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Soothing Sounds - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Soothing Sounds
I just finished watching the Giants prolong the almost-inevitable, beating the last-place Diamondbacks 5-4 in the first game of a series they need to sweep. Although I was depressed about losing two out of three to the Dodgers, especially with Tim Lincecum being one of the losing pitchers, I felt it my duty to keep the faith.

Because our "high-speed" internet isn't, I can't really watch games on MLB.TV. That means that unless San Francisco is on a national game, which hasn't happened much since Barry Bonds cleared out his lockers, I don't get to see them play unless it's against Arizona. And that means that I've become familiar with the different D-Backs announcing crews over the years.

Although the ballpark formerly known as The Bob is too much like a dome for me to enjoy, even when seeing games on TV, and the crowds these days are as ideologically suspect as ever and a lot sparser than they once were -- this is not a good time for the state, to say the least -- I still enjoyed the way tonight's announcers called the game enough to leave the volume turned up, even though my original plan had been to listen to music. Actually, it was the sparseness of the crowd and the D-Backs' sorry state as a cellar dweller that helped make the announcers appealing.

A lot of people, my father included, complain when announcers stray from calling the game to talk about other things. But unless I'm on pins and needles, I like such banter. It's what makes the sound of a baseball telecast soothing. Radio announcers are invariably more focused on the action, because they have no choice. But freed by their camera crews from having to describe everything, television announcers can expatiate on whatever subjects come into their heads.

That's frequently a bad thing, as even I am ready to admit. With the right people and the right timing, though, such rambling can be delightful. Hearing Brooks Robinson wander through the Ozarks of his mind on Orioles' telecasts was like sipping well-aged sourmash. And, although the tone of Phil Rizzuto's voice -- "The Money Store!" -- was beyond grating, it was hard not to marvel at his stories of the Yankees glory days, especially when he related them during the fallow years of 1974 and 1975, when I first became acquainted with the sport through my father's dedicated viewing of every game he could catch on Channel 11.

My favorite kind of peripatetic announcers, though, are the ones who leave plenty of white space in their delivery. Joe Garagiola, who occasionally drops into the D-Backs booth, was one of the best in that vein. When the camera caught him taking a bow tonight -- his son helps to run the Arizona front office -- the announcers waxed nostalgic about the pleasure of listening to him and Tony Kubek call NBC's Saturday Game of the Week in the 1970s.

I think it was Mark Grace who said that it didn't even matter who was playing, so long as those two men were in the booth the telecast was an event you didn't want to miss. I wholeheartedly agree. I think Garagiola and Kubek's voices are inscribed more deeply in my soul than the faces of my childhood friends. What I realized, though, as I nodded my head to second this insight, was that my nostalgia is less about them, than it is about the way they called games, always remembering that they were just that: games.

One of the things that turns me off about the NFL is the sense, conveyed by the announcers, sound effects, commercials etc., that every contest is a life-or-death struggle. Sports are a diversion, a means of facilitating bonding between people -- typically males -- who would otherwise find it difficult to communicate with each other. But they are not warfare, as the sad story of Pat Tillman reminds us. Maybe we'd all be better off if we had to slow down and listen to baseball announcers call a game that doesn't matter much, at least to the fan base they serve, as if they were having a nice talk while waiting for the fish to bite.

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8 comments or Leave a comment
chefxh From: chefxh Date: September 22nd, 2009 06:34 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Ah, the days when Mark Grace and Gonzo and Randy Johnson filled BOB with even the likes of me, who had not been to a ballgame since the Kansas City Athletics.

One memory that pins me to a spot is lying on the couch that same year, in the parlor in the farmhouse, hearing the crickets and frogs outside and being mesmerized by a baseball game on the radio. Still puts me to sleep.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 23rd, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
The sound is special. It's almost like you can detach it from the context and just let it soothe you1
thedayiexploded From: thedayiexploded Date: September 22nd, 2009 09:08 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I love that banter too.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 23rd, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It can suck, certainly. A friend on Facebook who read this over there -- I import my LJ entries as notes -- reminded me that color commentators now are often passing moral judgment on players instead of showing what's best about the game, as Garagiola did. There are ones I like, who don't do that, like Mark Grace. But I worry that the sort of broadcasting I was talking about may be a dying art.
susandennis From: susandennis Date: September 22nd, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
When I was little (the 50's) I learned to love baseball at my grandpa's knee in front of the little black and white TV in his back room. I have no idea who played but I remember clearly that the announcers were Peewee Reece and Dizzy Dean.

I find baseball in the background so conducive to productivity that once, when I was free lancing web work years ago, I had a client who paid my cable bill for a year as a bonus so I could keep getting baseball games.

We (the Mariners) have a most wonderful color guy - Mike Blowers. He was a fairly mediocre 3rd baseman. He started in the broadcast booth 3 years ago and turned out to be naturally perfect at it. He provides a perfect balance of banter to baseball. We're very lucky.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 23rd, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't really know blowers. I'll check him out when I'm next in Seattle. Wait, hang on a sec. I was there in April, actually, when Griffey Jr. hit his first homer as a born-again Mariner, watching the game in a bar near Sea-Tac. I must have heard him, at least. And the more that I think about it, the more I remember thinking it was a well-called game.

Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean: what an awesome combo! Dean was a helluva pitcher in the 30s.
From: ext_136530 Date: September 23rd, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
When Vin Scully finally retires all the way (now he doesn't do games outside of CA) that'll be the end of the art form for Dodgers broadcasting. He invented the style you're talking about, but with him its not an either/or. He can give you a single story--riveting and interesting with all the details--as he calls an entire inning. The jerk-offs that do the rest of the Dodgers' games on the road suck so hard, mostly because of their inability to be him.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 23rd, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Tomás: You're totally write about Vin Scully. I would have mentioned him, because he's great, were it not an entry about the Giants. I didn't want to stoke the rage of Steven!

Seriously, my favorite broadcasting moment ever was when Scully, calling a game towards the end of Fernando Valenzuela's first stint with the team, noted that Tommy Lasorda was trying to communicate something to the pitcher, who was struggling, but to no avail. He's already been out of the dugout once and wasn't sure he wanted to head back a second time to take Fernando out. Anyway, Scully says, casually as all get-out, "The falcon can no longer hear the falconer." I mean, to quote a poet like Yeats, as if it were the most regular thing in the world, and also implicitly invoke its title, "The Second Coming", as a wry commentary on Lasorda's ambivalence about returning to the mound, it was priceless.
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