We all grow up to soundtracks. Mine included the Beatles, the Temptations, Neil Sedaka, and Wilson Pickett. Don’t judge. It also included Walter Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley. It also included local voices like radio DJ’s Billy Love, Tom Kindall, and Little Bee. I suppose these and other voices were influential to varying degrees to a goofy teenager in Lexington who was (to quote every first year major league baseball player in history) just glad to be here.
But the soundtrack also included baseball announcers. First it was polished Claude Sullivan describing the Cincinnati Reds games as they it just might be more important than just a game (which of course they were). Then whiling away endless hours of rain delays with Waite Hoyt’s remembrances of his playing days. Al Michaels’ urgency and, occasionally Vin Scully’s erudite ramblings followed.
This had to be the greatest job in the world; major league baseball announcer. It was right up there with being a cowboy or an astronaut or a three-chord guitar-strummin’ British rocker. THAT’S what I wanna be!
Of course I’d never ridden a horse, or thrown a lasso, or shot a six-gun…and frankly, I still question the wisdom of throwing your now empty gun back at pursuers.
I was pretty sure I’d never achieve the required quantity of push-ups to earn my space suit, and I feared projectile hurling might defy my efforts at the anti-gravity waltz.
But play-by-play for America’s game? Oh yeah – that was for me.
But baseball is a fickle game. It only follows the script after the real game is played. You can’t impose a romantic and glorious story line on it with any confidence until the actual statistics are tabulated. To attempt to do so can lead to a humiliation that this sensitive soul simply cannot bear.
Listening to Barry Larkin and John Sadek gleefully extol the glory of Eugenio Suarez raising his batting average to a giddy .170 was embarrassing. I am a fan of all three of those fellows but…
Listening to Mr. Larkin start a comment; “Notice how the pitcher, with nobody on-base…” and at that precise moment watch the batter sting the pitch into right field for a single, forcing Larkin to amend his comment on the fly in mid-sentence…ouch.
It’s got to be frustrating at an alarming frequency.
I recall a moment early in Jeff Brantley’s announcing career. A young Edwin Encarnatión came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Reds trailing. Mr. Brantley launched into a rant about the profound ineptitude of Mr. Encarnatión. It was brutal. On the next pitch, Encarnatión smacked a game-winning home run. The crowd was ecstatic. The announcing booth was eerily serene. Encarnatión has gone on to a sterling power-hitting career. Brantley is my favorite current voice of the Reds. But at the time…uber-ouch.
But the moment that I first suspected that the mine-field of baseball announcing might not be for me occurred in the sixties during a Saturday Game-of-the-Week broadcast with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. The Mets won the game on a walk-off hit by Choo-Choo Coleman. Kubek interviewed Coleman in the dressing room after the game.
Kubek: “I’m here with the star of today’s game; Choo-Choo Coleman. Choo-Choo…that’s an interesting nickname. Do you happen know how you got it?”
Kubek: “Back to you, Curt.”
My admiration for Tony Kubek soared.
I went back to work on those push-ups.