In this installment in our “Working the Game” series of interviews, in which we seek to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day-to-day basis, we take our first trip to the minors leagues and have a conversation with Jim Weber, the long-time radio play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Raised in the south end of Toledo, Ohio, Weber began his radio career in 1969, announcing high school football and basketball
games. He has covered Bowling Green State University football and basketball and appeared on radio and TV talk shows throughout the International League. He has announced two Triple-A All-Star Games (1990 in Las Vegas and 2006 in Toledo), which were heard on over 100 U.S. stations and on Armed Forces radio. The longest tenured broadcaster in the IL, Weber called his 5,000th consecutive game for the Mud Hens in 2013 and the streak has continued from there. He has worked every game that Toledo broadcast since the mid-1970s.
How did you get started in broadcasting?
I actually started doing high school games back in 1969. They had a small FM station west of town. I met a kid who actually did the games and asked me if I wanted to do color. I played sports and all so I did it. I didn’t even get paid. When he quit, they asked me to take over. I did that for several seasons. In 1975, I got the Mud Hens on the air. They hadn’t been on for 10 years.
You started little and just got bigger?
We were on a small station in ’75. We went on the biggest station in the city with a partial schedule in 1978. That got it rolling. We did 80 games a year out of 140. In 1982, we finally got to put the whole schedule on (and that continues to the present).
Do you remember that first Mud Hens game?
That first game was in 1975 in Charleston, W.Va. , old Watt Powell Park. It was a dilapidated old place. The (Mud Hens) GM actually liked the job I did. He said, I thought maybe we’d get rid of you after two games but you did a good job. He left after 1977 and we’ve had Gene Cook and Joe Napoli ever since.
This is your 41st season. Did you think you’d come anywhere near 41 years?
No. When you start something like this, you think maybe it’ll last five or 10 years.
What about the streak?
I’m up to 5,231 tonight (July 2 against the Indianapolis Indians at Fifth Third Field in Toledo). I’ve been sick for a few, but I’ve made them all. I would get a cold for 48 hours and it would got into my throat and I was barely able to talk. But I was able to threw it. At home, I had help. On the road, I was by myself. I did a doubleheader in Denver at Mile High Stadium. I started talking softer and turned the mike way up.
You are also the traveling secretary for the team?
The trainers used to do it. Around 1984, we had a trainer who lost a parent when we were on the road. He had to leave right now. He called me down to his room and threw everything on the bed — the bus schedules and everything — and said you have to take over. I did it for the rest of that season. Then our GM at the time, Gene Cook, asked me if I’d be the guy who does the travel, then I can justify you being full-time. That’s how I got started.
So you know your way around the Triple-A circuit?
Now a lot of the teams in the league will call me for suggestions because I’ve done it for so long. I know how to deal with the airlines, the bus companies and the hotels. I don’t do the players’ meal money. (The Mud Hens pay for 30 people to travel. If the parent club wants to send more, they pay for it and are build by Toledo). The budget is $200,000 to $225,000 a year to cover all the travel.
What is your game-day preparation like?
It’s more than a lot of guys because we also do a pre-game show that we simulcast on radio and TV (for home games). We have a producer and a director that gives us a script. We go through our game notes for each player that’s in the lineup. You get yourself familiar with everyone who’s in the game. It doesn’t take too long once you get used to doing it. I’m usually at the park three hours before a game.
How do you find out about some of the baseball news of the day?
We get it either from our own media person or I check websites that give minor league transactions. We got on MiLB.com, which has every move as it happens. We keep up with that pretty good.
What are the basic differences in broadcasting a game on radio versus TV?
On radio, you talk more. On TV, you can rest because (the viewers) can see it. When you do a simulcast, you try to go right in the middle. You don’t want to shut up too much. We have one of the best TV operations in the league. We have more than $1 million in this operation. We have the best replay machines and graphics. I might get replays from four different angles. We’ll say, we’re going to look at this again for those of you watching and then the people listening on radio know what we’re doing. It’s a little tricky, but not that bad.
Do you have an analyst at home and then you fly solo on the road?
Almost all of us are by ourselves on the road. There are some teams who send two guys on the road.
Can you describe a Jim Weber broadcast?
It’s not a comedy show, but I like to interject comedy. Especially if it’s a boring game or we’re getting beat. I have 40 years of experience and I have all these stories. There’s always something that happens that reminds me of a story.
You were close with former Toledo pitcher Jose Lima?
It’s such a sad story. He died when he was 37 years old. We did everything together. When he was with us back in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, we had fun. He’d call me up at midnight or 1 in the morning and we’d go shoot pool somewhere. What a nice guy. When he was with Houston, he’d always call me to come out to his post-season parties and I’d make an excuse. When he died, I was so sorry. He pitched the best game I’ve ever seen from a Mud Hen. It was one out from a perfect game (in 1994). Eric Wedge (the Pawtucket catcher) walked on a 3-2 pitch that was this far outside (holding hands far apart). Wedge later told me that they should have never let him walk on that pitch. Lima was dealing and they weren’t going to touch him.
Are there “musts” in your broadcast, elements that you have to get in?
We have a sponsor for the starting pitchers and for the starting lineup. We also have a script of 20 or 30 live reads that we have to interject into the broadcast.
Do you have a signature call?
Back in the ’70s, I came up with the “Hen Pen” and some guys wrote about that. Now, everybody uses that.
As a lifelong Toledo resident and employee of the team, do you find yourself rooting for the players?
Sure, sometimes. But I have no problem with telling it how it is. I believe that you don’t sugarcoat anything.
What are some of the biggest changes in broadcasting the past 40 years?
The technology. There were no computers when I started. We did everything by hand with calculators. We’d have a ticker with scores. That game hasn’t changed, the technology has.
Do you ever think about retirement?
Retire from what? Watching baseball? Nope, I can’t retire. You just keep on going until your flop over and whatever.