Thursday, May 27, 2010

Radio Play

At different points in my life, I've listened to varying amounts of baseball on the radio. During the summer of 2004, I settled into a workout regiment that put me on an exercise bike right about 7:00 in the evening. It was happenstance at first, but I eventually started to enjoy listening to Charley Steiner and John Sterling so much that I would aim my time on the bike for that slot whenever the Yankees were playing.

I had an old RCA boombox situated across the room that, since it was in the basement, necessitated one of those axillary bowtie antenna in addition to the retractable one attached to the unit. The reception would fluctuate for no apparent reason and, not wanting to get off the bike and walk over to fix it, I'd strain my ears in an effort to decode what was going on. Sometimes there would be a loud sound that I would swear was crowd noise only to find out it was just more snow on the radio. On some nights, I couldn't focus and would lose track of what was going on in the game - how many guys were on base, what the score was, what inning, who as pitching for the other team - but the constant flow of voices and crowd noise was just enough white noise to let my mind wander without being too aware of itself.

Listening to a Yankees game is a different experience today. Most of the time when there's a game on and I'm in the car, I'll turn it on, but since I do so much writing about the Yanks now, I try to be in front of the TV (and my computer) when they are playing. And also because the broadcast team is just not as good. Essentially, I'll only listen to the game on the radio out of necessity now.

When Steiner was in the booth, he was obviously doing play-by-play and Sterling was the color guy. Steiner did a largely straightforward rendition of the game calling and only gave Sterling so much lattitude to do the goofy shit that so characterizes his broadcasts with Suzyn Waldman. Now you've got Sterling controlling the broadcast with his play-by-play and Waldman who -although I'm sure she is a very nice person and knowledgeable about to team - is tough to listen to and adds hardly any of the insight that I think most people are looking for from a baseball broadcast.

And to make matters worse, yesterday, MLBAM heavy-handedly cracked down on It Is High, It Is Far, It Is caught..., the only thing that made what happened in the booth even remotely amusing or tolerable.

Aside from the tragic decimation of the portfolio of winwarbles and mash ups that El Duque put together at IIH, IIF, IIC..., there was another thing that made me reflect on my radio listening days.

Ted from Pitchers and Poets (and Everyday Ichiro) wrote a fantastic, evocative piece about driving back from a camping trip and listening to the Mariners on the radio:
I didn’t literally tune out, like out of life. I kept an eye on the road and all, and at the very least I wasn’t texting and driving. But instead of zeroing in on the details of the Mariners game, on every pitch, I let my mind wander in between the phrasings, and the pure sounds of a man telling a story of a game happening somewhere distant. The radio game was the backdrop, the hazy middle distance seen from the path that my thoughts wandered, rarely settling anywhere but walking, step after step, in the directionless direction of a figurative destination, the highway emerging a few car lengths ahead and crumbling away behind me. Driving the pace of my ranging thoughts: the game itself, pitch after pitch ringing in the subconscious like a heartbeat.

The radio, humming along like time and the storyteller before the fire, sets a beat to life rather than recreating the world the way that TV does. So maybe I was wrong. I didn’t need to know anything about the Mariners that the radio couldn’t provide, because the voice in the radio doesn’t offer information as much as it does forward motion. A sense of progress, through time, through life, down the highway, on the way home.
You should read the whole thing. It'll make you miss the days when you could just listen to the radio broadcast without being annoyed to tears by the announcers, doesn't it?


  1. I fully admit that I love listening to John & Suzy and I'm not sure that I can explain why. Perhaps it's an aversion to the Michael Kay/John Flaherty combination of idiocy or it's my love for 1940s movie musicals, but John & Suzy's call actually improves the game experience for me.

    As for the good folks at It Is High, they need to file a fair use claim with YouTube and get their damn videos back online.

  2. Tragic about IIH. I used to blast the winwarble song (much to my wife's dismay) following big victories.

    I'm actually with Rob. While I can't say I love John/Suzyn, I have a nostalgic attachment to the mechanics of listening to the games on radio that allows me to enjoy them. I think it's the memories of great games of days past attached to whatever other activity I was engaged in at the time.

    Falling asleep to west coast games when I was a kid... listening to Jim Leyritz's 14th inning HR in 1995... perfect summer days and two perfect games - both pitched while I was earning money painting for the summer... picking up the game on 880 from Charleston fucking South Carolina in my car (not kidding... and not an affiliate) during the 2000 playoffs.

    Anyway, I sound like an old man now, but I guess what I'm getting at is that I enjoy the freedom that radio offers as opposed to TV where I have to be anchored to one room. John/Suzyn do a decent enough of a job that I don't feel like I'm missing out not seeing the game on TV. Yeah, they're annoying, but they're the best option for me given my travels and current home.

  3. Riding in the car just a couple nights ago, I had the SF Giants on the radio. I picked up my daughter from somewhere and listening to the game she asked if she could get baseball games on her iPod. I said "maybe, but there's this other thing we can get for probably less than $20 called a "radio" (I was being sarcastic, she does know what a radio is) that has baseball on it from somewhere almost every night."

    I told her about when I was a kid and fell asleep to random games all the time. If the MLB teams weren't on, there were always a bunch of minor league games being broadcast. Part of the fun was trying to figure who was playing and who they were affliated with. I killed a lot of batteries on my new-fangled Walkman that way.