Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Not So Joyous Noise

As a child, I spent my summers in Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania. For all of his faults, my father never ceased to amaze me with his ability - as essentially the sole wage earner in a family of eight for much of their marriage - to afford a summer home. Hell, he is dead almost three decades and I have not - not even for one moment - ever figured out how he pulled it off.

In between days spent water skiing and swimming and nights spent at Hanson's Amusement Park , I spent many an afternoon - and the occasional late night - listening to baseball on the radio. While there was not yet such a thing as ESPN and the phenomenon of the MLB Package on Direct TV had yet to be realized, up in the mountains of Pennsylvania one could get reasonably good coverage of Major League Baseball on AM radio. Where we were in Pennsylvania, the Phillies, Mets and Yankees broadcasts came in crystal clear and at night - when fewer stations occupied the AM band (at least I think that was what Bill explained to me was going on) you could hear games from as far away as Detroit and St. Louis. I did not see a picture of Ernie Harwell or Jack Buck until years later, but as a kid I knew their voices.

Dad is dead for almost thirty years. Mom sold the house almost that long ago. And I have not been to Harvey's Lake in at least twenty-five years. And although we now have the ability to watch every game that every team plays every day, we still have the radio. And we still have baseball games that are broadcast on it.

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees played the Blue Jays. Since I was at the office while the game was being played, I set my trusty little boom box (I purloined one from Rob that I think he had in his bedroom in the 6th grade) to WCBS 880 AM and listened to the game. Once upon a time I actually recall John Sterling being quasi-controlled on the air. Notwithstanding the somewhat tedious home run call "It is high! It is far! It is gone!" and the hysterical "The Yankees win! The Yankees win!" he breaks into after every win, whether it is the deciding game of the World Series or a mid-June game against Kansas City, when Sterling was paired in the booth with Michael Kay, the broadcast was an enjoyable listen.

When the Yankees created the YES Network and separated Kay and Sterling in order to unleash Kay on their television-viewing audience, Sterling has become an 800 pound gorilla in the booth. For the past several seasons, his partner in crime has been Suzyn Waldman. While Waldman certainly seems to be a very nice woman - and she is well-regarded in Yankees circles as the one who brokered the detente between George Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra - her role in the broadcast booth appears to be that of Sterling's head cheerleader. She does no play-by-play at all and is required to introduce him immediately before first pitch as "the Voice of the New York Yankees". The two of them appear to fear silence. Every moment of every inning of every game is jammed full of noise, whether one is speaking over the other or reading one of the endless number of commercial spots that dominate the broadcast.

There is no empty space on the Yankees airwaves and not a moment that is not sponsored by somebody. The radio team works from the "Lowe's Broadcast Booth", hosts a writer from the New York Daily News during that newspaper's 5th inning, plugs GEICO Insurance after the fifteenth out of the game is recorded and heralds the arrival of the game's first pitch as a promo for "Roadrunner High Speed Internet Service". I personally love when the Yankees play the Red Sox - in Boston - and Tim Wakefield is the Sox pitcher. The irony of documenting the throwing of a pitch that has traveled 49 miles per hour as a promotional device for a technology's "high speed" is apparently lost on the entirety of the Yankees radio broadcast family.

I realized yesterday afternoon listening to the broadcast that there is nary a product that the Bombers will not sell on-air. Although, upon close examination I became aware of an absolutely excellent advertising opportunity that is going by the boards. Baseball players are forever adjusting themselves. Somewhere there is a chiropractor who would pay through the teeth for the chance to have his/her practice mentioned every time a batter or a base runner adjusted his jock.

I love my Yankees but their radio broadcast is fast becoming unlistenable. Captain Catchphrase needs to stop working so hard to be clever and start working a bit harder at being right. Just once I would like to hear him tell the audience that Jorge Posada has hit a home run - and not that he has "juiced one". Does baseball really need the radio play-by-play man for its most recognizable franchises to keep pointing out that the Yankees All-Star catcher 'juiced' one?

It's Radio Nowhere. On the air 162 times a year. And it is simply too much.

......and now a word from our sponsor.


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