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Sounds Great from a Distance
2008-06-02 09:54
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

My cousin Jonah is an avid Met fan. He and his wife live in Brooklyn and they are great movie-lovers too. But they do not have cable TV, so Jonah listens to virtually every game on a small, old-fashioned transistor radio. When he's out and about, he has a small, white earphone plugged into one ear to keep up on the action. When I've asked why he doesn't just get cable like every other "normal" person he says that he doesn't like the idea of being held captive in front of the television. The thought of it is oppresive to him, even in the age of Tivo.

He can do as he pleases and take the radio with him. I admire him for this quality. I can't imagine doing such a thing, not with Lord Sterling as the Yankee play-by-play announcer--that would be too much to bear. Still, baseball on the radio can be a wonderful experience for the listener and many of my favorite childhood baseball memories are made up of evenings secretly listening to the Yankee broadcast while I was supposed to be asleep.

I got to thinking about all of this when I read a short essay, "Recalling the Joy of Watching Baseball on the Radio," which is featured in the collection Diamond: The Baseball Writings of Mark Harris. Most famous for his Henry Wiggens trilogy, Harris doesn't argue that radio is superior to television, just that they each offer distinct pleasures:

Radio left things to the brain, to the imagination, and to fantasy. On radio we saw the whole baseball field because we saw it in our minds through wide-agnled fantasy. We knew no limits upon our vision. We were our own camera. Pictures arose in our imaginations from the merest hints of things. Our minds were tubes that seldom blew.

This is not to say that radio was better than television, or that one age of mankind was better than another. But that radio was significantly different from televsion, and not always less efficient, cannot be denied. Radio was awe. The awe produced by remoteness...Television reduces awe.

The last bit reminded me of Nicholas Dawidoff's new memoir, The Crowd Sounds Happy. In it, Dawidoff describes following the Red Sox of his childhood on the radio. Just yesterday, Dawidoff had a compelling piece in the latest edition of Play:

Recently I turned 45, which I think of as a mortal age for a baseball fan; by now, with the rarest exceptions, you are older than every major leaguer. What I notice at midlife is that the passion doesn't abate; it simply changes. Thinking of the Red Sox as heroes was an innocent fantasy and, for that reason, a seductive one, but adulthood meant finally coming to terms with ballplayers as real people. That wasn't so difficult in our time of heightened public scrutiny. We wanted to know them, and now we know them too well. Much of it is the money, the millions they earn while most of us are struggling with the rent. Our pastime is a big, mercenary business, and we've learned that players will deform themselves with steroids, cheating mortality and their opponents in an effort to stay forever young and powerful. Those of us who are offended by steroids may feel that what's most unpleasant is that we can't look at a juiced physique and still think, That could be me.

Athletes are often amazingly unformed as people, and much as I retain the naïve, nostalgic longing for them to be good in all ways, when they aren't it helps to exercise a little circumspection. I can do that, because the older I get, the more I see that the fun of it is not the results but the process. What's magical now about baseball is the continuity of having these splendid performers there for me month after month, year after year. I didn't savor the Red Sox' long-awaited World Series victory as much as I enjoyed the growing possibility that they could win. These days, I try not to know too much about the players. I want to care — and by being more distanced, I find I still feel close to them.

I recall having a conversation a few years ago with a couple of Baseball Prospectus writers. They wanted to know as little as possible about big leaguers, at least about their personal lives, because they didn't want that to get in the way of what they were watching on the field. I can appreciate that. Having worked in the movie business, and to a lesser degree, in the world of sports, I understand what it is like to be meet a favorite actor or director only to find that they are lacking (or worse). I think it is critical to separate the artist (or the athlete) from their art. At the same time, I have a curiosity bordering on desire to not only want to know more about my favorite jocks and artists but also a childlike need to like them, to know that they are good people. As if their personality has anything to do with their gift.

Comments
2008-06-02 10:45:28
1.   buffalocharlie
I listen to Yanks games more often than I watch, and with my MLB radio subscription I always listen to the opposing teams announcers
2008-06-02 11:29:19
2.   RZG
I almost always have the radio on for the game, even if the muted TV is on for the picture.

This way I can be reading with the game "in the background." Plus the delay on the radio side lets me know if something worthwhile is happening.

As terrible as Sterling is on the radio, he's better than Kay. If Kay's not doing the game then I'll be more apt to listen/watch via TV since I think Singleton does a good job.

2008-06-02 11:33:15
3.   yankster
I only watch the post season on TV, the rest is all radio and reading - it lets so much of the game develop in my head, and it also lets me do other things while following the game. I get the game on my computer or cellphone, so I can listen anywhere - even when traveling.

I doubt I'd be a fan without the radio...

2008-06-02 11:34:05
4.   Josh Wilker
Interesting topic, Alex. I'm too cheap/broke for cable but shell out a fairly small monthly fee for XM so I can follow my faraway team. So most of my fandom is based on imagination, reading, and radio, same as when I was a kid. But for the big games I get myself to a bar. Radio is great for the long haul, but for the big moments I feel the need to see things for myself.
2008-06-02 12:32:42
5.   Alex Belth
I would definitely consider listening to certain games on the radio while watching the picture on TV but there is a synch problem. Having worked in film editing, I'm extra-sensitive to that stuff, so hearing the crack of the bat even a fraction of a second before you see it on TV drives me to distraction.
2008-06-02 12:43:44
6.   weeping for brunnhilde
Ah, radio!

I remember making my own play-by-play tape when I must have been like 8 or 9. Just made up the action and did my best to imitate Bill White and John Gordon. (Scooter, needless to say, was inimitable.)

That was probably around the time I'd scaled back my dream of being a baseball player to being a play-by-play guy.

In turn, that was abandoned when my dad explained to me that to get in the business I'd have to have a background in all sports.

I didn't like any other sports, just baseball, and couldn't dream of committing myself to waste time with hockey and basketball and tennis and god knows what else.

Why couldn't I just do baseball?

One of my favorite memories from the radio was a game back in, must have been around 1982. The game went into extras, long, long extras, like 20 innings or something crazy.

It was finally won by a drive over the centerfielder's head by Willie Randolph. I seem to recall being in Inwood Park when it happened.

More recently, I heard snippets of Wells' perfect game on a tour of Harlem. My wife had these friends and we'd agreed to take them to Harlem for the day (Sunday), and I'd been working all night proofreading, so hadn't slept.

I kept checking in on the game periodically on the radio, catching snippets and obviously getting more drawn in as the thing progressed.

Finally, when the deal was sealed, I just started gushing and shaking, trying to communicate just how special this was to three Hungarians while we were walking around Harlem.

They must have thought I was a little anti-social and maybe even a little crazy.

Fortunately, my wife has become enough of a fan over the years (a personal victory of mine, I might add) that she now appreciates retrospectively just what was going on.

Oh, and Alex, as to the synch problem, as I recall, that wasn't the case in the eighties. I remember doing it and having no problems.

2008-06-02 12:46:57
7.   vockins
I listened to the Yankees on radio exclusively until about 2006, but finally threw down for cable.

I listened to Sterling call a game for the first time in about a year last week. It was intolerable, and I used to defend the guy. Well, maybe "you get used to him" and "there's probably worse" isn't much of a defense.

2008-06-02 13:45:05
8.   Just fair
I listen to the radio when the wife has to watch her show(s). Yet I still have the remote and will change the channel when something good happens, irregardless of what she's watching. This no doubt leads to "Who cares if the hospital just blew up, Cano actually got a hit with a runner in scoring postion with 2 out." Has that happened this year, yet?
Anyway, the sync problem drives me nuts, too. WTF! It's usually at least a couple of seconds. The only good thing is when a homer occurs and you get to anticpate Sterling's theatrics.
2008-06-02 13:52:07
9.   Ace Rothstein
the radio is ahead of the TV for me. And since games are on during dinner - I'm usually in the kitchen cooking, so I keep the tv on and listen to the radio - a loud crowd reaction or something like that sends me running to where the TV is, the 2-3 second delay means my timing is usually balls on.

now sterling is def no good and too melodramatic, I like singleton - he has a nice voice. Sterling's voice is condescending enough as it is, but seeing what he looks like is wat put me over the edge - he just looks like a douche. My favorite YES guy is Leiter - he's got a calm voice, and he doesn't get wrapped up in the dramatic schmaltz.

I recently got a flat screen TV, so I watch sports just to comment on how sharp everything is. And so I dont listen to games anymore. I could tell the second Giambi started growin that stache. Damon looked like he was leaving his upper lip alone for a bit too, but I think he gave up.

However, memorial weekend I was driving up to boston - the Ipod went dead, and so me and my buddy just listened to the yanks game on the radio - it was really nice - just to sit and discuss a game and talk baseball with the game on in the background instead of in ur face.

2008-06-02 13:57:23
10.   Raf
6 IIRC the synch problem is a fairly recent phenomenon. Probably has something to do with the FCC and the 3 second delay to prevent any naughtiness :)

7 ,8 While I was never really a big Sterling fan to begin with, I also find him pompous and intolerable. I guess that's why Joe Angel lasted only a year here. Funny thing is that I've heard him call Braves games, and he didn't seem to be all that bad. Heck, early in his run with the Yanks, he didn't seem to be all that bad.

How many time do we have to hear "It is high, it is far, it is.... Caught at the warning track! you know, I thought it was going out but the wind must have knocked it down."

2008-06-03 06:17:04
11.   e double trouble
Yo

Still a radiohead over here as well

too much else to do

E

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