Category Archives: Television

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

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

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

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

This is a fascinating read. Enjoy!


2015-10-27_11-35-36

by James Walker, October 27, 2015 6.09am EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Baseball dream leads to the broadcast booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIANTS PRIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PASSIONATE FANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL FAMILY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A TYPICAL DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Biography: 1966 Atlanta Braves Broadcasters

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

1966 ATLANTA BRAVES BROADCASTERS

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

 

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

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

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

The Houston Astros released the following statement:

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

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

Google News: Gene Elston

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

Vin Scully Will Extend His Unbreakable Record for One More Season

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIBUTE TO DON ORSILLO’S FUNNIEST NESN MOMENTS

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

With Don Orsillo news, Red Sox drop the ball again

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

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

Yikes!

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

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

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

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

Or to Facebook:

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Gifford’s One Degree of Separation from Baseball Broadcasters

Frank Gifford died at his home yesterday morning in Connecticut at the age of 84.  A bona fide Pro Football Hall of Famer, he was also a Hall of Fame-level football broadcaster as well, receiving the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for his broadcast service in 1995.

Frank Gifford never worked any baseball broadcasts, but he worked with a bunch of guys who did. View image | gettyimages.com

 

Gifford never broadcast any baseball games (even though he did work some non-football sporting events such as the Olympics, including the infamous 1972 Gold Medal game, which you can hear him call here), but The Giffer did work with several broadcast partners who did, from long-time baseball play-by-play guys to those who merely dipped their toe in the ballpark booth waters, including:

  • Chris Schenkel: We think of Schenkel as the TV bowling broadcaster today—heck, he’s an actual PBA Hall of Famer because of his work on that— but he anchored a whole bunch of sports for the American Broadcasting Company, including a 24-game slate of baseball games in 1965. That same year, Schekel began a three-year run with Gifford to call New York (football) Giants game for CBS, closing out the days when The Eye  deployed dedicated announcers for each NFL team.
  • Jack Whitaker: This guy is also known for his coverage of non-team sports, chiefly golf and horse racing, but he too was a jack of the trade of pro football broadcasting for CBS, as he paired with Gifford for several games during the 1969 and 1970 football seasons.  Whitaker also did a single baseball broadcast, doing play-by-play for CBS on May 7, 1960 from Yankee Stadium during which the Bombers took on their perennial trading partners, the Kansas City A’s.
  • Chuck Thompson: Thompson was one of the all-time great baseball play-by-play men, serving over 40 seasons in the mid-Atlantic region with the two Philadelphia teams, the old Senators (the iteration that became the Twins), and most famously the Orioles, all from the late 40s into the current millennium.  But like almost all baseball announcers of the time, he filled his off-seasons with football, and worked with Gifford for a single Colts-Packers game on Dec. 7, 1968.
  • Howard Cosell: Howard, of course, worked with Gifford for most of his tenure at ABC’s Monday Night Football, during the first 13 years to be exact (1971 to 1983), and we tend think of Howard today as a football announcer and boxing commentator first and second, the order between the two dependent on the person doing the reminiscing about Humble Howard. After a few seconds, hardcore sports fans of the era will also clearly remember that Cosell was a prolific baseball announcer as well, shoring up 144 airings between 1976 and 1985 (with a stray NBC GotW in 1973 as well), good enough for a tie with Bob Uecker for 21st on the all-time color guy list.
  • Don Meredith: Meredith served mostly as comic relief within the various troikas that manned the MNF booth between 1970 and 1984, excepting a three-year hole in the middle of that run to work football with Curt Gowdy at NBC. During that period, The Peacock hoped to capture some of Don’s third man magic for an NBC Game of the Week broadcast with Gowdy and Tony Kubek during a Pirates-Reds tilt on Aug. 12, 1974.  How did Dandy Don do in the baseball booth? Well, he never did work another baseball broadcast after that, so …

In addition to the five listed above, Gifford had a connection to other long time baseball broadcasters without actually working in the booth with them (a second degree of separation, if you will). In 1969, Gifford filled in as an play-by-play announcer on CBS Football for Jack Buck (96 network baseball broadcasts; St Louis Cardinals radio and TV from 1954 to 2001), the regular broadcaster, who was wrapping up his baseball commitments for the season. (Gifford also filled in for Chuck Thompson, same season/same reason, in addition to teaming up with him for one game.)  As for ABC’s MNF, which Gifford headed up from 1971 through 1985, he replaced Keith Jackson (153 network baseball broadcasts from 1965 to 1986, with an appearance on a 2003 broadcast) who had wrapped up that gig after the 1970 NFL season, and was replaced by Al Michaels (263 network baseball games from 1972 to 1995, plus a game in 2011, as well as six seasons with the Reds and Giants from 1971 to 1976), who succeeded Gifford starting with the 1986 NFL season.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the surviving family members and friends of Frank Gifford.