Thursday, June 21, 2012

Absolutely Amazing!

I cringe every time I hear a broadcaster speak in absolute terms. Because one thing is for sure – things can absolutely change.

What do I mean?

How often do you hear a sportscaster say something like:

“That was the most amazing catch I’ve ever seen!”

“This is the best team ever!”

“They will never come back from this deficit.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.”

When using words and phrases that are so absolute in nature, you leave yourself no wiggle room. You need some room to adapt and adjust. The “most amazing catch you’ve ever seen.” Perhaps 20 years ago you saw one even more magnificent, even if you can’t recall it off the top of your head. Use caution when speaking in these absolute terms. At times they may be appropriate. More often than not, they aren’t.

As a broadcaster, language has meaning. Take care when using words such as most, best, worst, never, etc. In the dynamic world of sportscasting, things change. Often. Always.

That much is absolutely true.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thumbs Up or Down for Moneyball

Every night I turn on the TV and it’s on. I walk into the room and my wife is watching it, again. And most times I stop and watch some, if not all, of Moneyball.

I’m not a fan of sports movies in general. After broadcasting thousands of events, I think too often these movies fail to capture the “real-life” story of their game. Most times the drama on the screen doesn’t match the way things really are on the field. Most sports movies are made for the public in general, rather than for actual sports fans. Watered down and dumbed down.

I think Moneyball is different. In my opinion, it is a terrific movie and a wonderful baseball movie. Sure, there is a good degree of poetic license. One of the main characters, Peter Brand, never existed. And the 2002 A’s biggest stars – Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Tejada and Chavez – are hardly mentioned. True, they were the main reason this team won 103 games. Some well-respected baseball colleagues of mine consider the movie a bomb. This still surprises me. As a baseball movie, I still consider it a home run.  It was fun and it made me laugh!

I’m not a huge Brad Pitt fan. However, this is the best I’ve ever seen him perform in a film. In this movie I felt as though he was a lifetime baseball man. As for Jonah Hill, he is one of the best. Watch him in any movie and you’re on the ground laughing. Superbad is one of my all-time favorites and, again, very true-to-life. Hill's timing and delivery is second-to-none.  I’ll tweet this post to him to get his thoughts.

From a broadcaster’s point of view, I feel the day to day aspect of this movie was extremely authentic. From scenes in the clubhouse, the team offices and with the scouts. From my time in the game, this really is the way it happens. Baseball people really can be as petty or arrogant as many of these characters are. This movie truly captured big league baseball, in my opinion. I am glad some facts didn’t get in the way of this great story.

What do you think? Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down for Moneyball? Be sure to vote in our poll.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Broadcasting Because Of Dad

This Father's Day I'm reminded of a question I've gotten quite often from broadcast students.

"Do some broadcasters get their job just because of who their Dad is?"

The answer is very simple - yes.

There are plenty of examples of big time broadcasters who hold the position solely because their Dad was/is a big time broadcaster, executive or power player of some sort. It's true, get used to it. And the truth is that some of them are just not good enough to get there on their own. I've always felt that out of...let's say 150 minor league baseball broadcasters, there are at least a couple dozen that are skilled enough and should be in the big leagues.

The cynical trap many fall into, however, is to think broadcasting is any different than any other area of life. Do some business professionals rise to their rank only because of their genealogy? Of course. Are some entertainers riding high because of big daddy's pockets? Certainly. It also happens to managers, accountants, attorneys and janitors too. That's life.

Because broadcasters are in the public eye, it seems that so many of them are simply picked because of who their father was. The truth, however, is that it's probably the same percentage as in any other area of life. In addition, for each one who may be undeserving, there's a Joe Buck who has risen to become a legit number one, regardless of his bloodlines. In fact, give him credit for learning from a master, his Dad Jack Buck. He overcame the double-edged sword of having to grow through his father's shadow.

As a broadcaster, don't let yourself become too jaded to see that YOU control YOU. Life isn't always fair, and this industry is no different. You can't worry about other people from other situations. Life is too short. You’ve got a game to do.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

10 Things I Dislike About Baseball In 2012

- Broadcasters who scream and use cute catch-phrases to attract attention and appear on Sportscenter. The ESPN-ization of sports media.

- The infield shift, employed by more and more teams. I understand it, but it just doesn’t ring true to me.

- Sideline reporters who deliver canned material and graphics. We don’t need you for that. We can get it from the others in the booth. Please give us some material that is going to add to our viewing experience.

- Inter-League Play. We’ve had Inter-League play most years since 1903. It’s called the World Series.

- The claw and antlers. The Rangers wanted team unity, but I think they just look ridiculous. Pump your fist. Clap your hands. Seems like something out of a bad video game.

- Highlight shows that focus first and foremost on home runs. Read Keith Hernanzez's book Pure Baseball
 to see how nuanced each game really is.


- Instant replay. I’ve always felt the human element is part of the game’s magic. Even in no-hitters such as Johan Santana’s and near-no-hitters, such as R.A. Dickey’s.

- Broadcasters who refer to the team as “We”. You are there to describe. You don’t change the outcome of even one pitch.

- Umpires who act like they are bigger than the game. Like broadcasters, the only person who watches the game because of an umpire is his mother. (Thanks Marty Glickman for using that line to refer to broadcasters)

- The end of the season. Even with these nitpicks, it is still the greatest game ever invented.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Warner Fusselle

I met Warner Fusselle on August 22, 1994. It was my first season calling minor league baseball for the Hudson Valley Renegades. My broadcast partner, Bill Rogan, and I had to deliver a tape to a “This Week In Baseball” producer in South Hackensack, New Jersey. Fussell was the longtime host of TWIB, and it was quite a thrill to meet a broadcasting icon that day.

I grew up watching “This Week In Baseball.” I looked forward to TWIB’s airing before a Mets weekend game even more than the game itself. (In fact, the show’s theme song was recently my cell phone ring tone for a couple years) As we stood talking to Warner Fusselle in his crowded office in New Jersey, I recall thinking “I can’t wait to tell my Dad I met Warner Fusselle!” He was extremely gracious and cordial, and we had a nice visit. I had met many sports and broadcasting figures that year, but none compared to meeting the voice of “This Week In Baseball,” Warner Fusselle.

Five years later, I was the basketball play by play voice of the Army Cadets at West Point. On December 20th, Army played Seton Hall at the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey. Before the game, I introduced myself to Warner Fusselle, who was calling games for Seton Hall. He remembered me from our brief meeting years earlier. We did a great pregame interview, chatting about college hoops and broadcasting in general. It was great to hear him tell stories in his familiar southern voice.

Classic baseball broadcasters have had the ability to come into our home and, in turn, bring us to the ballpark. Ernie Harwell, Marty Glickman and Red Barber had this talent. So did Warner Fusselle. Whether it was “This Week In Baseball”, college hoops or the Brooklyn Cyclones, Fusselle had that warm, friendly sound that made you feel like you were watching the game with a friend. Sports fans – and broadcasting fans – undoubtedly had one in Warner Fusselle.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cohen or Kay on TV?

This weekend’s question was - Who is the better TV Play By Play broadcaster, the Mets’ Gary Cohen or the Yankees’ Michael Kay.
In our nationwide, unscientific poll, you chose Cohen over Kay 60% to 40%.

I asked for some input, specifically relating to the following criteria -

How do you factor in:
- Knowledge
- Enthusiasm
- Credentials
- Voice Quality
- Style
- Broadcast Partners

Rather than a full dissertation on the role and duties of a play by play broadcaster, here are my thoughts on these points.

In terms of knowledge, I don’t think you can argue that each of these guys lives and dies with his club. They each grew up watching and rooting for the team for which he now works. Kay knows the Yankees extremely well, and Cohen’s knowledge of Mets history is borderline encyclopedic.

As for enthusiasm, Kay is certainly the more overtly enthusiastic of the two. Especially if you measure simply by voice elevation, volume, etc. In fact, many would argue that this is a negative in his style, going overboard with his Pinstripe enthusiasm and catch phrases.

These two broadcast veterans have paid their dues. After Fordham, Kay worked up the newspaper reporting ranks before hopping over to the radio airwaves. He held a variety of TV positions and eventually moved from radio to the YES Network. I think he is terrific as a daytime talk-show host, which allows him to showcase his deep and passionate knowledge in all areas of sports.
Cohen excelled calling games in the minor leagues, not to mention years broadcasting locally and nationally - college basketball, Olympic hockey, and much more. He’s been a consummate pro, calling a variety of spots for a long time.

I don’t think you can equate Kay’s raspy voice to the clear pipes of Gary Cohen. I’ve never believed, by the way, that this should be one of the top criteria in judging a broadcaster. Simply put, however, Cohen was blessed with a terrific, clear broadcasting voice. Kay’s can become grating at times.

Both of these TV broadcasters did well on radio, with descriptive styles that painted the word picture for the listener. Television is a different medium, where less is often more. I see Kay often doing radio play by play on TV, using too many descriptive words when less will do. Cohen occasionally does the same. After a longtime career in radio, these habits can become ingrained.

When it comes to broadcast partners, it is an advantage to work consistently with the same team. In Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, Gary Cohen has two regular counterparts with which to banter and develop on-air chemistry. Michael Kay has a larger cast of characters, from David Cone and Ken Singleton to Al Leiter, John Flaherty and Paul O’Neill. In my estimation, however, he handles the revolving booth quite well. Both men excel at setting their color partners up to succeed and share their vast experiences with the viewer.

In conclusion, both of these broadcasters have attributes that make them well liked and respected by fans and colleagues. Kay is a Yankee fan through and through, and it comes across on the air. To me, however, Gary Cohen is the more classic, Marty Glickman-like TV play by play guy. He very rarely has a verbal flub. He maintains a steady even-handedness, and he hardly ever gets overly riled up. These are some of the reasons why I feel Gary Cohen is the best TV play by play broadcaster calling New York baseball.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Best TV Play By Play Voice In New York

Who is the best TV play by play voice in New York?
Gary Cohen or Michael Kay?
Pretty simple question, right? Does it necessarily come down to your team allegiance?

How do you factor in:
- Knowledge
- Enthusiasm
- Credentials
- Voice Quality
- Style
- Broadcast Partners

Perhaps one is more of a shill than the other. Maybe one has a deeper baseball knowledge. Is either smoother on the air? What are your thoughts?

Please vote and the next post will discuss the results.
You must be on the web version of the blog to vote, not on the mobile phone version. (just click the button to switch, simple)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Proper English On The Hardcourt

Isn’t it great when we hear the English language used properly? Especially in the sports world.

During Game 4 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals this week, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo said the Miami Heat were “complaining and crying to the referees.”

After the game, Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said, “I could really care less…” However he quickly changed the beginning of his statement to, “I couldn’t care less….” Bravo coach! Saying he "could" care less means that he actually does care a little. He quickly corrected to clearly make the point that he does not care about Rondo's comments.

Am I the only one who still applauds when the language is used correctly? Am I the only one so….ahem…uptight about such things? How many broadcasters could pass this high standard? Sadly, not enough of them. (That’s a sentence fragment, by the way. It’s a blog. Get over it.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Little League Slugger


I spent the 2000 season broadcasting for the New York Yankees AA affiliate Norwich Navigators. As often was the case, many of the Yankees brass would take the short trip to Norwich, Connecticut to spend some time with the top prospects. One rainy afternoon, Reggie Jackson showed up.

Even though the game was in jeopardy due to the ongoing drizzle, I strolled down to the Navigators clubhouse to grab Reggie for a pre-game interview. We met, shook hands and exchanged a few moments of small talk. He apologized and told me he was on his way to work with some hitters.
“I’ll catch you later,” Mr. October said to me. No problem. I took my recorder and headed back into the team offices to take care of some of my more mundane pre-game duties. The following story was recounted in the next morning’s newspaper.

After working with some of the hitters in the batting cage, Reggie Jackson was hanging around, waiting to see if they were going to play through the inclement weather. As was the norm with a Yankees affiliate (especially one with Drew Henson), the team often played host to national and, occasionally, international media.

A few media members and coaches were milling around near the underground batting cage. One foreign broadcaster was clearly out of place, apparently having never covered baseball before. He looked at Reggie Jackson and said, “I always liked this game of baseball. I was pretty good in…you call it Little League.” Reggie nodded kindly.

He then glanced up and again tried to make small talk with Jackson. Very matter-of-factly, he asked, “How about you? Did you play? Were you any good in Little League?”
Mr. October looked up at the reporter and responded with amazement, “Little League? I was the whole game!”

About an hour later the game was officially called off due to rain. I never did get the interview, as Jackson was long gone by the time I got back down to the clubhouse. I bet he was pretty darn good in Little League, though.



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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saying Nothing On The Air

Last night during Johan Santana’s remarkable Mets no-hitter, I saw a terrific broadcaster do a terrific job by saying nothing. Hugh? But isn’t a broadcaster supposed to talk? And most DO! They talk, and talk and talk. And more than a few yell and yell and yell. So how can a broadcaster succeed by saying nothing?

The goal of the play by play broadcaster is to bring the listener into the game, so to speak. The great Marty Glickman used to say he wanted the viewer/listener to “feel” as if they were sitting next to him at the game. Let them experience every emotion along with each fan in the stands.
On last night’s final pitch, Mets TV play by play man Gary Cohen exuberantly declared that Santana had completed the first no-hitter in Mets history…..and then he shut up! For 64 seconds he said nothing. (I timed it with my DVR and iPhone) Also silent were Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, his broadcast partners. Whether it was planned or not, it was masterful broadcasting.

As I watched Santana being mobbed by his teammates, I felt as though I was in the stadium. I didn’t have some obnoxious loudmouth yelling in my ear. It wasn’t about the broadcaster, it was about the moment. Because of the words they didn’t say, it was a wonderful moment for me, the viewer.

When I called the final out of the Hudson Valley Renegades New York Penn League title in 1999, I tried to employ much the same tactic. After an excited description of the game’s final pitch (a strikeout), I let the crowd fill the broadcast air. On radio I didn’t let it go 64 seconds, but surely for 10 or 20 my listeners heard a jubilant crowd and fireworks filling the air. Gary Cohen I’m not, but I’m proud to say I learned a thing or two from Marty Glickman.

How many broadcasters would have let us enjoy that moment by saying nothing?