Halby's Morsels

Halby’s Morsels: MLB, NHL and NBA broadcasts; KC’s Matthews shares royal tales; Fox’ Adam Amin -Amen!

david halberstam round profile
Halberstam
  • Kevin Harlan and Ian Eagle will be Turner’s first two play-by-players when the NBA games begin in Orlando later this week. Brian Anderson will get well into the act as the schedule progresses. I guess all these broadcasters are hungry to work after hunkering down for months. Unlike baseball, the NBA’s Turner and ESPN voices will do their jobs directly from the games’ home in Orlando. Team NBA voices will improvise, presiding from somewhere closer to home. Sports Media Watch reports that a scrimmage drew 300,000 viewers on NBA TV last week more than an MLS match. That augurs well for the league when things begin again for real later this week.
  • If working away from arenas and stadiums proves doable, you have to wonder how many of these cost savings practices will become somewhat permanent. In the NBA, I get a sense that Hispanic road radio broadcasts whose audiences are minuscule might continue to do road games from a home studio.
  • From a broadcast perspective, Carolina Hurricanes fans were dealt a setback in 2018. It was then that the team low-balled one of the NHL’s best ever radio broadcasters, longtimer Chuck Kaiton. So he picked himself up and left. Now Mr. Frugal, team owner Tom Dundon, asked the team’s veteran television voice, John Forslund, to accept a salary tied to the team’s overall revenue. (Capitalism or communism?) It looks like Forslund balked. So when play resumes, Forslund won’t be working the Canes’ games but will continue to call NHL ‘restart’ games for NBC. Forslund told the media that he’s a free agent.
  • NBC Sports’ game commentary and studio teams will feature a combination of almost 20 on-air announcers, providing coverage from the NHL hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton. Doc Emrick, 74 on Saturday, is the lead play-by-play voice along with Mike Tirico, Forslund, Kenny Albert, Brendan Burke, and Gord MillerEddie Olczyk, Mike Milbury, and AJ Mleczko will serve as game analysts, while Pierre McGuire and Brian Boucher will provide insights from their customary Inside-the-Glass positions. McGuire moves to second on the NBC depth chart this year behind Boucher. When Emrick retires, I would trust that NBC wastes no time to elevate Albert to the lead role. But lots between now and then. In ordinary times which these are not, the NHL would cash in on a big TV deal when negotiations begin at the end of the year. Fox wants a piece of the league as does ESPN. Albert also does football and some baseball for the Foxies. In the meantime, let’s stay healthy.

Is NBC’s Mike Tirico up to the task? Can the gifted generalist replace two giants, Al Michaels and Bob Costas?

  • I thought that baseball on Fox and ESPN was presented as well as anyone could expect given both the circumstances and the scattered placement of the talent and the production crew. For ESPN’s Yanks – Nats opener in DC, voices Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez were at the network’s headquarters in Connecticut and field reporter Buster Olney was in the boondocks in the upper reaches of the stadium. The manufactured crowd noise was sufficient to give the game some life but it wasn’t overbearing to reinforce what we all know, it’s fabricated.
  • On Fox’ Saturday night broadcast of Yanks-Nats, the voices didn’t hold back. Play-by-player Joe Buck reminded the audience that he was broadcasting from a studio in Denver. (Yes, Buck makes his home in St. Louis, but he’s spending the summer in Aspen, Colorado, a three and a half hour drive from Denver.) John Smoltz was situated at MLB Network studios in New Jersey. Field reporter Ken Rosenthal was a lonely man in the stadium. So get this. The three on-air guys were all in different locations. The pictures produced by all cameras in the stadium were fed to Fox’ nerve center in Los Angeles where the broadcast was produced and directed. I was impressed that the announcing trio didn’t talk over one another much at all.
  • Good pick up by Fox, locking in former ESPNer Adam Amin. The Valparaiso alum is comfortable covering basketball and football. His baseball work on Saturday, Cubs-Brewers was excellent. He has a good handle for the play-by-play rhythm and is very comfortable with his baseball knowledge. He called the game from his home in Chicago.
  • Fox’ audience number was good but not overwhelming. The Nats-Yankees night game did a 2.1, only 17% better than the network’s primetime ratings for baseball last season.
  • ESPN’s opening night coverage Thursday, also Yanks-Nats, generated an average of 4 million viewers. It was a rain shortened telecast. ESPN says that it was the most watched regular season MLB game on any network since 2011.
  • Bob Costas who will be a special sports contributor to CNN told me that anchor Wolf Blitzer is a big sports fan and that two of them sat near one another at an NBA All-Star Game.
  • Roy Firestone, one of sports’ best interviewers, starts a podcast series. He’ll open with Billy Crystal who was close with Muhammad Ali. Roy knew the champ well too. More info here.
  • Denny Matthews - Alchetron, The Free Social EncyclopediaThere’s the beauty of SiriusXM while sitting poolside on a sweltering South Florida Sunday afternoon. Don’t ask me why but I dialed up the Royals broadcast against the Indians. The trio of announcers called the game remotely. Denny Matthews (l) holds the American League record for tenure with one team. This is his 52nd season with Kansas City. He was one of the voices on the crew when the team was born in 1969. His mentor, Buddy Blattner, hired him and was a member of the announce team too.

Denny’s partners in KC are veteran Steve Physioc and Steve Stewart. The three got into the possibility of the Indians changing their nickname. One of them pointed out that before they became the Indians in the early 20th century, they were the Spiders for a short period of time. It gave Matthews an opportunity to talk about the Royals late pitcher Dan Quisenberry who would name the many spiders he’d find at decrepit old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland (the Indians home through 1993), and apparently there were no shortage of them. Matthews and his colleagues covered the Tribe’s history including standouts Bob Feller and Bob Lemon whom Denny got to know when the ex-pitching ace managed the Royals. When the players came into the clubhouse after a long night out, Denny said you couldn’t fool Lemon. Old Bob had been there a few times himself, Matthews said.

Denny told the story of the time that the Royals had a set at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium when the city suffered a deluge of hard rain for three straight days and nights. When the head groundskeeper came out to inspect the damage, he found that a tire, yes a tire from a car or truck, had emerged from beneath the waterlogged grass.

I checked into this. The ballpark which opened in the 1930s was actually built on a landfill full of old used cars and tires on the banks of Lake Erie. As the Indians popular announcer Tom Hamilton told others simply, “The place was a dump.”

Contributor Don Hale a keen observer of matters related to sports media shared this:

  • I watched Game #6 of the  1952 Dodgers-Yankees World Series with Mel Allen and Red Barber, splitting the duties on NBC television; neither interfered with the other’s air shift. Red worked the final 4½ innings. His concise yet folksy precision were on full display. He was likely among the first broadcasters able to navigate through the difference between TV and radio calls. And the difference between calling a game for a local vs. national audience.
  • How ever it came about, Rizzuto’s early play-by-play work was among the best I’ve heard to this day. He was thorough and undistracted. (Rizzuto’s first year announcing Yankees games was 1957.) That was the era of soloists in the booth. Mel, Red, and Phil each would work three innings on TV, three on radio, alone. Each had his distinctive style. So they each got three innings off, although pre- and post-game stuff fell into their duties as well. Phil really had some heavy lifting when Barber confined his work to the Yankees home schedule. (When a game was televised from the road, Allen would do most of the game on TV and Rizzuto on radio. They’d switch roles for the other three innings. Barber didn’t travel in those years.)
  • I already miss Gary Thorne on Orioles TV, similar to how I miss Vin Scully on the Dodgers. They both have given way to slick automatons devoid of distinctive, memorable style and personality.
  • I wonder why Howard Cosell spoke ill of Jack Whitaker. Was he simply needling him? Or fearful of jumping out of character by exposing his admiration? As I remember, Howard on the air was a show; he was an entertainer in a role and he did it with mastery.

(Reminds me, tangentially, of the old New York WNEW’s Gene Klavan, whose on-air jabs at his sponsors regenerated millions in revenue from those same sponsors; or Miami’s Neil Rogers, who turned the station’s back-office empty suits into on-air straw characters, targets of constant derision. Many pretenders have followed that path; few of them to succeed artistically)

When White joined up with Rizzuto, it was more of an Abbott and Costello routine. Phil’s play-by-play suffered when the shenanigans took over. “Play-by-play” devolved into simply “byplay.” White developed into a decent broadcaster, unlike Fran Healy, he of the ever-clumsy syntax. (Some airmen thrive on strictly scripted work.)

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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
2 months ago

What a great roundup! The stories that Denny Matthews was telling are a reminder of why baseball is such a perfect radio/audio sport. There’s room to talk. It appears that Cosell was incapable of being happy. But WHEN he criticized Whitaker might be part of the story. I’ve read that Cosell expected Roone Arledge to bring him over to the news division. Whitaker did features for the news division, I believe, and I’d imagine that bothered Cosell no end. And of course Halby remembers the story of Rizzuto leaving a road game early, as he was known to do, and… Read more »