Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The less than dynamic duo

There’s something special about listening to baseball games on the radio. Maybe it’s the knowledge that fans of yore had only the radio available to acquire integral information about our national pastime, or maybe it’s the fact that 162 games provide numerous opportunities to listen to the action while driving. Or maybe it’s just that I’d much rather hear a catchy “Foxwoods” commercial (“take a chance…make it happen…”) than watch terrible local cable commercials (“Hi. I’m Denise, your warranty and parts manager”). Nevertheless, that said, after 26 World Championships and too many great moments to name, you would think that I’d have nothing to complain about as a Yankees’ fan. But after having to endure their 2005 radio broadcasting team for almost two months now, I feel compelled to file an official complaint. So here it is.

John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are the broadcasting team for the New York Yankees. Sterling is the play-by-play guy, and has been for some time now. Waldman had served as the Yankees’ beat reporter for several years, and this is her first year in the booth. Unfortunately, these two mix about as well as ketchup and ice cream.

Now, in my opinion, the job of the baseball broadcaster is as such: He or she is responsible for adequately painting a picture, with words, of what is going on. He or she should call the game as they see it, work in some light-hearted conversation and interesting anecdotes, and then go home. That said, allow me to voice my displeasure with Mr. Sterling.

Suzyn Waldman is Sterling’s third broadcast partner in the past five years. He was previously teamed with Michael Kay (now on YES, though the two made an okay team), and then Charley Steiner (now calling games for the Dodgers, though while here, he seemed to serve only as a wittier version of Sterling — they even looked alike). This high turnover of color commentators seems to adequately represent Sterling’s dominant broadcasting style. He often comes across as annoyed when he perceives his partner is stealing his thunder. And by that, I mean “talking.” He did this with Kay and Steiner, though to a lesser extent, because he was forced to respect them somewhat. With Waldman, he can be downright condescending. Sometimes, he chooses to not even respond to her comments. And I’m not insinuating that this is done consciously, or because of her womanhood, but I get the impression that Sterling was less than thrilled when Waldman’s new position within the organization was announced. (As a side note, Waldman endured similar treatment from Ken Singleton when she made her infrequent visits to call TV telecasts on MSG.) It seems as though Sterling would be best suited with a broadcast partner similar to the one Bob Uecker had in “Major League,” who remained completely silent while Uecker’s character, Harry Doyle, took over the broadcast:

Doyle: [before the playoff game] Monty, anything to add?

Colorman: Ummm... no.

Doyle: He's not the best colorman in the league for nothing, folks!

Another problem I have with Sterling is that he relies too heavily on shticks. Of course, he is best known for his signature call: “The Yankees win, thaaaaaaaa Yankees WIN!” Okay, that’s fine. And every broadcaster has his home run call (Michael Kay’s “See ya!” and the Mets’ Gary Cohen’s “It’s outta here!” for example). But Sterling goes too far. When Alex Rodriguez hits one out, he chimes, “It’s an A-bomb, from A-Rod!” Not only is that just plain stupid, but it rather insensitively links one of the deadliest tragedies in world history to a home run. When Jason Giambi hits one, “It’s the Giam-BINO!” This one I didn’t mind at first, when Giambi was supposed to be leading the next generation of Yankees’ sluggers, but now, comparing Giambi to Babe Ruth borders on sacrilege. And the worst one of them all, “Bern baby, Bern!” for whenever Bernie Williams gets a big hit. That one actually gives me goose bumps of embarrassment, every time.

Sterling has a standard home run call as well, but he seems to be screwing it up more often these days, along the lines of, “It is HIGH…it is FAR…it IS…strike three.” Okay, so it’s not THAT bad, but he did have this gem a few weeks ago: “It is HIGH…it is FAR...it IS…off the wall, and…into the stands.” Obviously, that’s impossible, unless they were playing with one of those super-bouncy rubber balls; even “Mike & the Mad Dog” played that clip over and over again after it happened, marveling at the inaccuracy of it. The thing is, I remember the days when Phil Rizzuto was making little or no sense calling the televised games for WPIX, and he would often confuse near home runs with pop-ups to the shortstop. But there was something endearing about that, mainly because Rizzuto could laugh at himself. Sterling can’t, and his frequent mistakes are even more exposed by his stubbornness to admit that he ever made one.

As far as Suzyn Waldman is concerned, I’ve always liked her, even though she’s a removed Bostonian. She’s extremely knowledgeable, and very affable. However, her former job as the team’s beat reporter hasn’t translated well to her color commentary. Her observations are rarely her own, but rather some feedback she received from a player or coach. And while her voice is not really conducive to radio, this minor flaw becomes even more noticeable amidst the recognizable and soothing drone of Sterling.

Of course, my biggest issue with this radio team is something most likely out of their control. They too often serve as cheerleaders for this franchise, instead of providing the subtle criticism that this team sometimes deserves. I’m sure this comes down from the top, as it would be a cold day in hell before George Steinbrenner paid his broadcast team to critique the very team he owns. Nevertheless, it still reflects upon Sterling and Waldman, and it doesn’t sit well with someone looking for unbiased calls of a baseball game on a warm summer night.

The awkwardness of Sterling and Waldman is magnified by the fact that they share the same city as Gary Cohen and Howie Rose, the Mets’ excellent broadcasting duo. Cohen and Rose simply call the game, they never oogle at their own players, they joke around with each other while providing intriguing analysis, and they genuinely seem to like one another. And neither relies on shtick to get by. Across town, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are struggling to connect. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. But, at least I still have the commercials.

“Pop the cork…finger snappin’…”

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree...I cannot stand his nicknames for all the players...they are awful!

JMU86er said...

I wish I could get baseball on the radio, but out here in the sticks (Harrisonburg, VA), we don't. I would listen even if it was bad, especially while cooking out or washing the car or cleaning the garage (which I might actually do if I could get baseball on the radio). I was hoping that with the Nationals taking root in Washington that maybe we would get some of their games. No luck so far. At least we get ESPN radio, but not the games, just the studio stuff. The programming director told me once that national games of the week don't rate as high as the studio shows. Oh well.

As for bad play-by-play, we have a play-by-play announcer for James Madison University football (2004 I-AA National Champions!!!) who at least once a season does something like this on long scoring plays: "He's at the 30, the 20, the 10, the 20 touchdown." Or, much more frequently, on a first and ten, he calls the play and says it goes for four yards. Then, before the next play, he gives the down and distance and says "second and four." So which is it? Did the first down play go for four yards or six??

It's better than nothing, though.

One more thing, as an Orioles fan, I'm glad you Yankees fans have something to complain about.

Cheers.

CMB said...

Ok, Mike - you knew I would post on this subject. I agree that listening to the radio broadcast of the Yanks is like listening to nails on a chalk board. BUT, I disagree with your opinion of Waldman and you knew that already. I think you should apply for Sterlings job - you'd be great. I would not mind taking over Waldman's position, but you really could do both. As for the YES telecasts, Michael Kay is on my last nerve. Ken Singleton is good, even David Justice is good and I always liked Jim Kaat. But MK needs to go. Talk about someone that LOVES the Yankee players - PLEASE!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more. They're horrible. And you're forgetting this gem, that Sterling seems to utter once a game:

"The 1-1 to Jeter ... outside. ... Buuuuut called a strike by home-plate umpire Bruce Froemming."

Hey, John, how about waiting another .08 seconds till you see what the ump calls? Just pitiful. And he makes it sound like it's the ump's fault.