Category Archives: Radio

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

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!

Watch Bob Uecker Get Rescued From His Own Broadcast Booth

Well, not exactly rescued.  Well, yeah, he was eventually rescued, but you don’t see that here.  OK, so maybe the headline is a bit misleading.

Point is, Bob Uecker got locked into his own broadcast booth during the sixth inning last night’s Dodgers-Brewers tilt at Miller Park.  As if the guy doesn’t have enough wacky stories to tell.

If you subscribe to any of the services where you can replay the radio broadcast of any major league game, call up last night’s Brewer game and tune to the bottom of the sixth inning.  His description of the proceedings must have been priceless.

In the meantime, enjoy this:

New Biography: Ned Martin

Committee member Bob LeMoine has just penned a new biography of Ned Martin, the legendary Red Sox broadcaster who called the games for the club from 1961 through 1992 on both radio (WHDH; WMEX/WITS) and television (WHDH-TV, WSBK-TV, NESN).  Martin called many of the Crimson Hose’s signature moments, including Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 walk-off home run in the 1975 World Series; Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout game in 1986; and the entire “Impossible Dream” season of 1967.

We have posted the biography on our site here:

Ned Martin

The biography also appears in the newly published SABR book, “’75: The Red Sox Team that Saved Baseball“, which is available for free download for all SABR members, or for purchase by generous members (in paperback) and non-members alike (download or paperback).

Here is a brief excerpt from LeMoine’s biography:


“Oh, Gertrude, when sorrows come they come not as single spies but in battalions.”

Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5, a favorite quote of Ned Martin
when the Red Sox were having a particularly bad day.

“With this back and these knees? Mercy,” Ned Martin asked rhetorically, using his trademark exclamation when asked if he was going to dance the jitterbug at his 50th high-school reunion. Still, he and his classmates of the Upper Merion High School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Class of 1940, danced to the Big Band tunes of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. Martin also reflected on his English teacher and his “old country school.” “Marie Wolfskill. Just an excellent English teacher in a little country school. … What a major role that woman played in my life. … it was largely because of her teaching I’ve been able to make my living through my use of the English language; it was because of her I developed a love for that language.”

Ned Martin could be called the Shakespeare of the broadcast booth, or baseball’s Hemingway scholar-in-residence. He could inject a broadcast at the right moment with literary quotes, poems, or song lyrics, while his catchphrase of “Mercy!” summed up many moments of Red Sox history. Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione called Martin “the most literate of all broadcasters … a scholar of literature and a great Hemingway expert. He had a way of describing things very succinctly, honestly, and openly. He never interfered with an event.” Dave Weekley of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette recalled Martin’s “low-key quiet confidence … His delivery was easy on the ears and his renowned wit allowed him to refer to his beloved Shakespeare when the time was right.” Curt Gowdy called Martin “a highly intelligent guy with a great vocabulary and a good voice.”

A Red Sox announcer for 32 years, Martin also served his country in World War II, celebrating victory at Iwo Jima. But he was most at home behind the radio microphone, where his mastery of language painted pictures in the minds of his listeners. “Active verbs are really helpful. It isn’t an awful thing to have a vocabulary and use it,” Martin remarked.

Those active verbs could be a ball “caroming” off the wall or “lofted” over it; a lead was “tenuous,” and fans “vociferous.” Home runs were “long gone and hard to find.” The aging Gaylord Perry was called “sparsely thatched” on top. He would greet fans during a West Coast game with “Hello, wherever you may be at this ungodly hour,” or sum up a poor Red Sox performance with “‘It was death in the afternoon,’ as Hemingway would have said.” Martin’s rich usage of literature gave us calls like “So the little children shall lead them as rookies Rice and Lynn have driven in all of the Red Sox runs,” and it is often his descriptions Red Sox fans remember when reliving moments of Red Sox history from the 1960s through the early 1990s.

(Continue reading here.)

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.

Nearly 100 years ago, baseball almost banned broadcasts

On May 1, James Walker’s new book about the history of baseball radio broadcasts, Crack of the Bat, will be released.  The article below, written by Dr. Walker, first appeared on the website The Conversation US.

Nearly 100 years ago, baseball almost banned broadcasts

James Walker, Saint Xavier University

Fear of the unknown: would free radio broadcasts hurt gate receipts? (from www.shutterstock.com)

 

In December 2011, when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Texas Rangers signed away their local television rights for about $3 billion apiece, the sport media heralded a new record for local television rights fees. Accounting for roughly 43% of MLB’s $8 billion haul in 2014, media revenues have made the players rich and the owners even richer.

Today, the idea that a team would ban its games from being broadcast is unthinkable, so ingrained are TV and radio contracts in the marketing and business practices of the sport.

But in 1921, when radios first began making their way into American homes, a number of baseball team owners weren’t quite sure what to make of the emerging technology. In fact, the owners were sharply divided over whether or not broadcasting games on the radio would benefit or deeply damage revenues. A 20-year battle among owners would ensue.

East Coast opposition

While radio’s popularity couldn’t be denied, half of baseball’s barons – mostly located along the East Coast – viewed radio as a fifth estate thief, robbing them of paying customers at the gate. And in this era, the gate was everything.

But other owners, led by Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley and located primarily in the Midwest, saw radio as a promotional machine that would sell baseball to women and, more importantly, children – the next generation of paying fans.

Each group had sound reasons for its stance. Squeezed along the Atlantic coast, the eastern franchises drew most paying customers from dense, urban populations who used streetcars and subways to get to the ballparks. These teams worried that radio might keep some of those fans at home.

 

Onlookers watch a game at the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants. Note the trains in the background.  Wikimedia Commons

 

Midwestern owners, generally located in smaller cities, depended more on out-of town weekend and holiday guests, who arrived by car and bus. In their minds, baseball broadcasts would reach across the region’s vast farm fields and into the living rooms of small town America, tempting tens of thousands to come to the city and see what they could only hear through the ether.

In the 1920s, teams that did broadcast games on the radio usually charged nothing for the rights, settling for free promotion of their on-field product. For Wrigley, who was accustomed to paying retail rates to advertise his chewing gum, the prospect of two hours of free advertising for his Chicago Cubs (over as many as five Chicago radio stations) was generous enough compensation. But the anti-radio owners, led by the three New York clubs (the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers), wanted to deny Wrigley his two-hour Cubs commercial.

Although he jealously guarded his control over World Series radio rights, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis believed local radio rights were a league matter and left the decision to broadcast regular season games to the owners. At several NL and AL owners meetings in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the anti-radio forces proposed a league-wide ban on local broadcasts of regular season games.

Pro-radio clubs, led by Cubs’ President Bill Veeck, Sr, were adamant that the choice to broadcast belonged to his club. It was no more of concern to other clubs, he argued, than the decision whether or not to sell peanuts to the fans in the stands.

But to teams like the St Louis Cardinals, it was a concern: because the Cubs’ radio waves reached the Cardinals’ fan base, they were convinced that the broadcasts negatively influenced their own attendance numbers. The decision of whether or not to broadcast games, they reasoned, was not the Cubs alone to make.

 

Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio details the important role radio played in America’s pastime.  University of Nebraska Press

 

What finally won over the Cardinals – and enough of the owners to prevent the passage of a league-wide radio ban – was the classic “slippery slope” argument: if the League could dictate radio rights, what other team rights might be at stake? To them, team autonomy was paramount.

From there, the best the anti-radio forces could muster was a tie vote at the 1934 American League meeting; team control over its media rights was codified by the slimmest of margins.

The matter appeared settled: pro-radio teams would continue to exploit the medium and anti-radio barons would limit coverage to the home opener and a handful of other games.

General Mills pounces

But the makers of the “Breakfast of Champions” had other ideas. General Mills, producer of Wheaties, realized that broadcasts of the national pastime and other sports were direct avenues into the American home. Sports sold breakfast food to kids and their moms, so General Mills invested heavily in game broadcasts, becoming the leading sponsor of the sport by 1936. General Mills bought major league broadcasts where available and even tried to purchase league-wide contracts in 1936, presenting survey evidence that “baseball broadcasting, properly handled, definitely increases attendance at the parks.”

 

General Mills was an early proponent of radio broadcasts.  GeneralMills/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

 

General Mills also sponsored training conferences to professionalize baseball announcing, and offered prizes to announcers who did the best job of increasing the home gate.

Radio didn’t even require an announcer to be at the ballpark. Games could be “re-created” out of any station using telegraph reports of the games (with a few sound effects peppered in to enhance the realism of the broadcast). In 1933, General Mills sponsored re-creations of Cubs and White Sox games by “Dutch” Reagan – future president Ronald Regan – over Iowa stations WOC and WHO. General Mills’ aggressive push alarmed NL President Ford Frick who worried that his senior circuit might become “a breakfast food league.”

 

According to the Sporting News, the young Ronald Reagan had ‘a thorough knowledge of the game, a gift for narrative and a pleasant voice.’  Wikimedia Commons

 

But mighty as it was, General Mills was initially frozen out of the nation’s biggest baseball market.

In 1932, the three New York clubs had agreed to ban local broadcasts for five years. The teams had little regular local coverage and even restricted broadcasts from visiting teams back to their home cities. Undaunted, General Mills began sponsoring re-creations of Boston and Philadelphia home games on New York’s WMCA, opening up the New York market without the consent of the Yankees, Giants or Dodgers. While not as popular as their local teams’ games might be, New York listeners finally were finally receiving a regular dose of MLB play.

Pressure on anti-radio teams to broadcast was growing in other markets. In Pittsburgh, stations were re-creating games without consent of the local team, using observers at the park, or monitoring other broadcasts. Owners now realized their property rights were at stake: if they didn’t meet the public’s demand for daily baseball broadcasts, others would.

The owners began to cooperate, sharing information on the value of their local broadcasts rights. In 1937, Leo Bondy of the New York Giants shocked NL owners by reporting that his team turned down $100,000 for the rights to broadcast home games.

 

Red Barber would go on to become the wildly popular voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Library of Congress

 

Soon, owners realized that baseball on the radio was more than promotion: it could generate some serious cash. To protect their increasingly valuable rights, owners took on broadcast bootleggers in federal court. In 1938, the Pittsburgh Pirates successfully sued local station KQV, which had been pirating the team’s broadcasts.

The court’s decision solidified the ownership of broadcast rights of local teams, opening the door to billions in future media rights revenues. In 1939, after the New York teams’ five-year ban expired, the Dodgers brought famed broadcaster Red Barber from Cincinnati to Brooklyn. The city quickly embraced the talented Barber. The Yankees and Giants followed suit, also allowing home broadcasts in 1939.

The 20-year conflict over radio was over. The two were now joined in an increasingly profitable partnership – one that, with the advent of TV, would go on to reap billions.

This article is based on material in Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio (University of Nebraska Press, 2015).

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

News Bites for February 10, 2015

Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson join Rod Allen as FSD Tigers analysts. Looks like there’s going to be a season-long audition for the second seat on Tigers telecasts during 2015.

Thoughts on the Nationals’ Radio Deal in Central Pennsylvania. Here’s the take on a Harrisburg radio station affiliation change from Phillies to Nationals, from SB Nation’s Washington Nationals site. Just for reference’s sake, here’s a Facebook fan map for the Harrisburg area.

Mark Grote to join Cubs radio team.  Remember all those amateurs who thought they were qualified to be the Cubs pre- and post-game hosts?  Yeah, none of them got hired.

White Sox announce ’15 spring-training broadcast schedule. Ten Cactus League spring training games plus eight webcasts will air on whitesox.com. Nine games will be broadcast on flagship radio station WSCR-AM (670-AM), starting March 4.

And now, for a whole slew of baseball media announcements about college baseball:

ESPN to Present Record College Baseball Coverage This Season. More than 675 exclusive regular-season and conference championship games will air on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network and Longhorn Network, as well as digital networks ESPN3 and SEC Network+.  This is than triple ESPN’s previous high for number of telecasts, set last season.

LCU Baseball Broadcasts Make Debut With Ramar Communications. An unaanounced number of games will air on AM950/100.7FM (KJTV) and Double-T 104.3 (KTTU).

Lobo baseball releases broadcast schedule. 15 University of New Mexico home games this year will be shown live on UPUBLIC TV and MY 50, starting Fenraury 27.

FSU Baseball Broadcast Schedule Announced.  Florida State baseball will air over 36 games to be televised nationally and/or regionally by ESPNU, ESPN3, SEC Network and SEC Network+, starting this Friday, February 13.

ACC SPRING OLYMPIC BROADCAST COVERAGE ANNOUNCED.  This will include a record 147 baseball games, including all 15 games of the ACC Baseball Championship.

Follow NM State Baseball on KRUX and Online – Adam Young with the play-by-play. 32 New Mexico State baseball games will air either KRUX 91.5 FM or online at www.NMStateSports.com, Adam Young on play-by-play, starting February 27 against Incarnate Word.

Clemson announces baseball video & radio schedules. Five regular-season baseball games will be televised on cable and 42 more will be available exclusively via live online video on TigerCast or ESPN3, starting with this Friday’s tilt against West Virginia.

2015 [Georgia Tech] TV Schedule Announced. No less [sic] than 25 Georgia Tech baseball games will be broadcast this year on television or online via ESPN3.

All 29 [Kansas State] Home Games to be Broadcast on TV. Starting with the Febrary 27 game against Eastern Illinois, games will be split between K-StateHD.TV and various Fox College Sports regional networks.

[Kansas] Baseball Announces TV Slate for 2015 Season.  38 games will be made available to Universoty of Kansas baseball fans, starting this Friday against LSU on SECN+/ESPN3.

Pac-12 Networks announces on-air talent & programming for third season of baseball coverage. “Former Major League Baseball player Randy Flores and longtime play-by-play man Daron Sutton join JT Snow and a bevy of broadcasters on Pac-12 Networks’ 114 collegiate baseball telecasts this season, [which] kicks off Friday, February 13 at 3 p.m. PT when Stanford hosts Indiana.”

2015 [Big 12 Conference] Baseball Telecast Schedule Announced. Seven regular season contests will feature all nine of the league’s squads, beginning on March 15 with Texas hosting West Virginia.

[North Carolina State] TV Schedule Announced.  36 games will air in 2015 on GoPack All-Access, ESPN3, ESPNU, and RSN.

 

A Bevy of Hall of Famers Did Baseball Radio Work in 1939, and Here’s the Proof

Committee member Bill Dunstone has shared with us this terrific find: an article, first published in the Sporting News in 1939, about former ballplayers who were set to take the booth that season, after having taken the field for various teams for so many seasons previous to that.  The best part of this picture, to us, is that no fewer than five of the players pictured here are Hall of Famers.

We can positively identify this as being from 1939 since that is the only year Walter Johnson, arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the game and the only player/broadcaster here that was already in the Hall (elected in its inaugural class in 1936), did the radio broadcasts for the Washington Senators for WJSV.

Two other future Hall of Famers in this picture who were doing play by play in 1939 were Harry Heilmann (Tigers on WXYZ; he broadcast for the team from 1934 to 1950), and Frankie Frisch (doing Red Sox and Bees games on WAAB; he also did Giants games on TV and radio in 1947 and 1948).  Frisch was voted into the Hall in 1947; Heilmann was elected in 1952.

The final two Hall of Famers pictured here were doing studio work that season.  Waite Hoyt, selected by the Veterans’ Committee in 1969, did pregame broadcasts for the Yankees and Giants on WABC in 1939, but later he would do radio play by play for the Reds from 1942 to 1965.  Freddie Lindstrom, a Veterans’ Committee selection in 1976, spent the season in question working at WLS in Chicago.

Even though the pictures of the men themselves is very grainy, the accompanying story is very legible.  Thank you, Bill, for sharing this with us!

If you, too, have any interesting artifacts, such as pictures, stories, video files, audio files or anything of the like, please feel free to contact us so we can share them with our readership as well.

Click on the thumbnail image below to open a new tab and view it in its full size glory.  (You may need to click the picture in the new tab once more to make it full size.)

1939 Ex-Player Broadcasters