Grantland Rice’s Legacy in the Deadball Era

The Deadball Committee of SABR has done terrific yeoman’s work in expanding the knowledge base of the baseball that was played during the era 1900-1919. There are nearly four hundred super-dedicated and knowledgeable members in the Committee; they have a solid library of historical newsletters available; they even have a very active Yahoo Discussions group.  The Committee is chaired by John McMurray, who also happens to be the vice-chair of the Baseball and the Media Committee as well.

While there is an impressive body of work detailing the players of the era, they also contemplate the era’s non-players, in this case, the sportswriters.  McMurray has recently published an overview of Grantland Rice, considered one ofthe most famous writers from the era, and he has graciously consented to allow us to reprint it here in full for your enjoyment.


 

McMurray: Grantland Rice’s legacy in the Deadball Era

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the SABR Deadball Era Committee’s February 2016 newsletter. To learn more about the Deadball Era Committee, click here.

By John McMurray

Even with the large number of new books on the Deadball Era published annually, it is worthwhile on occasion to recall prior works which illuminate figures who may have fallen a bit outside of the Deadball Era Committee’s view. One such person is writer Grantland Rice. Known best for his writing for the weekly magazine Collier’s, Rice himself was never a major league beat reporter, recognized instead for his prolific columns that touched on many sports and which often included a poem and clever twists of phrase. While Rice’s connection with baseball may seem attenuated relative to, say, the more regular interactions with players that Ring Lardner or Heywood Broun enjoyed, Rice nevertheless was influential in several important episodes of the Deadball Era.

Rice’s impact is given a comprehensive and thoughtful treatment in Sportswriter: The Life and Times of Grantland Rice by Charles Fountain, published in 1993. That Rice — a colossal figure in American sportswriting — has been the subject of only a few biographies (though two other volumes on him were published in the 1990s, including one by William Harper of more than 600 pages) may suggest that Deadball Era researchers would be better served to spend more time examining the role of reporters of the time, as these writers served as an essential liaison between the game and its burgeoning fan base.

Consider that when Ty Cobb famously sent postcards under various fictitious names to try and promote himself as a young player, he sent them to Rice, recognizing the impact of the then-local reporter’s writing. “He is a terrific hitter and faster than a deer,” said one, while another asked: “Have you seen Ty Cobb play ball yet? He is the fastest mover I’ve seen in baseball.” Rice subsequently wrote a column about the budding star which was overflowing with praise. That Cobb was in the major leagues within a year is often credited in large part to his surreptitious interactions with Rice.

In 1916, as Babe Ruth was firmly establishing himself as a star pitcher, it was Rice who suggested that praise for Ruth’s pitching prowess was overblown. Fountain noted that, in contrast to the praise that Rice often bestowed on young stars, he chided Ruth for being out of shape and exclaimed that “Ruth is still too young at this business to be classed with Rube Waddell or Eddie Plank or Nap Rucker.” Rice went on to say “quite a stretch of time lies between Ruth and lasting greatness.” It is reasonable to infer that the biting comments from Rice’s widely-read column made Ruth’s eventual switch to being a full-time hitter somewhat more palatable to his readers.

In 1917, Rice also used his platform to insist that John McGraw should be suspended for an incident with National League President John Tener. Rice’s columns, along with those of several of his contemporaries, drew attention to to the matter, applying pressure which resulted in McGraw’s eventual suspension.  Still, Rice is recognized more so today for helping to shape opinion of the Black Sox as the 1919 World Series scandal grew. He pointed out inconsistency in Eddie Cicotte’s play, for instance, saying, “Eddie, instead of jumping swiftly for the ball, took his time with all the leisure of a steel striker.” Playing up what Fountain called “the out-of-character aspect of (the team’s play),” Rice also used the word “fix” in print early on and also was outspoken on the deleterious effects that the performance of the Black Sox had on the game itself. Again, Rice moved and shaped popular opinion, having an effect on events that followed.

Of course, all contemporary baseball writers enjoyed outsized influence, essentially serving as the voices for particular teams to an audience which had few other outlets. But Rice himself had a disproportionate impact on the sporting scene of the early 20th century. In an interview with The Inside Game, Fountain said: “Rice was a combination of baseball-reference.com, the whole ESPN empire, and whoever passes as sports journalism celebrity today.” His column had an extraordinary influence.

There were other moments when Rice was ahead of his contemporaries. Rice himself noted “Every one (sic) knows the reserve clause in baseball will not stand the test of American law,” a sentiment uttered by few in the press at the time. There was also an element of craftsmanship to his writing, as Rice was strategic in his pronouncements while retaining an air of positivity. As Fountain points out in the book, although Rice disapproved of Connie Mack selling his Philadelphia Athletics players, thereby plunging the team into mediocrity, Rice did not take Mack to task for it in print; rather, he praised Charles Comiskey for being aggressive in purchasing players, as Rice knew that his own opinions about Mack would be inferred by readers.

Rice in part set the tone for sportswriting of the time, writing with what Fountain calls “respect for the intelligence and the involvement of the reader.” The same approach applied when Rice was writing about minor league baseball for the Nashville Tennessean from 1907 through 1910, his only time as a baseball beat reporter. Rice’s approach was literary and classically-based, deriving in part from his appreciation for Latin and the subtleties of language more generally. A phrase such as “the tumult dies” (in Rice’s famous “Game Called” poem from 1910) or a reference in a column to “crack slabsmen” imbue his work with creativity.

With time, Rice’s reputation has suffered as the core principles of journalism have changed. No longer do reporters ignore or brush aside the off-field behavior of athletes, as Rice did, nor do they serve as universally-happy mythmakers, intent on shaping a positive view of sports from top to bottom. “The role of the sportswriter at that time was to sell newspapers and tickets, and not necessarily in that order,” Fountain said.

Fountain suggests in the book that Rice’s rhapsodic, and usually uncritical, approach to covering star players would likely see him today banished to a local paper reporting on the exploits of high school athletes rather than taking on the hard-hitting issues of the day in professional sports. But the opposite side of that coin, according to Fountain, is that even if Rice had wanted to expose the character flaws of players he covered, he likely would not have had a receptive publisher:

“Had Rice written a piece about Ty Cobb that showed Cobb in all his complexity and nuance, Rice would have had a hard time finding a place to publish that,” Fountain said. “I doubt very much whether his syndicate of newspapers would have wanted that in a sports column, and I doubt very much whether Collier’s or any of the magazines that he wrote for would have wanted that in a profile. Readers wanted heroes in those days, wherever they were. He delivered what newspaper publishers and readers and magazine publishers and readers wanted at the time. Had he delivered anything else, they wouldn’t have bought it.

Rice now is often impugned for his lofty prose, with critics typically referencing his effusive 1924 column about Notre Dame’s football team. (“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again,” Rice wrote. “In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”) Still, whether he was analogizing major sporting events to Civil War battles or linking star athletes to figures from Greek mythology, Rice’s soaring prose helped to define sportswriting in his era.

Independent of whether one appreciates Rice’s writing style and approach, he is an important figure in the history of sports journalism and one who impacted the Deadball Era. Fountain’s work makes one appreciate how intertwined Rice was with the Deadball Era, even if Rice himself, because of the wide scope of his writing, is not viewed as a baseball reporter first and foremost. Rice’s baseball columns are one illustration of the impact that Deadball Era writers and reporters could have on the game, and his extensive body of work underscores how important a role a writer could play at a time when newspapers were indeed king.

JOHN McMURRAY is chair of SABR’s Deadball Era Research Committee. Contact him atdeadball@sabr.org.

Here’s Your Bullet Point Guide to the Garber v. MLB Broadcast Lawsuit Settlement

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. ..."
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. …”

A lot of pixels have been spilled about the settlement in the lawsuit named Garber et al v. MLB et al, aka, the lawsuit to strike down too high prices for baseball packages and those ridiculous blackout restrictions to boot.

There are a lot of facts about what the settlement means to us, the regular fans, flying around in multiples stories, so I thought it might be helpful summarize everything in a handy-dandy series of bullet points.

So, without further ado, here is what the settlement in Garber v MLB means to us fans as of today:

  • Single-team packages will be made available at a cost of $84.99 for the 2016 season.  These single-team packages will be available to out-of-market viewers only, e.g., Tigers games for fans in Tampa; Cubs games for fans in Phoenix; Cardinals games for fans in Chicago; you get the idea. If you’re a Tigers fan living in Detroit, the Tiger team package will still not be available to you. You will not need to authenticate your credentials with your cable or satellite provider to get this package.  So, cord cutters welcome here.
  • The cost of the MLB.TV Premium will also be lowered as part of the settlement, from $129.99 to $109.99.  What Premium gives you over MLB.TV Basic is away radio audio overlay; a free MLB At Bat app (worth ~$20); and access to games on devices other than just computers and laptops, including smartphones and “over the top” devices such as Xbox, Roku, Apple TV, etc. Click here for a current device list.
  • For the next five years, the price for the single-team and MLB.TV packages can rise each year by only the greater of (a) 3%, or (b) the annual national cost-of-living adjustment.  That means the most the package will cost in 2020 is $95.99 for the single-team, and $123.99 overall.  (This part in particular is how you can tell that it was lawyers who worked out this settlement.)
  • In addition to the MLB.tv streaming service, satellite and cable providers may also elect to offer single-team packages for out-of-market teams as well.  However, at least in the case of national providers, they would have to offer packages for all 30 teams and not just, say, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs only.  Price of this is still TBD.
  • Extra Innings packages, available through DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity and several other providers, will reduce their prices from 2015 levels by 12.5% for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.  Actual prices are yet to be determined and should be available to DirecTV customers in early February.
  • If you are a fan living in an area that is “unserved” by any satellite or cable service at all, you will be able to get an exemption to the in-market blackout rule and buy packages that include your market’s team, based on your (billing?) address.
  • By the All-Star break, MLB.tv will offer an additional option called “Follow Your Team”.  This is completely different from the single-team package above.  FYT will allow you to watch the out-of market broadcast (only) of your in-market team when they are playing out of town. For example, if you’re a Tigers fan and they’re playing the Twins at Target Field, with this option you will be able to tune into the Twins telecast (but not the Tigers telecast) if you are physically in the Tigers market at the time.  This option will cost $10 on top of your MLB.tv subscription. Understand four things, though: (1) Your local RSN has to give consent for fans in their area to participate in this offer; (2) even if they do consent, to get this, you will need to authenticate your credentials through your cable or satellite provider—cord cutters not welcome here; (3) you can’t just get the FYT as a $10 standalone. It’s available only an add-on to a full MLB.tv subscription; and (4) you will still not be able to see any of a in-market team’s home games on MLB.tv at all while physically in that market.
  • Blackout rules are not affected by this settlement at all.  They still apply in the same way they always have. So if you live in Iowa, Las Vegas or Hawaii, you will still not be able to watch those six blacked-out teams’ telecasts on your MLB.tv, same as before, except if you subscribe to their “Follow Your Team” feed, and then only their away games, and even then only the away team’s telecasts, and even even then except if they’re playing another team that also happens to be blacked out in your area!

Separately from (although likely spurred by) this case, last November, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced a three-year deal in which the fifteen regional sports networks controlled by FOX Sports would begin offering in-market streaming of games during the 2016 season, provided FOX regional sports network viewers authenticate with their cable or satellite provider.  Last Tuesday’s settlement extends this deal to Subscribers of DirecTV and Comcast’s sports nets as well. The only teams now not covered by this separate agreement are the Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles and Red Sox.

You can read the entire case settlement here:

Garber et al v. MLB et al

The $64 question at hand: Is this settlement a win for the fans? That depends on your point of view. If you believe that any loosening of the labyrinthine MLB broadcast restrictions counts as a positive, and it would for many fans, then yes, this is a win for them.  If your definition of “win” is complete freedom to watch any team in any market on any device you choose, then there is a long way to go before you will be able to claim that level of victory.

Nevertheless, many industry observers believe this settlement is a key step toward positioning MLB’s digital arm, BAM Tech, for a future of viewing untethered to expensive cable, in which BAM Tech will be able compete with Netflix, Hulu and other like content providers in delivering original content.  This future would have to include the erosion of the blackout restrictions still in place for it to be a serious contender among those original content providers, but given the rate at which people have been cutting the cord of late, it seems to be a pretty good bet that Baseball and its affiliate clubs will find a way to rework its Luddite restrictions sooner than later to achieve this end.

 

Baseball’s Upholding of the Pete Rose Ban: Least Surprising Outcome Ever.

So it looks as though, finally, Baseball has closed the door on Pete Rose’s reinstatement, locked it, and thrown away the key for good. Did anyone seriously expect otherwise? Maybe those people with big hopes who believe in the kind of magic that changes hardened hearts and minds—maybe they thought there was a chance. Pete’s suffered enough, they say—25 years is a long time, too long. C’mon, he’s the Hit King™, for cry eye, one of the greatest players in baseball history. There are lots worse guys than Pete in the Hall of Fame. Give the guy a break, would ya?

For those of us who, for better or worse, are grounded in the Realpolitik of the everyday world, though, this outcome was always a foregone conclusion.

The wailing of Pete’s most ardent apologists notwithstanding, I think most people are very comfortable with this (presumably) final decision. Pete has repeatedly shot himself in the foot on this subject from the word “go”, up to and including his September 24 meeting with Manfred, during which Pete not only denied any memory of betting on games he was involved in as a player, a fact which had been revealed in an ESPN report earlier this year, but also, in horrifyingly clueless fashion, admitted that he still likes to gamble on baseball these days.

Maybe there was no way Rob Manfred was ever going to let Pete back into the game under any circumstances, but Pete’s admissions in their meeting made this a far easier task for Manfred than he had a right to hope for.

But this no-brainer decision was not just about Pete Rose. It was also about maintaining the global integrity of Baseball’s position on gambling on ballgames. After all, what would have happened had Manfred relented and let Pete back in? Wouldn’t Baseball have to let back in everybody else who’d ever been declared permanently ineligible for gambling, including all the Black Sox? And wouldn’t Baseball have to forego the permanent ineligibility death sentence, which has been etched into its rules for a century, for all future in-game gambling incidents that might arise? And if Baseball simply ignored such inconsistencies and decided that Pete Rose was a special case for whatever reason, wouldn’t they have to explain and defend that decision over and over again in the public square in perpetuity? That scenario represents a parade of horribles that Baseball wisely wanted no part of. Regarding the situation in that light, it’s easy to see why his continued banishment was a fait accompli.

Of course, Baseball has a huge skeleton in its own closet when it comes to their current relationship with Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) behemoths DraftKings and FanDuel.  For the moment, Baseball can still maintain that DFS is, as the industry mantra goes, a “Game! Of! Skill!“, although a recent decision by the New York Supreme Court begs to differ on that point. (DFS sites are currently still operating in New York under a stay of injunction while the decision is being further reviewed.) Whether the ink-stained wretches go after Manfred on their DFS connection and hold his feet to the fire in the wake of the Rose decision remains to be seen.

None of that matters as it relates to Pete Rose, though. That particular horse has left the barn, and it ain’t coming back.

Below is a re-posting of an article we originally published in April, after the announcement that Pete would join FS1’s major league pre-game coverage, in which we originally presented our case that not only would Baseball not reinstate Pete this year, but they in fact can never, ever reinstate Pete Rose.

Enjoy!


It was announced this past Saturday afternoon that Pete Rose had been hired by Fox Sports to be a guest analyst on the MLB pregame shows airing on the broadcast network and on Fox Sports 1, as well as being a commentator on several other Fox baseball programs. Since Fox Sports is not part of Major League Baseball—at least not technically—Rose’s permanent ineligibility status does not extend to its game broadcasts.

“No, I am not Elton John. Why the hell are you asking me that!?”

In the FoxSports.com article that broke the story, “Rose said that he is not joining FOX with the idea that it will help him gain reinstatement.  ‘I don’t even worry about that. I’ve never thought about that,’ Rose said. “I’m just trying to give back to baseball …'”

If that sounds disingenuous to you, don’t blame yourself for being a nasty person not willing to give poor Pete the benefit of the doubt. Pete Rose is, after all, a proven liar when it comes to how his gambling behavior interfaced with his roles as an active performer either playing or managing in major league baseball contests.  At first he claimed he never bet on baseball games he was involved in.  But then he said that he had indeed done so, but admitted such only once he believed that coming clean would help his case for reinstatement. But hey, don’t worry, Pete says: I never bet on my team to lose.

We’ll probably never know the truth about that one, though, since Baseball agreed to halt its continuing investigation of Rose once he agreed to accept the permanent ineligibility penalty for the involvement he did admit to.  In the final analysis, Pete struck out with his delayed honesty strategy.

I suspect the last couple of paragraphs read as though I am anti-Pete Rose. I’m really not, as far as it goes.  It’s true I’m not a fan of the guy—never have been, perhaps in part because I grew up in Detroit as an American League fan. Maybe that’s why I’m not clamoring for his reinstatement as are so many of my age peers who grew up with Charlie Hustle as their #1 baseball hero. I do recognize, though, that other things being equal, a man with his on-field résumé should receive a slam-dunk, first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. Other things are decidedly not equal, though, and a Hall of Fame induction can’t happen for Rose until Baseball reinstates him.

And despite that Rob Manfred has said that he will be taking “a full and fresh look” at the Pete Rose case, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict, right now, that there is no way Manfred, or any number of his successors, will ever reinstate Rose. I believe that the only way Baseball can reinstate Pete is if they change the rules and start allowing players and managers to bet on baseball games they are involved in. But as long as they intend to keep the rule intact, they are duty-bound to keep him out.

(There is a third alternative: keep the rule intact for everyone except Pete. But then Baseball would have to explain why they are making an exception just for Pete, though, and they definitely don’t want any part of that exercise.)

I get why a lot of people want Pete Rose in, and I am sympathetic to their argument that after 25 years, Pete Rose has suffered enough and should be reinstated by Baseball so he can take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.  But even granting that, I have no sympathy for Pete Rose himself, because since 1921 or thereabouts, posted in every major league clubhouse is rule 21(d):

BETTING ON BALL GAMES.  Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared
ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

This is as clear and unambiguous as it gets.  Bet on a game you’re not involved in: one-year ban.  Bet on a game you are involved in: permanent ineligibility.  Not a “lifetime ban”, mind you. Permanent ineligibility. That’s substantially different.

Pete Rose and his supporters might have a case if his penalty had been applied capriciously or dictated by personal fiat.  Neither is the case. The penalty is written in plain black and white and was posted in the clubhouse for Pete to see during every one of the 3,562 games he played and the 785 games he managed.  No major league player since since the 1920s can claim ignorance of either the rule or its consequences, least of all Pete himself.

To reinstate Pete Rose would be to open up every other case of permanent ineligibility handed down for gambling on baseball games in which the baseballer had a duty to perform, including the eight men put out for the Black Sox scandal. That might suit many people just fine, perhaps including a few of our friends on the Black Sox Scandal Committee. But it would also call into question how Baseball can maintain this penalty for future infractions.  They couldn’t, of course, so they would have to take a considerable amount of time and effort to debate what an alternative proper penalty should be.

Pete Rose Baseball
 I know you are, Pete. I know.

Such a debate, in addition to an actual reinstatement of Rose, would dominate the baseball headlines for years afterwards, casting a pall on the whole of the sport, including on all the actual baseball games that Baseball is working so hard to market to fans so they can continue reaping their annual billions in revenue and profits. All this while trying to maintain, with a straight face, that the competitive integrity of the game of baseball is now as ever above reproach, even as they ease up on the strictures and penalties against players and coaches gambling on games they are involved in.

Given that, why on Earth would Major League Baseball ever reinstate Pete Rose?  Besides creating a lot of noise around the game for years and years, what’s in it for them?  Where is the “there” there?

I don’t think there is a “there” there.  Baseball depends on the goodwill of not only its fan base and corporate sponsors, but of Congress, the guarantor of its precious Sherman antitrust exemption. Because although this exemption is worth billions to Baseball, it also gives Congress the right to stick its nose into Baseball’s business when it feels like it, and Baseball can do nothing but grin painfully and say “be my guest” while they do so.  So the last thing Baseball wants, or needs, is congressional oversight in the wake of any perceived weakening of its stance on in-game gambling by people in a position to affect the game’s outcome. Just give us our antitrust exemption, please, and you won’t hear a peep out of us.  We promise to be good boys.

I just can’t see any other alternative for Baseball, regardless of how well Pete Rose does in his new broadcast gig on Fox.  If they want to continue to limit the amount of noise surrounding the game and keep Congress, the majority of fans, its corporate sponsors and random moralists at bay, I don’t see any other practical choice for them but to deny Pete Rose’s request for reinstatement yet again, now and forever.

Link to Article: The Changing Beat (SI.com)

There is a very long (5,800+ words!), sort of rambling, kind of stream-of-consciousness, but still quite interesting take on the changing nature of beat writing over at a section of SI.com called The Cauldron, an area which bills itself as “Intelligent Sports Storytelling. Shared.”

The name of the article is “The Changing Beat”, with a subhead of “Once the province of beat writers and their ‘exclusive access,’ the sports media landscape keeps shifting.”  It is essentially a treatise of how the new world of computers, with its facility at crunching numbers for analytics, seems to be endangering the art of the “game story” to such a degree that its practitioners risk ceding this responsibility to AI sportsbots spitting out dry accounts of fact after fact, at the expense of narrative and storytelling.

Whether you view this with equanimity or with alarm all depends on what you want from your sports journalism.  Once upon a time the game story was the essential link between the games and its fans. It was the only way for many fans to even know what was happening with the favorites. Nowadays, it is arguably the game story that is the least read feature in all of sports journalism.

Check it out for yourself and see what you think.

The Changing Beat (cauldron.SI.com)

Mets Radio Producer Chris Majkowski, Backbone of the Broadcast, Loves his Job

Regular readers may remember that the “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year. (And for those of you who don’t remember, “Working The Game” was a series of interview articles with working members of the media that we have published during this past year.)

On the electronic media side, those articles typically featured only broadcasters, but as we all know, there is an entire team of dedicated professionals whose jobs are just as important in putting together a baseball broadcast as the jobs of those we hear on the microphones. Producer Chris Majkowski is one of those people. Already fairly well known among loyal listeners of Mets radio broadcasts, notably for his Twitter feed @MetsBooth, Majkowski has been working as a producer on Mets radio broadcasts for a couple of decades now.

The article below, which was first published on SB Nation’s Amazin’ Avenue blog, provides a rare glimpse into the kinds of things producers have to do not only to ensure that the radio broadcast we listen to goes off without a hitch, but also to maintain the thinly-veiled illusion that the broadcasters themselves are merely just showing up and speaking off the cuff when relaying the details of the unfolding game to us. Again, we all understand that’s not how it really works, but a successful execution of that illusion is the sign of a good broadcast. After all, just as with umpires, the best baseball radio broadcast producers do their job so seamlessly that we do not realize they are there, even though we really know they are.


Mets radio producer Chris Majkowski, backbone of the broadcast, loves his job

By  

Majkowski-1Mets fans haven’t always had a great team to root for, but they have been treated to outstanding broadcasts of the team’s games on the radio and television for decades. The current incarnations of those booths are beloved: Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling in the SNY booth for TV, and Howie Rose and Josh Lewin in the WOR booth for radio.

Chris Majkowski, the producer and engineer who operates behind the scenes in the radio booth, isn’t exactly an unknown among die-hard Mets fans. He hasn’t taken a day off in over twenty years, a streak that has had Howie Rose calling him “‘The Immortal’ Chris Majkowski” on broadcasts for years. And his Twitter feed, @MetsBooth, is popular.

Majkowski doesn’t really think of what he does as work. He considers his seat the best one in the house, or at least the next-best to Rose’s seat. He clearly appreciates that he gets to do what he does for a living and thoroughly enjoys it.

A lifelong Mets fan, Majkowski who grew up in Albertson, New York, a town in Nassau County, and graduated from Fordham University in The Bronx, where he got the radio bug while working at WFUV, the school’s well-regarded radio station. He remembers the first game he attended as a child, sitting in the back rows of the field boxes at Shea Stadium for a double-header between the Mets and Reds on a sweltering day. But it was tough to see much of anything from those seats, and they only stayed for the first game.

His first vivid memories of sports came in 1973: the Mets’ playoff push late in the regular season, Rusty Staub dislocating his shoulder against the A’s in the World Series, and literally running home from school to catch playoff games—which were all played during the day—on the black-and-white television in the basement at home.

Majkowski got his start in the radio business about a year after he graduated college when Bob Jewell, who was the chief engineer at WFUV, told him he knew a couple of guys that were looking for someone who could handle radio equipment and had an understanding of sports, someone who could keep a scorecard and know when timeouts were coming up to assist the broadcasters.

“Oh, well that sounds like something that would be up my alley,” Majkowski thought.

So he started with those guys: Joel Blumberg and Brian Ferguson. Some of the first games he worked were Hofstra football and Islanders hockey. And he worked his first baseball games at Shea for visiting broadcasting legends Harry Caray of the Cubs and Harry Kalas of the Phillies.

“Harry Caray was funny because I had to go and find him to record the manager’s show. Harry didn’t do anything when he recorded the manager’s shows, except he took a hold of the microphone. You had to go with a tape deck at the time, hand Harry the microphone, tell him, ‘okay, we’re recording,’ hit a stop watch, and signal,” he says as he holds up one finger at a time, “one minute, two minutes—because you’re supposed to do four minutes—three minutes, four minutes, and then he knew we had to wrap it up.”

Majkowski-2

The technology in the booth at the time wasn’t nearly as advanced or useful as what’s available today. Majkowski filled out lineup cards for Murphy with home run and RBI totals. He laughs a bit and says, “We didn’t get into the on-base and the slugging and everything else that we pull in today.”

Out-of-town scores, which can be tracked easily in real time in a number of ways now, were a bit of a production.

He did some work at Madison Square Garden, too, and the Mets’ gig opened up in 1993. He went to work with Bob Murphy, the Mets’ own legendary broadcaster, and Gary Cohen in the radio booth.

“We used to have this sports ticker and this roll of paper that would keep spitting out. And at that time, it made a bit of a racket, but if you were doing it long enough—it was a dot-matrix printer,” he says as he mimics the sound of it. “If you did it long enough and you were sitting next to this thing for hours upon end like I was, a home run had a certain rhythm to it. You know somebody hit a home run, not even by looking at it, just by hearing how that thing was going—’oh, that’s a home run, I better check that out.’”

Majkowski-3

A couple of decades later, he might not feel like he’s at work, but Majkowski says the longest days are the first days of a road series or a home stand. He sets up the booth on those days—running cables and checking mics—and is naturally fond of long home stands.

There isn’t quite as much work to do before the following games of a series, but there are still things that need to be done. There’s research for ‘This Date in Mets History’ and the compilation of clips from MLB.com and the piecing together of the pre- and post-game shows.

My conversation with ‘Maj’ took place during the next-to-last game of the Mets’ regular season. It’s late in the game, and Max Scherzer is in the midst of pitching a no-hitter against the playoff-bound Mets. Jerry Seinfeld has just departed the booth after an impromptu guest appearance on radio following his appearance in the SNY booth.

Majkowski-4

The game is zipping along, but Majkowksi, Rose, and Wayne Randazzo, who handles the pre- and post-game shows but is filling in for Rose’s regular partner, Josh Lewin, as co-host, have to make up for lost time. The regular mix of promotions went out the window while Seinfeld was visiting, but they all still have to be worked into the broadcast.

So Majkowski rapidly exchanges sheets of paper with both Rose and Randazzo, making it all look seamless as he tends to all of his other regular duties. His left hand operates the sound board, which has microphones all over the place, while his right mostly works on his laptop. To the right of the laptop, there’s a small, portable printer, which spits out the parts of the broadcast that Majkowski writes and passes up to the broadcasters.

To the left of the laptop, there’s a stopwatch, which he still uses to time commercial breaks, even though he has a finely-tuned mental clock for such things. And there’s a small recording device, too, for saving things on the fly and piecing them back together later.

Majkowski is essentially the drummer of the band that is the Mets’ radio broadcast. Constantly doing multiple things at once, his desk—on which his rig fits perfectly—is slightly elevated and a sits a couple of feet behind the broadcast’s front-men. He’s the backbone of the production, keeping everything in order and working with the broadcasters in front of him to maximize everyone’s collective talent.

And like any good drummer, Majkowski has a great sense of humor. He has, on at least a couple of occasions, worked pranks into the scripts he writes. And at least one of those jokes once made it on the air a couple of years ago, even if that wasn’t necessarily the intention.

“Let’s just say we laugh a lot,” says Howie Rose. “He keeps the place loose.”

Hear Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, a Modern Day Re-Creator, Call a Game

A couple weeks ago, we published an article discussing the aesthetics and significance of re-created baseball broadcasting, written for a journal of baseball essays by Committee member Bob Barrier.  It received a lot of attention, including from a gentleman named Jesse Goldberg-Strassler who, among other things, broadcasts games for the Lansing Lugnuts of the Class A Midwest League.

Goldberg-Strassler does something that no other broadcaster we know of: every season, he re-creates one game out of the 140-game Lugnuts season, as an homage to the great baseball broadcasters of yore who had to deliver re-created broadcasts on a routine basis. Goldberg-Strassler doesn’t have to do this. It is something he chooses to do, and his excellent article below explains why he does and part of how he does it.

Also included in the article is a link to his re-created game from the 2015 season. I highly recommend you read his article, but if you just can’t wait, the link to his broadcast is in green, toward the bottom of his piece.


 

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler at work in various settings, including re-creating a game, top center. (jessegoldbergstrassler.com)
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler at work in various settings, including his annual re-creation of a game, top center. (jessegoldbergstrassler.com)

Baseball is an ideal medium for a radio broadcast, providing the freedom and space for story, analysis, and visual description through unhurried words. You can relax in your living room, take a loose hold of your steering wheel, or go about the duties of an outdoor chore while the game fills the background and instructs your mind’s eye.

This is the challenge – and the delight – of the game re-creation broadcast: putting the broadcaster in an equally blind situation, cut off from the field, with only imagination and the barest communicated play-by-play to guide description forward.

It is understandable why broadcasters were forced into game re-creation broadcasts. Even today, broadcasting with a secure connection from a remote diamond is no sure thing, and lodging and transportation cost money. The complications caused by sending a broadcaster on the road with his employer club could well cause more trouble than it was worth, even for major league teams, in the 1930s-1950s.

Over a half-century later, once a year, I re-create a live Minor League baseball game on the FM radio airwaves in Lansing, Michigan. My first re-creation broadcast occurred my rookie season, mandated by my team president. I had no choice in the matter. My second came from pure desperation and resulted in one of the most memorable games I’ve never seen.  Since then, I have spent the last seven seasons putting together an annual August re-creation broadcast in tribute to those great broadcasters and re-creators of yore.

*

In the independent Can-Am League in 2005, future Major Leaguer Chris Colabello was a rookie on the expansion Worcester Tornadoes. My team was the Brockton (MA) Rox, a team that churned out attention-getting promotions as much as any other Goldklang Group club, if not more.

In a past life, Rox team president Jim Lucas had formed a noted team with blind color commentator Don Wardlow; the visual description of a baseball broadcast circulated from the heart of their broadcasts. (One of their other favorite elements was the opening of a pack of baseball cards live on the air, conversing about each card that they revealed. They were uniquely entertaining.) On this night, Lucas benched lead broadcaster Dave Raymond and sent Brockton’s other two broadcasters, Matt Meola and myself, in to the radio studio. There one of us listened to the game’s goings-on and wrote notes to the other to re-create, banging mini-bats together for the crack of the bat, slapping a ball into the glove for every pitch taken (or swing and a miss), trying desperately to capture the true pace of the national pastime. As I remember it, I had a devil of a time, Matt excelled, and Dave, on his way to a Major League job the following season, was proud of us both.

Three years later, a terrible thunderstorm swept through Chicagoland. (My team was the Frontier League’s Windy City ThunderBolts, and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” roared out before each home game. Perhaps we were courting trouble, or perhaps it was just part of the region’s expectations.) The opponent in the other clubhouse was a road squad, the Midwest Sliders; they did not have a radio broadcaster on their staff. With the Sliders as the opponent, Windy City had the responsibility of broadcasting for both teams. But the storm had knocked out all internet in the press box. No broadcast connection, no broadcast. We were stymied.

A Plan B emerged. There was still working internet in the team’s front office, located down the third base concourse in a separate building. If a broadcast was to be held, that would have to be its site, away from a vantage point to the field. Catalyzed by a memory of my 2005 re-creation (while concurrently trying to forget how difficult and exhausting it had been), I swept into the souvenir shop and grabbed a baseball and a pair of team mini-bats. A semblance of a broadcast booth was set up at a desk in the main office, not ten feet away from the box office windows and the reception area. For the first three innings, a team intern messaged the game’s details from a vantage point just outside the office, and I slapped a ball into a glove and cracked mini-bats together, delivering vivid depictions to the cubicle wall in front of me. (My amused ‘Bolts co-workers paraded past, mimicking peanut vendors and outraged fans.) We switched for the middle three innings, placing broadcast assistant Nick Kovatch at the controls of the mini-bats and the listeners’ imaginations, and then switched again for the final three. Of all things to occur: The ThunderBolts defeated the Sliders, 13-0, and 22-year-old left-hander Isaac Hess posted the first no-hitter in franchise history. If nothing else, it sure sounded special.

That 2008 re-creation, caused not by a promotional stunt but by our obligation to broadcast the game, has left a lasting impression. The participating players and their fans are the primary concern, and the broadcaster is the liaison.

With each subsequent re-creation, from 2009 through this past season, the broadcast gets slightly more polished and realistic. I use canned crowd noise, recorded during a routine Sunday tilt from weeks earlier, and spice in a canned roar or crescendo of boos if I am feeling courageous. The crack has shifted from mini-bats to wooden spoons to broken game-used bats, though nothing sounds quite right yet. (That slap of a ball into the glove remains as perfect as ever.) There is no subterfuge. At the start of each half-inning, it is made clear to the listening public that this is an historic Re-Creation Broadcast, a tribute to an important part of baseball’s heritage.

During each re-creation, I inch closer, too, to understanding the true mechanics of an ideal broadcast. If fans listening from their couch, car, and patio can’t see the game, the picture needs to be painted for them. What separates one pitcher’s windup from another? What is the weather and how will it affect play? What are the idiosyncrasies of the ballpark? What are the batter’s strengths and what plan does he bring to home plate?

(The audio to the 2015 game re-creation)

The day after my game re-creation broadcast, returning to the broadcast booth, an open window, and a direct view of play, I absorb and deliver everything so much clearer: the smell of the barbecue, the whip of the bat, the speed of the shortstop, the admiration in the crowd. The game unfolds as the sun rolls away.

There is a story tied to Ronald Reagan in which the ticker went down and a re-creating Reagan frantically bought time: in one telling, reeling off a string of foul balls; in another telling, bringing a dog onto the field to frolic a delay the proceedings.  In either case, we can imagine the listener sitting at home and wholeheartedly buying it. Why? Perhaps it is unfettered trust; the right play-by-play person earns as much unquestioned good faith as an old friend. Or perhaps it is that wonderful knowledge that this is baseball, and most anything at all can happen during a ball game.

No matter how removed we are from the field, we can still see it clear as day.

*

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler

Radio Broadcaster

Lansing Lugnuts

Hear the 1957 Braves Pennant-Clinching Inning Featuring a Walkoff Home Run by …

Hank Aaron!

This clip was sent in by reader Karl Schindl, a regular reader who has several old time baseball radio clips, and shared this one as an example.  The quality is decent, with play by play announcer Earl Gillespie clearly heard with good timbre, although there is an audible hum in the background on the recording.

It’s the bottom of the 11th inning, with the Braves hosting the Cardinals at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.  Rookie Billy Muffett is on the mound working his third frame for the Birdos, and Red Schoendiest, serving the first full year of his exile from St. Louis, opened with a flyout to center.  Johnny Logan slapped a single to center field, with the big guns coming up.  Eventual Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, who’d already knocked home a run with a double to tie the game in the seventh, failed in the clutch this time around, just getting under a pitch to hit a high flyout, again to center. Aaron, already 2-for-3 with two walks and a run scored, knocked the first pitch he saw from Muffett out of the park to secure the win, and the pennant, for the Bravos.

The box score for the win is here:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MLN/MLN195709230.shtml

And the story from the next morning’s Milwaukee Journal is below.

Coincidentally, this pennant-clincher occurred on the same day the Little Rock Nine were escorted into Central High School to finally integrate schools in the state of Arkansas.

Thanks for sending this along, Karl!

MKE Journal 1957 Clinch

Here is the Actual 1939 Contract That Ended the Baseball Broadcast Moratorium For Good

Yesterday we posted a 1932 article published by the Sporting News revealing the results of a poll the paper took of their readers as to the latter’s feelings about broadcasting games live on the radio.  Almost 260,000 votes were cast, with the Sporting News concluding that public opinion in favor of live broadcasts was “practically unanimous”.

This overwhelming fan sentiment did not prevent eight of the sixteen teams from banning broadcasts of their games by local radio stations the following season.  (In fact, the Indians ended up dropping radio in 1933 before picking it up again for the 1934 campaign.) But eventually the teams and the leagues did come to see the light, and that light led them to enter into the Major League Broadcasting Agreement just prior to the 1939 season.

So, what did this Major League Broadcasting Agreement actually look like?  What were its provisions, and what practices did it allow and forbid?  Fortunately for us, this is something we can see for ourselves, thanks to the miracle that is the Internet.  Goldin Auctions, a company that conducts auctions of sports memorabilia, had conducted one consisting specifically of baseball documents this past August, and which included a signed copy of this 1939 broadcasting agreement, complete with original signatures from representatives of all 16 clubs, including many club presidents who are still well-known today.

A certificate of authentication included with the auction lot indicated that the agreement was executed on 20 copies, each signed by all 16 team representatives, and the web page on which the auction was conducted indicates that the winner paid $23,800 to add the document to his or her collection.

However, the best part about all of this is that there are .JPG files for each page of the document on that web page.  You can go there and peruse the entire agreement if you like—or you can simply click on the images below to see and read the document.

Having read the agreement myself, I am struck by how short and simple it is by today’s standards.  Even allowing for names of the participating parties and for definition of terms, it looks like they were able to bring in the entire agreement under 2,000 words. By contrast, the iTunes Store terms and Conditions yawns on interminably for over 20,000 words.

Secondly, there are several interesting aspects to the agreement that I think are worth mentioning here:

  • The agreement prevented a team from broadcasting its games on any radio stations located within fifty miles of any other team’s stadium.
  • In two-team cities, the agreement prevented one team from broadcasting any of its games as long as the other team was playing a home game, at least until that other team’s game had concluded.
  • The New York Giants and New York Yankees together constituted a two-team territory, but the Brooklyn Dodgers, only about a dozen miles away and even then technically located within New York City for the prior 40 years, constituted its own one-team territory.  So, if the Giants were away and the Yankees were at home, the Giants could not broadcast its away game (and vice versa, of course).  However, if the Giants and the Yankees were both away, the Giants could broadcast its away game even if the Dodgers were playing a home game.
  • The agreement specified that ball clubs could broadcast only between 550 and 1600 on the AM band, but specifically forbade broadcasting on shortwave or other “high frequency” stations.  (FM was not contemplated because the first FM station in a major league city did not sign on until that November.)
  • The agreement defined “broadcasting” as including not only radio, but telephone.
  • The corporate name of the New York Giants was the very bland-sounding “National Exhibition Company” and were, in fact, incorporated in New jersey.  And the best part of that is, they maintained this corporate name long after they moved to San Francisco!

After this agreement was signed onto, no baseball team ever again refused to broadcast its games live for any reason other than financial. (As it happens, both the Giants and Yankees did not air their games during the 1941 and 1943 seasons due to inability to sell broadcasting rights for what they deemed to be their minimum asking price).

Click on any of the images below to open them in a new tab.  Enjoy!

 

16927_Cover

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1932 Sporting News Article Reveals Shocker: Fans Want to Hear Baseball on the Radio!

Among people who have read up on the history of baseball broadcasting, it’s pretty well known that putting games on the radio was a very controversial topic during the first decade-plus of the practice. Many owners believed that broadcasting live games, especially home games, would cost them at the gate.  This opinion was prevalent especially in the crowded Northeast corridor, where fandom extended generally to the ends of the transit lines needed to get to the ballpark. The Midwestern teams (as well as the Boston clubs) were the first to regularly broadcast starting in the late Twenties.  By contrast, the three New York teams entered into a formal agreement in 1934 placing a moratorium on all game broadcasts. This agreement remained in place until the major leagues signed the Major League Broadcast Agreement just before the 1939 season (more on that in a post tomorrow).

It’s not as though the fans kept their thoughts on the matter to themselves, though.  The Sporting News conducted a poll on the question in 1932, in conjunction with a vote for the most popular baseball broadcaster (won by Arch McDonald, then at WDOD calling Chattanooga Lookouts games) and a contest paying cash prizes (up to $25!) for the best-written letters sent in.  In the words of the paper, the results of the poll were “practically unanimous”: fans demanded the “continuance of radio broadcasting of baseball games”, with a “remarkable number of women” responding “showing an increased interest in the game by the fair sex” and revealing that, directly as a result of the broadcasts available at the time, interest was “particularly empathic from the small hamlets, where baseball enthusiasm apparently (ran) higher than in the larger cities.”

The article, shown below in its entirety, featured several of the winning letters sent in by respondents, some of whom confirmed that were it not for the broadcasts, they would scarcely be aware that the major league baseball even existed, and that listening to the games only whetted their appetite to see games live at the ballpark. According to the article, a staggering 259.865 votes were cast in the poll which concluded that only five percent of respondents would have rather listened to the game on radio than see the game in person.

One interesting revelation is that fans wanted all games broadcast, both home and away—except for Saturday and Sunday games, since “the fans usually have leisure on these days to attend the games and that the radio should not be a substitute for attendance on those days.”

This article ran in the issue of September 29, 1932, a season during which only nine of the sixteen major league teams were broadcasting their games.  Click on the article to open it in a new tab, then click the article in that new tab again to see it in full size. Yes, we know the very bottom of the article is practically illegible.

Listeneres Want Radio

How Audio Mixers Make Sports Sound Great on TV

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

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

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


How audio mixers make sports sound great on TV

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

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

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

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

1) Mixers show up six hours before game time

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

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

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

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

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

2) Hidden mics capture home plate excitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Each key sound needs its own special mic

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The art of the job is mixing it all together.

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

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

7) This sound mixer appreciates the quiet, too

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

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

Providing information and historical research about how the media cover baseball both as news and as an event.

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