Announcers

MLB voices differ on need for fabricated crowd noise on broadcasts (Today: National League)

“We are going to make the best of it”: MLB Broadcasters Share Their Thoughts on Broadcasts During Potential 2020 Season

 

Major League Baseball and the MLBPA remain deadlocked in bitter negotiations in advance of a potential 2020 season. Many matters remain unresolved including the length of the season and salaries.

Yet we proceed full of hope that there will be a season, no matter how long or short. Two things do appear certain. The stands are likely to be empty at least at the start of the schedule and that the team broadcasters will be based somewhere away from the ballparks, definitely when games are scheduled out of town.

This of course will present unprecedented challenges. Yesterday, we asked a representative number of American League announcers how they’d deal with a palpable decline in ambient noise and what it will be like working remotely.

MLB team voices look ahead to calling games under unusual conditions (Today: American League)

Today, we cover National League team voices.

National League Voices

Question #1: Many memorable calls in baseball history have been reinforced by the crowd shouting at the top of their lungs. How difficult will it be for you to call games without fans fueling the emotions of the moment?

Chip Caray (Atlanta Braves – TV):

It will certainly be different…and until we actually “do it,”  we play-by-play guys won’t really know what those moments will “feel” like. It’s our job to sense those great movements, and certainly the call is important, but make no mistake…it’s ALL about the fans…their energy and their excitement that makes those moments shine. I’m really going to miss that..and pray we’ll have fans in attendance at some point.

But I’m sure we’ll have more audio from dugouts, players, managers and interviews, so broadcasts will be full of content, just different content. I’m sure it will be weird…but we’ll all adjust and find our balance in real time, just like everyone else is trying to do. I just hope we don’t disturb the players during the game. Hahaha! 

Pat Hughes (Chicago Cubs – Radio):

I think that there have been games – maybe a handful in my 38 year Big League career – maybe  in Montreal, maybe at some spring training games way back in Sun City, AZ, and Yuma, AZ. So it’s not like I’ve never done it. In Minor league ball for sure. At Wrigley Field, fans are not just there and not just adding flavor to the game, they are part of the game. They help lead the Cubs to victories. But as far as a broadcaster, I’ve learned a long time ago, whatever the situation is, you deal with it. You do the best you can with what you’ve got, with whatever team you’ve got, with whatever conditions, no matter how hot or how cold or how many fans are there or how meaningful or meaningless the ballgame is, you do your best job, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do once the season starts. 

Jack Corrigan (Colorado Rockies – Radio):

I feed off the energy of the crowd. Fortunately–in an odd sort of way–I am prepared for this. For my first nine years in Major League Baseball, the Indians played their games at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. They finished above .500 just once, had 3 seasons with more than 100 losses, and were a collective 174 games below .500 for that stretch. In a stadium that sat just under 75,000 for baseball, they averaged approximately 14,600 fans per game, less than 20% of capacity. My first year was 1985. Their record was 60-102–and they averaged just over 8,000 per game. There were many nights when it almost felt like no one was in the stands. 

Dave Van Horne (Miami Marlins – Radio):

We’ve never experienced this before. Oh, we’ve all broadcast some games with small crowds and not much atmosphere in the ballpark, but even then, there was some reaction to the games, picked up by crowd noise mics.  My broadcast pace, tempo and the amount of energy used to make calls, will be dictated by the “feeling” I get once the game starts. All broadcasters use the crowd “noise” and reactions to dictate the “feel” of the play by play action-calls. We won’t have that.  Also, we’ll be relying on the television producers and directors to give us a good overall look at the game. Doing a radio call on a ball hit into the gap, with men on base, could be quite an adventure! 

Howie Rose (New York Mets- Radio):

I don’t think it will bother me at all. I’ve called some big moments in games that were played in sparsely attended ballparks. Mike Piazza hit a huge home run at the Astrodome late in the 1998 season and the only other sound I heard while Mike was rounding the bases was Gary Cohen’s voice describing the moment on radio from the booth next door just as excitedly as I was on television at the time.

 Charlie Slowes (Washington Nationals):

It will certainly be different.  The roar you’ll hear will be the players from the dugout when something big happens, almost like a high school, college or minor league game. But I think once you’re into the importance of the moment, in your mind you still call the play as if the crowd is there. 

Question #2: Have you ever faced a similar challenge? 

Chip Caray (Atlanta Braves – TV):

Nope. Not at MLB level. We’ve all done minor league games with 50-100 fans in the stands. All ya can do is block that out and do the game. 

Pat Hughes (Chicago Cubs- Radio):

I have never done a big league game with fans in the stands, but it’s not something I’m going to worry about. This is not a major hardship for me or any other broadcaster, so I don’t think any of us should complain. We are going to make the best of it, we’re going to try to provide baseball entertainment on the radio or television for millions of people the way we always do, and I think this time around, it takes on even a little more special meaning because so many people are out of work, so many people are having to stay at home and so many people are frightened for fear of catching this coronavirus. So I think in that sense, baseball will play an even bigger role this year. 

Jack Corrigan (Colorado Rockies- Radio):

Vin Scully once gave me a compliment when he told me how much he enjoyed the enthusiasm in my broadcasts, even when things weren’t going all that well for the Rockies. (There have been 12 seasons below .500 for the Rox in my 17 years covering the team.) Scully pointed out that in his 67 seasons with the Dodgers, the team finished below break-even only 12 times. He said it’s easy to broadcast winning teams because the crowds are larger, and they, as well as the audience listening, become more involved with the games. When a broadcaster can maintain his focus, keep his enthusiasm going when a team is not performing well, that is the mark of a real pro, in his opinion. It was the greatest compliment anyone could have given me about my efforts behind the microphone. 

Dave Van Horne (Miami Marlins – Radio):

Early in my baseball broadcasting career in Richmond Virginia (Richmond Braves, International League), we did the team’s road games by “wire recreation.”  We, the broadcast crew, sat in a studio at the radio station and received pitch-by-pitch play-by-play accounts of the game via a Western Union ticker , transmitted directly from the press box at the site of the game.  A Western Union ticker operator sent weather reports, lineups and some notes, then, a shorthand version of play by play. Some operators were really good; attentive and helpful, going beyond the call of duty to give us enough game information to allow for a pretty detailed broadcast. The studio engineer ran crowd effects of varying levels, to give the broadcast a “live from the ballpark” sound.  However, our audience knew we were recreating the game.  We made announcements to that effect at the start of each “studio game.”

Wire recreation games were an education for a rookie baseball announcer. I’m really glad I got to do it. 

Howie Rose (New York Mets – Radio):

This season, assuming there is one, broadcasters will call their team’s road games remotely, off a television monitor. We all started the same way at a very young age; turning the sound down on TV and practicing our play-by-play into a tape recorder. In that respect, this will be a return to our roots. Some years ago, I voiced-over the Japan Series from a studio in New York for a company called World Sport. However, we were watching tapes of completed games, and since we had the scorecards to work from and knew what was going to happen, it was hardly a legitimate play-by-play experience. 

Charlie Slowes (Washington Nationals- Radio):

We’ve done games after long rain delays deep into the night and extra-inning games too, where a small number of fans remained, or a rescheduled game #1 of a split doubleheader on a weekday, where hardly anyone may be there at the start. But never when there were no fans at all. The roar you’ll hear will by the players from the dugout when something big happens, almost like a high school, college or minor league game. 

Question 3: Do you think it’s a good idea to pump in fabricated crowd noise into the broadcast?

 Chip Caray (Atlanta Braves – TV):

Personally I hope not. What’s the point?  Everyone knows fans aren’t going to be there so why pretend otherwise? 

Pat Hughes (Chicago Cubs – Radio):

Pumping in crowd noise is not a good idea at all, period. I hate the idea of fake crowd noise for something like this, or anything, for that matter. I can always tell a recreation. I’m kind of a baseball broadcasting historian, and I hear all kinds of things when I’m putting my CDs together, called baseballvoices.com. I can tell when a Curt Gowdy, a Bob Prince or a Mel Allen has done a recreation. You’re in a studio, you’re looking at a monitor, you’re calling the play and they’re piping in fabricated crowd noise. It’s not authentic at all, it doesn’t sound good and I don’t think it would sound good for a live broadcast either. So no, I don’t think that’s a good idea in any way, shape or form. 

Jack Corrigan (Colorado Rockies – Radio):

While it won’t be perfect, and I’m certain the job will be difficult for those assigned the task, the use of fabricated crowd noise in some form is necessary for the broadcasts until we can get the fans back. It will help radio listeners and television viewers have a sense of how the games normally feel, and I believe that’s a good thing. The principal reason, however, is the benefit it brings to the players and the broadcasters. Those involved in the game probably don’t want people to hear everything that is being said on the field, and I know I don’t want all of our commentary to be heard. That will be one of the adjustments for all of us until the crowds return. 

Dave Van Horne (Miami Marlins – Radio):

I’m not sure that in this case, in 2020, that we should use canned crowd noise. The radio broadcasts will be a challenge for all of us.  I think we’ll “learn on the fly,” watching the telecast of the game and calling it on radio. Broadcast #10 may be a lot different from games 1, 2 and 3. We’ll see. 

Howie Rose (New York Mets – Radio):

I’m not sure how I would feel about it. On one hand, I can see where it would create a fuller sound for the listener, but it would have to be really well done and properly modulated to match the moment. That seems somewhat challenging. I actually am concerned that at least for me it might prove to be as much a distraction as anything else. 

Charlie Slowes (Washington Nationals – Radio):

I think you could have generic crowd and sound of vendors when things are calm but hard for someone to pump up the crowd level to time with a home run or a great catch. We will still have the sounds of a bat crack and probably hear the players and umpires a lot more. 

Question 4: Do you have any additional suggestions? 

Chip Caray (Atlanta Braves – TV):

How’s this for an idea?:

If you have to have “noise, play music…Have a player select his playlist for the game and run it in the background as the soundtrack like a video game.”  Interview the player about the songs, what they mean to him, etc. Have his teammates critique it. Or sing it. Have fun!

If there ever was a year for baseball to “try new stuff”, this is the one. Why not? See what works. Most important thing is to report the games, have fun, entertain and grow the game.  And I’m confident that all of us on the TV side are ready to roll with all the changes, challenges and most of all, the once in a generation opportunities ahead in 2020. Let’s play ball. 

Pat Hughes (Chicago Cubs – Radio):

I don’t have all the answers. Again, I’m going to do the best I can. I have a great partner in Ron Coomer, the third man in our booth is Zach Zaidman. We have fun, we laugh every day. I think the Cubs are going to be a very good team. They have been for the last several years, including a world championship back in 2016. I’m kind of excited to see the new manager, David Ross, in action.  As far as any suggestions, management always come up with good ideas, and I’ll let them do their jobs.

Charlie Slowes (Washington Nationals – radio):

The hard part in all of this is if we don’t travel for road games and call them completely off monitors. I’m told that if so, we could have several video feeds and multiple monitors, including a whole field shot which would be a big help for balls hit in the gap with men on base.  Those plays are tough to do off a screen.   It will certainly take some getting used to.

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Jason Shebilske
Jason Shebilske

Jason Shebilske is an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying journalism, including an emphasis in sports communication. In addition to Sports Broadcast Journal, he currently writes for RotoWire, a fantasy sports database in Madison, Wisconsin.

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