Category Archives: Feature

A Minor League Broadcaster Still Loves the Game After 30 Years on the Job

Usually, when we contemplate long-time baseball broadcasters, we think of the major league greats: Allen, Barber, Scully, Harwell, Uecker, Kalas, Buck (Jack). The guys we all know and, mostly, love.

There is another class of baseball broadcast “lifer”, though: the long-time minor league play by play announcers.  These are the guys who, for love of the game (and need of the less-than-major-league paycheck), toil in the tiny booths of low-capacity ballparks that dot the small and mid-size cities of this great country of ours. There are probably not too many of those minor-league broadcasters that any of us can name, at least off the tops of our heads.

Steve Selby is probably one of those guys we should know.

Having done minor league games all over the south for 30 seasons now, Selby still dreams of making the big leagues someday. Everyone who’s a lifer in the minors does. But even while he continues to harbor the dream, he still hunkers down and does the job day after day for 144 games a year, currently for the Memphis Redbirds of the Pacific Coast League (the latter point a laughable notion given that AutoZone Park is some 1,300 miles from the closest point in the Pacific Ocean).

Don Wade of the Memphis Daily News, which serves as the source for daily news and information on business and commerce for the Memphis metro area, penned a nice biographical piece of this long-time broadcaster, which is shared with you, below. The original piece can also be read online at:

http://www.memphisdailynews.com/news/2015/jul/9/after-all-these-years-redbirds-broadcaster-steve-selby-still-loves-the-game-and-the-job/

Big thanks for Don for permission to reproduce the piece here.


 

A Baseball Guy

After all these years, Redbirds broadcaster Steve Selby still loves the game and the job

By Don Wade

Bottom of the first inning at AutoZone Park, and Redbirds first baseman Dan Johnson is in the batter’s box. Oklahoma City’s pitcher winds and delivers and Johnson, a left-handed hitter, swings and makes contact. Loud contact.

steve selby
Steve Selby, the radio voice of the Memphis Redbirds, broadcasts during a recent home game at AutoZone Park. Selby has been a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer for more than 30 years. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Up in the Redbirds’ broadcast booth behind home plate, Steve Selby’s ears know what that sound means. He’s heard it so many times before, at little Class A ballparks in the Carolina League to not-quite big-league venues in Memphis and Nashville. The baseball’s trajectory off the bat confirms what he just heard, but he almost didn’t even need to see it.

“Say goodbye to that one!” Selby tells his radio audience. “High and deep and onto the concourse in right field, headed to the barbecue shack. Dan Johnson, one day out of the lineup, says, `put me in, coach!’”

In more than three decades of doing minor league baseball radio play-by-play, Selby, 59, has called more than 3,500 games and probably more than 1,000 home runs. He has seen a good 32,000 innings and, oh, maybe 1 million pitches. So you’ll understand if he cannot summon a Greatest Hits list of his favorite calls.

Besides, the rhythms of the game don’t work like that. He’s describing every pitch, every play – from the tape-measure home runs to the routine groundballs to the second baseman – through 144 minor league games each season.

His career is a tip of the cap to Americana and can be followed with an atlas: Kinston (N.C.) Eagles (1986), Durham (N.C.) Bulls (1987-90), Sumter (S.C.) Flyers (1991), Huntsville (Ala.) Stars (1992-95), Nashville Sounds (1996-1999), and since 2000 the Memphis Redbirds.

He has carried the big-league dream around to all those places. In the last few years he has even had a couple of interviews for major-league jobs, one “pretty serious” and another, in retrospect, probably more of a courtesy.

Reaching the majors now is a long shot. But Selby isn’t just content; he still gets genuinely excited when a player who has been in the minors for a long time finally gets the call. During a recent home stand, the St. Louis Cardinals brought up 27-year-old pitcher Marcus Hatley, who had been in the minors since 2007 – or roughly one-third of his life.

“Congratulations to Marcus Hatley,” Selby says during that night’s pre-game show. “That is just great stuff for a good guy.”

Off air, Selby says, “I don’t feel pressure every night like I’m trying to create the perfect demo,” but he adds of getting to the majors, “It’s still a goal.”

As it is for everyone in the minors. But here’s what is forgotten: doing this for three decades isn’t automatic.

“You don’t get to hang around this long unless you have real ability and passion,” said Memphis manager Mike Shildt. “As a staff, we all respect and appreciate him.

“Beyond that, he’s a baseball guy.”

Do your job

The game does not suffer idle dreamers.

Selby still gets to the ballpark at 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, hours before he has to be in his open-air office overlooking Memphis’ most beautiful greensward. He still looks forward to the first pitch and all the rituals that precede it, from batting practice to preparing his scorecard. He lines up the different colored pens he’ll use to track balls (black) and strikes (red), and hits (green) and errors (red). The umpires’ names, of course, he writes down in blue.

“Never any complaints sitting up here,” Selby said as he leans into the microphone to begin another broadcast.

He has always wanted to be here, even before he realized it. Selby grew up in a time when boys collected baseball cards, but he and his two older brothers were more creative than most. The cards became their players in make-believe games played in makeshift stadiums constructed out of shoeboxes.

Add sponge dice and their homemade scoring system – double-sixes for a home run, a two, three or four for a strikeout – and you had a ballgame anytime you wanted.

When Selby finally got his first play-by-play job, it came with – as all low minor-league jobs do – extra duties. In this case, driving the team bus.

“We did our own play-by-play for every roll of the dice,” Selby said. “That’s where it started, really, when I was five years old in Monterey, California.”

The family would move to the Washington D.C. area and they’d all become frustrated Senators fans – a rite of baseball passage in some ways. By his early 20s, Selby was in commercial broadcast school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He rented a cheap apartment, without air-conditioning, and because South Florida was overrun with transplanted New Yorkers one of the Miami stations carried the Yankees games.

Many an evening he’d turn off the lights, lay down with the breeze from a box fan almost keeping him cool, listen to the Yankees’ broadcast and dream.

Well, unless the Yankees’ Class A team in Fort Lauderdale was at home, and then Selby would take his $19 Radio Shack tape recorder to the ballpark, find an empty radio booth and call the game. He was making his first demo tape, describing a young Willie McGee’s slashing hits and running catches in center field and a young Steve Balboni’s majestic homeruns and helpless swings at curveballs.

When he finally got his first play-by-play job in Kinston, N.C., it came with – as all low minor-league jobs do – extra duties. In this case, driving the team bus.

“At the time, Rush Limbaugh billed himself as the most dangerous man in America,” Selby said. “He was second to me.”

Finding his voice

But he survived – survival is the name of the game in minor-league baseball – and as the years have rolled by a Steve Selby broadcast has become more like that well-broken-in glove that fits and feels just right.

In years past, Selby often had a partner in the booth. He prefers having a partner, believes he’s better with a partner and this was never truer than in the years that the late Charlie Lea, a former big-league pitcher from Memphis, shared the broadcast for home games.

These days, Selby works alone at home and on the road. It’s a tricky thing, having nine innings and more than three hours of air time by yourself. It’s, well, a lot of rope.

Selby, however, has a clock in his head the same as a good shortstop knows just how much time he has to throw a ball over to first base. A well-timed release is more important than showing off how much power you have – be it in the arm or the voice.

A foul ball hit into the stands is just that, most of the time. But when a boy who brought his glove makes a catch behind the Redbirds’ dugout, that’s worth a little more. In this instance the boy, who is wearing a red cap, doesn’t milk the moment, but returns to his seat.

“Don’t sit down,” Selby says after describing the catch for listeners. “Curtain call.”

You hear the joy and the passion in what could be a throw-away moment. It’s not overdone, but done just right. Natural, sincere, the voice of a man who called his first home run after rolling double-sixes when he was younger than the boy who caught that foul ball.

But as much as Selby loves describing the plays – even his favorites, a triple or the rare inside-the-park home run – it is no longer what gives him the most satisfaction.

“I told our coaching staff this home stand, now the best part of what I do is around the batting cage, talking hitting, or sitting in the coaches’ office talking pitching or just reflecting on last night’s game, with all these guys that are lifers,” he said.

And Selby is a lifer. He and his wife Rhonda have three grown children and six grandchildren. He’s at the stage where retirement could be only a few innings away but, then again, Baseball Hall-of-Famer Vin Scully is still going strong with the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 87 and doesn’t even need the money. He keeps on because he’s a lifer, too.

So who knows? Selby might yet call a game with players who haven’t even been born yet.

“I’ve been in minor-league baseball 30 years,” Selby said, taking in the tireless view he could once only imagine. “I have to keep working.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your process once the game finishes? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear Apu, Chief Wiggum and Moe the Bartender Do Play by Play for Famous Moments in Mets History

Nobody could confuse Hank Azaria with a real major league play by play announcer.  But it was still a lot of fun to hear him don his most famous characters while he visited MLB Network’s “MLB Central” show earlier this week, riffing some play by play for some of the most famous moments in Mets history.

A lifelong Mets fans—and really, don’t the funniest people in the world all seem to be? What’s the deal with that?—Azaria infuses his calls with the wry, arch fatalism that characterizes the Mets fan base in general.  So while his efforts here are not necessarily steeped in technical proficiency, they are, nevertheless, right on the money and funny as hell.

His entire six minute and thirty-three second segment is worth watching, but if you want to cut right to the chase, then go to the 4:48 mark and start watching there.

Enjoy!

 

How General Mills Helped Shape Baseball Broadcasts

Committee member Jim Theilman, a published author who covered the big leagues for 16 years and also wrote a book about the 1965 Minnesota Twins AL championship squad, is a website manager by day for General Mills.  Every once in a while, he gets to marry his love for baseball with the practical demands for content on his employer’s behalf, and when that happens, you get a great article like this:

How General Mills Helped Shape Baseball Broadcasts

Through their efforts at promoting their cereal brands, General Mills was on the forefront of convincing big league ballclub owners to see the light and understand that putting their product on the radio was good for business, not bad.

Jim has given us permission to reprint the article in full, but we also urge you to cast an occasional eye towards Jim’s columns on the General Mills website, since he’s pretty good at finding ways to weave baseball into the conversation over there: http://www.blog.generalmills.com/author/jim-thielman/

Here’s the reprinted article:


 

By the time furniture that talked was nestled against a far wall in nearly half of American parlors in the 1930s, companies like General Mills were using those radio sets to tell people about their products.

Baseball was an ideal radio advertising vehicle. Games were played during the day, and most women worked at home. During the summer, kids listened, too.

The speedbump was the owners of professional baseball teams. As is usually the case with monolithic monopolies, progressive thinking wasn’t their style.

Most owners – influenced by newspapers that didn’t want broadcasts to disrupt their monopoly on coverage – believed that giving away the games to listeners would erode gate receipts.

Only a few owners like Chicago Cubs’ William Veeck Sr. understood the value. Kids who listened to broadcasts were tomorrow’s paying customers.

Women might be, too. Which is why the grandfather of St. Paul Saints’ owner Mike “Fun is Good” Veeck promoted a weekly Ladies’ Day at the ballpark. Women got in free.

That only a few owners understood marketing all seems silly today, as Major League Baseball’s 85th All-Star Game nears. The sport has more revenue streams than ever, yet no one has to watch a game.

Highlights from tonight’s game will be found on the Internet. No need to view the event. Of course, you’ll see plenty of advertisements along with the highlights.

Baseball owners didn’t see this coming about a century ago. Companies like General Mills did.

Shortly after radio – a set cost about $700 in today’s dollars – got a foothold in the U.S. in 1921, sellers of goods had demonstrated that radio could puff profits.

Boosted by General Mills’ sponsorship of baseball broadcasts on nearly 100 radio stations, Wheaties was filling cereal bowls nationwide. It had been largely a regional success before that.

By the time baseball’s seventh Major League Baseball All-Star game was played in 1939, 46 of the 51 players in the game were under contract with Wheaties.

General Mills was spending more than $1 million annually to sponsor major and minor league radio broadcasts as the 1940s dawned.

The company slid as unhesitatingly into TV as it had radio.

A  Wheaties commercial  in which broadcaster Red Barber sliced fresh fruit into a bowl of crispy flakes was the centerpiece ad spot on baseball’s first televised broadcast in 1939.

Barber, a radio staff announcer who did an occasional baseball broadcast, segued into full-time, Hall of Fame broadcasting career after discovering he was good at it. General Mills paid him $8,000 – a nice post-Depression salary – to broadcast Brooklyn Dodger games on the radio in 1939.

Before Barber there was no blueprint. An announcer might be joined in the booth by comedians and others who had nothing to do with the sport.

Once General Mills started to pay the freight, broadcasters met at an annual dinner. The company directed these men to be non-partisan and avoid criticism of players and umpires.

Sponsorship also brought experimentation to the booth.

In the 1940s, General Mills was behind the first woman baseball announcer. That was Helen Dettwiler, who was also the first professional woman golfer. She was said to be not qualified for the baseball commenting job.

But then many were not.

It took a pioneer like Barber to turn baseball broadcasts into summer’s sound track, capably narrating the daily melody.

Barber primed the pump of a listener’s imagination. He focused on reporting. If a baseball took four hops to reach the leftfielder, that’s what the listener learned.

Highly regarded as he was, Barber falls short of the highest-ranking baseball broadcaster employed by General Mills.

That would be a man who pronounced his name Ree-gan back in the ‘30s, when he announced Wheaties’ sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games.

Ronald Reagan was 25 when he was a sports announcer at WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa. He didn’t see the games he broadcast.

It was a practice for an announcer to be in studio, but deliver game play-by-play from telegraph reports as if he were at the game. Imagine calling a friend on your cell phone and reporting a game as a third person tweets the account to you from the ballpark.

In 1937, Reagan went to California to cover spring training, took a screen test and became a film star.

And eventually President of the United States.

Accounts maintain that Reagan had the talent to “rip and read” game accounts flawlessly. Which perhaps set the groundwork for his presidential nickname: The Great Communicator.

Editor’s note: The General Mills Archives provided information and images for this post. You can learn more about our past on GeneralMills.com and GeneralMillsHistory.com.

Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.

Subscribe to “A Taste of General Mills” by email – here – and we’ll notify you about our latest posts.


 

Jim Thielman is a manager in Global Communications for General Mills, based in Minneapolis. He manages content for the corporate website. He also is the author of “Cool of the Evening” about the 1965 Minnesota Twins. He began his career at General Mills in 2005. More posts by this author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your process once the game finishes? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your process once the game finishes?

Hit the clubhouses and turn my idea into a column.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What is the Helms Press Hall of Fame, and Where Is It Today?

Committee member Steve Krah, who is also a working member of the baseball media (sports writer at the Elkhart Truth, and this is his most recent article, posted today), shares with us an article that appeared in the Sporting News on January 30, 1952, about something called the Helms Press Hall of Fame.

The idea was to create a hall “to honor America’s foremost sports journalists” and was undertaken by the Helms Athletic Foundation (HAF) of Los Angeles.  According to Wikipedia:

The Helms Athletic Foundation was an athletic foundation based in Los Angeles, founded in 1936 by Bill Schroeder and Paul Helms. It put together a panel of experts to select National Champion teams and make All-America team selections in a number of college sports including football and basketball. The panel met annually to vote on a National Champion until 1982 and retroactively ranked football teams dating back to 1883 and basketball back to 1901. The Helms Foundation also operated a Hall of Fame for both college sports.

So as a foundation celebrating athletics, it made sense for them to celebrate athletes, which they did with their Halls for college football and basketball players, but they also found room to honor the sports journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well.

But here’s the thing: there doesn’t seem to be a trace of the “Helms Press Hall of Fame” anywhere on this planet anymore.  A googling of the term leads to the Wikipedia entry about the HAF itself, with a mention of its two college sports Halls of Fame, but nothing at all on the Press Hall.  There’s the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association of Salisbury, North Carolina who operate their own Hall of Fame, which you can see houses several legendary baseball journalists and broadcasters.  But this organization is never been affiliated with the Helms Athletic Foundation.

As it happens, the Helms college sports Halls of Fame themselves also seem to have vanished into the ether.  Neither seem to be connected with the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend (founded in 1951, but independently of the Helms hall), or the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, which was birthed in 2006.

As you have certainly surmised by now, HAF itself is no more.  It was dissolved and its historical holdings were absorbed into the collection of the Amateur Athletic Foundation, which was renamed the LA84 Foundation in 2007.

If anyone out there has any idea or information how the Helms Press Hall of Fame met its demise, please share it with us so we can share it with the world.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this article about the very first inductees into the Helms Press Hall of Fame.

(Click on the image below for a larger view of it.)

 

Helms Press Hall of Fame Article

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The First Use of the Center Field Camera on a Local Telecast Happened 57 Years Ago

SABR member James Braswell shared a brief piece that ran in the Chicago Tribune 57 years ago today:

CF Camera Tribune

This isn’t the first time a televised baseball game featured the now common shot of the plate from a camera in center field over well 400 feet away, but the 1958 tilt between the hometown Chicago Cubs and the visiting Cincinnati Redlegs is believed to be the first local game to do so. NBC, after “weeks of experimenting by engineers at [Milwaukee NBC affiliate] WTMJ-TV”, had successfully aired the first game to feature a center field camera during the previous year’s World Series.

Here is an article that ran in the Sporting News back then describing in fairly precise detail how the new camera angle worked:

CF Camera Sporting News

Thanks for the Tribune article, James!