Tag Archives: Waite Hoyt

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. Tony 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 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.

Turn Yer Radio On

I was eleven years old when I first started falling asleep to the radio. I still do whenever possible. It’s a sound that assures me it’s OK to fall asleep.

I think those pre-slumber sounds have been important to others in other times…

<<<< Night sound #1 >>>>

The call rang out in the dark. “Post #1 — One o’clock and all is well.” A twenty-something Union prison guard in Western Kentucky was listening and questioning the wisdom of leaving New York for this blue uniform and a nocturnal duty of vigilance over tattered Southern wretches. Still, it was reassuring to hear of the continued existence and thriving of Post #1. He scanned his portion of the prison ground for anomalies and finding none answered; “Post #2 – One o’clock and all is well.” He assumed Post #3 would be similarly comforted…hell, those Southern boys might like to hear a pleasant word as well. >>>>

In 1962, when I was eleven, it was my battery-powered cigarette-pack-sized transistor radio tucked under my pillow, ideally tuned in to a late night baseball game from the West Coast between my hallowed Reds and the despiséd Dodgers or haughty Giants. To drift off to Waite Hoyt’s description of Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson battling Maury Wills and Sandy Koufax, or Willie Mays and Juan Marichal was bliss. If the Reds weren’t available, the local overnight disc jockey, Tom Kimball on WVLK touting “Nighthawk Specials” at Columbia Steakhouse and a mélange of pre-Beatles rock was a pretty good Plan B for a pretty good night’s sleep.

A half-century later, not much has changed for me…

<<<< Night sound #2 >>>>

About two miles from our home, a train whistle rewards our summer-open bedroom window with a long, long moan that croons; “We’re out here travelin’, workin’, carryin’ on…don’t you worry none…we’re here…all’s well.” >>>>

Each night, I pessimistically set my clock radio to play the radio for two hours. Then I proceed to become comatose in about two minutes. I try to find a live sporting event first, then classical music or jazz, then settle for any music or live programming.

It has to be live programming.

Television won’t do the job. Television is visual and I find it hard to fall asleep when my eyes are open. Go figger.

Recorded music won’t do. There’s no currently awake mind behind.

Live programming…that’s the ticket.

Why?

<<<< Night sound #3 >>>>

Sirens pass, shrieking. Hospital helicopters wop and chop overhead. Each heralds an urgent problem. Each assures that responders are responding; “All’s not well, but we’re on it!” >>>>

I think my need goes back to 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the fall of 1962, Nikita Khrushchev got the neighborly idea of putting Russian missiles in Cuba, ninety miles away from the Florida Keys. Jack Kennedy realized quickly that missiles in Cuba threatened to sharply amplify the hazards of a determined Duval Street Crawl beyond a drunken face plant on a Key West sidewalk, a night in the Key West slammer, and your name on page two of the Key West newspaper. The hazards could logically portend an end to Western Civilization which, hard as it is for my acquaintances in the Keys to believe, involves bigger issues than a cold beer (or five) and a well-done conch fritter (one is enough). Kennedy ordered a naval blockade to intercept a missile-laden Russian ship headed for Cuba.

The whole country felt a spasm of fear. A nuclear conflagration seemed eminent.

<<<< Night sound #4 >>>>

My dog farts in bed and sighs. All is well and evidently well-fed. >>>>

My sixth grade classmates and I at Yates Elementary were schooled the day after the blockade was announced in the intricacies of “duck and cover.” We knelt in the school’s halls with our heads down and covered by our hands.

But I had seen images of Hiroshima.

I didn’t raise a ruckus in school about our atomic training, but I was silently and forlornly convinced that “duck and cover” wasn’t gonna cut it.

No, Lexington’s best hope was in the fact that there was no military reason to nuke it. I found a soupçon of solace in that, though it would be a few more years before I knew what “soupçon” or “solace” meant.

But I still fretted about the rest of the world. If the random angry world powers ignored Lexington but obliterated themselves, how would I know?

On the radio of course!

All’s well…