Halby's Morsels

Halby’s Morsels: Death sentences for voices; How Ralph Kiner handled a guest’s homophobic slur; More Scully

Announcers say things on-air or circulate tweets that end their careers. Do they deserve a death sentence?

It’s been a rough stretch for broadcasters. Only the guarded survive. Some voices spend an eternity chasing a position of sportscasting distinction, whether in the studio or play-by-play. Many endure a crucible, hopping town to town, crawling through discouraging darkness that at times seems hopeless. They question themselves constantly, will I ever make it? When they finally do, if nothing more, there’s a deep-seeded, healthy appreciation for the job they finally got.

Then, one indiscretion and it’s over. For some, it’s a death penalty. For others, the road back is unclear and certainly not guaranteed. The behavioral stain never fades entirely. It sticks with the subjects even after their careers are revived. 

I wish teams, networks and stations would temper their draconian response, particularly if the wrongdoer has no history of bigotry or bias. But it’s a tough ask today in this unforgiving climate of ‘cancel culture.’

Instead of a death sentence, how about a suspension? How about a year away and a reevaluation after mandatory race, gender and tolerance training? Afterwards, how about a return to work with no margin for a second error. 

We’re not talking about the incorrigible. Courses in community engagement can produce role models of the reformed. It will do a lot more in the long run than a rush to judgment and an immediate lynching.

Decades ago, the New York Daily News was covering the CUNY (City University of New York) Basketball Tournament. A piece of copy came in from the reporter on the scene with the Y in CUNY inadvertently interchanged with the adjacent letter on the keyboard, T. You can figure out what it looked like. That was in the 70s before auto-correct. It was an honest mistake. The newspaper didn’t blow up and the reporter wasn’t axed. 

Related story: The way Ralph Kiner handled a homophobic slur on-air helped land him the Mets job in 1962

Ralph Kiner spent the 1961 season doing the White Sox on radio with Hall of Fame broadcaster, Bob Elson. Word was that the two didn’t enjoy much chemistry. In January 1962, Kiner got a call from George Weiss, the Mets’ first president. The team was set to launch that spring. Weiss asked Ralph whether he would have any interest in joining the Mets’ broadcast team. The storytelling 6′ 2″ Hall of Famer gave him an unequivocal yes. 

At the time that Weiss called, Kiner was set to be an interviewer on network television’s coverage of the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. Knowing so, Weiss told Kiner that he and executives of lead sponsor Rheingold Beer would be watching his performance on the telecast. 

What followed was a challenging curve ball. Ralph was about to do his last segment, interviewing together, golfer Gay Brewer and Phil Harris, a bandleader, comedian and friend of Crosby’s. Turning to Harris, Kiner said, “Phil, you know Gay Brewer, don’t you?” Harris responded, “Gay Brewer? I thought he was a fag winemaker from Modesto.”

Kiner was stunned but never stammered. He handled an abrupt crisis smoothly and imperturbably, segueing out of the interview nonchalantly. When the segment was over, Kiner asked Harris off-air, “Why the hell did you say something like that?'” Phil’s answer: “Well, we are only on a short time so I had to say something that would catch their attention.”

Ralph immediately felt that the stain by association would doom his chances to be hired by the Mets. Quite to the contrary, the Mets and Rheingold were impressed by Kiner’s nimbleness. He joined Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy that spring and the trio remained intact for the first 17 years of the franchise.

There was no evidence that I could find that Harris paid for his demeaning and horrible comment, 58 years ago. In the years that followed, Harris appeared on F Troop, the Dean Martin Show, the Lucy Show, the Johnny Cash Show and more.

Scully recollects the day he recreated a game from the Bahamas without telling the audience that he was actually in Florida.

In my interview with Vin Scully, the great broadcaster shared a story of an event in 1968 when during spring training the Dodgers took a side trip to the Bahamas to play the Reds. Back then, the club broadcast every spring training game and wanted to carry the exhibition from the Bahamas. But 52 years ago it was impossible to get the necessary transmission lines set up in the Bahamas to do the game live from the site.

So Vin and partner Jerry Doggett called the game from the Dodgers’ spring training home in Vero Beach. They did it based on information relayed to them by phone from the ballpark in the Bahamas. Vin remembered: “We had an engineer named Monty Bancroft. He had recorded crowd noise and ambient sounds from our Florida ballpark during an earlier spring game against the Reds.

“I didn’t lead on. We never told the audience that we weren’t actually in the Bahamas. I had a book about tourist stops and talked about the island through the broadcast; where to go, what to see, maybe the history behind the sights.” Vin and Jerry pulled it off.

“When the game was over, I bumped into someone on the street in Vero Beach, not long after we signed off. He recognized me and said, ‘You made it back from the Bahamas quickly.’ I didn’t correct him. Then a few days later, a letter arrived from a woman who said she was the head of the Florida chapter of the Audubon Society. She told me she was thrilled to hear the chirping of some unique bird species in the Bahamas. What she heard of course was not the sounds of the Bahamas but the crowd noise of an earlier game in Florida.

“I said to myself, ‘Great, I finally fooled ’em,'” Vin concluded.

The Hawaii Islanders spawned a handful of popular Major League Baseball announcers

Marty Chase is from New York and spent lots of time in Hawaii. He later served as a writer and editor. One of the newspapers for which he was a scribe was the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In his time on the island, he broadcast the Hawaii Islanders. “I worked with three of the best. Harry Kalas (who left for the Astros), Hank Greenwald (who jumped for the Warriors and later the Giants) and Al Michaels (who took the Reds job).” Marty said that in 1968 Michaels was brought in from his home in Los Angeles by Jack Quinn, the Islanders’ GM. Chase had military duties too and had to miss games on many weeknights. “I was running around hills behind Schofield with a rifle,” he says. Others who worked in Hawaii include Ken Wilson and the talented Les Keiter. Wilson did the St. Louis Blues and Cardinals. Keiter did Knicks, football Giants, loads of boxing and creative recreations. Mel Proctor also is on the Islanders’ roster of all-time voices. He did the Nets, Wizards (then Bullets), Orioles and Padres. The AAA Islanders were in business from 1961-87. After sputtering late, the franchise moved to Colorado Springs in 1988.

Nuggets 

  • Like many of us, Bob Costas is hunkered down. He tells me that there are two corners in his home that are dressed with fitting backdrops, one for his work on MLB Network and the other for his reports and interviews on CNN. Bob hasn’t been on an airplane for some six months, the longest stretch of his adult life.
  • Last I heard, ESPN MNF announcers will be doing games live, unlike MLB. Looking forward to the new trio of voices Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick. Levy brings warmth, Griese knowledge and Riddick enthusiasm. For ESPN, the MNF broadcast team is the fourth since 2015.
  • Listened to an Orioles game on radio last week. Couldn’t tell you who was doing the game but since Joe Angel and Jim Hunter moved on, a scorecard is needed to know who’s in the booth. The announcers change almost regularly. Anyhow, the voices treated the game itself as an afterthought. It was as though the activity on the field rudely interrupted what was no more than a baseball talk show. Chuck Thompson might still be throwing up in his grave. It’s bad enough that there are no fans in the stands. Now, there aren’t any real play-by-play broadcasters in the booth either.

Extra credit, a familial intersection of the NBA and NHL (Publication contributor – Jake Baskin)

Popeye Jones played in the NBA. He’s currently an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers. Popeye has two sons who play in the NHL, Caleb (Edmonton) and Seth (Columbus). When Popeye Jones played for the Nuggets, he asked Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche about having his sons play hockey. As the story goes, Sakic told Popeye to first enroll his sons in skating classes. I would say that the boys didn’t do too badly!

 

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green
3 months ago

A great roundup as usual! On mistakes … With social media, it’s harder to hide or tamp down something. But I also think there’s a difference between an honest mistake and something reprehensible. Let me set aside for a moment how I feel about what Thom Brennaman said–and it was horrible–to wonder why someone who has been in the business as long as he has wouldn’t realize that sometimes the microphone is open? I read a story today about how his father is famously profane, and Joe Nuxhall used to tease Marty that he would get in trouble. But Marty… Read more »