There once was an 8-year-old boy who so loved baseball that he would lie in his bed each summer night, with the massive stereo in his bedroom tuned to the radio home of the Baltimore Orioles. He would stay up past his bedtime but never long enough to hear the end of the game.
His bedroom walls were adorned with autographed pictures of his favorite players and his glove and baseball rested nearby on a nightstand. As he listened to those games, as his team fought to secure a spot in the playoffs, he dreamed of one day joining them on the field, making a dramatic catch to win a game or hitting a home run to clinch a crucial victory. These were the most pure and innocent moments of his life.
That was me, 35 years ago. And just as then, I still adore listening to baseball on the radio. If I were a doctor, I would prescribe it as a way to soothe frayed nerves and connect with the theater of the mind. Ultimately, that’s what it is. Baseball on the radio forces us to imagine the dimensions on the field, the players lined up defensively, the pitch as it dances in or out of the strike zone. It demands that you take your cues as to the outcome of the play from the reaction of the crowd and it transports you to a time when true storytellers and wordsmiths sat behind a microphone and spun gems about baseball history past and present.
One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog is that one of the true giants of sports broadcasting, Vin Scully, is hanging up his microphone at the end of this baseball season. For 67 seasons, since the Los Angeles Dodgers played in Brooklyn, Scully has called their games. His style — folksy and honest, pithy and thoughtful — made him a favorite of baseball aficionados far and wide. I would turn on the Dodgers radio broadcast late at night just to listen to Scully describe the game with words and phrases unlike any other broadcaster.
It’s my sincere hope that everyone — baseball fans and even those who know as much about baseball as they do quantum physics — finds a way to listen to one or two of Scully’s final games. It will be like listening to a priceless piece of American history.
As a kid and as an adult, baseball has defined 7 months of every year of my life. Once spring training rolls around, my MLB At Bat app goes into hyperdrive. Each Orioles game is obsessed over, listened to, watched and parsed. It is my private passion, and more often then not, my private hell.
As Scully once said, “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”
When I was young I wanted to be the radio voice of the Baltimore Orioles and I would often wait outside of Memorial Stadium after a ballgame to wait for Jon Miller, then the voice of the Orioles, to leave the stadium. I would pepper him with questions about his career. He told me that as a boy he would sit in the stands at the Oakland Coliseum and announce Oakland A’s games to himself into a tape recorder and work on his craft.
I also wore out the groves on an album — the album commemorating the 1970 Baltimore Orioles World Championship season and the team’s victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. I made it my goal to get all of the Hall of Famers on that team to sign the album. My one regret is that I failed to get the autograph of the Hall of Fame radio voice of the team, Chuck Thompson, before he died.
There are innumerable books and websites dedicated to the radio history of baseball, a sport that is unique in its reverence for and appreciation of the radio broadcasts of its games. To listen to these masters of description is a joy that remains with you long after the last out. The storytelling, pacing, rhythm and vocal quality of these baseball broadcasters is as pleasing to the ear as a child’s laugh or as soothing as a gentle wind on a spring day. But most of all it is the connection that these announcers make with their community and their audience that brings listeners back game after game, pitch after pitch. Their ability to not merely call balls and strikes but to tell the story of the game and the players and the team, within the larger game itself, is what brings baseball to life through the radio waves.
As Jack Buck intoned to throngs of radio listeners when Kirk Gibson hit the most famous home run in Dodger’s history, “I don’t believe what I just saw!” And celebrating those moments, we, as legions of baseball fanatics can surely say when we hear a maestro of the verbal phrase spin a yarn worthy of Shakespeare, “I don’t believe what I just heard!”