Monday, July 09, 2007

Beisball been veddy good to me*

*an old SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE reference. Garrett Morris as Chico Escuela, former ballplayer and... you had to be there I guess.

Baseball is in the air. The All-Star game is Tuesday. Home field advantage for the winning league hangs in the balance although no one gives a shit, especially the players. The Giants, hosting the mid-summer classic, had to stage a big campaign to get the fans to vote for Barry Bonds. He’s soon to be the all-time home run champion and hometown fans still had to be persuaded to vote for him.

And then tomorrow I fly up to Seattle to announce for the Mariners Thursday and Friday nights. (New posts will continue. I understand they have the internet in Seattle.)

So I thought this would be a good day for a humorous baseball related post.

I learned how to announce play by play by sitting in the top deck of Dodger Stadium, up there with the drunks, the skinheads, Cub Scout troops, escaped convicts, booster clubs, Freddie Kruger, and the guy with the pinwheel hat. The players were ants. I'd be saying, "He's really got that palm ball working tonight" and couldn't even see the ball. You’d think that would be my worst broadcasting vantage point. But it wasn’t. Some of the actual press box facilities when I was a legitimate working announcer were worse.

During one spring training with the Mariners we played the Angels, who at the time were still in Palm Springs. Since they were also televising that game there was no room in the actual press box for visiting radio (us). So they set up a long table in the stands and that’s where we did the game. I’m on the air to a thirty-station radio network, sitting on the aisle, and calling a very exciting inning. Hits and double steals and rundowns. Forget that I can’t see them because the six LaKishas in front of me stand up, but as I’m calling a triple I feel a tap on my shoulder. I glance over to see a vendor with a two beers. He wants me to pass them down the row. I do, continue to call the play, and then feel a tapping on my other shoulder. I’m to pass the money along. I do, keep announcing, another tap, I have to send along the change. This was the big leagues!

When I was in the minors we played the Denver Zephyrs in Mile High Stadium (capacity 70,000, typical Zephyrs attendance: 2,000. The place was EMPTY). There was no baseball press box per se but they set us up in one of the luxury boxes. Behind us were four rows of seats…THAT THEY SOLD. We’d be calling the game and people would tell us to shut up, we were annoying them. Or they would shout and cheer loud enough to be heard on our broadcast. “Thompson, you fucking pussy! Throw a fucking strike, you piece of shit!” (If anyone actually listened to our broadcasts I just know they would have complained.)

At old Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines they had a huge civil defense speaker and would sound a siren half the county could hear anytime one of the Des Moines Cubs hit a home run. The speaker was right next to our booth. The first time it happened it almost blew me out of the booth. After a three game series in Des Moines, considering our pitching staff, I couldn’t hear for a week.

When I was with the Orioles we played two exhibition games at Joe Robbie Stadium (or Dolphin Stadium, whatever they call it now. It’s the “other” one besides the Orange Bowl.) This was before the Marlins (who now draw worse than the Zephyrs did), there was no baseball press box so they just put us in the football press box, a thousand miles from home plate way down the right field line. Every ball hit looked like it was going to right. You had to take your cue from the fielders. But you could be fooled. “There’s a fly ball to center field…foul.”

Later that same spring, we played two exhibition games against Boston at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Same story. No baseball press box. Just a luxury box. In this case, one box for both our broadcast and the Red Sox, separated only by a flimsy riser. I could hear Boston announcer, Bob Starr as loud as I could hear myself. And so could the Baltimore listeners. All I could do was have fun with it. I’d say, “And now for the 1-1 pitch, here’s Bob Starr” then point the mic to him in time for my listeners to hear “low, ball two.” Then I decided to mess with Bob (who was a GREAT guy by the way and a good friend). Every time he called a pitch a fast ball I called it a curve. Every time he called a slider I called it a change up. Listeners don’t believe announcers can accurately call pitches anyway. This just confirmed it. I would pull these little pranks to amuse myself, and the Orioles listeners. Is it any wonder I only lasted a year there?

I feel it’s only fair to also mention the best press box I ever worked in. That would be the broadcast booth in old Tiger Stadium. It hung suspended over home plate, high enough to see the entire field, but low enough that you could actually hear players and umpires. Sure, four announcers a year were killed by foul balls but it was a small price to pay. Jon Miller of ESPN told me the first year he did games in Tiger Stadium, Oakland player, Gene Tenace fouled a pitch off his foot and was hobbling around the home plate area trying to walk it off. Jon said on the air, “Tenace is still in a lot of pain, “ and Gene looks up at the booth and yells out “Brilliant fucking deduction!”

Now that’s close!

Talk to you tomorrow from Seattle.


VP81955 said...

Well, Ken, you'll be happy to know that before the Expos moved down from Montreal and became the Nationals, the press box at RFK Stadium was completely renovated. It's still not optimal, but when Charlie Slowes does Nats games, you don't hear Harry Kalas or Bob Uecker or Marty Brenneman or whomever the visiting announcer is from next door. (And there are only 35 games left at RFK before the Nats head down to the new park on South Capitol Street. The press box will be high up, so a latter-day Gene Tenace won't hear you.)

One more thing about RFK: Many of the seats in the boxes on the mezzanine level were acquired from Dodger Stadium's boxes some years ago; you can tell from the "LA" logo stamped on the side. The irony is that for baseball, D.C./RFK Stadium opened only one day before Dodger Stadium (the D.C. park actually opened in the fall of 1961 for the Redskins, as the expansion Senators spent their first season at Griffith Stadium).

Good luck in Seattle, and enjoy the trains as they chug by Safeco.

syferium said...
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Dave said...

As much as it pains me to live up to my role as a Dodger fan, it wasn't a "big campaign by the Giants" that got Bonds on the All-Star team, it was a bunch of cheating Giants fans, who following the example set by their team (see also the sign-stealing in 1951, Bonds's various home-run records), wrote a progam to let them cast up to 3600 vots per hour for him:

Anonymous said...

Great stories.

Man I miss Bob Starr. I listened to him do Angels and Rams games for years.

Even during the years the Angels were stuck in mediocrity they had some really great announcers; Enberg, Drysdale and Starr. (And of course Joe Torre before he saved the Yankees)

Have a great time in Seattle.

Rob said...

Great stories. I miss baseball. I am an Orioles fan by birth, but it's just too depressing these days to follow (and I followed them when they had that billion game losing streak in the late 80s). I live in Louisville, Kentucky where the baseball scores are given the same priority as the results of Formula 1. We have a wonderful minor league stadium (with the only cool sponsorship in baseball, Louisville Slugger Field) for the Louisville Bats, but its hard to get into the game when the average "fan" sitting next to you couldn't tell the foul pole from a stripper pole. It's mostly an excuse to get drunk while sitting in the sun.

When I lived in Boston, I loved Fenway. Unlike that piece of crap fake old stadium the Orioles play in, Fenway was the real deal, including the outhouse plumbing. Every seat was a good seat. I loved the fact that they had spotters on the roof to pick off annoying drunks. I once saw them call in a guy, point to a row above us, and then watch security move in. The guy took off running down the bleachers, tripped and fell face first down several steps. He got up and was covered in blood, his mouth a bloody mess. Of course, he stuck his hands up in the air and screamed "YES!" right before he was cuffed.

I also had the pleasure of sitting directly in front of the three most obnoxious Yankees fans in the joint during a Sox/Yankees game. They brought a banner with them, which they unfurled during one inning, which caused everyone around us to hurl garbage and peanuts at us. Unfortunately, because everyone was drunk and out of shape, the objects hurled at these guys kept pelting us in the face. The bright side was we got lots of free peanuts.

Anonymous said...


Is Jim Kelch still doing the games down there? He's a former collegue, and as I remember, a good guy.

Richard Cooper said...

Ah, old Tiger Stadium. It was 99 years old when they replaced it. A bit of heaven in the Motor City. Did you ever go to Nemo's bar right outside the stadium?

Anonymous said...

Ken, I used to board-op (bored-op) Orioles games in the early 90s for a little 1000-watter in northern VA, and your banter with an often mystified Jon Miller helped me take my mind off the fact that my degree in broadcasting had resulted in my working a minimum wage gig at a station nobody listened to. Truly, those games were highlights. You'll kick some serious ass this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Ken -- you still made out better then the poor schlubs who had to come in and do NFL games from the visiting press box at RFK during the waining years of the Redskins' time as tenants -- due to the heavy demand during the Joe Gibbs term I years for tickets, visiting radio was banished to a box that was all but on the roof of the stadium (and BTW -- If your representative isn't from Maryland or Virginia and is a die-hard Redskins fan, they've been in Washington way too long).

However, as shoddy as RFK is right now for baseball -- the main ticket booth in front of the stadium is a converted boat/rail shipping container and the concourses are like navigating an obstacle course -- there's something of a throwback feeling to attending a game there that will be gone when the new stadium opens. Not that there was anything special about RFK; in fact, it was the template for all the awful cookie-cutter stadiums of the 60s and 70s. But the Nats' struggles the past two years have made tickets to the games nowhere near the status symbol they were in 2005 when the team arrived from Montreal, so you're down to the people who actually come for the games, and not to be seen or to make points with other people.

My guess is that's gone next year with the high-tech stadium, though given the front-running status of so many people in the D.C. area, if the Nats don't improve in 2008, new stadium of not, a lot of people will desert them again in 2009.

Murph said...

I didn't use the F5 cheat to vote. I didn't even vote for the All-Star Game. As a displaced Giants fan, I can just say that the reasons the fans didn't vote for their players is because we all know they suck. They stink. They are not good at winning baseball games. They lack the requisite talent to compete at the Major League level. Their record might say "Devil Rays," but their combined player age and talent definitely says "D.O.A."

Damn, I hate my team.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Great stories, Ken -- and don't worry, I recognized the Chico Escuela reference as soon as the page loaded in my browser. One of Garrett Morris's funniest bits (he was underrated, I thought) along with his "close captioning" for the hearing impaired.

As a Seattle boy transplanted to LA I wish you all the best with the M's this weekend. Can't say I was sad to see Hargrove go -- I guess I still pine for Pinella, dirt-kicking, hat-throwing, spittle-spitting crazy that he is.

Hey, as a kid who used to call the games watching on television (turning down Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola on NBC or Al Michaels and Don Drysdale on ABC (remember the days of the old Monday Night Baseball?) I'd love to hear the story of how you came to be a big-league play-by-play guy. Was it at the same time you climbed the Hollywood ladder? Did they intertwine? Alternate?

If you've already told the story, maybe you could point me to the post, or rerun it? If not, I bet it's a great one...

Go Mariners!

The Curmudgeon said...

These are wonderful stories. More, please!

Anonymous said...

Slightly off subject Ken, but I'm think with Vinny retiring in a few years (wish he wasn't but the man can't go on forever), think the Dodgers might consider Brentwood resident Al Michaels to take over? Al could do the same schedule Vin has .. home games and nothing east of the Mississippi. Al is such a class act...what do you think?

Anonymous said...

As a die-hard Seattle fan, I look forward to listening in.


LouOCNY said...

Brian - try and find Ken's book....beat you to the plug Ken!

The Sports Satirist said...

Do you see Ichiro staying in Seattle long time?

Rob said...


According to the Bats website, he still is there.

Someone mentioned all star balloting. Anyone else miss the punch out ballots Gillette used to hand out? Never heard about hanging chads with them.

Graham Powell said...

Wasn't it "Bezball been berry, berry good to me"?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, nylouoc! I've got it on order from Amazon. Can't wait!

howie said...

A few odds and ends on the post and the comments:

I grew up in DC and have lived my entire adult life in Baltimore show I know the ballparks fairly well. I don't find Camden Yards to be a "piece of crap fake"; it doesn't have the history and the history it does have is bad, but that's an ownership problem and not a ballpark one. I loved Memorial Stadium because of memories and history and because, after going there since childhood, I knew where all the bad seats were (lower reserved, anywhere behind about row 33 would put a pole into your sightline). I was at the final game there (Ken's last with the Birds)and bought a seat when they tore it down.

RFK is ok for a cookie cutter because at least it wasn't built too big. And if you drive up to it from East Capitol Street(?), your first view of the stadium in tremendous. If taken my kids down once or twice to see it before it goes away.

While I respect Fenway for ITS history, I contend that not every seat is a gem. I've spent over $30 a ticket to sit behind a pole there. I didn't know THAT park, obviously.

My memory of Ken as an Orioles radio announcer was him working the Sunday afternoon games with HOFer Chuck Thompson. I would time my yardwork so that I could listen while I worked.

Those were pleasant games.

Rob said...

Howie, I take back my "piece of crap" comment. I've only been to Camden once, in the early 90s. It was nice, but I wasn't overwhelmed. For one thing, I felt like my seat was angled wrong. It just felt like it was missing something. That said, it certainly was better than the other two venues I managed to visit, New Comiskey, and that warehouse where the Devil Ray's play.

FrEd's Blog said...

wow, what a treat. I got the MLB package two weeks ago, and was thrilled to finally hear Ken doing play by play...Read the book years ago...Def a place doing TV with some team for Ken Levine. Loved all the John Miller stuff...When I listen to Dave Flemming I get the same impression,,,Dave is to keep quiet and only respond when John nods his way...Enjoy the weekend.

Anonymous said...

What a pleasure to again hear your voice on the Ms broadcast tonight! I really loved your calls (multiple) of the wacky Beltre-Guillen play at 2B. Thanks to TV replay from multiple angles, we know that Froemming got everything right except the call that Beltre missed the touch of 2B, but as an amateur umpire I have no trouble conceding the bang-bang judgment call to him.

I think I can help clarify the umpire's call on the weird play. (But remember, I'm an amateur.) Dave Valle and you wondered how the umpire could signal 'safe' on the slide if he hadn't touched the bag. In that situation, the safe signal means only there was no tag out -- yet -- and the runner was safe -- so far. If, as happened here, the runner moves on to the next base without retouching 2B, he is subject to being put out at 2B on appeal, which is exactly what happened.

Rule 7.10 -- Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when --
(b) With the ball in play, while advancing or returning to a base, he fails to touch each base in order before he, or a missed base, is tagged.

Unknown said...

*wipes his tears away*

“There’s a fly ball to center field…foul.”

I am german and through pay TV I came into contact with Baseball and loved it ever since. I laughed so hard reading this I probably woke up my 90 year old neighbor who's hard of hearing (at 1:42 in the morning).

Thanks for writing this up. It teaches me what's so great about baseball and why I am feeling like I miss out every day not being able to just go to a game and sit there even if I were in the highest possible row in the whole stadium. Live is live. You can't beat that.

Anonymous said...