Category Archives: Local

The Excellent Case for Jack Graney to be Enshrined in the Hall of Fame

Barbara Gregorich is a long-time SABR member who has written a boatload of books on a number of subjects ranging from women in baseball to children’s books to mystery novels. I don’t know whether she types her output on an old Remington Rand, which would be really cool, but either way, she’s a prodigious author of repute.

Barbara is also a big champion of Jack Graney, the Canadian-born slick-fielding outfielder for the Cleveland Indians during the heart of, and then the waning days of, the dead ball era.  Upon his retirement he remained in The Forest City to sell Fords during the roaring 20s, before moving into investments and eventually back to auto sales. Once the Depression hit, car sales started to evaporate, but fortuitously, the business of broadcasting baseball games was just starting to take hold.  The Tribe hired Graney on as the first-ever ex-ballplayer play-by-play announcer for a major league team.

Graney held onto the mike as the first great Cleveland Indians radio broadcaster until 1953, and he is currently memorialized in the press box at Progressive Field, as well as having been enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

And this is where Barbara comes in. She believes that Graney deserves the top honor any baseball broadcaster can achieve: enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown as winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for baseball broadcasting excellence.  She made the excellent case for this on her blog last week, and with her permission, we are reproducing the piece in its entirety below.

If you would prefer to read it on her original blog, click here.


 

Jack Graney and the Broadcasting Dawn Era

BARBARA GREGORICH

In September of this year a research team of the National Baseball Hall of Fame will release a list of candidates for the 2016 Ford C. Frick Award, to be given to a broadcaster who worked during the Broadcasting Dawn Era (roughly 1930-55). The award is given for “major contributions to baseball.” During the month of September fans will get to vote for their favorite candidate on the Hall of Fame’s Facebook Page; in October a final list of ten will be given to the Ford Frick Award Committee, who will make a decision in November. The committee members who cast ballots are asked to base their selection on the following criteria:

• longevity
• continuity with a club
• honors, including national assignments such as the World Series and All-Star games
• popularity with fans

When it comes to the 2016 Ford Frick Award, I don’t know who the Broadcasting Dawn candidates will be or who the committee will select. I do know who I think is most worthy of the Award, and that man is Jack Graney.

Jack Graney was born in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada on June 10, 1886. He grew up playing hockey and baseball. During Jack’s youth, Canada native Bob Emslie [Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, 1986], a former major leaguer turned major-league umpire, noticed Jack’s athletic abilities and later recommended to the Chicago Cubs that they sign him. [See Adam Ulrey’s SABR biography, Jack Graney.]

328px-Jack_Graney_baseball_cardIn 1907 the Cubs did just that, signing Graney as a pitcher. Despite pitching well in the minors, Jack was sold to the Cleveland Naps at the end of the season. Although he played a few games for the 1908 Cleveland team, he was sent to the minor league Portland Beavers. While there, he once pitched an 18-inning game that ended in a 1-1 tie due to darkness.

At the end of that season Graney was selected as a member of the Reach All-Americans, a team composed of minor and major leaguers [SeeVintageball article.] The team played in Japan (winning all 17 of its games) and in other Asian countries. The Reach All-Americans constituted the first-ever team of professional ballplayers to tour Japan. Thus one of Jack Graney’s many firsts was that he played on the first professional baseball team to tour Japan.

That word “first” is important because Jack Graney, by both disposition and happenstance, was a man of many, many firsts. He was called up to the majors in 1910 and assigned to play League Park’s left field, which at one spot extended 505 feet. He was assigned to the first position in the batting order. Graney had a keen eye for balls and strikes and, because of his discerning eye, often drew walks. [He led the league in walks in 1917 (94) and 1919 (105).] As leadoff batter Jack often posted the first hit of the season, or the first run of the season, for his team.

In 1914 Jack Graney was the first player to face a new Red Sox pitcher, George Herman Ruth. Graney was also the first player to collect a hit off Ruth. Because he was a productive player and a team builder, other teams expressed interest in Jack Graney. The Tigers were interested, as were the White Sox. But Graney did not want to be traded: he was loyal to Cleveland all his life.

hp_scanDS_882910575444_2When Cleveland trainer Doc White brought a young bull terrier to spring training in 1912 and gave it to the team as a mascot, Napoleon LaJoie ended up giving the dog to Graney. Thus Jack became the first (and only) player to own a dog which was also the team’s official mascot. Larry performed tricks before the game not only in Cleveland, but also in other American League cities. He was the first dog ever formally introduced to a President of the US [Woodrow Wilson]. Graney, of course, performed the introduction.

In 1916 Jack Graney and teammate Tris Speaker tied for the American League doubles record. And in 1920 they played on Cleveland’s first pennant-winning team, which became Cleveland’s first World Series-winning team.

These facts about Jack Graney are interesting but only partially relevant to why I believe he is worthy of the Ford Frick Award. I say “partially relevant” because all these things show what kind of person Jack Graney was — one totally unafraid of the new or unknown (Japan, bull terriers, Babe Ruth, Woodrow Wilson). One willing to step in and be the first, even when the results weren’t guaranteed.

It is due to Jack Graney’s courage, love of baseball, and character that he stepped into the future in 1932, when he became the first former major leaguer to become a baseball broadcaster. And that was for the team he had dedicated his playing life to: the Cleveland Indians.

jack-graney-jcu-collectionTeams did not send their broadcasters on the road in those days, so for away games Jack worked with tickertape. When the team was away, tickertape would tell the stay-at-home broadcaster what happened on each pitch. The broadcaster would then re-create the game as if it were live. Jack Graney, who had played in all the American League stadiums for more than a dozen years, re-created the games vividly. He was able to describe the stadiums, the fences, the grass, the dugouts, even the scoreboards that a long ball bounced off of. Through his player’s knowledge as well as his broadcaster’s knowledge, Graney was able to bring the game to life for radio listeners. In doing these things, Jack Graney set the standard for future play-by-play broadcasters. Ted Patterson, author of The Golden Voices of Baseball, wrote that Jack Graney’s “ability to re-create a game from just a telegraphic report has never been paralleled.” [See also Ted Patterson’sJack Graney, The First Player-Broadcaster.]

Graney, who had a family to support, also worked as a car salesman in Cleveland, and some of his WHK broadcasts were from a glass-enclosed room within the dealership. People could stop by and watch Jack broadcasting games. He, in turn, could keep an eye on customers.

A caring, gregarious person, Graney shared his knowledge of the broadcasting booth with others. Jimmy Dudley [Ford C. Frick Award, 1997] was relatively new to broadcasting when, in 1947, Bill Veeck teamed him with Jack Graney. Dudley recalled his association with Jack as “one of the greatest I have ever known.”

As a broadcaster Jack Graney brought the same professionalism and dedication to his new baseball career as he had to his previous one. In 1934 CBS asked him to do the national broadcast for the World Series. But Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who ruled with an iron hand, forbid it on the grounds that a former baseball player could not broadcast impartially.

Baseball, Graney sketch.jpegJack Graney wrote a letter to Landis, protesting the decision and stating that he was now a broadcaster, not a player: that he was a professional and knew how to behave as an impartial broadcaster. The result was that Landis relented. (I don’t know, but perhaps Jack Graney getting Landis to relent was also a “first.”) In 1935 Graney broadcast the All-Star Game for CBS and then, along with Bob Elson [Ford C. Frick Award, 1979] and Red Barber [Ford C. Frick Award, 1978], he broadcast the 1935 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers.

Thus Jack Graney was the first former baseball player to nationally broadcast a World Series. Through his letter to Landis and his professional behavior in the broadcasting booth, he opened the door for other players-turned-broadcasters, such as Joe Garagiolo [Ford C. Frick Award, 1991] and Bob Uecker [Ford C. Frick Award, 2003]. These player-broadcasters stand on the innovative and helpful shoulders of Jack Graney.

Print Courtesy of AndersonsClevelandDesign.com

Throughout Cleveland, and also throughout southern Ontario, Jack Graney was a much-loved broadcaster. His voice came over the radio all summer long. His daughter, Margot Graney Mudd, remembers that on summer days you could walk down every block in Cleveland, and from every porch came the voice of Jack Graney on the radio. Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Bob Dolgan wrote: “When he [Graney] talked you could smell the resin in the dugouts, feel the clean smack of ball against bat and see the hawkers in the stands. He was a careful reporter and observer. He was short on ego and long on talent. His voice dripped with sincerity and crackled with vitality.”

On April 16, 1940, Jack Graney was behind the mike when Bob Feller threw his first no-hitter. That was on Opening Day, Comiskey Park. Feller’s feat remains the only Opening Day no-hitter. And Jack Graney was behind the mike during the 1948 World Series, when the Indians won their second World Series, this one against the Boston Braves.

Bob Feller and Jack Graney, on Jack Graney Day

After 23 years of play-by-play broadcasting, Jack Graney retired in September, 1953. In his honor, the Cleveland Indians celebrated Jack Graney Day, and fans paid their respects. Today the Indians honor Jack Graney with a large mural of him broadcasting a game. The mural is in the press room at Progressive Field, and its presence ties the Cleveland team of today to the Cleveland teams of the past, including the team that won the 1948 World Series and the 1920 World Series-winning team that Graney played on.

Jack Graney's Plaque, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Jack Graney was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1984, the second year of the Hall’s existence. And in 1987 the CBHOF instituted the Jack Graney Award, to be given to a member of the media for their contributions to baseball in Canada. This is a double-sided award: it honors not only the recipient, but each time it’s given it honors Jack Graney — his character and his baseball contributions. American broadcaster Ernie Harwell [Ford C. Frick Award, 1981] received the Jack Graney Award in 2002. In 2011 the Jack Graney Award was given to W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams was based.

In 2012 Jack Graney was elected to the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. In bestowing the award, the Cleveland Indians used their electronic scoreboard to show photos of Jack Graney as both a baseball player and as a broadcaster.

Looking at the criteria for the Ford C. Frick Award once again, it is clear that Jack Graney qualifies on all counts:

• longevity — Yes, 23 years as a broadcaster
• continuity with a club — Yes, 23 years with the Cleveland Indians
• honors — Yes, broadcasting the 1935 All-Star Game, the 1935 World Series, induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, namesake of the Jack Graney Award
• popularity with fans — Yes, he was very popular during his Broadcasting Dawn days, with fans throughout northeastern and even southern Ohio and also northwestern Pennsylvania and southern Ontario. Many of these fans still remember Jack Graney’s broadcasting today

Jack Graney's 1920 World Series ring, 1948 World Series ring, and 1984 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame ring, Photo Courtesy of Margot Graney Mudd and Perry Mudd Smith

If Jack Graney should be awarded the 2016 Ford Frick Award, which he so highly deserves, his name would take its rightful place alongside the other awardees. By his presence he would expand the breadth of the Ford Frick Award. Jack Graney would be the first Canadian-born broadcaster given the award. Someday there may be others: but Jack would be the first.

And Jack Graney, if given the award, would become the first Ford Frick recipient born in the 19th century. Not only the first, but most likely theonly. Ever. Think about the significance of that for a moment. Each and every one of the 39 Ford Frick Award honorees was born in the 20th century. Although baseball broadcasting did not come into being until the 20th century, baseball as we know it was born in the 19th century.

When Jack Graney was an infant, a batter needed five balls to take his base. When Jack was a toddler, the rule was changed to four balls. When Jack was just learning how to judge a pitch and swing a bat, major league pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60’6”. If young Jack happened to favor a bat with one flat side, he had to give it up at the age of seven: that’s when bats were required to be rounded.

During Jack’s major league days a cork center was added to the baseball. And the spitball was outlawed. Toward the end of his playing days, the first broadcast of a baseball game took place [August 5, 1921, on KDKA]. When asked to step into this new world of baseball broadcasting, Jack Graney met it with the same courage, attentiveness, and dedication he had met other challenges. He stepped into the broadcasting booth and brought the game to millions of fans. Not only that, he shared his hard-earned knowledge of how to do things on radio with newer and younger broadcasters.

Jack Graney is highly worthy of the Ford C. Frick Award.-dbe0d841fdddfcef

Working The Game: An Interview with Chuck Freeby, Notre Dame Radio Play-by-Play

In this installment in our “Working the Game” series of interviews, in which we seek to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day-to-day basis, we take our first trip to the college campus and have a conversation with Chuck Freeby, the radio play-by-play announcer for Notre Dame baseball.

Born in South Bend, Ind., and a graduate of Elkhart (Ind.) CentCHUCKFREEBYral High School and the University of Notre Dame, Freeby has been in sports media in the South Bend area for more than three decades. Since 2004, he has served as sports director at WHME, a part of LeSea Broadcasting, and is a contributor at WNIT. He was a sportscaster for WNDU for 17 years.

Freeby, who is married with six children, has been the play-by-play voice of Notre Dame baseball since 2009.

What’s the most important thing that you have to include in every broadcast?

You can’t say the score and the inning enough, especially considering you’re on radio. You don’t have any graphics to show the score and the inning.

Did you ever use the egg timer during your career?

Absolutely. (iconic Detroit Tigers broadcaster) Ernie Harwell is the first one I remember reading about who used the egg timer. He’d flip it over and if that egg timer ran out, it was time to give the score again. I try to make sure I give it at least once within every batter. Mentally, that’s my goal.

You’d like to think everyone hears every single second of your broadcast, but they don’t?

They don’t. Let’s face it. When we grow up listening to baseball, a lot of times it’s in the car. You’re getting in and out of the car. You’re running an errand. You’re getting back in the car and the first thing you want to know is the score. You don’t want to have to wait 15 minutes, 45 minutes to hear that.

Baseball play-by-play lends itself to a different cadence than, say, other sports you called like football, basketball or hockey, right?

With hockey, (giving the score) kind of naturally falls in to the action. You’re re-setting things every couple of minutes. It’s a much different pace and a different flow.

What else is important?

You’ve got to tell (the audience) who the batter is, who the pitcher is, the count, outs, that kind of thing. While you’re weaving all that in, the next important thing is to paint the picture. Where are the fielders? What’s the situation? Why are the fielders where they are? Is the third baseman playing in on the grass? Why? It’s usually because he is expecting a bunt. What about this situation dictates a bunt?

What else?

You tell stories about the players. You tell stories about the game. Especially with college baseball because the players aren’t as well-known as Major League Baseball. What is it that’s intriguing about this guy at the plate right now or this guy on the mound?

You know these stories because you travel with the team and you are around them talking to them all the time?

For Notre Dame, yes. For the opposing team, I spend a lot of time researching on the web. Early in the year when you don’t know exactly who’s going to play, you’re researching maybe 30 players. Once you get into the season a little bit more and have a better idea, it’s more like 20. You don’t have to waste too much time on subs. You stay with the starting lineup, starting pitchers and key relievers. You find out what they throw, what their upbringing was, all kinds of things.

Can you tell us about an unusual call?

We had a home game once where the top reliever for Rutgers did not bring his regular uniform with him and was wearing a different uniform number. When the head coach filled out the lineup card, he used the regular uniform number. So when he went to bring him into the game, Notre Dame’s head coach said, ‘wait a minute, No. 25 is not on the roster.’ The umpires got together and wound up calling the league office. Of course, at no time are they indicating to any of us in the press box what’s going on. All I know is that there is a discussion on the field going on that continues for about 20 minutes. I’m trying to fill time as much as possible, never knowing when we’re going to get back to live action. I can throw to a break occasionally, but it’s not like a rain delay. I wound up doing a full sportscast with scores from around the big leagues and anything I could get my hands on. Finally, we found out that the player was ruled ineligible to play that night and Notre Dame ended up winning that night against a player who was not prepared to come in and close.

So an announcer has to have to ability to filibuster?

Absolutely.

Do you also hope that in college, minor league or high school ball, the umpire lets the folks upstairs know about changes or rulings in some way?

When they change outfielders or make multiple position changes, very rarely is it communicated up to the press box. Who’s batting in what position? In high school ball, you’ve got the courtesy runner.

That’s when it helps to be able to recognize mannerisms, right?

By the time we got into the (Atlantic Coast Conference) tournament this year, I could look into the bullpen and see well enough where I could make out if it was a righty or lefty, [and] who was tall and angular, or short and stocky. You get to learn your guys really well and you hope you’ve done enough research on the other team to speak knowingly about them.

Do you hear much from the opposing fans, saying you gave us credit or you were a homer?

You always hear both. It doesn’t matter all that much too me, but you’re always going to hear criticism and it’s nice to get praise from the other team’s fans. We were doing a series at Maryland, where they didn’t broadcast the games, and a parent came up to me and said, I’m going to listen to Notre Dame games a lot in the future because I really enjoyed the way you called the game. Those are nice things to hear.

What about other instances?

I remember my first or second year and we were playing Connecticut and they had a player named Pierre LaPage who later played in the Cubs system. He liked to compare himself to (Boston Red Sox standout) Dustin Pedroia. They both were built similar and played second base. I said on-air, ‘Pierre LaPage is a good player but he’s no Dustin Pedroia.’ The next day, his dad came up outside the window and said, ‘I heard what you said about my son last night.’ The only thing I said that he was not Dustin Pedroia who the last time I checked was a major league all-star. You’re son is not a major league all-star. Someday, maybe he will be. But he ain’t right now.

Can you tell me about working baseball games with or without a partner?

I work most of the games by myself. I’ve had a color man a couple of times. There are ways that makes it easer and there are ways that makes it tougher. From an ease standpoint, I have to come up with less to say.  You have something else to play off. On the other hand, a lot of times the color person does not have a lot of experience broadcasting. Most of the time, I have to set them up to their strength, or what I perceive as their strength, and lead them into things. In doing so it may distract me from doing as much storytelling as I would normally do during a game.

What do you do to keep the listener’s attention when the game gets out of hand?

Before I always look up what happened on this date in Notre Dame baseball history or I might talk about the opponent in terms of its significance to Notre Dame history. If it’s Michigan, there are all kinds of tales you can tell about the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry. Or it might be, when was the last time Notre Dame came down to Georgia? Has Notre Dame done anything with this school in anything else? You start to weave those things into the fabric of the broadcast.

What is the difference between broadcasting baseball on radio and on TV?

I’ve done a little bit of baseball on TV (other than Notre Dame) and it’s completely different. On radio, I’ll have to say it was a two-hopper, a line drive, a high-arching fly ball or little looper. I have to describe all of that. On TV, I don’t have to say any of that. It’s more about putting captions on pictures. TV is more the color analyst’s game. They have the (graphic and replay) tools to show what’s going on. They can analyze and talk about strategy. Radio is more of a play-by-play man’s medium because you’re painting the picture the whole time.

What expectations does Notre Dame have for you on your broadcasts?

They want me to promote upcoming home games, season ticket sales and things like that. But they’ve never come to me and said don’t say this or that. I will praise a Note Dame player when he does something well. I will also criticize him when he does something poorly. I tend not to second guess (head coaches), but I will do something that (Chicago White Sox radio analyst) Steve Stone talks about, which is first-guessing. Let’s say there’s a runner on first with one out and a 3-2 count on the batter. Am I sending that runner from first on a 3-2 pitch or not? Some of that depends on the guy you have up at the plate. How good a contact hitter is he? How fast is that runner at first? I try to present those situations. Sometimes I’ll flat out say, I would do this but I’m not the manager or head coach. If you suggest things ahead of time, it’s not so much second guessing [as it is] first guessing.

Baseball fans do this kind of thing all the time, right?

The beauty of baseball is that it’s so easy to strategize along with the manager. I’m blessed that our coaches trust me enough to look at the scouting reports of the opposing teams before a game. I can say that this is what they expect to do in a certain situation. They’re going to try to work him away with a breaking ball here.

You also call a lot of different sports, especially high school football and basketball. What rings true with all your broadcasts?

No matter what kind of game I’m going to do, preparation is the key. It’s not just about showing up and having a couple of rosters in front of you. It’s really about spending the time learning the players, learning the coaches, learning the game.

It’s important to develop a relationship and a trust with the coaches and some will be more trusting and giving than others?

It’s a personality thing. College (baseball) coaches want as much publicity as they can get for their game. It’s a tough sell these days. It gets so little attention nationally that coaches are usually forthright in sharing.

Working The Game: An Interview with Jim Weber, Toledo Mud Hens Radio and TV Play-by-Play

In this installment in our “Working the Game” series of interviews, in which we seek to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day-to-day basis, we take our first trip to the minors leagues and have a conversation with Jim Weber, the long-time radio play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

Raised in the south end of Toledo, Ohio, Weber began his radio career in 1969, announcing high school football and basketball

Jim Weber is in his 41st season as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Jim Weber is in his 41st season as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

games. He has covered Bowling Green State University football and basketball and appeared on radio and TV talk shows throughout the International League. He has announced two Triple-A All-Star Games (1990 in Las Vegas and 2006 in Toledo), which were heard on over 100 U.S. stations and on Armed Forces radio. The longest tenured broadcaster in the IL, Weber called his 5,000th consecutive game for the Mud Hens in 2013 and the streak has continued from there. He has worked every game that Toledo broadcast since the mid-1970s.

How did you get started in broadcasting?

I actually started doing high school games back in 1969. They had a small FM station west of town. I met a kid who actually did the games and asked me if I wanted to do color. I played sports and all so I did it. I didn’t even get paid. When he quit, they asked me to take over. I did that for several seasons. In 1975, I got the Mud Hens on the air. They hadn’t been on for 10 years.

You started little and just got bigger?

We were on a small station in ’75. We went on the biggest station in the city with a partial schedule in 1978. That got it rolling. We did 80 games a year out of 140. In 1982, we finally got to put the whole schedule on (and that continues to the present).

Do you remember that first Mud Hens game?

That first game was in 1975 in Charleston, W.Va. , old Watt Powell Park. It was a dilapidated old place. The (Mud Hens) GM actually liked the job I did. He said, I thought maybe we’d get rid of you after two games but you did a good job. He left after 1977 and we’ve had Gene Cook and Joe Napoli ever since.

This is your 41st season. Did you think you’d come anywhere near 41 years?

No. When you start something like this, you think maybe it’ll last five or 10 years.

What about the streak?

I’m up to 5,231 tonight (July 2 against the Indianapolis Indians at Fifth Third Field in Toledo). I’ve been sick for a few, but I’ve made them all. I would get a cold for 48 hours and it would got into my throat and I was barely able to talk. But I was able to threw it. At home, I had help. On the road, I was by myself. I did a doubleheader in Denver at Mile High Stadium. I started talking softer and turned the mike way up.

You are also the traveling secretary for the team?

The trainers used to do it. Around 1984, we had a trainer who lost a parent when we were on the road. He had to leave right now. He called me down to his room and threw everything on the bed — the bus schedules and everything — and said you have to take over. I did it for the rest of that season. Then our GM at the time, Gene Cook, asked me if I’d be the guy who does the travel, then I can justify you being full-time. That’s how I got started.

So you know your way around the Triple-A circuit?

Now a lot of the teams in the league will call me for suggestions because I’ve done it for so long. I know how to deal with the airlines, the bus companies and the hotels. I don’t do the players’ meal money. (The Mud Hens pay for 30 people to travel. If the parent club wants to send more, they pay for it and are build by Toledo). The budget is $200,000 to $225,000 a year to cover all the travel.

What is your game-day preparation like?

It’s more than a lot of guys because we also do a pre-game show that we simulcast on radio and TV (for home games). We have a producer and a director that gives us a script. We go through our game notes for each player that’s in the lineup. You get yourself familiar with everyone who’s in the game. It doesn’t take too long once you get used to doing it. I’m usually at the park three hours before a game.

How do you find out about some of the baseball news of the day?

We get it either from our own media person or I check websites that give minor league transactions. We got on MiLB.com, which has every move as it happens. We keep up with that pretty good.

What are the basic differences in broadcasting a game on radio versus TV?

On radio, you talk more. On TV, you can rest because (the viewers) can see it. When you do a simulcast, you try to go right in the middle. You don’t want to shut up too much. We have one of the best TV operations in the league. We have more than $1 million in this operation. We have the best replay machines and graphics. I might get replays from four different angles. We’ll say, we’re going to look at this again for those of you watching and then the people listening on radio know what we’re doing. It’s a little tricky, but not that bad.

Do you have an analyst at home and then you fly solo on the road?

Almost all of us are by ourselves on the road. There are some teams who send two guys on the road.

Can you describe a Jim Weber broadcast?

It’s not a comedy show, but I like to interject comedy. Especially if it’s a boring game or we’re getting beat. I have 40 years of experience and I have all these stories. There’s always something that happens that reminds me of a story.

You were close with former Toledo pitcher Jose Lima?

It’s such a sad story. He died when he was 37 years old. We did everything together. When he was with us back in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, we had fun. He’d call me up at midnight or 1 in the morning and we’d go shoot pool somewhere. What a nice guy. When he was with Houston, he’d always call me to come out to his post-season parties and I’d make an excuse. When he died, I was so sorry. He pitched the best game I’ve ever seen from a Mud Hen. It was one out from a perfect game (in 1994). Eric Wedge (the Pawtucket catcher) walked on a 3-2 pitch that was this far outside (holding hands far apart). Wedge later told me that they should have never let him walk on that pitch. Lima was dealing and they weren’t going to touch him.

Are there “musts” in your broadcast, elements that you have to get in?

We have a sponsor for the starting pitchers and for the starting lineup. We also have a script of 20 or 30 live reads that we have to interject into the broadcast.

Do you have a signature call?

Back in the ’70s, I came up with the “Hen Pen” and some guys wrote about that. Now, everybody uses that.

As a lifelong Toledo resident and employee of the team, do you find yourself rooting for the players?

Sure, sometimes. But I have no problem with telling it how it is. I believe that you don’t sugarcoat anything.

What are some of the biggest changes in broadcasting the past 40 years?

The technology. There were no computers when I started. We did everything by hand with calculators. We’d have a ticker with scores. That game hasn’t changed, the technology has.

Do you ever think about retirement?

Retire from what? Watching baseball? Nope, I can’t retire. You just keep on going until your flop over and whatever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Waite Hoyt retired from Reds’ radio booth 50 years ago

 Mike Dyer, mdyer@enquirer.com

The ace of the 1927 Yankees sure knew about timing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the memories remain of that afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Calling Minor League Games Might Mean Same Team, but Different Parent Club, the Following Season

One of the oddities of working in the minor leagues is that you might end up working for completely different parent clubs from season to season, even though you continue to work for the same employer.

That’s what happened to Doug Greenwald of the Fresno Grizzlies, Johnny Doskow of the Sacramento River Cats, and several other baseball play-by-play guys when their Pacific Coast League employers went through a daisy chain of affiliate change during the past offseason.

Greenwald, a SABR member who is also a legacy baseball broadcaster (his father is Hank Greenwald, former Giants play-by-play announcer and current SABR Baseball and the Media Committee member), finds himself shilling prospects for the Houston Astros after having called players in the San Francisco Giants system for most of the past 15 years; while Doskow now broadcasts games on behalf of a now Giants affiliate which had been the long-time top farm club of the Oakland A’s.

It’s an odd mix of continuity and landscape shift, but it’s one that is not unfamiliar to long-time minor league broadcasters, many of whom accumulate plenty of stickers on their trunks if they manage to fashion long careers, anyway.  Both Greenwald and Doskow have worked in seven and four different cities, respectively, in the two or more decades they’ve each spent in the play-by-play biz.

But as with any other long-time minor league employee, including the Memphis Redbirds’ Don Wade, whom we met in yesterday’s post, all the travel, all the grind, all the effort, all of it, point toward a single goal: making it to the major leagues. And you will see within this article that they would drop their mikes in a second—no offense, various PCL clubs—to make that final move up to the top.

The article below is reproduced in full with the permission of the author, John Shea, who penned it for his own employer, the San Francisco Chronicle, and if you prefer, you can read this same article in full there:

http://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/article/They-make-the-calls-wait-for-the-call-up-6374036.php#photo-7767068

Thanks, John!


Even in the minors, it’s a special calling

Doug Greenwald

Minor league baseball announcers Doug Greenwald, (left) and Johnny Doskow up in the press box before the start of the game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., as seen on Sat.. April 4, 2015. (Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle)

The kid went to work with his baseball-broadcasting father and always assumed he would be in the same line of work.

“I didn’t know there were other jobs out there,” said Doug Greenwald, who spent much of his childhood in the ’80s sitting in the Giants’ Candlestick Park radio booth with his dad, former play-by-play man Hank Greenwald.

This is the 20th season that Greenwald the younger, 40, has called baseball, but 2015 is providing a new twist. After calling Giants minor-league games 14 of the past 15 years, the past 12 in Triple-A, he’s the voice of the top affiliate for the Houston Astros.

But still sitting in the same seat.

While six Pacific Coast League teams played an unusual game of musical chairs in the offseason, a chain reaction of PCL relocation, Greenwald stayed with the Fresno Grizzlies because they’re his employers.

Just as Johnny Doskow, 49, stuck with the Sacramento River Cats, now the Giants’ top affiliate after 15 years under the A’s umbrella.

“The A’s were good to me. Those relationships will last forever. They gave me 34 big-league games in 2012,” Doskow said. “It’s been a fun transition. There are more Giants fans than A’s fans in the (Sacramento) area. It’s cool to cover the Giants again.”

Doskow was the original voice of the Giants-affiliated Fresno Grizzlies in 1998, the year the Giants were forced to move their Triple-A team from Phoenix after it became the territory of the expansion Diamondbacks in their first season in the big leagues. Doskow spent three years in Fresno before taking the gig in Sacramento.

He was among six play-by-play men who stayed in place while the teams they covered repositioned themselves.

Here’s the sequence:

The Giants, who helped push the circle of dominoes, moved from Fresno to Sacramento, the A’s from Sacramento to Nashville, the Brewers from Nashville to Colorado Springs, the Rockies from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque, the Dodgers from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City and the Astros from Oklahoma City to Fresno.

Whew.

Before the season, Greenwald and Doskow kept getting asked the same line of questions. “Doug, how do you feel about moving to Sacramento?” “So, Johnny, do you have your place in Nashville yet?” Over and over, they had to explain. The city’s the same, the affiliate is different.

“Now I walk in the clubhouse and see a brighter shade of orange and a lone star on the logo,” Greenwald said.

‘I’m a Giant guy’

Not that he’s complaining:

“Everybody knows I’m a Giant guy” — a Greenwald has been associated with Giants-affiliated broadcasts for 30 of the past 35 years — “and I look at it like this: I have a very good relationship with the Giants, and if I go work for another major-league team, there’s no penalty in that.

“Our goal, and I’m speaking for all minor-league broadcasters here, is like the players’ goals in the minor leagues. We play for all 30 teams essentially. If any major-league team swoops into a minor-league broadcast booth and taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘Do you want to broadcast for us?’ … you’d be out of there.

“We all want to be in the major leagues, but when the Baseball America directory comes out, and it shows all the teams and you see how many people are behind you, it’s like, ‘OK, I’d rather be here than other places in the minor leagues.’”

Ditto for Doskow.

“We keep it in perspective,” he said. “Obviously, we think about the big leagues all the time. I also think there are a lot of guys who would kill for a Triple-A job. The concept of getting paid to call baseball is pretty wild. I try not to take that for granted. We’re fortunate to have the jobs we have.”

If Greenwald, who has called five Giants regular-season games in his career, including one last month, or Doskow got a full-time major-league radio gig tomorrow, they wouldn’t miss a beat. They’re considered that good. Meanwhile, they’ve kept the passion and dream alive despite accommodations, working conditions and salary far inferior to their major-league brethren.

They’re the play-by-play guy, producer and roadie all in one. They never go “on assignment” — they usually work every inning of 144 games over 154 days. They stay at second-tier hotels and get to games in hotel courtesy vans, not luxury buses or limos.

When they fly, it’s commercial, not a charter with first-class seats throughout. Greenwald has done his team’s game notes — in the majors, PR staffs spew gobs of information. Doskow spends his offseason in the River Cats’ sales department. In the bigs, the offseason is off.

“I enjoy it,” Doskow said. “My office is the broadcast booth, so I have the best view in Sacramento.”

The biggest change for Doskow is the National League style of play. He’s describing pitchers hitting for the first time since 2000, his last season with the Grizzlies. In the minors, there’s no designated hitter when two NL-affiliated teams meet. AL-affiliated teams always use a DH even when playing NL-affiliated teams.

“I’m loving that,” Doskow said. “The double-switches, the strategy. It’s a crisp game.”

While Doskow got a kick out of chronicling the rehab assignments of Hunter Pence, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain and hard-throwing relievers Hunter Strickland and Mike Broadway before their promotions to San Francisco, Greenwald is associated with an organization rising in power and deep in prospects.

The Astros called up Fresno outfielder Preston Tucker, who was leading all minor-leaguers in homers and RBIs when promoted, and shortstop Carlos Correa, the top overall draft pick in 2012 who had seven homers and 19 RBIs in his first 25 big-league games. Pitcher Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford in 2013, is in Triple-A waiting his turn after a recent promotion from Double-A.

Posey on the rise

Greenwald called Buster Posey’s games at Fresno in 2009 and 2010, drawing parallels between Posey and Correa: “Both highly touted, very smooth, not flamboyant, similar personalities, very humble, a lot of buzz. (Derek) Jeter is Correa’s idol, and he can go deep in the hole, leap and get the ball to first like Jeter.”

A minor-league broadcaster can have a resume that reads like the old country hit “I’ve Been Everywhere.” While Doskow, in his 23rd year, has had stops in Cedar Rapids, High Desert, Fresno and Sacramento, Greenwald’s laundry list includes Bend, Lafayette, Burlington, Shreveport, Stockton, Modesto and Fresno.

Giants webcasts

Greenwald continued his Giants webcast games in spring training. In the past, it was a productive learning tool because he studied players who opened the season at Fresno. This year was odd, considering he jumped from the Giants’ training camp to a team of Astros prospects, who had trained in Florida.

Greenwald graduated from San Francisco’s Wallenberg High School and got a broadcast journalism degree at Boston University. He learned the trade from his dad and Bill King — “my American League father” — among others.

“I got to know and pester probably every National League broadcaster in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Greenwald said.

Doskow grew up in Los Angeles listening to Chick Hearn (“my guy”) and Vin Scully and was inspired by his father, Chuck, a law professor and baseball junkie who had a library of baseball books in the house. Doskow got a communications degree (radio/TV emphasis) from the University of La Verne (Los Angeles County).

“When I was 7 years old, I used to turn down the TV set and broadcast the game,” Doskow said.

They’re both still doing it, embracing it and flourishing at it, and the proof is on 1320 ESPN Radio in Sacramento and 1430 KYNO in Fresno.

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.

If You’re a Baseball TV Ratings Geek, You Will Really Enjoy This Story

I will totally cop to being a ratings geek.  Even when I was a kid and they would publish local TV or radio ratings once a quarter in the entertainment section of the paper, I would immediately glue myself to the story and memorize the numbers and rankings. I love ratings so much, I selected my college major and career path just so they could be a part of my work.  So when I see an article like Maury Brown’s in Forbes from the other day, it’s like handing me a pound of peanut M&Ms and saying, here you go, chow down.

Brown takes a good look at the Nielsen TV ratings for the 29 clubs based in the U.S. (Toronto is in Canada and thus is not measured by Nielsen, so they’re not included here.) I would recommend you go on over and read his story for yourself, but if you can’t make time, here are a few high points from it:

  • Local baseball telecasts continue to dominate their markets during prime time (defined as 8p-11p Eastern and Pacific, and 7p-10p Central and Mountain). Ten teams rank #1 in their markets, led by Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Another six come in at #2 or #3. This is amazing because almost all the telecasts run on cable regional sports networks, which do not have penetration into all the TV households in their markets, yet they routinely outpull even broadcast (aka “over-the-air”) stations in total viewers.
  • If you exclude broadcast stations from the analysis, baseball ranks #1 for 24 of the 25 local TV markets (except only Houston, who are handicapped by having to overcome a horrible TV situation with Comcast Sportsnet  from last year).
  • The Royals are riding their surprise World Series appearance and fast start this year to a +114% ratings increase versus last year, which puts them at the top with an astounding 12.7 household (HH) rating.  This means that 12.7% of all TV HH in Kansas City are tuned to the Royals at any given time. The Royals have both the highest rating and the greatest increase over last.  The Cardinals are second with a 10.2 HH rating. The Tigers (7.7), Pirates (7.6) and Mariners (6.3) round out the top five in ratings.
  • After the Royals, the  Cubs are riding a similar surge in win-loss record, plus exciting new young players, to a similar increase in ratings: +112% over last year, up to 3.1 from 1.5.  The Padres (+52%), Cardinals (+35%) and Nationals (+29%) round out this top five.  On the flip side, the White Sox are disappointing on TV as well as on the field, losing viewers at a -42% clip over 2014.  The Indians (-36%), Braves (-32%), Brewers (-27%) and Reds (-25%) have had similarly horrifying ratings losses, and yet, these latter four teams are still the #1 ratings grabbers in their markets.
  • In terms of total average viewers, big markets rule: The Yankees (206,000) and Mets (180,000) are 1-2, with the Red Sox (146,000), Tigers (141,000) and Cardinals (125,000) coming in at #3 through #5.

Here is the table from the Maury Brown story.  You can click through it to go directly to his story over at Forbes.

h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.
h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.

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.

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.