Tag Archives: Curt Gowdy

Oligarchs vs the Dollar Dog

I stumbled across a genuinely interesting baseball game while channel-surfing.

It was a college game pitting top-ranked Texas against a UCLA team who lost ten players to the professional draft last year. This game was part of a weekend event; the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic played in the Houston Astros’ major league ballpark.

Normally, in early March, if I stumbled across a game on the tube, it would be a major league spring training game, featuring players of whom I’ve never heard, wearing numbers on their branded, recognizable major league uniforms in the 80-99 range…numbers you’ll never see in the regular season. The same could be said of the players themselves.

But tonight, I’m watching players of whom I’ve never heard, wearing uniforms of unusual colors and logos — colors and logos you’ll never see in the major leagues. The same could be said of most of the players themselves.

Normally, the teams I’m watching this time of year would be playing in the dry sunshine and sere landscapes of Arizona, or amongst the palms of muggy Florida, on green fields, the geometry of which have been pretty much set for over a hundred years.

Tonight, they’re playing in a major league ballpark, the geometry of which was set over a hundred years ago.

Tonight, I watched a tiny batter with a tiny strike zone receive an unsurprising base on balls, steal second base, steal third base on the next pitch, and score on the subsequent sacrifice fly. To see two stolen bases in today’s major league season, I might have to watch two dozen games. Instead I would most likely be watching six strikeouts and a home run every three innings.

Be still my beating heart.

Why am I watching an interesting (and non-exhibition – it really counts) college game being played passionately before a crowd of about 20,000 instead of a meaningless spring training major league game?

Well, it’s because the billionaire owners and the millionaire players of major league baseball have decided to not play their game…their GAME…a pastime…once upon a time, the national pastime.

It’s probably good that I’m not the czar of baseball.

If I were, I would cap it all.

It’s the national pastime. It’s a game.

There would still be $1,000 tickets, but there would be many more $10 tickets.

There could be champagne and caviar (non-Russian, thank you very much), but the hot dogs and beer would be a dollar.

The oligarchs of baseball, the owners and the players, could still compete for bigger shares of broadcast money, but they couldn’t double-dip on the fans in the stands.

If this radical stance drove current baseball players from the game…well, I just watched that same tiny baserunner score on a beautifully executed squeeze bunt. I’d pay ten bucks to see him do it in person.

If this radical stance drove current baseball owners from the game…well, as I was growing up, watching Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek call the Saturday Game of the Week, and listening to Waite Hoyt and Claude Sullivan call the Reds games on radio, my dreams of the perfect career were to be an astronaut until I was thirty, and then become the owner of a baseball team. I suspect I’m not alone in those aspirations.

It’s merely baseball, whether it’s played in Dodger Stadium, or Castlewood Park.

It’s sublimely baseball, whether it’s played in Dodger Stadium, or Castlewood Park.

It’s not baseball if it’s not played.

The Road Best Not Taken

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 earlier today 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 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 that

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?”

Coleman: “No.”

Kubek: “Back to you, Curt.”

My admiration for Tony Kubek soared.

I went back to work on those push-ups.