Piling On Josh Hamilton

Wow, talk about piling on! His manager, that’s one thing. The team president, ok. But the barrage of media unloading on Josh Hamilton lately is something. It actually angers me.

Let’s keep things in context. Josh Hamilton is among the top five players in all of baseball with 28 home runs, and he’s tied for first with 83 RBIs. Yet he is drawing the wrath of many in the media and, apparently, many Rangers fans as well. Booing him at home? Come on.

I understand he’s seemed out of sorts lately, seemingly swinging listlessly without a thought. Please remember - he always looks that way! His approach to the game is so natural and carefree that it looks effortless, whether he connects or whiffs. Reminds me a lot of Ken Griffey Jr.

We’ve been hearing the recent rumbling of all the things that could be leading to Hamilton’s July swoon. Has he relapsed? Is he having trouble at home? Giving up tobacco? My answer is, who cares! It’s a slump, everyone has one! Is the guy allowed to have his mind wander a little in six months?

No doubt many are lining up to see Hamilton fail. That’s the way our culture is, especially in the TV age. A guy with that many tattoos must be trouble. He must be up to no good. They think it’s only a matter of time. I’m also convinced that many in the media bristle with his firm and outward reliance on God. Many of them hate that more than anything.

The point is that Josh Hamilton has gone things in life that make baseball seem nearly meaningless. I haven’t spoken to him since 1999, and I have no idea what tomorrow holds for any athlete. I do, however, admire his perspective, keeping baseball in its rightful place.

“I play games for a living,” he said today, noting that he hears the boos but won’t lose sleep over it.

Josh Hamilton says soon we will all have a better idea of what he is currently battling. The media and fans need to pipe down. He’s in a summer slump and will be fine in the fall, when it counts. After all, ever think that whatever he’s fighting through might just be bigger than a game?

Hall of Fame Memories - Free Doodles!

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is a special place. A magical place. If you’ve never been, put it on your list. I guarantee you’ll have memories that will last a lifetime.

As Hall of Fame Weekend is underway, featuring the induction of Barry Larkin and Ron Santo, I’ve been recalling some of the great memories of Cooperstown.

The first time I visited the mystical town in central New York was during a frigid March in the early 1990’s, when my father and I camped out on the front steps of the Hall of Fame to get tickets for that year’s Hall of Fame game. Tickets were hard to come by, and we were second in line right in front of the main doors to the Hall. We had sleeping bags, folding chairs, coats and blankets to brave the temperatures in the teens. We took turns sitting in the heated car parked up the street, and I also recall an extremely drunken local named Doodles. He came wandering down near the line of fans and was soon arrested for public intoxication. A while later, in the middle of the brutally cold night, a few of his drunken friends came by and began chanting, “Free Doodles! Free Doodles!” This was my first memory of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The next morning, after purchasing our tickets, we took a casual stroll through the Hall of Fame. On this March day, the Hall was virtually empty and it seemed like a private tour.

I have returned to Cooperstown a handful of times since that day, first as a fan and then as a broadcaster. While in high school, I corralled a couple friends and drove up during Reggie Jackson’s induction weekend. I walked the back alleys, gathering (and paying for) autographs from some of the game’s greats – Enos Slaughter, Warren Spahn, etc. I didn’t have much cash, but I spent it all on autographs, trinkets and baseball knickknacks.

In 1994, I joined the Hudson Valley Renegades for the team’s day trip to Cooperstown while playing a night game in nearby Oneonta.

“Are you coming with us to the Hall of Fame?” team manager Doug Sisson asked me that morning.

“If I can.” I replied. I was an 18 year old, unpaid broadcaster helping out the team’s full-time voice.

“Of course you can,” he said defiantly. “You’re part of this team!”

That day I stood in the Hall watching Reid Ryan, who was observing a throng of fans who were marveling at a display honoring his father, Nolan. Stephen Larkin, Barry’s younger brother, was also touring the Hall with us that day. As was current Miami Marlins General Manager Michael Hill, then a player.

A few years later, I returned to the Hall of Fame with another Renegades team, and had a chance to see yet another set of displays. I had a picture taken with Greg Harris, in front of a glass case holding his glove. In 1995 he had become the only pitcher in baseball history to throw with both arms in the same inning. The glove displayed at the Hall of Fame could fit either hand.

1999 was the most recent time I’ve visited the Hall of Fame, this time as the Renegades broadcaster. During my pregame interview before the Renegades contest at Doubleday Field, I asked hitting coach Jose Ortiz if he had ever been in the Hall of Fame.

“Well, I guess I’m in there somehow,” he said. “After being around the game so long, I’m sure I have some connection.”

“No,” I responded. “I meant have you ever actually been inside and walked around.” Yes, he had.

After the Renegades won that game, I sat across the street with one of the team’s pitchers, reminiscing about Cooperstown and the remarkable Hall of Fame. The place has been the source of so many terrific memories for so many baseball fans. As you watch this year’s induction ceremonies, I hope you are making plans to visit Cooperstown as well. As a matter of fact, I think I need to do it again sometime soon.
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Bus Ride Fiasco

It's amazing that minor league ball teams aren't involved in more accidents.  I recall a couple years ago, a relatively minor accident where a team bus hit a truck and guardrail during an overnight trip. Some of the tweets from the players brought back some crazy minor league memories......

I was once on a bus with a team as we departed for a long, daytime trip. Not even a mile from the park, we watch a tractor trailer collide with another vehicle right in front of us. The driver was knocked unconscious.

I also recall the middle-of-the-night wakeup when our bus just missed being slammed by a passing train at a railroad crossing. Or the time the axles on the left side of the bus busted and we cruised into town with the bus tilted to the left. We looked like a circus act coming to town. The bus was tilted about a foot, and the driver later told me we could have tipped over quite easily.

I’ve heard of players finding snakes next to their bus, and seen players sleep inside the small, overhead compartments. I’ve seen fistfights onboard, as well as bleary-eyed, beer-filled celebrations. One time my broadcast colleague had to sit up front, talking to the driver, so he wouldn't fall asleep.

Stay in this game long enough and you’ll see just about anything on that bus. How glamorous it is.

Broadcasters Crashing To The Floor

We stayed in a hotel last week. When I went to grab the iron out of the closet, the entire bracket came crashing down off the wall. It appeared to have been put up hastily, and without the parts necessary to keep it secure. Soon after, I began seeing other things around the suite that we just not up to par. Now I was looking, and I was finding a lot I didn’t like. One mistake had keyed me in and led me to look for – and find – others.

As a broadcaster, we must keep this scenario in mind. Our most valued quality is our broadcast integrity. Fooling listeners with incorrect facts or guesses can only lead to one thing – a loss of trust in you, the broadcaster. If you are caught in incorrect statements, listeners immediately begin to question everything you say. If you are wrong or misleading once, who’s to say you won’t do it again and again.

Sportscasters cannot know everything there is to know about a particular event, team or player. Mike Breen gave me great advice back in 1994, “If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to admit it. Don’t ever fake it.” Once a broadcaster is caught faking it, it takes an awful long time to regain the listener’s trust, if it can be done at all.

The next time you don’t have the answer on air, just say so. Or just go find the answer. Either way, don’t become the iron that crashes to the floor.
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Are Sportscasters Really Independent?

As we celebrate America’s Independence Day, here is a question to chew on with your burgers and dogs. Are Sportscasters are really independent? In other words, can they speak their mind as a journalist without repercussion? The no-fluff answer - yes and no.

Sportscasting gigs are as varied as can be. In some positions, the broadcaster is given free reign. In others, he is closely monitored and controlled. I’ve worked on both ends of the spectrum and students would often ask me about what they should expect.

I called games for one minor league team for six seasons, and not once did any member of the front office ever confront me for something I said on the air. (Players, employees and fans sure did, but never did a person of real power try to cramp my style.)

I also broadcast for a Yankees AA affiliate, and the General Manager pulled me aside and tried to curtail my on-air speech the very first week of the season. I had told the listeners it was 37 degrees and painted the word picture of the intrepid fans bundled up for warmth in the brutal conditions. The G.M. felt my honesty would keep fans away from the park in April. He told me to cut it out. I argued that my listeners were much smarter than that and weren’t going to stay home based on something I said about what they can feel out their front door. I wasn’t a cheerleader, I was a journalist.

When I did play by play for Army basketball and hockey at West Point, I heard all the talk about how controlling and tightly-wound the Army brass was toward its public relations and broadcasting. However, they never curtailed me a bit, and I always appreciated the freedom to do my job.

The point is, both situations exist. And to a degree it has to do with what medium or position you are working in. A talk-show host may have different constraints than a play-by-play man. I've know broadcasters that just let it fly every day and never hear a word of criticism, while others are nitpicked on every comment.

Ultimately, station management will be the key. You may have to work for some real pains in this industry, but eventually you can find the match that best suits your personality.

I wish you and our country a happy Fourth of July.  I also ask - Are YOU an independent sportscaster?
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