whiparound, where they go game to game, and I love it.

What I don’t want to do is sound like some officious stuffed shirt: “Well, I work very hard, and I get there early, and …” You know, it comes easy to me because I love what I’m doing.   The words come easy, I know the sport inside and out, and I love it.  How could I have made every single game for 27 years if I didn’t love it?

 

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

On the road, I usually catch the last bus, so I get here very early.  Not as early as most people, but I get here a couple of hours before the game.  At home, I’m driving, so the first thing is, can I get over the bridge?  I live in New Jersey, so that’s the first step.  I try to get there an hour and a half before, something like that.

In the years past, I did the pregame manager’s show.  Joe Torre is a buddy of mine, and I did that the 12 years he was there.  He was just a seat of the pants guy, like I am.  You know how people are described as “anal” or “anal compulsive”?  Well, I’m the opposite.  So I would just grab Joe at some point and just do it.  With Girardi, he was good enough to let me do the same thing.  Some managers have strict rules: “You have to be here at four o’clock!”  But now Suzyn [Waldman, Sterling’s broadcast partner] does the show, so I don’t have a pregame tape. So I could literally … I used to have a radio show in the penthouse of the building I was living in.  Can you imagine that?  So I could go up to work in my pajamas if I wanted to.   But I could literally do the game and no one would notice when I got there, if I lived in the ballpark.  Bill Veeck and his wife used to have an apartment at Sportsmen’s Park in St. Louis, and I read a thing about the Giants had an apartment at the Polo Grounds … anyway, I could get there just before the pregame would start and it would be OK.  But I don’t, I usually get there earlier.  And if I have to talk with a player or talk with the manager, I will.

 

What are the key things you do at the ballpark before the game starts?

You know, it’s much easier than you’re making it out.  You’ve been to the press box—they give you more information than you can use.  Don’t forget, I’ve just done a game last night, so that prepares you for today.  I write down my lineups, and … well, that’s it.  Then you broadcast the game.  I broadcast by the seat of my pants, and that works for me.  Someone else brings a big bag of media guides and rule books and stopwatches and all that stuff. I don’t do that.  I have a very little baseball bag in which I carry pens and phone numbers and hard candy.  I have a very little bag.  That’s worked for me.

 

So while the broadcast is in progress, is everything super easy for you?  Or is there, say, one thing you do where you can say, “this is the hardest thing I have to do during the game”?  Is there anything like that at all?

No.  I hate rain delays because you’re sitting around.  I hate these eight o’clock Sunday night games because you’re always flying someplace afterwards. But everyone hates the Sunday night ESPN games, it’s so late. You know why I’m lucky? I told you earlier in this conversation, I’ve been able to combine my avocation and vocation.  I started out as a disk jockey because I love music.  I know as much about music, American popular standards and Broadway, as I do about baseball.  These are the two things that have occupied my mind my entire life.

 

What do you do in between innings and during the seventh inning stretch?

Go to the bathroom.  Everyone does, because in Yankee Stadium they sing “God Bless America”, then “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, so we have a little more time.

 

What are some common pitfalls to avoid while broadcasting baseball games?  Or is it smooth sailing the whole time?

Everything I do is off the cuff, and the people I’ve worked with, Suzyn and Michael Kay, have worked that way with me.  I call every pitch of every game, and I don’t find it [to be] work.  We’re very busy.  I’m sure you’ve heard it—we have a million drop-ins, and we have a lot of stuff to get in, like scoreboards.  I don’t try to figure out what I’m going to say, I just say it.  I don’t know how you can do sports and figure out what you’re going to do.  You have to react to what’s on the field.

Curt Gowdy once said—he was preparing for the first Super Bowl, and he was nervous as hell because there were all these network people in the booth—he took himself out for a little walk. And he said to himself, “Look, you’ve been doing this all your life! Just follow the ball!” I just know the game by osmosis—look how many baseball games I’ve done. So I don’t have to figure out what I have to say.   I just open my big fat mouth and say it.

 

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?

Oh, that’s easy.  I entertain myself very well.  I swim for exercise—my knees are shot from all those years on hard courts playing tennis and basketball.  I get up late.  I have a healthy brunch of fruit and coffee and read the papers. That’s how I prepare, see? I have ESPN SportsCenter on and MLB [Network] on.  That’s how I prepare! See, what I’m trying to tell you: I don’t try to prepare.  I love what I do, so I find it very easy.

 

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

Not much.  I don’t sightsee.  You know how much I’ve travelled? [Laughs] If I’m off, and someone is appearing in town that I love, like—I have to figure out someone who’s alive now—if Tony Bennett or Vic Damone was somewhere, I’d go see them, or if there’s a Broadway play, probably a musical, in that town, I would go to see that if I have a day off.  But for the most part it’s work.  The average day is, I get up late, have a healthy brunch, swim for exercise, read the papers, watch ESPN and MLB, shave and shower, make myself beautiful, then go to the ballpark.

 

How do you spend time over the All-Star break?

With my kids, I have four kids.  That’s one time we get together.  They range from 14 to 17 in age.

 

And the same thing during the offseason?  Do you do any broadcasting in the offseason?

Yeah, I don’t do talk shows or play-by-play or voiceovers or appearances.  I’m pretty busy because I have the great ability to entertain myself.  I’m very lucky: I have a very good life, and I live it very, very well.

 

What baseball announcers do you most admire, both retired and currently active, and why?

If you said to me, “Who’s your favorite singer”, well, obviously it would be Sinatra.  But I must like a hundred different singers.  I like different people for different reasons.  I think [Vin] Scully is the best, but I don’t want you to think it’s only Scully.  I loved Mel Allen; I loved Bob Prince; I love Harry Caray; I loved Skip Caray.  All guys who are different—every one of them is different.  Every broadcaster brings his own style, and there isn’t [only] one style that’s acceptable.

This is really true: every broadcaster I have met in any sport helps the other broadcasters.  Everybody gets along, and if you need something, you go to the other broadcasters.  There are no egos, and there’s tremendous camaraderie among the fraternity.  Especially now with interleague and you don’t see these [teams], if you go to one of their broadcasters with questions, they’ll give you everything. In this vein, when that fire destroyed my home this winter, I heard from everyone in the business.  It was very heartwarming.

 

What are some of the things, or maybe even the one big thing, you wish ordinary fans knew about your job?

That it’s very easy to do, and very tough to get.  That’s the broadcast business [in general].

 

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

I would eliminate broadcast positions like this one in Washington where you’re so far away and so high that it’s very tough to see everything.  I would make all broadcast positions great.  And I would make the ballparks small.   Everyone who built an enormous ballpark—Detroit, San Diego, Seattle, and the Mets—they’ve all shortened the distances.  People want to see runs and home runs and doubles off the wall and guys running around the bases, or at least I do.  I like offense in every sport.  That’s about it.  And I would have the National League use the DH.

 

Well, John, really, thank you very much for your time.  You’ve given me a tremendous amount to work with.  Would you like me to share the link to the article with you via email, to make sure I’ve gotten everything right?

No.  I don’t have an email address, unfortunately.  Well, for me it’s fortunate!