The Baseball Experts
by ARTHUR S. HARRIS,JR.
From his home in East Longweadour, Massachusetts, ARTHCR S. HARRIS, JK,, sends ns an argument which most of the broadcasting audience will agree has long needed utterance.
THE baseball announcers are once again in full cry with what used to be called “play by play” broadcasts. But in recent years they have sounded more like summaries of a cost accountants’ convention. They might even be called “statistic by statistic ” broadcasts.
From a baseball game nowadays, one hears something like this: — “Well, fans, that brings up switchhitting outfielder Tommy Gorman with an average of .279 going into the seventh inning. Batting left, Tommy’s average is .276, but swinging from the right side of that plate, Tommy’s hitting at .282. He’s picked up a .263 average on the road and hats .293 here at home. Tommy’s appeared in 76 games and played a total of 609 innings, 293 on the road and 316 here at home. Counting his third-inning strikeout in today’s game, fans, he’s fanned 46 times, 29 times facing right-handers on the mound, 17 times facing southpaws. Batting left he’s fanned 28 times and from the right side of that plate 18 times, He’s used the rosin bag just 168 times, and as for hitching up his belt, our man with the figuring pencil reports that on the road . . .”
I don’t know when these figurecrammed broadcasts started — some years before baseball came into the fixing room on television, and a few years after the single baseball announcer was replaced by a fully equipped broadcasting team. Now that major league announcing has become a genuine big business, we no longer have a frankly partisan announcer carrying on alone all afternoon from a tiny perch over third base. (In those days baseball was played in the afternoon.) Today we have a regular crew.
Often three or four announcers spell each other during a nine-inning game, each freshly approaching the microphone apparently determined to outtalk the others. Sandwiched in between beer and cigarette commercials is a fast-talking description of a baseball game which somehow always scorns to be exciting to these mike men, even if the home team is fourteen runs behind. The rule seems to be: keep talking, sound excited, don’t let up. Even if the league’s slowest pitcher is at work on the mound, rubbing up the ball between pitches and wiping his steaming eyeglasses, the announcers chatter away like the women who play afternoon bridge with my mother.
If they were describing action on the diamond, this chatter might be defensible. But from listening to these sporteasters and from occasionally watching them behind their shatterproof glass compartment over third base, I know that their eyes are not so much on the field below as on their score cards and record books. They are all exports at scoring a game, and when things get a little slow m the sixth inning, they are likely to re-create the third inning, pitch by pitch.
They do not have to roly on their score cards alone. Most major league broadcast crews carry a full-time statistician. These statisticians are not heard on the air — not yet, anyway. But they are unmistakably there, feeding the announcer as many statistics as he can use. These mathematicians are not content with the simpler statistics of batting averages, runs batted in, and games won and lost. Thev must tell you how many home runs Williams has hit with the wind and how many against, how many on the road and howmany at home, how many into the net and how many over it, how many with a 3—2 count and how many without, how many this year to date compared with six years ago to date, and of course how many compared with the American League record to date.
It gets so bad that when someone belts one out of the park, we have to listen to several minutes of statistics (his sixth of theyear, second at home, first off McDermott, first since June It, and third against a left-hander), before we find out if anyone happened to score ahead of him. Often as not the next man up will be on first base with a base on balls before the announcer and statistician have taken their noses out of their record books. And by that time the announcer is so busy telling us that this is the Bed Sox’s sixth base on balls of the game (but twenty-second of the series and the batter’s second in the game, fifth in the series) that the poor man has completely forgotten to tell us not only that the homer cleared the Jersey Street screen by four feet, but also that it sent the Red Sox into the lead!
These statisticians are a pretty good lot. I have met Boston’s Bed Marston and Joe Costanza, who are line gent letnen, and I’ve heard enough Brooklyn Dodger games to know that Alan Both is a wizard with figures.
I just wish all these men wouldn’t feel obligated to pass on all these minut iae to me and my wife too. As a matter of fact, she used to like the baseball broadcasts until a few years ago, when she complained they sounded something like stock market reports. Now she won’t listen any more. And as for watching an occasional game on television, she puts her foot down. “I can stand their spiels about ale and cigars, she says, “but why do they talk all through the game and describe it when you can see it perfectly well for yourself?”
“Honey,”I say, “I just don t know. It beats me.