Friday, April 7, 2017

The Most Important People In Baseball

The Best There Ever Was
Something struck me the other day, as I was driving back from yet another road trip in my full-on hustle to chase bucks between gigs (yes, why the postings here have gotten few and far between)...

Baseball *is* better on the radio, but only if the radio broadcast team is extraordinarily skilled.

Baseball on the radio just lets you do whatever else you need to do, honestly. Driving for hours, working in the yard, puttering in the work shop or any of the other myriad number of household tasks... all can be done to the fullest of your attention with the soft background of a ballpark where no one is really doing anything of importance, and yet, it doesn't feel exclusionary.

Basketball isn't *bad* on the radio, but if an athlete does something amazing -- and that tends to happen more than a few times a game -- you're cursing yourself for not having it on a screen. In baseball, a fastball strikeout looks a lot like any other fastball strikeout, and a home run looks a lot like other home runs; the outcome matters more than the actual event, and you can pretty much see it in your mind's eye, if you care to. Football on the radio just doesn't work at all, because the actual event is simply a rare event, and you care too much about the event to ever have it be in the background; every game is a de facto playoff event, and playoff events are just not background material.

Which brings us to what has happened to the Philadelphia Phillies in my lifetime, which is pretty much what has happened to any number of franchises. They've gone from legendary broadcasters with stylized performances to, well, jocks. And jock wannabees.

Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn were the voices of my childhood, and they were so good, you'd tune in to games during lost seasons just, well, to hear them. They didn't talk any more than they had to, and their moments of droll humor -- usually in relation to poor umpire performance, because they didn't have the modern illness of talking about things that were Not Game -- were devastatingly effective, because they were so rare and well-timed.

Kalas had a classic announcer voice, the kind that you could just imagine saying ordinary sentences for high hilarity, and when he was excited about something, it was infectious. Whitey Ashburn was just decent and droll and lovable, and much more prone to honest assessments of despair, which is to say that he was the true voice of the fan in a town where torture seems like a birthright. They mixed beautifully, and you felt like they were family, and not just family, but beloved family; the uncles you never got enough of, who made coming to the dinner table worthwhile. They worked the innings that you remembered, and I fully expect to spend the rest of my days, when I listen to Phillies games, missing them.

But part of why I miss them is that the current guys are, well, just meh. Tom McCarthy seems happy to be there and knowledgeable about the product, but he's just a guy, honestly; nothing memorable about him. Larry Anderson is the lead color guy and the living definition of why Funny Jocks aren't actually Funny, and he frankly irritates me with tired cynicism, because you are covering a game, you mook; mark out for it a little. Both guys avoid undue homerism and are professionals, so it's not a painful experience to listen to them, like you get with a lot of the regional broadcasts that you might catch on the MLB Network, but it's a long way down from legendary.

Baseball is the longest season and the most game, and my work situation may involve more exposure to games on the radio this year than I'd hope for, frankly. McCarthy and Anderson may grow on me; they aren't terrible human beings, and are clearly doing the best they can. But they aren't special, and baseball on the radio can be special. It's never easy to accept a lesser product.

No comments:

Ads In This Size Rule