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Book Review: “The Best Team Money Can Buy”

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

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

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

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

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

This book reminds me of Moneyball in several ways.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Years Ago Today, Waite Hoyt Quit His Radio Play by Play Job On The Air

We all probably have different opinions about the best way to quit a job. Some of us have the kind of job where we would like to go storming in to the boss, spit “I quit!” in his or her face, and stomp out the front door with fist pumps in the air (otherwise known as the “Lotto Winner’s Fantasy”). Most of us simply let the boss know that we’re moving on, give her or him a couple weeks notice, and try to clean things up for the next person on the way out.

Waite Hoyt, the radio play by play guy knew how to make an exit. Fifty years ago today, he told his loyal listeners during the Giants-Reds tilt that night that the 1965 season would be his last in the Reds broadcast booth.

Well, Hoyt didn’t exactly quit on the spot while on the air. He had let his bosses at the Reds know earlier that afternoon that 1965 would be his final year.  Also, he continued to broadcast through the final game of the season. So it wasn’t even close to a petulant rant and exit. It was all very clean and civil. And he even returned to the Reds TV booth for one more year during the Reds pennant winning romp of 1972.

But unlike some of the greatest all-time broadcasters at certain times in history, Hoyt got to go out on his own terms, announcing it to his listeners in the way he wanted to.  We should all get that.

The story about Hoyt’s unique departure, written by Mike Dyer, ran on the Cincinnati Enquirer’s website last month. You can read the story in its entirety below, or if you prefer, you can read the original story here:

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/2015/07/07/waite-hoyt-announced-his-retirement-from-the-reds-radio-booth-50-years-ago-this-summer/29812513/


Waite Hoyt retired from Reds’ radio booth 50 years ago

 Mike Dyer, mdyer@enquirer.com

The ace of the 1927 Yankees sure knew about timing.

Waite Hoyt’s announcement that he was retiring from the Reds radio booth arrived in the middle of a mid-week tied game 50 years ago this summer. And the news just happened to be in the middle of a pennant race.

The popular Reds radio announcer with a knack for the flair in front of an audience managed to bury the lede on Wednesday night, Aug. 4, 1965 at Crosley Field.

“The big adventure is over,” Hoyt told his audience after the fifth inning of the Giants-Reds game.

Moments earlier, San Francisco pitcher Juan Marichal got Deron Johnson to ground out with Pete Rose stranded on third base.

Reds left-handed pitcher Jim O’Toole took the mound to prepare for the bottom of the Giants lineup in the sixth.

“Late this afternoon…I decided to surrender my position as baseball broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds following the final game of the 1965 season,” Hoyt said.

The Giants defeated the Reds 4-3 in 10 innings in front of 16,376 that August night. The Reds were two games back of the first-place Dodgers while the Giants were three behind Los Angeles.

Nearly 4,000 letters poured in for Hoyt to reconsider his retirement.

Waite Hoyt at Crosley Field in August 1965. (Photo: Provided/Betty Hoyt)
Waite Hoyt at Crosley Field in August 1965. (Photo: Betty Hoyt; h/t to Concinnati.com)

“When Hoyt announced his retirement in August, the news hit his faithful listeners as if the Carew Tower had fallen on them,” a United Press International story said in November 1965.

Other fans said the Reds ought to make Hoyt the club manager.

“It’s nice to know people have that much faith in my baseball knowledge,” Hoyt said. “But, I’m afraid I would be too impulsive in my decisions to make a good manager.”

Hoyt’s final Reds game in the radio booth occurred nearly two months later at Candlestick Park.

Today, Hoyt’s voice can be heard inside the Cincinnati Museum Center as part of the Queen City Baseball: Diamonds and Stars exhibit.

An original part of his final Reds radio broadcast – Oct. 3, 1965 – is a sheer delight as visitors enter the exhibit room on the bottom floor of the Museum Center.

Surrounded by Reds memorabilia, visitors hear Hoyt give the lineup on the speaker above. The audience also hears the National Anthem being played at the stadium.

But, there is also an eerie sense of irony listening to the crowd murmur on the broadcast. Just last week, the final upper-deck section at Candlestick Park was torn down as the stadium demolition makes room for housing, a hotel and a shopping center on its site.

Just the memories remain of that afternoon.

There is plenty of biographical information about Hoyt as a player and a broadcaster at the exhibit. One particular photo shows Hoyt in a WKRC radio studio broadcasting an “away” game in the 1940s.

“Waite never ran out of words – he had cut his teeth on the old ‘Grandstand and Bandstand’ program, a mishmash of music, variety and sports that required the performers to scribble their own material between short sessions on the air,” Robert Smith wrote in the Des Moines Register on Oct. 3, 1965.

The exhibit has an RCA microphone, a bat, autographed baseballs, and an original typed script complete with edits from Hoyt discussing Babe Ruth’s driving. There is also an album of Hoyt’s rain-delay stories from the Baseball Hall of Famer who died in 1984.

Hoyt’s widow, Betty, lives in Westwood. Betty, who is Waite’s third wife, will turn 90 in September.

Reds fans like Betty in the 1940s, 50s and 60s understood Hoyt’s broadcast style quite well.

His rain delay stories were legendary. Cincinnati fans learned a great deal about Ruth, Hoyt’s Murderers’ Row teammate.

The Brooklyn native called Reds games on Cincinnati radio airwaves starting on April 14, 1942. He was a Burger Beer guy. He always called games in the past tense.

Items related to Waite Hoyt's broadcasting career are on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. (Photo: h/t to Cincinnati.com)
Items related to Waite Hoyt’s broadcasting career are on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center. (Photo: h/t to Cincinnati.com)

“His laugh and his storytelling ability was what made him special,” Hoyt’s television broadcast partner Tom Hedrick told The Enquirer last week.

Hedrick, 81, is a sportscaster and Mass Media and Communication Instructor at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan. He worked with Hoyt on Reds games in the television booth in 1972.

“He was kind of my father figure,” Hedrick said. “He always made sure things were ok. He was a fine gentleman. He and I had a rapport.”

Years after he stepped away from the radio booth at the end of the ’65 season, the Reds announced Jan. 30, 1972 that Hoyt would join Hedrick in the TV booth (WLWT) for what turned out to be a National League pennant that October.

Even during that ’72 season, Hoyt always had a story to share and social graces that put those around him at ease.

Hoyt jokingly used a spitball during first pitches at Riverfront Stadium. Rose enjoyed his company. The Big Red Machine was clicking that year and won 95 games.

Al Michaels and Joe Nuxhall were in their second year together on the radio calling Reds games on WLW. The stadium was sparkling.

Hedrick has never forgotten what Hoyt taught him about the intricacies of the game. The Hall of Famer gave Hedrick a great deal of confidence too.

“‘I’ve had my place in the sun,’ Hoyt told Hedrick. ‘It’s your ballgame.'”

Fifty years ago this summer, Hoyt was on his radio farewell tour but he collected plenty of highlights and accolades.

Just four days after he announced his retirement from the radio booth, the Reds defeated the 1965 World Series champion Dodgers 18-0 at Crosley Field – still the modern club record for largest margin of victory in a shutout for the Reds.

The Reds also played at old Busch Stadium (formerly Sportsman’s Park) for the final time on Aug. 15.

On Aug. 19, Reds right-handed pitcher Jim Maloney threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field in a 1-0 win over the Cubs in 10 innings. Maloney struck out 12 for the 10th no-hitter in club history.

Then, just a few days before his 66th birthday, the longtime announcer was lauded with “Waite Hoyt Day” at Crosley Field on Sunday, Sept. 5.

This tribute was made in response to several requests from fans and the event was sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. Hoyt was awarded a five-week European tour after the season from more than 1,800 appreciative fans.

Hoyt was recognized plenty in news articles for his time with the Reds and was described as one of the most popular men in Ohio.

“I wouldn’t trade the years I have spent in baseball for anything,” Hoyt said.

 

We Heard Back About the Helms Press Hall of Fame

You may remember the article we posted about something called the Helms Press Hall of Fame, started by the Helms Athletic Foundation (HAF) in the 1950s.  The HAF was absorbed into the Amateur Athletic Foundation, which was renamed the LA84 Foundation a few years ago.

We wondered at the time whether the Press Hall of Fame was still a going concern, so we dropped a line to the LA84 folks a few days ago to inquire into that.  We heard back from a nice lady named Shirley Ito, who is a website manager with the foundation and she told us that, regrettably, the Press Hall of Fame is no more.  Here is the entirety of her email:

Did some searching.  We microfilmed the Helms folders and there is one for Press Hall of Fame.  There are not many pages in that file.

The LA84 Foundation (formerly Amateur Athletic Foundation) inherited the Helms collections.  The Foundation did not continue to recognize the press/journalist award.  See the attached press releases. 

It looks appears the significant years are 1950, 1952 and 1957 (releases).  The last page is First Interstate, one of Helms’ last sponsors as an athletic foundation (before AAF received the collection in the mid-1980s).  After 1957 no additional nominations or inductees were made to the Hall of Fame.

This should resolve most, if not all, of your questions. 

Best,
Shirley

So that’s that: two induction classes, and the thing is done.

Shirley did share a PDF showing the three press releases for the Press Hall of Fame, from 1950 (inception announcement); and 1952 and 1957 (induction announcements); and well as an First Interstate Bank internal document mentioning the existence of the award, which you c:

Helms Press Award Releases: PDF

After which, poof: gone.

And that solves the mystery of whither the Helms Press Hall of Fame.

This Is What Walter Johnson Sounds Like Calling a Senators Game on the Radio

If you’re a long time reader of this blog—and it’s OK if you’re not, at least yet, but let’s pretend you are for the sake of the point—you know that Walter Johnson was one of a number of Hall of Fame players who did some game calling in 1939.

Walter Johnson has a credible claim to being the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball.  Second all-time in wins with 417 and first in shutouts with 110; retired as the leading career strikeout king with over 3,500 Ks; his 2.17 ERA translating to a 147 ERA+ which ties for sixth-best of all-time; fifth all-time in complete games with 531; and so on and so on.  We could cite his sublime stats ad nauseam, but most importantly he was a two-time MVP who in one of those years led his Washington Senators to their first world championship in 1924.  The Man wouldn’t have to ever take “no” for an answer in the Nation’s Capital ever again, so if The Man wants to broadcast games, than just smile, say “yes, sir” and lead him to the booth.

Walter Johnson at the mic making a point. h/t The Sporting News (Paper of Record)
Walter Johnson at the mic making a point. h/t The Sporting News (Paper of Record)

And so they did in ’39, at radio station WJSV, radio home of the Senators since 1934.  Johnson spent the season spelling the venerable Arch McDonald, who’d left the Senators for New York to call Yankees and Giants contests on station WABC, before returning to the Senators gig the following year while Johnson retired to his Germantown, Maryland farm after the 1939 season “in order to catch up on some work”.

But Johnson did get a year in at the mic for the Nats, and by our great good luck, WJSV decided to record an entire day’s broadcast schedule on September 21 of that year.  There was nothing special about the day in and of itself that necessitated the decision to record it; rather, according to a document filed at the Library of Congress:

… the idea to record this day in its entirety came from a
conversation between station manager Harry Butcher and an employee of the National Archives, R.D.W. Connor … (T)he day … was not, necessarily, an exceptional or important day; it was just a “typical” Thursday in the station’s broadcast week. But it does have the distinction of not only being the only extant full recorded day for the station but, in fact, the only extant fully recorded broadcast day for any radio station during this era of terrestrial broadcasting. 

The day’s broadcast also happened to include the Senators’ 147th game of the season, for which they hosted the Cleveland Indians at Griffith Stadium.  Johnson was on the mic, and here is what he sounded like:

The game broadcast is listed in the WJSV archives as having at started at 4:00pm, but the game itself is listed in Baseball-Reference.com as having started at 2:00pm, and the Washington Post radio listings that morning had the broadcast listed as starting at 3:00pm, so I’m going to go out on a limb and call out the WJSV timetable as being the incorrect thing here.  In any event, because the broadcast picks up the game an hour after the start time, the game is joined already in progress, in the bottom of the fourth inning.  Harry McTigue, the other Senators announcer, opens the program with a quick recapping of the lineups, and the Big Train himself picks up the mic at the 1:45 mark of the broadcast.

There is an unmistakable folksiness to the sound of Johnson’s voice, obviously the stamp of his rural Kansas upbringing.  He speaks at a quick and business-like clip, similar to other broadcasters of the time, and regardless whether he is the one influencing the delivery of McTigue, who picks up the action in the sixth, or he is following McTigue’s lead, the fact is that the two sound so much like peas in a pod stylistically that it’s somewhat difficult to tell which is which, apart from Johnson’s higher and more nasal tone, which you will definitely notice as McTigue passes the mic back to Barney for the ninth.

Walter Johnson does a creditable job on the broadcast as a baseball announcer, and I personally would think that he could have continued on in that capacity in following seasons if he’d wanted to.  But whether it was to tend to his farm or for some other unsaid reason—such as, say, running unsuccessfully for Congress in the following election— the Big Train apparently decided he’d had enough of doing baseball for a living.

Listen to a 1957 Cubs-Dodgers Game, featuring 21-Year-Old Sandy Koufax, and called by 29-Year-Old Vin Scully

I came across these recordings some years ago, having had them in my collection, and I finally got the bright idea to share them with you here.  This game took place on June 4, 1957 with the Chicago Cubs visiting the Dodgers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.

I especially like this recording because Vin Scully, himself in the early stages of his own Methuselean career, is marveling at the nascent transformation of a young (and frequently wild) fireballer, name of Sandy Koufax, into the next great strikeout artist.

Granted, this is not the Hall of Fame pitcher we gush about half a century after his rarefied peak.  Koufax wasn’t even primarily a starter at this point: only 13 of his 34 appearances in 1957 were starts.  In fact, this particular start was the last of five in a row for him; Koufax wouldn’t take the mound for Dem Bums for another three weeks, and only then in a relief capacity.  By the time October rolled around, he’d ended this, his third season, at 5-4 with a rather pedestrian 3.88 ERA which, actually, he would not improve upon until 1961.  So at this point he wasn’t close to being All-World Sandy Koufax. He was more like Adequate-at-Times Sandy Koufax.

But Scully saw the potential in Koufax and marveled in this broadcast at Sandy’s newfound strikeout rate. At one point Vin goes to the stat sheet (and, I presume, his pencil and paper) to determine how many strikeouts he’d registered against how many innings he’d pitched. These days we take the reporting of K/9 rates by game broadcasters for granted, but back then, comparing strikeouts to innings pitched was revolutionary stuff. That’s totally understandable when you realize that in the entire history of the game to that point, a qualifying pitcher’s strikeouts exceeded his innings pitched only twice: both by Herb Score, and only as recently as 1955 and 1956. So you can see just how new and mind-boggling the concept was.

Koufax ended the season with 10.5 K/9, but he was not a qualifying starter. He did, however, become the second qualifying starting pitcher to exceed a strikeout per inning in 1960, when he registered 10.1 K/9.  By contrast, 14 different qualifying pitchers in 2014 exceeded 9 K/9, and this season, 23 different pitchers are on pace to do so as of today. Make your own judgments as you see fit–I merely present the facts without further comment.

This was a night game, starting at 8:00pm, and was recorded off WOKO-AM (1460) in upstate Albany.  The Dodgers’ flagship station was WMGM-AM (1050), which had had the rights to Dodgers’ radio broadcasts since 1943 when they were WHN-AM. There are commercials, too, both live-read and recorded.  Jerry Doggett takes over the mike from Vin in the 4th.  We also hear a third voice in the person of Al Heifer in between innings giving out of town scores and exhorting listeners to tip back a Schaffer and light up a Lucky.

Here are the recordings of the game, in full, broken into four parts.

Part 1 (1st to bottom of 2nd—note: Scully comes into the broadcast just after the 6:45 mark):

Part 2 (bottom of 2nd through bottom of 4th):

Part 3 (top of 5th through top of 7th):

Part 4 (bottom of 7th through end of game):

Here’s the newspaper account of the game.  Or if you prefer, here is the box score and game account located at Baseball-Reference.

Cubs-Dodgers 19570605 Story

ABC-TV Once Suggested that Major League Baseball Reduce Their Regular Season Schedule to 60 Games!

Rob Manfred, the rookie Commissioner of Baseball, stoked increased discussion about MLB reducing its regular season this past February. You yourself have probably had discussions with other fans about this many times over the years, so you likely know that a lot of people who consider themselves big fans of the game nevertheless wouldn’t mind seeing less of it. Proponents of shortening the schedule usually maintain that 162 games is just way too many to play in a season and argue that the season goes too late in the year, topping it off with the horrific vision of a November World Series game getting snowed out.

The weather point starts to frost up a bit when you consider that in cities where playing in cold weather is an issue, early November runs anywhere from one to five degrees warmer on average than early April, as well as drier. No matter: the weather argument has a lot of traction in the debate, and occupies a trump card in proponents’ hand at the moment.  A better, recently proffered argument is that players would benefit from a season of fewer games to help preserve their health and perhaps lengthen their careers.

There is some general merit to the latter point, although the funniest thing to me about this debate is that the number of games most advocates invariably choose to reduce the season to is 154.  The difference between 162 and 154 is not all that great, less than 5% of games, so would a season of 154 games provide all that much more relief to an everyday player than one of 162?  That seems a somewhat dubious proposition.  So why is 154 always the magic number in these debates?  Why not 144, or 140, or 134? Might it be that nostalgia plays a significant role in the advocacy of the 154 solution? I might place a bet on that, if one were available.

Nothing nostalgic about a solution that ABC television came up with over a half century ago to reduce the season, though.  They didn’t suggest 154, or 144, or anything as incremental as that. Their suggestion: play a 60-game season, on weekends only, and promote it the way that football is promoted, as a major television event.

This idea brought chuckles of disbelief from their rivals at CBS and NBC and the kind of dismissals reserved for the crazy political ideas that one uncle of yours evangelizes at every Thanksgiving dinner. Commissioner-at-the-time Ford Frick was reportedly equally unimpressed, the article stating flatly that “the public is satisfied with the way things are now, and he is too.”

Undaunted, ABC did not stop there with the out-of-the-box ideas. They believed other sports could benefit from dramatic changes, too, such as professional golfers competing with each other on a season-long points system administered by the PGA; the USOC holding regional Olympic competitions to better prepare the nation for the actual quadrennial event; and college football doing away with the bowl system and replacing it with a March Madness-style playoff instead.  As you can see, not all their ideas were total clunkers.

The original article, published in the wonderfully alliterative Rockford Register-Republic in April 1964, is reprinted below.  Hat tip to Mark Aubrey, who featured this in a post on his own blog located here.

 

ABC-60games

WGN Ran a Radio Baseball Quiz in 1938, and Players Were Involved.

Came across this while perusing some old newspapers looking for baseball media stories.  This is not exactly baseball media, but it’s close enough to mention here.

In the late 1930s, the Big Thing on radio was quiz shows.   The airwaves were lousy with ask-me-another type programs like Vox Pop, Professor Quiz, Uncle Jim’s Question Bee, and the highbrow Information Please, so high-falutin’ it spawned an almanac that remained popular decades after the show’s demise.

Far be it from Baseball to ignore so obvious a trend, so Chicago powerhouse WGN (or, more exactly, “W-G-N”) got into the game with Bob Elson’s Baseball Quiz.   Teams of seven (why stop at seven?  Why not nine?), handpicked by area chambers of commerce or service organizations, would be questioned on their knowledge  of the game and the players who play it.

There are two really cool things about this, in my opinion:

  • Actual players from the Cubs and the White Sox were to appear on the program as judges. Why you need judges in a quiz show is a little beyond me–after all, you get the question correct as written on the card or you don’t, right?  Or is it really not that simple? Either way, having major league players involved in the program can’t be bad for the Crossleys, right?
  • After the quiz season plays out, the two “grand champion” teams were to receive all expense paid trips to the World Series.  That’s a pretty ambitious prize for a local quiz show, I think.  Then again, the 50,000-watt blowtorches of the day were more like regional stations than local affairs, as their signal would cut across a double-digit number of states, somewhat similar to how a regional sports network like ROOT Rocky Mountain does today.  So these stations were mighty big deals, and generated very high numbers of listeners, maybe even a lot more than today’s iteration of WGN does 77 years later.  As it turns out, ‘GN dodged a bullet somewhat: the Cubs made it to the 1938 series against the Yankees, so they only had to pay the winners’ expenses to travel to one city instead of two.

No word on who the “grand champions” ended up being.  They are lost to the ephemera of history.

Here’s the short original article about the show, accompanied by a short blurb about a similar show out of New York, in the March 15, 1938 Chicago Tribune:

1938 WGN Baseballl Quiz

Visionary 1971 Article about the Future of Sports on Cable TV

Committee member Philip Hochberg, public announcer extraordinaire who worked the games for the Washington Senators from 1962 until they high-tailed out of town for Texas after the 1970 season, was also a prescient journalist in his spare time.  “Prescient”, I say, because as far back as 1971, he saw the cables sports revolution on the horizon, and penned this piece below for the Sporting News’ July 3 edition that year.

This was eight years before the Entertainment Sports and Programming Network signed on, and several more years than that before regional sports networks became the norm for the broadcasting of professional sports. You can tell it was a long time ago because Hochberg notes that cable is booming because there are already “nearly five million persons [being] served by [cable].”  At the time, that made only about 2.5% of all Americans.  Today, about 89% of all American households are served by either cable or other “alternate delivery systems” such as satellite.

Much of the article delves into how the FCC was attempting to wrestle with how to regulate the infant cable TV industry from poaching activity, in order to protect over-the-air broadcasters of marquee events, such as the World Series, that had traditionally run free over the air.  We also learn how the desire of small-city cable TV operators to run professional sports programming, especially major league baseball, influenced them to choose to air distant big city TV stations over local stations that presumably aired the same national networks.

One of the best fun facts I learned from reading this article is that in 1971, TelePrompTer Corporation, having divested itself of its actual teleprompter business, was the largest cable TV operator in the country.  TelePrompTer later sold out to Westinghouse broadcasting, and their cable holding was renamed Group W Cable.

Fascinating stuff. Click on the article below to open up in a new tab or window for easier reading.

 

Cable TV Offers Expanded Medium for Sports Sporting News 1971

News Bites for February 16, 2015

Ron Darling to try play-by-play for Mets spring training broadcasts. Because he’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, the Mets are gonna give him a shot.

USC baseball aplenty on SEC Network Plus, but Time Warner customers still in dark. Thirty-nine games will air on the SEC Network Plus platform, but they were not available to Time Warner Cable and DirecTV customers when the season started on Friday.

Three Lion Baseball Games Slated For Television in 2015. One of Southeastern Louisiana’s will be against preseason #2 LSU on February 25. Games will air on SECNetwork.com and WatchESPN.

SJU-TV To Produce 16 Red Storm Baseball Games For ESPN3. St. John’s University games will be carried on ESPN3, starting with the March 27 match against Rider.

Two 2015 Tulane Baseball games set for television. The Green Wave’s first telecast will be Mach 24 against SEC powerhouse LSU, and April 28 against Southeastern Louisiana, on Cox Sports Television.

Ten Pitt Baseball Games To Be Broadcast In 2015.  All games will take place in the back half of the season, starting April 10 when they host Wake Forest.  They will all air on ESPN3.

Southern Miss baseball set to appear twice on American Sports NetworkASN is a syndicated broadcast network comprising stations in 34 states and DC.

Herd Baseball Unveils TV Game Schedule.  Marshall of West Virginia will have at least three games telecast, split between SEC Network and the American Sports Network.

Texas Tech Baseball Radio Broadcast Available on TuneIn.  All 55 games will be available on the TuneIn mobile app.