The sounds of baseball on the radio are, to me, the sounds of summer. The cadence of the play by play announcer provides the rhythm while the color commentators provide the melody. The slow pace of the game described along with baseball lore, anecdotes, history, statistics and the like bring me to what is, perhaps, the most comfortable of my comfort zones.
Baseball sounds nearly the same in any language. A fan can hear a broadcast from a distance and, without actually hearing the words spoken by the broadcaster, recognize by the rhythm and pace that they are hearing a baseball game. Just for fun, I’ve listened briefly to games in Spanish, Japanese and Korean and found that while I couldn’t describe the details that I had a general sense, based entirely on cadence and background noises, of what happened in the game.
If the US census forms included “baseball among religions, I would proudly check that box. My attachment to the game is built on tradition and I have no rational explanation for my love of our national pastime or my fixation with hearing it on the radio.
My radio days and radio nights started well before I lost my vision. As a child, I would spend winters listening to rock and roll radio, Cousin Brucie on WABC, New York. The summers, however, were filled with the vices of Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and the other Met and Yankee Broadcasters. With the covers pulled up over my head, I’d hear the exploits of my childhood heroes, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tommy Agee, Joe Pepitone, Ron Swoboda, Thurman Munson, Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson and so many more described by these terrific voices. I’d enjoy hearing stories about baseball past, descriptions of Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Eddie Gaedel, Ted Williams and the “Murderers Row” Yankee teams of the 1920s. I enjoyed stories of the Brooklyn Dodgers who, by the time I was born in 1960, had abandoned New York for California.
I’ve moved around the country a few times over my lifetime. I spent most of my youth in northeastern New Jersey, near New York so, then, I followed the Yankees and Mets. My family lived in Berkeley, California for a few years in the late sixties and, there, I rooted for the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants. In 1983, I moved to the Boston area and would hold Red Sox season tickets for a decade. About 15 years ago, we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida where I started enjoying Tampa Bay Rays games. Thus, while my affections lie with these teams, I tend to enjoy a good game no matter who is playing. As a child, the Yankees and Mets played some really bad baseball so I had heroes on other teams, guys like Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Carl Yastzremski provided lots of thrills but did so on television, in magazines and newspapers as the Internet hadn’t yet been invented.
On Friday night, I gave myself a baseball treat. Instead of listening to the excellent Red Sox broadcasters, Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien on Boston’s WEEI, I chose instead to listen to Vin Scully call the game against them on the Dodgers radio network. Unlike most other baseball broadcasters, Scully works alone without a color commentator calling both the play by play and adding interesting stories, anecdotes from baseball past and references to literature. At 85 years old, it remains obvious why Scully is a hall of fame broadcaster.
I find myself growing a greater level of affection for the New York Yankees (an affection fading a little since Alex Rodriguez and his traveling media circus returned) entirely because of their announcers. John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman deliver a baseball game as well as any team I’ve ever heard. They celebrate good plays by the opposing team out of love for the game, understand the sometimes obscure statistical information baseball fans crave and fill in the gaps in action with terrific chatter. Baseball broadcasters need to fill four hours of radio time describing 162 games per season, far more hours than is required by any other sport and this pair does so in a manner that a fan finds entertaining every night.
Of the teams at I listen to frequently, I’m sad to report that my least favorite announcers work for the Tampa Bay Rays. Andy Freed and Dave Wills call the game and fill in gaps very well and present a highly professional and well polished broadcast. Both men are highly skilled announcers. The Rays run their team using an statistical analysis system called Sabre Metrics, a strategy first used in Major League Baseball by the Boston Red Sox who, after 87 years of failure finally, using these techniques, won a World Series in 2004. Dave and Andy actively refuse to learn anything about this system and simply tell fans that they don’t understand the math. Meanwhile, Wills and Freed never seem to stop whining. They’ll complain about the other team’s fans, the dimensions of their ballpark, the “atmospheric conditions” in Denver, the “hustle” of the other team’s players, how much time a pitcher takes between pitches, you name it, these guys will whine about it. As a Rays fan, it becomes difficult to listen to Doomsday Dave and Apocalypse Andy as, even when the Rays are winning a game, they speak as if a disaster is looming somewhere and we fans should never get too excited as the Rays, a first place club as of this writing, will blow the game somehow. When I listen to Rays games, which I do most days, I turn to the out of town stream and listen as they are more optimistic about the Rays than our local announcers.
As regular hofstader.com readers know, I’m totally vision impaired. I grew to love baseball on radio years before I even knew I would lose all of my vision so, this part of the difficult transition to blindness went fairly easily for me. At first, when in 1996 or so, the Major League Baseball web site started including free streaming audio of all baseball radio broadcasts, I’d listen using Real Audio over a dial up connection. I couldn’t have been happier as, given that I’m not terribly attached to any single team, I could listen over my dial-up connection to whatever game I found interesting rather than being forced by the limitations of terrestrial radio or local television to listen to games their programmers hoped I would want to hear. Then, a few years ago, Major League Baseball released its iPhone app, At Bat. This app, at the speed of wifi gives me all of the radio broadcasts of all big league baseball live for less than $20 per year. Never has a blind baseball fan had a better resource for radio broadcasts and, annually, I happily renew my subscription during spring training.
Today, I’ll listen to the Yankees play the Rays on WCBS, New York and to the Red Sox playing the Dodgers called by the great Vin Scully. I’ll likely flip over to the Tigers and A’s games to hear what’s going on with them. I’ll listen to all of it using the At Bat app and, as I do so many summer days and nights, I’ll feel comforted by the broadcasters sounding as their species has for nearly a hundred years. I’ll enjoy the comfort that, indeed, some happy traditions continue in this nation and I’ll continue loving baseball.