Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Listening In Behind Enemy Lines

Learning something from Yankee broadcasts

By Christopher Heun

I am an Orioles fan living in New York City.

That might sound like a terrible misfortune – to be surrounded by Yankees fans on their home turf – but the truth is, they couldn’t care less about me; it’s the Red Sox they hate. When the Orioles visited Yankee Stadium last September, I sat in the upper deck, proudly wearing my O’s hat. I got no reaction. But the dude in the Red Sox hat and jersey who walked through? Entire sections of people booed and cursed him. And the Sox weren't even playing.

Earlier this month, when the Yankees visited Camden Yards, I decided to listen to the local broadcasts of the games on WCBS 880 AM. Listening to an opposing team’s announcers guarantees an honest appraisal of your side, and hearing what the Yankees flagship station in particular has to say is sort of like eavesdropping on the popular kids at school: you may not admit it, but you want their approval.

I made some notes of the more interesting comments by play-by-play man John Sterling and his sidekick, Suzyn Waldman. Before I get into it, a few words about them.

Sterling has just the right voice to call a game on the radio and an authoritative tone that suits the Yankees. His signature call after every New York victory, though, is an incredibly annoying attempt at a vibrato flourish that sounds instead like a cross between a choking victim and a broken lawnmower: “The Yankees win! Thuh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh Yankees win!”

Waldman became just the second woman in Major League Baseball history (and first in about 40 years) to serve as a full-time color commentator when she joined Sterling in the booth last year. She has two decades of experience reporting on sports for WFAN radio in New York, but despite that, there’s plenty of vitriol directed her way on the Internet, much of it based on the opinion that she “doesn’t know the game.” (Imagine what they’d say if they knew
she grew up a Red Sox fan in Massachusetts.) She comes across as a brassy broad full of the usual anecdotes about the players.

What I like about the pair is that they aren’t afraid to call out Yankee mistakes, something you rarely hear from home team announcers, in Baltimore or anywhere else (though Joe Angel does an admirable job of toeing the line, particularly since he knows his former partner, Jon Miller, was run out of town by owner Peter Angelos for not cheerleading). Last Friday night, for example, when Derek Jeter was hit by a pitch, Sterling and Waldman noted, rightly, that he stands close to the plate and dives into pitches. Then, a few plays later, when he was thrown out at third to end the inning, they gently pointed out that Jeter had broken a cardinal rule: never make the third out at third base.

(Waldman then felt the need to turn the mistake into a compliment by adding that the heads-up defensive play that nailed him at third was “just the kind of play Jeter would make.” I wouldn’t be surprised one day to tune in to a play-by-play of Jeter walking across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium to Manhattan.)

Such unabashed homerism should be expected, of course. My complaint about the Yankee broadcasts has to do with the overwhelming number of ads during the actual game. (This is, of course, how the Yankees afford their $200 million payrolls. The YES TV network raked in $44 million in ad revenue last year alone.) Much of the time Waldman’s sole duty seems to be merely reading commercials. In the top of the fourth of one game, I counted four ads read in-between the action – and that’s not counting sponsors for the first pitch of the game, the first Yankees run, the first Yankees home run, the grand slam inning, the 15th out, and any pitching change. Even the broadcast booth itself has a corporate tag. Waldman repeats every game that Hideki Matsui’s at-bats are brought to us by a Japanese restaurant, even though a wrist injury will keep him out of the lineup until at least August.

So, with that as context, this is what I overheard:


“In Baltimore, it’s always a threat to rain. In the summer it can rain almost every day.” Sterling. Saturday, June 3.

What? The weather that day (like most other days) was pretty much the same in New York City as in Baltimore: overcast and drizzling. The two cities are only 220 miles apart, but to hear some people tell it, you’d think they were on different planets. My personal favorite is when people who live in New York (or Connecticut or anywhere north of New Jersey) come to Maryland and think they’re “in the South,” confusing direction with a place.

“The Yanks have always hit – and won – here.” Sterling. Sunday, June 4.

He’s right. As annoying as it may be, the Yankees are 54-25 at Camden Yards since 1996. However, Sterling poured it on a little thick June 8 when the Yankees were back in the Bronx hosting the Red Sox.

Looking at the out of town scoreboard, he noted that the Orioles had drawn just 17,637 for their game with the Blue Jays after three consecutive sellouts over the weekend. This is not a direct quote, just a paraphrase, but he said something to the effect of, “They should be thankful when the Yankees come to town, it’s a sellout. That’s a chunk of change.” So is the Orioles’ share of the luxury tax that the Yankees and Red Sox pay. That’s enough. Yankee fans can stay home. Oriole fans don’t want their money, though Peter Angelos surely does.

“One of the things the Orioles are not good at is paying attention on the field and someone should have paid attention to their catcher.” Waldman, Saturday, June 3.

Context: Nobody bothered to cover second base as Johnny Damon attempted to steal in the sixth inning. Tejada ran over and speared the throw, saving the runner on third from scoring. This is what I was referring to when I said that listening to an opposing team’s announcers guarantees an honest appraisal of your side. Ouch.

“He’s not a savior, he’s a pitching coach. Give him some talent. He’s a good pitching coach.” Waldman. Sunday, June 4, talking about Leo Mazzone.

She mentioned that Daniel “Cabrera says, ‘I always walk people’” and reached the conclusion that Mazzone’s powers of influence were “blown out of proportion.” About Rodrigo Lopez, Sterling offered this gem: “He can throw what he wants. He’s a veteran.”

What? That’s just nonsense. Cabrera will never be more than “a big talent” – or whatever empty platitude you choose – until he stops walking a batter every inning. Lopez, who’s inconsistent at best, should be soaking up all the advice he can get.

“Perlozzo couldn’t believe [Corey] Patterson couldn’t bunt. They went one day and worked all morning in spring training and in that spring training game he got a hit with a bunt, and he’s got 10 or 11 of them this year.” Waldman.

She told this story twice over the weekend. It’s an interesting anecdote, because it’s the first I’ve heard of it. I don’t believe it’s ever been reported by The Sun.

When Patterson stole second and third base in the bottom of the seventh inning Sunday with the Orioles leading 10-4, igniting Larry Bowa into a rage, Sterling and Waldman said they really couldn’t blame Patterson for running. For the record, the very next night, with the Yankees leading the Red Sox 8-2 in the second inning, Alex Rodriguez stole second base.

No discussion of a Yankees series in Camden Yards would be complete without mentioning the amount of fans rooting for the visiting team:

“I talked to some people outside the stadium, ‘What, did you come down from Jersey?’ They said it’s easier to get tickets here. They can’t get tickets at The Stadium.” Waldman. Friday, June 2, in which she noted the throngs of Yankees fans dates back to 1996 and ‘97.

“A standing ovation for Randy Johnson in Camden Yards. Shows you how many Yankees fans are in this place. He’s even tipping his cap.” Waldman. Saturday, June 3.

During the top of the first on Sunday afternoon, Joe Angel on WBAL gave a long pause as Jeter came to the plate and the stands filled with cheers:

“Well, you hear the ovation like that, you wonder why Jeter isn’t wearing a home uniform. Last night Randy Johnson got a standing ovation as he left that game. They tell me in New York that he has not received that kind of ovation in Yankee Stadium this year.”

Angel imitated his Yankees counterpart at the end of the game with this:

“Yankees lose! Thuh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh Yankees lose! And the Orioles are in the win column here on this Sunday afternoon! They win the finale 11-4. Sunday dinner’s gonna taste real good. And we’ll be back with the lovely totals right after this.”

Lines like that are one reason why I’m an Orioles fan who lives in New York City and listens to Joe Angel over the Internet.

3 comments:

dayzd toe said...

where can you get the O's games on the internet? Or are you just talking about the run-down after the game?

Christopher Heun said...

mlb.com sells access to radio broadcasts of every game for every team for just $15. It's a great deal.

Anonymous said...

I miss Jon Miller immensely. Peter Angelos is a buffoon for letting him go, just one of the many buffoonish things he's done since then to destroy this once great franchise.

Love Joe Angel as well....