Category Archives: Local

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Working the Game: An Interview with John Sterling, New York Yankees Radio

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 feature John Sterling, the long-time radio play-by-play announcer for the New York Yankees.

Sterling joined the Yankees broadcast team in 1989 from Atlanta’s John SterlingTBS and WSB Radio, where he called Hawks basketball (1981-89) and Braves games (1982-87). It marked a return to the town where he first hosted a talk show on WMCA from 1971-78, and called the Nets (1975-80, and as a fill-in, in 1997) and Islanders (1975-78) for WMCA, WVNJ, WWOR-TV and SportsChannel. Sterling also previously called Morgan State Football (eight years) and Washington Bullets basketball in 1981. In addition to his seven
years at WMCA and a year at WSB in Atlanta, he has also hosted talk shows on WFAN and WABC in New York. He has not missed a broadcast of any kind since the fall of 1981. Sterling has won a total of 12 Emmy Awards since 2003.

 

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

I knew I wanted to be on the air when I was a little boy. I think when I got to be in my teens, early teens, I realized I wouldn’t be good enough to play pro ball.  So then I just wanted to get on the air.  I knew I was going on the air.  I’m very lucky—I have four kids, and I wonder whether they know what they’re going to do with their lives.  I’m lucky that I knew when I was 9, 10, 11 that I was going on the air. I listened to every disc jockey show, every newscast, every play-by-play of sports.  I loved sports since I was a child.  So even though this helped me in my vocation, it’s also my avocation.  I didn’t have any problems with that.  I knew what I was going to do.

 

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

I’d been on the air a long time.  I did so many things, and any broadcaster does on their way up.  I did, quote-unquote, “a big talk show” in Baltimore, one on radio and one on TV simultaneously.  I started putting sports in my talk show, and then I started filling in on basketball and football with the Bullets and the Colts.  Then I got a big sports talk show in New York, and I did hockey and basketball and football.  I made friends with Tal Smith, who was Gabe Paul’s assistant GM [with the New York Yankees]. So when Tal went to Houston to be president [of the Astros], I called him and said, if there’s ever a chance I can fill in there, I’d love to do it, because I wanted to do baseball.  So the first baseball I did was I did was a weekend in Philadelphia for the Astros.  Then I got to Atlanta and Bob Russler, who’d brought me there, put me on the Braves games in 1983.  That’s the first time I was a regular, and I did radio and TV with the Braves, and then I got to the Yankees in 1989, and I’ve been here ever since.

 

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

With the Braves, I was the junior partner of the four, and we used to rotate innings among us.  Now, Atlanta is a great city; I was unmarried at the time, I had no responsibilities except to myself, and I loved it.  But when I took the Yankee job I took a big chance, because they had a habit of letting announcers go after a couple of years.  But I took the Yankees because I didn’t want to become an old man saying [in stereotypical old drunk’s voice] “Ahh, I shoulda done the Yankees!” So I took the chance and left Atlanta, and it was thrilling to me because now I was the #1 announcer, and I did all nine innings.  I’ve never missed a game in 27 years, but there’s no one point in which you pinch yourself and say, “Wow! I’m doing the Yankees! Gee, I’ve made it as a baseball announcer!”

I’ll tell you this, though: the Yankees were terrible when I first came in. But when Buck Showalter came in, in ’92, and I got Michael Kay as a partner, and the Yankees improved, and I started hearing a lot of what I did on the air come back, I think that is when I realized, “hey, this is really working.”  I never thought I would connect with an audience the way I connect with the Yankee audience.  And then “the Yankees win” and the home run calls became a thing—I didn’t know they were going to become a thing. It just happened to work out.

 

So the home run calls you’re now famous for, you first did those with the Yankees?  You didn’t have that in Atlanta?

Well, the home runs, I first did in Atlanta.  The old ballpark was called “The Launching Pad”, and it was double tiered stadium all the way around, a circular cookie-cutter football-baseball stadium.  So when the ball was hit out, the stands framed it, so you knew right away it was going to be out.  One day Doc Gooden threw Dale Murphy a breaking ball, and Dale hit it, and I could see it right away and that’s when I said “it is high, and it is far, and it is gone.”  I just did it, and that became a home run call.

I always kidded with ballplayers’ names.  When I did the [NBA New jersey] Nets, Bernard King was a big star for them as a rookie, and I called him “Bernard Sky BB King”.  In Atlanta, with Dominique Wilkins [of the NBA Hawks], he would make a great play and I would say, “Dominique is magnifique”.  And the Washington [Wizards of the NBA] coach Randy Wittman, who played for Atlanta, would do something and I would say, “Randy delivers a ‘Wittman’ sampler”.  Just nonsense, but it would catch on.  Now, I never knew it was going to catch on to the point where I would need a home run call for every player.  It began with Bernie Williams and “Bern, baby, Bern” and “Bernie goes boom”.

 

So for every player who comes up to the Yankees, from the very first game, are you thinking to yourself, “OK, I gotta get a home run call for this guy before he actually hits one”?

Well, the newspaper guys give me home run calls, and the fans do, too.  And in the winter, when we pick up a new player, I’m always asked, “well, what’s your home run call going to be for so-and-so?”  It wasn’t supposed to be a cottage industry—well, nothing is supposed to be. I mean, there are no rules.  But it’s a fun thing, and the fans get a kick out of it, and I get a kick out of it. And the players, I might add, also get a kick out of it.

 

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?

I have a really good answer for this: I have prepared to do a ballgame by being a fan since I was about seven years old.  I do everything that a fan does: I read newspapers—I’m a big newspaper junkie, and I wish they weren’t dying and I wish New York still had eight of them because I’d read them all; I watch SportsCenter; I watch MLB (Network); and don’t forget, I’ve broadcast baseball games since 1983, which is 32, 33 years, so how many games have I broadcast?  And I haven’t missed a game with the Yanks.  So one game prepares you for the next game.   I don’t have to have a checklist of what to do.  So it’s easy.  Very easy.

So, how do I prepare? I’ve been watching baseball since I’m a little boy. Today, in my hotel room, I’m reading the Sunday papers, and I’m switching between the NBA playoff games and MLB. They had the Detroit-Kansas City game on, but they also had their whiparound, where they go game to game, and I love it.

What I don’t want to do is sound like some officious stuffed shirt: “Well, I work very hard, and I get there early, and …” You know, it comes easy to me because I love what I’m doing.   The words come easy, I know the sport inside and out, and I love it.  How could I have made every single game for 27 years if I didn’t love it?

 

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

On the road, I usually catch the last bus, so I get here very early.  Not as early as most people, but I get here a couple of hours before the game.  At home, I’m driving, so the first thing is, can I get over the bridge?  I live in New Jersey, so that’s the first step.  I try to get there an hour and a half before, something like that.

In the years past, I did the pregame manager’s show.  Joe Torre is a buddy of mine, and I did that the 12 years he was there.  He was just a seat of the pants guy, like I am.  You know how people are described as “anal” or “anal compulsive”?  Well, I’m the opposite.  So I would just grab Joe at some point and just do it.  With Girardi, he was good enough to let me do the same thing.  Some managers have strict rules: “You have to be here at four o’clock!”  But now Suzyn [Waldman, Sterling’s broadcast partner] does the show, so I don’t have a pregame tape. So I could literally … I used to have a radio show in the penthouse of the building I was living in.  Can you imagine that?  So I could go up to work in my pajamas if I wanted to.   But I could literally do the game and no one would notice when I got there, if I lived in the ballpark.  Bill Veeck and his wife used to have an apartment at Sportsmen’s Park in St. Louis, and I read a thing about the Giants had an apartment at the Polo Grounds … anyway, I could get there just before the pregame would start and it would be OK.  But I don’t, I usually get there earlier.  And if I have to talk with a player or talk with the manager, I will.

 

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

You know, it’s much easier than you’re making it out.  You’ve been to the press box—they give you more information than you can use.  Don’t forget, I’ve just done a game last night, so that prepares you for today.  I write down my lineups, and … well, that’s it.  Then you broadcast the game.  I broadcast by the seat of my pants, and that works for me.  Someone else brings a big bag of media guides and rule books and stopwatches and all that stuff. I don’t do that.  I have a very little baseball bag in which I carry pens and phone numbers and hard candy.  I have a very little bag.  That’s worked for me.

 

So while the broadcast is in progress, is everything super easy for you?  Or is there, say, one thing you do where you can say, “this is the hardest thing I have to do during the game”?  Is there anything like that at all?

No.  I hate rain delays because you’re sitting around.  I hate these eight o’clock Sunday night games because you’re always flying someplace afterwards. But everyone hates the Sunday night ESPN games, it’s so late. You know why I’m lucky? I told you earlier in this conversation, I’ve been able to combine my avocation and vocation.  I started out as a disk jockey because I love music.  I know as much about music, American popular standards and Broadway, as I do about baseball.  These are the two things that have occupied my mind my entire life.

 

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

Go to the bathroom.  Everyone does, because in Yankee Stadium they sing “God Bless America”, then “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, so we have a little more time.

 

What are some common pitfalls to avoid while broadcasting baseball games?  Or is it smooth sailing the whole time?

Everything I do is off the cuff, and the people I’ve worked with, Suzyn and Michael Kay, have worked that way with me.  I call every pitch of every game, and I don’t find it [to be] work.  We’re very busy.  I’m sure you’ve heard it—we have a million drop-ins, and we have a lot of stuff to get in, like scoreboards.  I don’t try to figure out what I’m going to say, I just say it.  I don’t know how you can do sports and figure out what you’re going to do.  You have to react to what’s on the field.

Curt Gowdy once said—he was preparing for the first Super Bowl, and he was nervous as hell because there were all these network people in the booth—he took himself out for a little walk. And he said to himself, “Look, you’ve been doing this all your life! Just follow the ball!” I just know the game by osmosis—look how many baseball games I’ve done. So I don’t have to figure out what I have to say.   I just open my big fat mouth and say it.

 

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

Oh, that’s easy.  I entertain myself very well.  I swim for exercise—my knees are shot from all those years on hard courts playing tennis and basketball.  I get up late.  I have a healthy brunch of fruit and coffee and read the papers. That’s how I prepare, see? I have ESPN SportsCenter on and MLB [Network] on.  That’s how I prepare! See, what I’m trying to tell you: I don’t try to prepare.  I love what I do, so I find it very easy.

 

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

Not much.  I don’t sightsee.  You know how much I’ve travelled? [Laughs] If I’m off, and someone is appearing in town that I love, like—I have to figure out someone who’s alive now—if Tony Bennett or Vic Damone was somewhere, I’d go see them, or if there’s a Broadway play, probably a musical, in that town, I would go to see that if I have a day off.  But for the most part it’s work.  The average day is, I get up late, have a healthy brunch, swim for exercise, read the papers, watch ESPN and MLB, shave and shower, make myself beautiful, then go to the ballpark.

 

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

With my kids, I have four kids.  That’s one time we get together.  They range from 14 to 17 in age.

 

And the same thing during the offseason?  Do you do any broadcasting in the offseason?

Yeah, I don’t do talk shows or play-by-play or voiceovers or appearances.  I’m pretty busy because I have the great ability to entertain myself.  I’m very lucky: I have a very good life, and I live it very, very well.

 

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

If you said to me, “Who’s your favorite singer”, well, obviously it would be Sinatra.  But I must like a hundred different singers.  I like different people for different reasons.  I think [Vin] Scully is the best, but I don’t want you to think it’s only Scully.  I loved Mel Allen; I loved Bob Prince; I love Harry Caray; I loved Skip Caray.  All guys who are different—every one of them is different.  Every broadcaster brings his own style, and there isn’t [only] one style that’s acceptable.

This is really true: every broadcaster I have met in any sport helps the other broadcasters.  Everybody gets along, and if you need something, you go to the other broadcasters.  There are no egos, and there’s tremendous camaraderie among the fraternity.  Especially now with interleague and you don’t see these [teams], if you go to one of their broadcasters with questions, they’ll give you everything. In this vein, when that fire destroyed my home this winter, I heard from everyone in the business.  It was very heartwarming.

 

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

That it’s very easy to do, and very tough to get.  That’s the broadcast business [in general].

 

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

I would eliminate broadcast positions like this one in Washington where you’re so far away and so high that it’s very tough to see everything.  I would make all broadcast positions great.  And I would make the ballparks small.   Everyone who built an enormous ballpark—Detroit, San Diego, Seattle, and the Mets—they’ve all shortened the distances.  People want to see runs and home runs and doubles off the wall and guys running around the bases, or at least I do.  I like offense in every sport.  That’s about it.  And I would have the National League use the DH.

 

Well, John, really, thank you very much for your time.  You’ve given me a tremendous amount to work with.  Would you like me to share the link to the article with you via email, to make sure I’ve gotten everything right?

No.  I don’t have an email address, unfortunately.  Well, for me it’s fortunate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs-Dodgers 19570605 Story

100 Years Ago Today, They Watched Baseball Play by Play at the Bijou Theater in Evansville

Actually, I’m not sure if it was 100 years ago exactly today.  It might be 100 years ago today ± a couple of days. But I’m going to take that liberty here.

The Evansville (Ind.) Courier-Press, like many newspapers, occasionally publishes a feature article in which they recall items that ran in the papers on that day 100 years ago, 75 years ago, 50 years ago, 25 years ago, etc.  I say “papers” because they were separate newspapers on this day 100 years ago. They entered a JOA in 1938 in which they continued publishing as separate papers except as a joint edition on Sundays, before fully merging into an everyday single paper in 1988.  I don’t know whether the item in question ran in the Press or in the Courier, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is what was published on this day in 1915:

Knowing the great interest in the Evansville baseball team, we have decided to try the experiment of producing the out-of-town games on a new baseball board which we have leased. Today’s game will be reported play by play over a direct wire from the Wheeling ball park to the Bijou theater stage. If the additional patronage at the theater justifies the expense, all out-of-town games will be reproduced in this manner. The ball will hardly have left the pitcher’s hand in the Wheeling ball park before the life-sized baseball at the Bijou will reproduce this movement on the mimic diamond. Play by play, every movement of ball and players, will be shown almost instantaneously. Crowds are hypnotized by the fascination of the game shown on this board.

The Evansville team at the time was the River Rats, who played in the Class B Central League along with the Wheeling (W. Va.) Stogies.  It was an eight-team loop stretching from … well, Evansville to Wheeling, with six other clubs in between.  The 1915 edition of the River Rats featured four former major leaguers, none of whom had much more than a cup of joe in the bigs. (Punch Kroll had the best career among them.)

But even if the team was populated by has-beens and never-would-bes, they were still so popular in town, even as a third level club playing in a Class B league, that it was considered worth the expense by the local newspaper to set up a telegraph line and baseball board and charge admission for locals to sit inside a presumably non-air-conditioned theater in southern Indiana during the summer to take in the remote action live.

I don’t know for how long this service continued on in Evansville, but however long it did, it started 100 years ago today, and more importantly, it’s a good example of the only way ballgames at the time could be “broadcast” live to an audience, since consumer-based radio broadcasting wasn’t quite yet a thing. This falls within the purview of our mission to report on how the media cover baseball as an event, and that’s why we’ve posted here.

Working the Game: An Interview with Pete Abraham, Boston Red Sox Beat Writer

For the next installment in our series, we switch from the broadcast booth to the press box and chat with Pete Abraham, the beat writer who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe.

Peter ---- AbrahamPete is a Massachusetts native,  He joined the staff of the Globe in 2009 after spending nearly 10 years in New York covering the Mets and Yankees for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. Pete also covered the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team for the Norwich Bulletin.  You can follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

 

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

I wanted to be a journalist since high school when I landed a part-time job at my hometown paper, the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. I loved being in the newsroom and observing all the various characters there. My ambition at the time was only to go to college then come back and cover New Bedford High games.

In terms of baseball, I loved covering amateur baseball but had no designs on covering MLB until well into my career when the opportunity presented itself while I was working for The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y. I started working there in 1999 and realized pretty quickly that getting to cover Yankees or Mets games, even sidebars, would be good for my career.

Prior to going to New York, I worked 13 years at the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin covering UConn men’s basketball. They tried to make me sports editor but I wanted to keep writing so I went to New York.

 

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

This is a somewhat amusing story. My final year at UMass-Amherst was in 1986 and by then I had worked part-time for The Standard-Times for seven years. As a reward, they got me a credential to cover a Red Sox game. I don’t recall the date but I have a vivid memory of going to the game and being amazed that the press box at Fenway Park had beer taps that flowed all game.

The Sox lost the game and afterward the reporters were lined up in the hallway outside of manager John McNamara’s office. They were talking about why Dwight Evans had not been used as pinch hitter late in the game. As the postgame interview went on, nobody asked McNamara about Evans. So I mustered up the courage to ask him. I tried to be polite about it but he shot me a glare. “Where the hell are you from?” he said. Before I could answer he profanely told me to get out of his office. The only way out of the crowded office was through a door that led to the clubhouse. I walked out and was the only reporter in the room and all the players were looking at me.

Evans of all people was standing right there. “What did you ask him, kid?” he said.

“I asked him why you didn’t pinch hit,” I said.

“Good question,” Evans said as he walked away.

I had a beer when I got back to the press box. I needed it.

 

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

I started working at The Journal News in 1999 for two terrific editors, Mark Leary and Mark Faller. I was a general assignment writer who did mostly high school and college games for a while. I volunteered to do anything and within a few months they allowed me to do sidebars for Mets and Yankees games. That progressed to writing game stories and occasional features.

In 2002, in the middle of the season, they moved the Mets writer to the Jets and I was given the Mets beat. I’ve been covering baseball ever since.  Looking back on it, I was incredibly fortunate they gave me the chance. Covering baseball in the NYC market is a huge challenge and they would have been well within their rights to have hired from outside the staff and gotten an established writer. Mark Leary, who passed away, was a huge influence on me. He taught me things I think about every day. So did my editors in Norwich, Jay Spiegel and Gary Samek.
When did you realize you were going to make it as a baseball beat writer?

I don’t know that there was a particular day. The Mets were a challenging team to cover. During my tenure there I covered Fred Wilpon buying out co-owner Nelson Doubleday, a few manager firings, the Bobby Valentine vs. Steve Phillips feud, a GM firing, assorted trades, scandals and even silly things like whether Mike Piazza was gay.  Meanwhile I was competing for stories against terrific writers from papers like the Times, Post, Daily News and Newsday.

That I survived and kept coming back for more seemed like a sign I could cover baseball.

 

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

I prepare the night before usually. I unwind after games by updating a stat book I keep and doing a legal pad sheet of various notes that help me write on deadline. There are trends, assorted stats, how the starters fare against particular hitters, etc. I like having the information handy during games.

In the morning, for a typical night game, I’ll wake up around 9:30 (depending how late the previous game was), read the Red Sox clips we get from the team every day, then have a little breakfast. For the last few years, I’ve been pretty good about working out before I go to the park. I could stand to be better about it, for sure. On the road, it’s about the same but you have more time generally.

 

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

It’s about the same. The clubhouse opens to the media 3.5 hours before first pitch. I usually get there an hour before that to do a little work and just see what is going on at the ballpark. So for a 7:05 game, I get there at 2:30.

 

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

I spend time in the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice talking to the players and gathering information for stories. The manager does a pre-game media session. I’ll usually try to talk to some of the coaches or front-office types. It’s better to talk to people in person than get back three-word text messages. I work for NESN, the network that carries Sox games, and appear on their pre-game show. I also get started on my stories for the website and paper. I try to have my “notebook” story done by the second inning.

 

How long before the game do you go to the press box to watch the game from?

I generally try and get in my seat sometime around the national anthem. That can vary depending on whether I’m on the phone working on a story or even just something innocuous like seeing some friends who are at the game.

 

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

Once the game starts I try to limit how much I’m on the web (outside of Twitter) and how much I’m texting and just watch the game. It can be easy to get distracted. For night games, I need to file what is called “running” by the 7th inning and then that gets a top for first edition.  If there’s an injury or a trade, that is when it gets complicated.

 

In what way does an injury or a trade complicate your in-game routine?

An injury does not really complicate much of anything; we deal with that most every day. A significant trade adds to the workflow. I’d have to do a separate story, call around for information from scouts, perhaps get on a conference call with the GM. The Globe has at least three reporters at every home game and two on the road, so we can divide up the work pretty well.

 

What is your process once the game finishes? 

Once the game ends you get the manager then get in the clubhouse, hurry to get what you need then go back to the press box and write. You might have a little more time for day games. But it’s usually about 35 minutes tops.

 

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?

Everything at the ballpark after a game. There’s no time to go anywhere else.  Even if there were I’d be afraid I’d get hit by a bus or something. My job is to get them a story quickly.

 

Is there anything about working every day in Fenway that makes it unique among ballparks to work in?

Fenway is not an especially good place to work beyond the vista once you sit down to watch the game. The clubhouses are small and crowded and access to the clubhouses post-game is going against the flow of the crowd. The press box at Fenway is pretty high, too. You don’t get the same view as you would at places like Camden Yards.

 

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

Daily it’s usually three things. A game preview for our web site then a game story and a notebook. The game story usually has two versions and the notebook as many as three or four. With the web, the updating never ends. So for a week I night do 18-25 stories, each updated several times.

 

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?

Sure, I do features all the time. Typically I generate my own ideas and run them by my editors.  Sometimes they’ll come up with ideas that are good. The Globe’s executive editor, Brian McGrory, is a baseball fan and a few times a year he has some great ideas. I get caught up in the day-to-day details and it’s good when people see the big picture. For instance, in 2013 Brian asked about doing a story on the personal relationship between Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. It worked out great. Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan and his deputies are great to work with and talk ideas over with.

 

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

No vacation. I get a 1-2 days off a week. I like covering all the road games and taking my time off when the team is home.  I usually cover 125-128 games. That’s after spring training and then we cover the playoffs whether the Sox are in or not. Then the GM Meetings and the Winter Meetings.

 

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

The easier things? I’m not sure anything is “easy.”  It’s hard sometimes to cover the team when execs leak stories to national writers to curry favor with them.  It’s hard to cover the trade deadline, that 10 days or so generally is awful.

 

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

Two things. You have to remember to write for your readers and not to impress other writers, or yourself or your editors. Write for people who follow the team and care about the team. Inform them. The other thing is to remember you aren’t with the team. It’s a shared experience a lot of the times, going around the country and living in hotels and dealing with travel. But you don’t work for the team and aren’t beholden to the team. Ask what needs to be asked, write what needs to be written and be honest. It’s unpleasant sometimes to write something critical about a person you’ll be face to face with a few hours later. But that is the job sometimes. I think sometimes, especially for outlets that don’t have editors or much in the way of accountability, the “coverage” is basically a lot of back-patting and propaganda. You aren’t doing the job right if the manager doesn’t get mad at you from time to time.

 

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?

Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference are two sites I’m always on. I read a lot of individual writers, mostly analytical or informational reporting. Opinion doesn’t really help much. There are some podcasts I like. MLB Network Radio is really good, too.

 

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?

I usually have a story to do. We cover the team every day of the season.

 

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

Depends on the city. I have friends in NYC, Tampa, Baltimore and a few other places. I’ve been doing this long enough and been to every MLB city often enough that I’m out of things to see. I’ll occasionally check out museum listings to see if there is some interesting exhibit. Beyond that, it’s baseball, getting ready for baseball and trying to stay organized.

 

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

I have two nieces and a nephew and try to see them as often as I can along with other people in my family. I love attending Patriots games and we usually hit a road game every season. I’ll go on a vacation and every few weeks I’ll drive to a casino in Connecticut and play $10 blackjack all night just for fun. Blackjack is very relaxing. Movies, reading books not about baseball, binge-watching television shows I missed all summer.

 

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

There are too many to list and I wouldn’t want to leave anybody out. I respect dozens of people in the business for various reasons. I will say that the camaraderie among baseball writers is strong and we help each other out a lot. I learned a so much watching and reading the people who cover baseball in NYC. A lot of real pros there.

 

What is the thing about covering a baseball beat that most surprised you, that you didn’t expect when you first started?

The general friendliness of the players. I came from a background of covering college sports and most of the players were unspoiled and easy-going with the media. I was fearful professionals would be harder to deal with. But probably 95 percent of the players I’ve covered have been gracious with their time and respectful of my job. The outliers are annoying when they’re All-Star-type players but for the most part MLB players are decent guys.

 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in covering a baseball beat since you started in 2002?

When I started covering baseball there was no social media and newspapers did not have web sites. So the notion of being on a 24-hour news cycle was foreign. That by far is the biggest change. There’s never really a time you’re not working unless you force yourself not to work. The urge to check Twitter is overwhelming. There have been days I’ve done updates for our web site 10 times on various things.

 

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?

Anybody who starts a question with “Talk about …” has their credential revoked for two games. Second offense is a week.  That is just lazy.  Also people on Twitter should get electric shocks for asking beat writers questions about their fantasy team.

 

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

Not really. I’m incredibly fortunate to do what I do and never take it for granted. It’s nice knowing that something you do hopefully gives people a few minutes of pleasure a day, or at least a distraction from the realities of life.

Two Things You Should Know Today About Major League Baseball on TV

 

1: Televised baseball is not dying.

Several times each year over the past several years, we have been treated to predictions of the demise of baseball in America, and the main proof of that always comes in the form of comparative TV ratings.  Just last year, for instance, we were informed that the opening tilt of the Royals-Giants World Series was the lowest rated Game 1 in history.  “[The World] Series is on, and everybody is watching … football”, gloated the New York Times headline.  Not only that, but more people watched “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS: New Orleans” than the World Series, which was outdrawn even by “The Walking Dead”, a cable show about zombies, for crying out loud.  In case you were too thick to understand the implication, the Times made it clear in so many words: “Baseball is no longer the center of attention in a new landscape”.  Translation: Baseball is dying.

So what are we to make of Maury Brown’s article in Forbes yesterday: that in most of the largest markets in the country, baseball is actually outdrawing the NBA and the NHL in TV viewers?  You can see from these ratings in 14 markets from last Wednesday night, when two top NBA playoff games and the NHL’s Rangers-Capitals overtime win competed against the Mets and Cubs on ESPN, that baseball won the night against basketball and football:

RSNRatings1
h/t Forbes. Click through graphic to full article.

Isn’t this going against the narrative we’ve become so accustomed to hearing lately?

Yes, it is, but the thing is that that narrative always contemplates baseball’s national telecasts versus those of the other sports, particularly football, and especially in October.  Here is the thing to remember, though: baseball is a local and regional sport.  People care about their teams.  So when their team is on their local regional network, people will watch those games over playoff games in other sports involving out of town teams.  And that’s what we see in the chart above: baseball on regional sports networks beating other sports on the national sports networks.

Granted, none of the markets above had any local teams in the NBA or NHL playoffs, so there was no competition between multiple local teams in different sports in any of these markets.  And the NBA and NHL national telecasts did beat the baseball national telecast.

But really, that’s the point: baseball, and all league sports in this country, are a local and regional obsession.  People are naturally more interested in their local team than in out of town teams.  And people are naturally more interested in playoffs games than in regular season games.  If the Mets did not beat the Rangers in New York, or the Braves did not beat the Hawks in Atlanta, that’s really understandable, isn’t it?  After all, the Rangers and Hawks are in the playoffs fighting for their lives.  In baseball, it’s still mid-May.

But if televised baseball really were dying, it would be losing to televised basketball and televised football every time, regardless of the team involved.  That’s the central conceit of the (admittedly strawman) argument.  But it doesn’t, because baseball is a local and regional sport, and a thriving one at that.

Just remember the part in italics above next time anyone suggests to you that baseball is no longer important in the “new landscape” of American sports.

2: The potential removal of the MLB blackout restriction took an important step forward on Friday.

Judge Shira Scheindlin, the judge from the Southern District of New York who is hearing the suit against MLB and the NHL brought by a group of fans, has allowed the suit to advance to class action status.

The fans claim that the leagues engage in anticompetitive behavior by forcing out of market fans to purchase a high-priced complete bundle of every game except those involving their local teams, which forces those fans to also subscribe to their local regional sports network through a cable or national provider in order to be able to see their local teams, which from the plaintiffs’ view must be the worst of both worlds.  This circumstance mainly hurts the fan choosing to see their baseball on MLB.TV who, unless they are smart cookies, may never be able to see their local team on TV while they’re at home.

By allowing the suit to be heard as a class-action suit, fans can now fight the leagues in court collectively rather than on an individual basis, which makes it easier and cheaper for the plaintiffs to pursue the suit at all.  The plaintiffs are seeking lower prices for streamed games resulting from greater competition; to be able to pick and choose which out of town teams whose games they want to purchase rather than buying a bundle; and to be able to watch their local teams via streaming.

This is a fairly slow moving case that will probably take a period of time measured primarily in years to resolve, but the suit is moving apace.

Working the Game: An Interview with Charley Steiner, Los Angeles Dodgers TV and Radio

This is the next 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.

Today we feature Charley Steiner, one of the play-by-play announcers for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Steiner is a four-plus decade veteran of sportscasting, starting in Peoria in Charley Steiner 1402_09 LA DODGERS00941969 before moving through Davenport, Iowa; New Haven, Conn.; Hartford; Cleveland; and then New York in 1978. He broadcast play-by-play for the New York Jets before landing at ESPN in 1988 as their lead boxing analyst.  Steiner started his baseball broadcasting career with the “Worldwide Leader” in 1998 before joining the New York Yankees radio booth in 2002 and, finally, securing his dream job as the Dodgers play-by-play announcer in 2005.  Steiner was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2013, and his alma mater, Bradley University, named its school of sports communication for Steiner in March of this year.

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

When I was 7 years old.  I grew up in New York and I was a Brooklyn Dodger fan.  Everybody I know was a Dodger fan.  I didn’t know any Giant fans, and only a few Yankee fans.  I [grew up] about ten or fifteen miles away from Ebbets Field.

When I was six, I remember vividly the seventh game of the 1955 World Series.  Johnny Podres shuts out the Yankees, 2-0, and there were grown-ups in the living room who were crying.  Not like a six year old who’d just fallen off his Schwinn Racer—here were grown-ups crying for joy, because the Dodgers had at long last beaten the New York Yankees.  When I was seven, in 1957, I’m listening on WMGM radio to the Dodgers and I was mesmerized.  I was the RCA Victor dog with his ear pressed up against the speaker.  And I could hear the crack of the bat, heard the umpire bellow “strike!”, heard fans cheering and booing—and then I heard this transcendent, umbrella-like voice, and it turned out to be Vin Scully.  He had me at “Hello”.  I was just smitten with the medium and the broadcaster.

This was 1957, and there was some televised baseball, a few games here and there, but my knowledge of baseball began by listening to Vin; by reading the afternoon papers that my father brought home from New York; and that was it.  There was never any doubt in my mind about what I wanted to be when I grew up: the Dodger announcer.

Unfortunately, [the Dodgers] moved the next year.   My career dream was smashed. So now I’m watching the Yankees, now the only game in town since the Giants had left too.  I was listening to Mel Allen and Red Barber.  So between Vin, Mel and Red, I grew up listening to the Mount Rushmore of baseball.  So from the time I was seven to the time I arrived on campus at Bradley University, this is what I wanted to be when I grew up.

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

My first baseball game was in college, and like any first broadcast, thankfully it dissipated on old acetate, so it’s all gone.

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

My first major league game was at ESPN.  I don’t remember exactly when it was.  It was probably 1994, and it was one of the “B” games, the secondary game which aired in the markets where the primary game was blacked out.  So I spent a lot of time in my early television career talking to myself.

Thankfully I did not have to ride minor league buses.  I’d covered a lot of [minor league] teams along the way as a reporter.  In 1972, I worked at KSTT in Davenport, Iowa, the home of the Quad Cities Angels, who had a young phenom named Frank Tanana.  My path to the baseball booth was probably so different than most in that there were so few jobs.  I was a radio guy in Peoria and Davenport and New Haven and Hartford and Cleveland and New York, and then to ESPN and then to the Yankees and the Dodgers and … [big sigh]. So I was much more of a reporter and a news director along the way. I made it to management prematurely, so when the station I was at needed a sportscaster, I hired me. And rarely did the sportscaster argue with the news director.

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

When ESPN radio got the rights to games in 1998, that’s when I started going whole hog.  I would do the Wednesday night television game on the “real” network and the Sunday night games on the radio.  All of a sudden it was beginning to happen.  That’s when I realized, “Ooh, I can do this!”  Because I had done all the other things along the way to get to this point, whether it was football, SportsCenter, boxing.  [Baseball] was all I’d ever wanted to do, but I’d still never achieved my goal, which was the Dodgers.

The next big turning point took place—sadly, happily, somewhere in between—in 2001, around 9/11.  A week before we were doing an ESPN game and I was sitting in [New York Yankees general manager] Brian Cashman’s office, talking about stuff before the game, and George Steinbrenner, who I’d known from my time in Cleveland, walked in.  He says, “Cash, I wanna talk to ya!” and he turned to me and said [doing Steinbrenner imitation] “I saw you on TV when I was in Tampa, you were pretty good!  You’re very good!”  George left and Cashman got up to follow him and I said as he was leaving, “Hey if there’s any opening with this new [YES] network …” You know, who knows?  An hour goes by, Cashman comes into my booth and he says to me, “I have some good news and some bad news.  Bad news is I told George you would be interested, and he berated me because broadcasting is not my end of the business, my job is to build a World Series champion, ‘get out of my office!’  Good news is, he wants to hire you.”  So I took the Yankee job, and I was there for three years.

Then, out of the blue, at the end of the 2004 season from the Dodgers telling me they are going to replace Ross Porter, and would I have any interest? And I did not enhance my negotiating position by saying [something along the lines of “heck, yeah!”].  And that was it.   And so finally I had achieved my lifelong dream.

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?

I begin preparing after I get home the night before.  I would take a look at what we used to call “the wire”; now we have the internet.  I will try to read as many game stories and sidebars as I can, just looking for little factoids that might be helpful tomorrow.  I sleep, get up about 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning, have some coffee, then I will go through the Internet again.  I’ll look at the statistics from MLB, Dodgers [splits data], all that kind of stuff.  And I’ll look at all the previews that are done by Stats Inc. and Sports Network and so on.  Then I will collate the information in the Cuisinart in my brain, and then start jotting down ideas, conversation points I can have with Mo [broadcast partner Rick Monday]. So I would guess that I prepare for each game at home in the morning for an hour to 90 minutes, and then if it’s the first game of a series, it might be a little longer than that.  And then it’s lunchtime.

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

I head to ballpark around 2:30, and I get to the booth and then everything is unpacked, and I’m ready to go about 3:15, 3:30.

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

I’ll take a look at the latest notes that we get from our club and the visiting team, or if we’re on the road, vice versa.  I’ll start making out the lineups as soon as we get them, and start writing appropriate stats for each player in the lineup.  Then about 5:15 or 5:30, Vin, Mo and me, we have dinner every night—same table, same conversation, same guys, and then the [darn] game gets in the way of this wonderful dinner.  That’s it, and it really doesn’t vary very much.  I might ask someone with an independent set of eyes, “What is interesting about today’s game to you?”  And sometimes there’s a good idea, and sometimes none whatsoever.  So I get a lot of information from a lot of sources and a lot of different places, I funnel it all together, and then I talk for three-and-a-half or four hours.

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

I’m in the booth by 3:30, 3-1/2 hours before the game.  Time permitting, I might go down to the field talk to a given player.  There are other things I might do.  You and I are talking today; yesterday I was in a lengthy interview for a documentary; there’s another I have to do on Friday.   So it’s not just showing up five minutes before the first pitch and starting to talk.  It’s at least an eight-hour day, about which you will never hear me complain once.

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

That’s a tough one … I think it all boils into one 3½ hour project.  There are some easy moments, where you’ve written down a story or an anecdote and you go on a jazz-like riff.   And then there are those rundown plays.  You know, your basic 9-6-4-3-2-5-2-1-2 double play.  You go, “ah, jeez, why me?”  But talking about research, I came across a story about Justin Maxwell, the Giant right fielder.  He grew up in Virginia, near Washington [D.C.], and says he’s been a lifelong Giant fan, which made no sense to me, but it turns out his father was a Giant fan, so when [Justin] got the Giants job, it was a big deal. But the real story was that his father was the dentist to the presidents.  He was the dentist of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  So I thought, what an opportunity to tell the president, “say ‘ahhh’”, and watching the president drool on his hand.  When I’m preparing for a game, when I can find stuff like that, that’s gold.

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

Between innings, we now have two minutes and twenty-five seconds, and one of the great additions to Dodger Stadium this year was the placement of a “private restroom”, ten feet from Vin’s booth and my booth.  This is greatest invention to me since cable remote on TV.  So now I don’t have to spend all two minutes running back and forth!  But generally speaking, headphones go off, kind of lean back, write down  the number of  pitches that were thrown in the inning, look at the spots I have to read in the next half inning, and just kind of sit there and do nothing and look out.  It’s like a fighter in between rounds.  Then it’s “stand by, ten seconds”, and you’re back again.

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

Don’t get excited too early.  I learned a wonderful lesson from (legendary New York sports announcer) Marty Glickman.  He taught me, very early in my career: [slight falsetto] if your voice is going to be up here in the first quarter of the third game of the season, [back to normal voice] where do you put your voice when it really counts late in the year?  Keep the game in perspective.  There’s a big difference between a second inning home run and a walk-off home run; between two out and nobody on in the fifth and a rally in the eighth; between the fifteenth game of the season and the final game of the season.  Keeping the moment prioritized—it’s not a big deal yet [this early in the season].  That’s a common pitfall for a lot of young guys: they get too excited too soon.

The other pitfall, the young fellas are so preoccupied with having a home run call that they can’t wait to hear on SportsCenter or MLB Tonight.  [It’s as though] they’re broadcasting for that moment when they can hear themselves on television, as opposed to broadcasting to that one listener that [he should be] trying to communicate with on a one-on-one basis.  I think me and [Jon] Miller [San Francisco Giants radio play-by-play] and [Denny] Mathews [Kansas City Royals radio play-by-play], I think we’re the last generation that grew up listening to radio.  Now you have then twenty- and thirty-year old fellas who have been “SportsCenterized”, who are trying to broadcast on radio with a television sensibility.  That is also a pitfall.

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

[Laughs] Pack up my computer and my scorebook and my binoculars and put them all in the same roller case that I will bring in the next day.  To that extent, the day is very regimented.

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

I really scour the Internet.  I will look at local newspapers, for whatever stories there might be.  I will go through the MLB site, ESPN, CBS, Yahoo … god, I feel like Sarah Palin! At least I can name the stuff that I look at! [Laughs]  Here’s how manic I am: I have subscriptions to the New York Times and the LA Times, they are dropped off at the front door every morning, but I read them the night before [online].  Then I’ll read them the next day to see if I missed anything.  I look at a lot of stats—I don’t get too crazy about the stats, because on radio, I’m telling a story.  I’m not reading a spreadsheet.  So there’s a big difference between the print, the Internet and the radio.  I try to keep the stats in perspective: “38.3% of the time he throws a slider …” You know, please.  On radio, it doesn’t work.   On the computer that looks great, you can make some context.  But I will try to pick out half a dozen nuggets that I can mix into the bouillabaisse every night.

When the team has a day off, or you get a day off because of national broadcast, how do you spend your time?

I do all 162.  The games that Vin does not do on television, about seventy now, I do, and when he’s on television I do the remaining ninety on radio.   So even on a Sunday night broadcast I’m working, and I prefer it that way, because with baseball, there are 162 chapters of the book.  If there happens to be a season-changing game when you have a day off, I would feel like I missed out.    But tomorrow [an off day for the Dodgers], I’ll sleep in.  I’ll be hosting a panel with Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson and me, one of Joe Torre’s Safe at Home things. So that’s what passes for an off day.  You will never hear me complain, but rarely are there days when I can wake up and say, “Well, I guess today I’ll just go fishing and do nothing.”  I have the pleasure of working every single day for seven months, and then having the great pleasure of doing nothing for five months.

When you’re on the road with the team, does your routine differ significantly?

Only to the extent to where I’m sleeping at night!  I still get to the ballpark three-and-a-half hours before the game, and instead of driving to Dodger Stadium, I’ll leave for the hotel on the team bus to get to said ballpark.  But instead of doing preparation for the game in the office, I’ll do it in my hotel room.  But [everything else] remains the same, because all of the games remain the same, at least until they go out and [actually] play them.

What is your favorite thing to do on the road?

I must tell you, I’m so boring.  I don’t do that much on the road.  It depends on the city.   In San Francisco, I’ll just walk the streets because I love it.  I love Chicago, and I grew up in New York.  So I’ll be more likely to spend time on the [streets] in those cities.  Walk, shop, have a bite to eat with an old friend.  I don’t eat dinner after [a night] game like some folks do.  I’ll just have a glass of wine and call it a day.

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

I’ve got tickets to a couple of concerts here in LA.  It’s funny: they call it an All-Star break, but it’s really a long weekend.  I don’t go anywhere, as if I don’t travel enough!  I’m already in Los Angeles—where am I going to go for better weather?  I stay home, go to the movies, get reacquainted with friends I haven’t seen for a couple of months, and that’s it.  Real simple.  And then I get back to work.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?

The older I get, the better I am at [doing] nothing.  I’m really good at it.  I’ll read the morning paper at two in the afternoon, I’ll get caught up on all the movies I missed—I will see, in the offseason, seventy movies or so.  Read some.  Lunches and dinners.  Rarely do I travel, and if I do, it’s not very far.  I tend to relax.

One of things that has changed, and for the better: my alma mater, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois, named a school for me, at the end of March.   Peoria, for whatever reason, has spawned an inordinate number of great sportscasters: Jack Brickhouse, Chick Hearn, Ralph Lawler, Tom Kelly (who did USC games for years), Denny Matthews, Bill King, Bob Starr, Mark Holtz.  It was serendipitous.  Peoria is the “San Pedro de Macoris” of sportscasters, which of course makes me Jose Offerman.

Because of this, Bradley started offering courses in sports communication.  Five years ago they opened the sports communication department, and then this past year they named the school for me, the Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication. So now, in future offseasons, I’m going to go out there to teach or lecture and do whatever one does, so I’m getting heavily involved in this school.

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

Vin, of course, is, I think, the Babe Ruth of our industry, and I get to “play pepper with Babe Ruth” every day, which is pretty cool.  I listened closely to Mel Allen and Red Barber.  The guys who are contemporaries of mine now, Jon Miller has been an old friend for many, many years, and whose skill level I admire greatly.  Duane Kuiper [San Francisco Giants TV play-by -play] , I was working in Cleveland when he was playing [there], so we go back a long [way]. He and Krook [Mike Krukow, San Francisco Giants TV color] are just a wonderful team.  Dick Enberg [San Diego Padres TV play-by-play] has become a friend over the years.  It’s one of those “too many to mention, don’t want to leave anybody out” things, but those are the guys who immediately pop out for me.  I am living out this improbable dream, and I get to know all of these guys whose talents I admire so much.  P.S., and they’re paying me, too!

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

It ain’t as easy as they think it is.  In the case of broadcasting, it is hard to make it sound easy.  You have all this stuff going on at once, to process all of that, and to come out and try to be as eloquent as you can be.  To maintain a breezy, colorful, informative, accurate conversation for about 650 hours a summer, without a safety net.  You are live and you’re going to make errors, just like the players do, just like insurance salesmen do, just like anybody does.  The difference is, we’re making those errors (hopefully not many) in front of a lot of folks.  To people who say, “Well, this guy can’t do this or that”, I say, come up to my booth and try to do my job for one inning.  It’s not a frustration, but it’s a reality, and our business is a very subjective business.   Someone might hear me and say, “Hey, he’s pretty good”, and someone else hearing the exact same thing would say, “Ugh, he’s awful.”  You have no control over that.

Mariano Rivera gave me a great piece of advice.  He’d blown a couple of saves back to back, and of course they wanted to hang him in the New York Post, and they wanted to beat him senseless in the Daily News, and that was even before the talk shows [got a hold of him].  So I asked him, “Mariano, when you go home at night, do you take it with you? Does it bother you?”  And he looked at me as though I were from another planet and said, “Once the ball leaves my hand, I have no control over it.”  And I thought, “Wow!” And that’s how I go about my business as a broadcaster: I do the best I can, and hopefully it works out pretty well, and the odds are I’m going to be back tomorrow.

If you were the King of Baseball Announcing …

I’d abdicate!

OK, but if you couldn’t abdicate, and you could make any changes to improve the profession or the process, what would they be?

I would like younger announcers to do more research, have greater understanding, and have more respect for the old radio announcers.  Radio is the place where words count the most.  In many cases it’s the economy of the words.  More words doesn’t make it better.  More often than not, less words do.  And on television, let the picture tell the story.  The thing I tell my students is, “We are storytellers.  We are not the story.”  The ones that understand that best have the greatest chance of being successful.  So to the younger guys I would say, “Take your foot off the accelerator, let the game breathe, and remember the guys who got you to this place where you are now.”

One of the things that I remember about when I think about you, probably more than I should, is the great Melrose Place spoof ESPN commercial you did as the pool boy.

“Do you want to rub some cocoa oil on my back?”

[Laughs] I love that!

Well, thank you…I think!

Cubs/White Sox Play First MLB Game on WGN-TV in 1948

This column first appeared on the blog All Funked Up, which is operated by David Funk, who describes himself as “a life-long sports fan [who] also [works] and travels for a living … or fun sometimes.” Sounds like a pretty good life, right?

David wrote the column below, and gave us permission to reprint it here.  The original column was posted here.

Enjoy!


 

CUBS/WHITE SOX PLAY FIRST MLB GAME ON WGN-TV IN 1948

On April 16, 1948, the very first MLB game on WGN-TV is played.  It was on this day that the Chicago Cubs hosted their crosstown rival Chicago White Sox in an exhibition game on WGN-TV at Wrigley Field.  It was the first sporting event held on the network as well.

The first ever MLB game to broadcast on television took place in August 1939 at Ebbets Field between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds as Red Barber called that game.  It was aired on W2XBS which was the same station that carried the first ever baseball game as Princeton played against Columbia in a collegiate match-up.

By the time the 1940s came around and World War II was over, television sets were selling as fast as they could be made.

In 1947, television attracted a new audience of baseball fans as they flocked to games in record numbers.  The casual baseball fans were the ones that began going to games due to television exposure.  That year, attendance at Major League Baseball games reached a record high of over 21 million fans.

The 1947 World Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers had an estimated 3.9 million viewers.  The Yankees won the series 4-3 over the Dodgers in what was also the first integrated team to play in the World Series with Jackie Robinson’s playing in his first Fall Classic.

Television had changed America and most baseball teams were getting on board by broadcasting televised games at the end of the decade.

In February 1948, WGN-TV(run by Jake Israel) began running text broadcasts before their first ever regular broadcast on April 5, 1948 with the WGN-TV Salute to Chicago two-hour special.  Originally, the station had affiliations with CBS and DuMont Television Network sharing with WBKB on Channel 4.  After CBS purchased a license to operate shows on Channel 4 in 1953, DuMont was left with Channel 9 and WGN-TV would be one of it’s best networks.  Originally, WGN-TV operated from the Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago before moving to North Bradley Place in the North Center neighborhood of the city in 1961.

After seeing the success of the 1947 World Series and the station launching just in time for baseball season, WGN-TV decided to air an exhibition game between the city’s two teams.  So eleven days after the station’s first broadcast, a baseball game was aired on its television network for the first time ever.

The first game on the television network was called by the legendary Jack Brickhouse, who would call baseball games for the station for the next 33 years.

The Cubs’ starting pitcher was Hank Borowy against White Sox starter Joe Haynes.

A little over 9,200 fans withstood chilly 45-degree temperatures to watch the game.  This was the fourth exhibition game between them that year as the Cubs won two of the first three.  It was the White Sox who would get the better of the “North Siders” at Wrigley Field on this day to even the series between them that year.

In the top half of the first inning, Borowy could hardly throw a strike and walked four White Sox batters.  An error by Cubs second baseman Henry Schenz also contributed to the White Sox taking advantage by scoring three runs in the opening inning.

Those three runs were all that Haynes needed for the White Sox as he pitched six innings for the “South Siders”.  He along with reliever Earl Harrist allowed five Cub hits and one run in the game.

Borowy would pitch seven innings and allowed four of the five White Sox hits in the game.  But it was his wildness in the first inning that allowed the White Sox an early lead and eventual 4-1 win over the Cubs.

The Cubs would finish the 1948 season in last place with a 64-90 record.  The White Sox were even worse finishing dead last with a 51-101 record that year.

Beginning in 1948, WGN-TV would broadcast all Cubs and White Sox home games.  In 1952, WGN-TV gained exclusive rights to broadcast Cubs games.  Brickhouse would call games for both Chicago teams until 1967.

Brickhouse’s legendary status reached beyond calling games on WGN-TV and it was said by his wife that he always felt more comfortable announcing baseball at Wrigley Field.  He was the Chicago Bears radio broadcaster in 1953 and first ever announcer for the Chicago Bulls in 1966.  He called five Major League Baseball All-Star Games and four World Series.  He also called the famous boxing match in 1949 between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles, and the 1952 Rose Bowl with fellow legend Mel Allen.

His best known expression was saying “Hey-Hey!” after a big play for the home team.  He famously said that line when Cubs Hall of Fame player Ernie Banks hit his 500th career home run in 1970.

In 1981, Brickhouse retired and the Cubs’ replacement was another broadcasting legend by the name of Harry Caray.  Caray, who called games for the St. Louis Cardinals and White Sox(on WSNS-TV) previously, came over at the right time as WGN-TV was nationally broadcasting games then.

Caray’s style was different from Brickhouse, but the Cubs’ games on the network continued to draw well.  His most famous line was “Holy Cow!” after a big play from the Cubs.  Caray’s singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch began on White Sox broadcasts and carried over to the Cubs on WGN-TV.  Special guests would take part in the singing and it’s a tradition which has continued since his death in 1998.

As for the White Sox, the WGN-TV broadcast team would consist of former big league players Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek beginning in 1990 until 1999.  These days, Harrelson is joined in the booth by former AL Cy Young award winner Steve Stone, who was once part of the Cubs broadcast team on the network.  They’ve been together as a broadcast team since 2009.

WGN-TV also began broadcasting games for the Bulls as well as Blackhawks.  However, due to affiliation contracts, they are limited to the amount of games shown for all Chicago teams.

In 2013, the Cubs terminated an existing deal with WGN that was set to expire in 2022.  However, a new deal was reached in January 2015 that will allow 45 games to be shown in the Chicago market only.  All other remaining Cubs games would be aired on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WLS-TV.  The deal expires after the 2019 season.

These days, the station is referred to as WGN America to satellite and cable providers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

This day in 1948 marked the beginning of not only baseball to be broadcast on WGN-TV, but all of its sports.  During a time when television gripped America, it was WGN-TV that took advantage of that by bringing Cubs and White Sox games to the network. Legendary broadcasters such as Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray contributed heavily to Major League Baseball as well as WGN to make the network what it is today.

“Chicago’s Very Own” WGN network is a pioneering super-station that has left a lasting impression on television as well as Major League Baseball and other sports.

Working the Game: An Interview with Dan Dickerson, Detroit Tigers Radio

This is the first in a periodic series of interviews, called “Working the Game”, with some of the broadcasting and journalism professionals who work every day in baseball.  Loosely based on the Slate podcast “Working”, these interviews attempt to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day to day basis.

Dan DickersonThis first interview takes place with Dan Dickerson, the play-by-play announcer for the Detroit Tigers Radio Network.  Dickerson is a veteran Michigan sports announcer who is serving his 16th season in the booth, and his 13th as the lead play-by-play radio voice of the Tigers. Dickerson made his Tigers debut in 2000 alongside Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell. Dickerson is available on Twitter at @Dan_Dickerson.

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

Fall term, freshman year, Ohio Wesleyan, 1976, I fell into radio.  They had a 10-watt radio station and you could do anything you wanted. I was a DJ, but then I saw there was a need for someone to do Ohio Wesleyan football, and that was my first play-by-play. I was sitting in the pressbox, corrugated plastic around two chairs and a table, and I was in hog heaven!  So I got hooked on it.

My first job was at a radio station in Grand Rapids, then another job there, and all the time the jobs were in news and I wanted to get into sports, so I got a chance to do high school basketball playoffs there. That just reinforced my belief that play-by-play was what I really wanted to do. My wife was working at the Detroit Free Press, so I finally got to Detroit and [radio station] WWJ, doing news part-time. I got to do Michigan football and basketball, but the more I did baseball, the more I thought, this is what I want to do.  So I asked the Tigers about it in 1999.  I did pre-game and post-game, but I submitted my play-by-play tape in case Ernie [Harwell] ever got sick, and he missed, what, three games in 54 years? And they said they were thinking of adding a third guy to the booth the next year.  I actually applied when Ernie and Paul [Carey, Harwell’s long-time broadcasting partner] were let go [by radio station WJR after the 1991 season] and I obviously didn’t get it, but then I got it in 2000.

So the Tigers was the first baseball team you ever broadcast?

Yeah, isn’t that something? It was the last game at Tiger Stadium [on September 27, 1999] and Ernie gave me one inning of play-by-play. A couple weeks before they asked me whether I wanted to sit in with Ernie for the last couple of innings. I was already doing pre and post-game so we were going to be there all day anyway. Jim Price [Harwell’s then broadcasting partner and Dickerson’s current broadcasting partner] had left to participate in post-game ceremonies and he said I could sit in with Ernie for the last couple of innings. I was in the booth, which was tiny, maybe 8’ x 5’, and then Ernie stands up to stretch after the fourth inning and says, “So what’s the plan?” I told him I think I’m supposed to be here from the seventh inning on after Jim leaves and just stay out of your way until the end of the game. So Ernie asked, “Would you like to do an inning?” I said, naw, it’s your last game at Tiger Stadium. He asked again, “Do you want to do an inning?” Well, I was ready to do an inning and I wasn’t going to say “no” twice, so he gave me the bottom of the seventh and the top of the eighth. It was incredible because here it was, the last game he would ever do at Tiger Stadium, and he’s giving me, who’d never done an inning before, the chance to do one of his last three innings. I think it definitely helped to get me into the booth the next

What do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  Meaning, you get up in the morning, when does your routine start and what does it look like?

I would call the whole season “constant preparation”—you’re always looking ahead to the next series.  My must do’s for every series is, do a bio sheet for every player showing current stats, career stats, and I have their page from Baseball-Reference open. I put below that anything I think is interesting, such as defense, baserunning, basic stats. What kind of a hitter is he—does he walk much, does he strike out much, is he is power hitter—from either Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference. And the Fielding Bible is worth its weight in gold. It’s invaluable because they look at every [defensive] aspect of every position. I get baserunning numbers from the Bill James Handbook. It takes time to build pages for each individual player. That’s step one. Step two is series notes—how do the Tigers play the other team, how the opponent’s stadium “plays” year in and year out, how Tigers players hit each opposing pitcher last year and this, so on. That’s a page or two of notes right there. For instance, the Tigers just went to Pittsburgh, and you had an idea that run scoring was going to drop there because in the previous ten games there they’d scored 21 runs, it’s a pitchers’ ballpark, there aren’t many runs scored there, so that’s the kind of thing I like to give listeners a feel for.

Each day during a series I do a pitcher card, a 4×6 card for each starting pitcher, although instead of typing out the player bio I do the pitcher card handwritten, because you’re updating it every start. Current numbers, trends, recent starts, pitching splits, anything else that’s interesting.  Those are the basics right there.  I also do a team snapshot for each team in the American League Central which I started a couple years ago and update throughout the season with things like offense, defense, speed, baserunning, pitching, health.  Two pages each.

That’s something I really love about my job.  It’s labor intensive, but it’s so fun to me.  I frequently have to cram late at night or early in the morning since I also want to see my family when the team is at home, but once you’ve played every team at least once that season, it becomes easier to do.

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark?          

If it’s a home game, I like to get there between 2:00 and 2:30.

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

The hour or so before the clubhouse opens is a good hour.  I get in the booth, the stadium is quiet and beautiful, and I think about what we are going to talk about today.  The clubhouse opens at 3:30.   Brad usually does his media session then.  I do the manager’s show with him after that.  After the Brad show, the team heads out to BP about 4:15. I sometimes head down to the field and see who I can talk to.   I try to stop in the opposing clubhouse at least once a series, maybe talk to the manager or a player.  I like to head up to the booth by 5:00.  I’m glad there’s a first pitch because it would be easy to just look stuff up and write the whole night!  But in that two hours I might be filling out my scorebook or writing notes down or finalizing my pitcher cards.  I might talk to the opposing broadcasters; that’s always fun to me.  Good group of guys.  But I need those last two hours to finalize things because you know you’ll be interrupted or have conversations that will eat up part of that time.

When you’re on the road, because batting practice is 40 or 45 minutes later [than at home], it’s easier to go into the clubhouse early, so you can have conversations with players about things that happened in the past couple of games. Conversations are easier to have on the road.  I would talk to [former Tigers manager] Jim Leyland or [Tigers pitching coach] Jeff Jones, and I might take my scorebook and do the lineups there because you might end up having a conversation with someone there.

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

In Spring Training, the hardest thing is figuring out who’s on the field!  [Laughs] Give me the regular season every time. There’s nothing that’s really hard.  Just try to think ahead like a manager, especially when you get to the late innings, such as if the starter is tiring and getting knocked around, who’s available in the bullpen, what matchups do we have, all that.  I will never think at that level, because there’s so many things a manager thinks of that we’ll never know, but it’s fun to try to do.  If I’ve done my preparation, if I have my binders there, I might put those to the side and chances are I might not even open it for more than a batter or two during the game.  You’ve done your work, you set it aside, and you have it with you if you need it during the game.

What do you do in between innings of a broadcast?

It’s a minute-forty break, so it’s pretty quick.  I might stand up and stretch, get something to drink.  Sometimes you just let your brain go free for a minute and a half, then get back to it. Other times you might look something up, but usually I just look out at the ballpark, chat with Jim or chat with the engineer, or just stare blankly at the field for a minute. [Laughs] You do have to remember to stand up—you do have to move a little bit.

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

You got the post-game, so we’re there to make sure we get it to the next break. That goes pretty quickly.  There’s the player of the game, the play of the game, the stat of the game.  It’s a scoreboard show; there’s no heavy lifting.  That takes probably 20 to 25 minutes. I’ll do post game recaps on Twitter, for the fan out there who wants to know what went on during the game, the things that stood out.  Then I might write a game recap for 97.1 [FM, the Tigers’ flagship radio station], and they provide a link to it, with two or three highlights.

When you go on a road trip, how does your daily routine differ from when you’re working a homestand?

When I’m home, I want to make myself available for my family. I try to spend some time with my kids and my wife.  So you’re getting up earlier, or staying up later, to do your work.

The road is a little easier than at home, where you can throw yourself into your work more.   There’s always something to read.  I’m not a fast reader so I print out a lot of stuff! [Laughs]  Stuff I might never get to, but I try to keep up with things that are said about the [sport] and challenge assumptions made, such as whether relief pitching is truly dominating the game today and whether good hitting teams are better at hitting relief pitching.  I didn’t find any correlation for that, but that was a nice hour diversion.  That kind of thing takes time, and it’s easier to do that on the road.

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

I’m pretty boring!  I like finding a good bookstore.  I don’t really go out.  Most people ask, don’t you go out and get a good meal?  Usually not because most games are at night. You’re leaving late after the game and I don’t like to be by myself at a nice restaurant anyway! [Laughs] I don’t do much sightseeing by myself, I’d rather do that with my wife.  I like to walk around cities a little bit.  Sometimes in Seattle, though, I hop on a ferry to the islands and take in the gorgeous setting.  But usually, between getting my workout in, and my work in, the days go pretty quick.  I like cities and I like the ballparks, but I don’t do a whole lot of exploring on the road.

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

It’s a constant challenge to stay on top of some plays.  Guys like José Iglesias [Tiger shortstop] are not good for broadcasters because they’ll do [amazing] stuff and you have to try to describe it and you think, “I can’t keep up with this guy!”  He’ll do things I’ve never seen before.

There are some games that move very quickly, and you’re not painting as much of a picture as you would like to be, such as where defenders are or describing things on the field.  But you have to think about people tuning in and what they need to know, such as what the score is. Don’t be afraid to give the score more! Because people are always tuning in and out.

The advice I always got from Ernie, when I was thinking about how was I going to do this for 162 games and feeling a little anxious, was: “get what’s in front of you right.  Give the listener a clear understanding of what’s happening.  Everything else is style.”  That’s probably the best guidance for a radio play-by-play person.  Does the listener have a clear understanding of what happened?  And that’s what makes a guy like Iglesias such a challenge to describe. So sometimes it’s best just to describe the basics of the play, and then go back and fill in the details, because there’s just too much going on in the moment.

Sometimes, if I see a play I haven’t seen before, I will practice that same play on the way home.   I’ll think, “OK, I screwed that play up”, and I’ll just run it through my brain, and I’ll practice the call again so that next time I’ll call it correctly.  There’re just some plays that trip you up.

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

You get maybe 15 or 16 off days during the season, other than the All-Star break. Some of those are travelling, but there aren’t many of those anymore.  Like, you’re off on Monday and you’re traveling—that’s not much of an off day to me.   They’ve gotten better at that.

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

I’ve been going to West Michigan since I was a wee lad, so we rent a cottage there.  I go from Sunday to Friday, and it’s heaven just to relax for a few days.  I might have to do a little work, but I like what I do, so it’s not like I have to “do work”.   When you have an off day on the road or at home, you’re always thinking about the next series, so having those four days at the Break, where you don’t really have to do anything if you don’t want to, is heaven.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?  Do you do any broadcasting?  

I don’t like doing a whole lot.  I do a radio talk show in January and February, one hour, once a week, Tigers talk with [97.1 radio host] Pat Caputo. A few events for Fox Sports Detroit, anywhere from five to eight events.  I call the Michigan High School Football Championships—I’ll do two to three games most years. That’s fun. I try to do a little bit of hockey. I’d like to get more college hockey, maybe five to seven games a year.  That would be great. Talk about being out of your comfort zone! Mike Emrick, who is the very best, gave me a good tip: when you’re calling Michigan State-Ohio State hockey game on TV, you’re describing for a Michigan State audience, so when two guys go into the corner, you just have to get the Michigan State guy’s name. You don’t have to name everyone on every play, because it’s TV.  If it were radio, and I tried to practice it, just … forget it.  But I really like hockey.

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

Ernie [Harwell] is at the top, because I grew up listening to him.  That ability to wear well over a summer is a special thing.  As a listener you like having that radio on—or these days, your phone or your computer—and you like the sound of the game being called, even if it’s as background, while you’re doing something else.  That how I listen.  I felt the same way about George Kell and Al Kaline, on TV.  I love their style, the sound, how they called the game.  I recall where I was listening to many key moments in the 80s and 90s … well, there weren’t many key moments [for the Tigers] in the 90s, but … [Laughs]. But I remember right where I was when [Ernie] called [those moments].

When my wife and I lived in different cities for a while I used to drive across Michigan to see her, so I would like to pull in other cities and their broadcasts.  I liked Bob Uecker in Milwaukee.  My exposure to him was late night with Johnny Carson, Mr. Belvedere … but then you hear him call a game and you think, “Wow, this guy is really good.”

Joe Block, who was one of my wife’s students (at Michigan State), he’s the middle innings guy in Milwaukee.  I try to listen to him when I can.  Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo with Oakland do a terrific job.  Ken’s got a very smooth delivery and Vince does a good job—that’s a good team.  The Tampa Bay guys do a very nice job, Dave [Wills] and Andy [Freed], good voices.  Dave O’Brien [Red Sox] is very good.  Gary Thorne [Orioles]—he does TV, but I wish he did radio—he’s right at the top.  Tom Hamilton [Indians], I’ll listen to him, I like him.  Tom and I have become very good friends.   He’s not that much older than me but he’s been in the job longer than me.  I was just a middle innings guy in 2000 and he immediately befriended me and treated me like one of the guys.  The career advice he’s given me has been great.

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

Good question. [Laughs]  Understand that we’re going to make a mistake once in a while and we can’t erase it, we can’t hit a delete button.  Five hundred hours of being on the air, you’re going to slip up once or twice.

Jim Leyland sat in with us one inning in Spring Training, in this tiny little booth in Lakeland, which he’d never done before.  We’re watching from behind home plate, and there’s no monitor, since it’s not a regular season game.  So, the batter takes what I think is a weak swing, looks like he’s flailing at an off-speed pitch, so I said, “he swings and misses on a changeup.”  Well, I look at the board and it says “95 MPH”.  After the inning, Jim is joking with me: “Whoa, he swung at a 95 MPH changeup!  He must have a 105 MPH fastball!”  He hasn’t let me forget that ever since!  Every time I see him … we’re watching David Price pitching 95 in Cleveland, Jim Leyland’s in the booth next door with Dave Dombrowski, and he looks over at me and he’s giving me the changeup motion with his left hand and he’s going, “like this?”  [Laughs]

Sometimes people wonder if I’m a homer.  I am employed by the team.  But the thing I appreciate is that the Tigers have never, in sixteen years, told me what I can and cannot say, about a player or anything.  But you use your brain and realize that things you say will get back to the players.  If you report that a player’s 2-for-24, they don’t mind that.  But if you get personal with them and talk about bad effort, it’s different and you’re going to hear about it.  You shouldn’t say anything on the air that you wouldn’t say to their face.

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

I joke about this with the sales guys all the time, but the constant reads that you have to do.   I have a good relationship with the head sales guy at 97.1, and I understand they pay the bills but I’ll always push back on that, we want to make sure we’re not interrupting the broadcast with too many reads, or cluttering the broadcast, and he understands that.  But I think we’ve gotten to the point where we get the reads in at the beginning of an inning, satisfy the sponsors, and then get on with the game.  I think we’ve struck a good balance, and that’s always the battle, and you’re spoiled because you just want to call the game and not be bothered, but you know you have to pay the bills.

Old Faces In New Places Dot 2015 Broadcasting Landscape

Regardless of what market you’re in, there’s a lot of baseball at your disposal this week in one of the two free preview weeks of MLB Extra Innings. Of course, as I started writing this, two of the six games in progress were in rain delays, to say nothing of blackouts (sorry, Iowa), so your mileage may vary.

In Bill James’s Historical Baseball Abstract, he uses the abbreviation S.O.C., Same Old Cities, to describe the places where the game was played from 1903 to 1952. Even though the teams didn’t move, the game continued to evolve, however. The part about moving is true again in 2015, but the state of broadcasting has evolved in several places as well.

Following the rule that it’s not plagiarism if you cite your sources, below are several places where that has been the case. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of national games each announcer has called entering the season, taken from SABR’s national telecast database.

In Chicago, the Cubs leave longtime radio home WGN 720, breaking a 62-year run on that station to jump 60 kHz up the dial to WBBM 780. Judd Sirott, who had handled the fifth inning of play-by-play since 2009, stayed at WGN rather than switching stations with the team. From what I’ve heard in the spring, color man Ron Coomer is calling that inning, although TV voice Len Kasper (2) did so on Opening Night.

Kasper and Jim Deshaies (9) are no longer plying their trade for a national audience as WGN America dropped Chicago sports this winter. The Cubs took a package of 24 games to ABC affiliate WLS, and both Chicago teams moved their WGN overflow from independent WCIU to WPWR (MyNetwork TV).

In the Metroplex, Rangers radio moves from KESN 103.3 to KRLD 105.3. The Rangers had two previous stints on KRLD, 1972-73 and 1995-2012, although major portions of those stints were at 1080 on the AM dial. Orioles radio broadcasts shift from WBAL 1090 back to WJZ 95.7, where they had been from 2007-10.

The Mets add Wayne Randazzo from low-A Kane County to replace Seth Everett as pre- and postgame radio host. If Randazzo adds fill-in play-by-play duties when Howie Rose (2) is with the Islanders or Josh Lewin (274) with the Chargers, he would usurp Ed Coleman.

Kevin Burkhardt (3) leaves Mets TV for Fox, and he’s succeeded by Steve Gelbs. SNY also signs Cliff Floyd, who had been at MLB Network. Elsewhere in the N.L. East, Jamie Moyer leaves Phillies TV to spend more time with his family. Ben Davis replaces him.

Gabe Kapler (2) leaves Fox for the Dodgers’ front office. Dusty Baker (10) will start drawing paychecks from Fox, as will Raul Ibanez. Carlos Pena and Pedro Martinez join MLB Network. Barry Larkin (8) exits ESPN.

The couple dozen Yankees games that aren’t on YES in New York move from WWOR (MyNetwork TV) to WPIX (CW).

Jeff Levering moves from AAA Pawtucket to the Brewers’ radio booth. When Bob Uecker (147) is off, Joe Block assumes the main role and Levering the #2 spot, doing three innings of PBP (the Brewers typically don’t do much in the way of color commentary). When “Ueck” works, Block fills the #2 position and Levering “will provide video, photo, audio and written content for Brewers.com and various other Brewers social media platforms.”

Speaking of aging legends, Vin Scully (273) is also back in the radio booth for his age-87 season in Los Angeles. When Scully works, Charley Steiner (84) and Rick Monday (1) call the final six innings on radio: when he does not, Steiner joins Orel Hershiser (226) and Nomar Garciaparra (55) on TV and Monday calls the radio action with Kevin Kennedy (145).

Eric Chavez replaces Shooty Babitt on Oakland television for 20 or so games. I think this is unfortunate, because it greatly reduces the number of opportunities I have to type “Shooty Babitt.” On the radio side, Roxy Bernstein steps in for Ken Korach, who’s having knee problems, for the first couple of weeks.

Jack Morris (1) (last at Fox Sports North) and Kirk Gibson (7) (former Diamondbacks manager) join Fox Sports Detroit to occasionally spell Rod Allen (16). This author will now join Morris and Gibson in their endeavor: R-o-d A-l-l-e-n.

And now, leaving that tangent aside, we return to our rundown.

At the national level, ESPN returns its Sunday Night Baseball crew of Dan Shulman (364), John Kruk (64) and Curt Schilling (14). Dave O’Brien (448), the most-tenured active national announcer not named Buck, returns to Monday nights with Aaron Boone (129) and either Mark Mulder (22) or Dallas Braden. O’Brien’s old partner Rick Sutcliffe (433) joins Doug Glanville (24) and Jon Sciambi (93) on Wednesday. Since ESPN has the budget to assemble a 25-man roster of its own, we’ll likely also see cameos from Sean McDonough (172), Steve Levy (7), Dave Flemming (4), Karl Ravech (30), Chris Singleton (24), and several other people.

Fox’s lead trio of Joe Buck (515), Harold Reynolds (88) and Tom Verducci (124) returns for its second season, joined by Ken Rosenthal (326), who has reported from the field more than the second- and third-most common field reporters combined. The Fox stable also includes Joe Davis (2), who was in elementary school when Buck called his first World Series, Mariners radio voice Aaron Goldsmith, Justin Kutcher (29), Matt Vasgersian (163) and network standbys Thom Brennaman (363) and Kenny Albert (347). On the analyst side, Ibanez is joined by C.J. Nitkowski (8), John Smoltz (166), and Eric Karros (184).

MLB Network’s showcase games feature Vasgersian or Bob Costas (354) with Smoltz and/or Jim Kaat (184). As I finish this post, their first game of the season is in a light-failure delay.

TBS will return with a package of Sunday night games in the second half of the season using talent that has not been announced.

And most importantly, night after night, from now till the end of October, baseball is back.