Radio voices of Cubs, Indians reveal what it’s like to call the 2016 World Series
- Pat Hughes and Tom Hamilton are friends and beloved radio voices in baseball. Now, they’re on the cusp of the biggest moment in their broadcasting careers.
Pat Hughes has thought about it. Hell, how could he not? Hughes has been the radio voice of the Chicago Cubs for the past 21 years and his beloved team is just two wins away from its first World Series title since 1908. Has he thought about how he’d handle the moment should the Cubs win the World Series? You bet he has.
Tom Hamilton has thought about it too. Hell, how could he not? Hamilton has been the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians for the past 27 years, including calling near-misses in 1995 and ‘97. His beloved team is just one win from its first World Series title since 1948. Has he thought about how he’d handle the moment should the Indians win the World Series? You bet he has.
While most of the country has experienced the World Series through Fox announcers Joe Buck and John Smoltz, Hughes and Hamilton are the audio soundtracks for diehard Cubs and Indians fans. Given the lengths of service for each broadcaster—think of all the miles they have traveled with their respective teams—this is a particular emotional series for them. After the Cubs clinched the National League pennant last Saturday, Mitch Rosen, the executive producer for Cubs baseball and the program director for 670 The Score in Chicago, said Hughes did not leave his seat in the broadcast booth for 90 minutes after he went off the air. Rosen said Hughes sat quietly listening to the postgame show while absorbing the celebration at Wrigley Field. “I can’t imagine if they win what his emotions will be like,” Rosen said.
Hamilton, 62, and Hughes, 61, are close in age as well as tight away from the ballpark. When Hughes’s wife, Trish, had cancer eight years ago, Hamilton checked in often via phone, and sent plenty of gifts. “I am thrilled for Pat,” Hamilton said. “He is one of the very elite broadcaster in baseball, a good friend and a terrific human being.
Said Hughes of Hamilton: “Tom is a great announcer and one of my best friends in the business—a wonderful guy and a great announcer. We have been laughing and having a great time about this.”
Hughes, in particular, has a profile that extends far beyond Lake Michigan, given the Cubs are an international brand. That means occasionally famous people come up to him to thank him for his work. For instance, after Game 2 of the World Series in Cleveland, Hughes happened to find himself in the same elevator as former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and actor John Cusack. In the elevator, Cusack kissed his hands, grabbed Hughes, and told him how much he liked his call of the Cubs winning the NLCS. “It’s always a little jarring when a famous person says something to you about you,” said Hughes, who spent 12 years calling Brewers games with Bob Uecker before moving to the Cubs in 1996. “You almost feel like your world is upside down for a few minutes.”
The radio call of the last out for this World Series—given the drought for each of the teams—is a moment that will be replayed long after Hamilton and Hughes are gone. Both men have the same philosophy: They will not script the last out.
“The reason most of got into radio play by play is because of the spontaneity of the job,” Hamilton said. “To try to script something would come across phony for me. You just hope the good Lord gives you the proper words at the right time because you don’t know how the game will end. ‘’
“Here are two different conclusions to a ballgame: One has the Cubs leading 11–0 and they win the game, the other has Kris Bryant belting a game-winning three-run home run for the victory,” Hughes said. “Those are two completely different feelings and our call will be dictated by how the game finishes. You don’t want to plan out something because it may not feel the actual feeling of the moment. You always have a few thoughts that go through your mind, and if the Cubs win the World Series, I will say something about them being the World Champions. But you don’t want to script it out word for word.”
During the postseason Hughes said he’s been thinking a lot about Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, his broadcast partner for 15 years, and some of the great announcers of the Cubs past including Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse. (Hughes is a noted baseball broadcasting historian and has a side business—Baseball Voices—where he produces audio tributes to some of the craft’s best voices.) Hughes said he was a little nervous before calling the final out of the NLCS but reminded himself how many things he loved were coming together in one singular moment.
“I love the Chicago Cubs and their fans, the history of baseball and the history of baseball broadcasting,” Hughes said. “So I thought just treat this moment as something you love. I read that Vin Scully said once he always said a little prayer before a big moment just so he would not make a horrendous mistake. It is frightening to be a live performer. You don’t know how the words will tumble out of your mouth. So I try to stay calm, make the call and whatever follows you just have to live with it. You hope you are up for the moment.”
Hamilton said that one of the things that sustained him through Cleveland’s losing seasons was some advice he received from the late Herb Score, his first partner in Cleveland. Score told him that a baseball broadcast could never reflect the club’s record. “Herb said you owe the listeners the very best no matter the record,” Hamilton said. “Plus, you never know if you will see something that night or day something that you have never seen before.” (If you have never heard his work, here is Hamilton’s call of Cleveland winning Game 3 on Friday.)
Though Hamilton has called World Series games before, he said this Series feels different for a number of reasons.
“One, I am 20 years older and maybe with old age comes a much greater appreciation on how special this is,” Hamilton said. “I was young and dumb and now I’m old and dumb. After 1997, I never envisioned it would take another 19 years to return. So I have a much greater appreciation for it now than I did then.”
Joe Buck said on Sunday that he can relate to both Hughes and Hamilton in that it’s a daunting thought to call the final out of a World Series. He knows both broadcasters and said he has great fondness for the two of them.
“I can tell you they will go to bed thinking about it and will awake thinking about it,” Buck said. “As much as you might not want to plan something out, you definitely can’t avoid the thought. This will be an historic call and these are two guys that can handle it. They will make it about the team and not about themselves, and that’s how it should be.”
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Fox MLB analyst John Smoltz said he prepared more for his current role as a World Series analyst than any other job he’s had in baseball. “When you are pitching, you only have to prepare for eight or nine guys,” Smoltz said last week. “As a broadcaster, you have to look at 18 guys in a playing scenario, then of course the bench, the bullpen. I spend a lot of time looking at data, probably too much of it, and there’s a lot of video. And there’s not a moment that I’ve been through in my career that I don’t believe I can translate to television.”
While most of the broadcasting attention for the World Series has focused on Fox’s pregame show, Smoltz has been the on-air star of Fox’s coverage. The Hall of Fame pitcher has provided a clinic for viewers on both pitching philosophy and how hitters approach at-bats. Unlike last year’s booth featuring the ear-splitting Harold Reynolds, Smoltz is judicious with his words and lets the broadcast breath. (He and Chris Spielman, in my opinion, are the two best on-air hires Fox Sports has made over the last 24 months.) I wrote this in 2011 about how Smoltz educated viewers for TBS—and he’s now doing on the biggest stage of his sport.
“He’s been a joy and I can tell you that I think it’s his on-field experience that leads him to being completely calm in calling his first World Series,” said Buck. “There is no difference in John Smoltz in Game 5 of the World Series than the first game we did together in San Francisco to start our season. I swear to you, no nerves … His work has blown me away. It just fits and it’s not rushed. We have a good pace and that’s because he is not going 100 miles an hour.”
1a. If you’ve watched Fox’s MLB pregame and postgame studio show, you’ve seen Alex Rodriguez sitting in the center seat of the panel. I thought that was interesting given Rodriguez is the newest member of the panel (host Kevin Burkhardt, analysts Pete Rose, Frank Thomas and Tom Verducci). So I asked Fox Sports vice president of production Bardia Shah-Rais about the decision-making on seating.
“Alex sits next to Kevin because Kevin as the host provides a comfort factor to a relative newcomer analyst,” said Shah-Rais. “We always want to put our people in a position to succeed and it makes sense for a guy fresh off the field to sit next to the host—we did this last year and it worked well. Basically, we look at talent seating this way: If you were assigning seats at a dinner so you could maximize a conversation—how would you sit people? You want real interaction and comfortable banter.”
1b. Here is the World Series viewership for the Cubs-Indians through four games:
Game 4: 16.7 million viewers
Game 3: 19.4M
Game 2: 17.4M
Game 1: 19.4M
The Series is averaging 18.2 million viewers, making it the most-watched World Series through the first four games since 2009 (19.1 million viewers after four games.)
1c. Game 3 of the World Series drew 19.4 million viewers on Fox, the most-watched World Series Game 3 since 2004 (24.4 million viewers for the Red Sox-Cardinals) and the most-watched baseball telecast since 2014’s World Series Game 7 between the Giants and Royals (23.5 million viewers). Viewership was up 47% over last year’s World Series Game 3 (vs.13.2 million viewers) and Fox said the game drew 300,000 viewers on Fox Deportes, the most-watched World Series game on Spanish-language television since Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
1d. Something very annoying: Because MLB’s contract with ESPN Radio dictates that affiliates must carry ESPN’s coverage of the World Series, the only Indians station carrying the series is flagship WTAM-AM. Thus, many Indians’ fans who are used to hearing Hamilton’s call are not getting it.
1e. Buck wrote a first-person piece about calling games at Wrigley Field.
2. CBS wrapped up its portion of the Thursday Night Football package last week and the net’s five broadcasts—including the audience on NFL Network—averaged 14.7 million viewers, per Austin Karp of the Sports Business Daily. That figure was down 16% from 17.6 million viewers for the eight-game CBS Thursday package last year.
2a. Primetime woes: Through last week, NBC’s Sunday Night Football was down 19% and ESPN’s Monday Night Football was down 24%.
2b. Turner Sports has signed 15-time NBA All-Star Kevin Garnett to serve as a contributor for the network. Garnett will appear weekly throughout the season from a custom standalone set, with content distributed across multiple platforms including NBA on TNT and Bleacher Report.
2c. Turner’s first four NBA broadcasts averaged a 1.9 overnight rating, up 36% when compared to the network’s 2015–16 regular season coverage.
2d. The 2016 WNBA Finals averaged 488,000 viewers including 528,000 viewers for Game 5, the third most-watched Game 5 in WNBA Finals history.
2e. College football overnights
Clemson-FSU (ABC): 3.6
Michigan-Michigan St (ESPN): 3.1
Northwestern-Ohio St (ESPN): 2.5
Baylor at Texas (ABC): 2.4
Louisville-Virginia/Penn State-Purdue window (ABC): 2.1
2f. Interesting global outreach strategy by Redskins communications officials here:
3. Episode 84 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Elliotte Friedman, an NHL insider and reporter for Hockey Night in Canada and NHL Network, and a columnist for Sportsnet’s (Canada) website.
In the podcast, Friedman discusses the relationship between the Canadian media and the NHL, how he puts together his 30 Thoughts column each week, the biggest storylines in hockey, how the game is covered in Canada, what Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews mean for the league and Gary Bettman, the on-air changes at HNIC, mixing up Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in a race while calling the Rio Olympics for CBC and feeling like he let his country down, working on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, and much more.
4. Sports pieces of note
• You will not read a better story than this Dan Barry piece on a baseball prospect-turned-hitman. Trust me.
• A remarkable piece by Deadspin’s Dave McKenna on the late sports writer Jennifer Frey. One of the best sports profiles of the year.
• Enjoyed this Ben Shpigel story on hockey excitement returning to Edmonton.
• Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck on the bond between Jeremy Lin and Kenny Atkinson.
• USA Today compiled its annual list of college football coaching salaries.
• SI’s Lee Jenkins profiled Sixers center Joel Embiid.
• The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis profiled ESPN insider Chris Mortensen.
• From The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas: The legend and life of Dennis Byrd.
• Via ESPN: The future of sports betting.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• From Kristin Henderson of the Washington Post: Elephants have been retired from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Will their lives be better?
• Boston Globe writer Eric Moskowitz on a disaster most in Boston have forgotten.
• Via Washington Post: Inside Bill Clinton Inc.
• From n+1: Eight woman in love.
• Via Harvard Magazine: Changing how America thinks about capital punishment.
• From Bloomberg BusinessWeek: Inside the Trump bunker, with 12 days to go.
• From Wesley Morris of The New York Times: Why pop culture just can’t deal with black male sexuality.
• The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold continues his Pulitzer Prize-level reporting on Donald Trump’s charitable foundation.
• This paean to journalism, from Pro Publica’s Joe Sexton, is awesome.
5. The Toronto Raptors honored former play by play voice and ESPN-er John Saunders in their 2016–17 media guide.
5a. Writer Jeff Pearlman’s failed attempts to interview former Packers tight end Mark Chmura.
5b. How Gunsmoke out-rates sports television shows.
5c. On Tuesday’s (8:00 p.m. ET) Showtime 60 Minutes, SI’s Jon Wertheim examines new developments in how sports can help autistic kids. The show will also air an Armen Keteyian investigative piece on Baylor including an exclusive interview with Patty Crawford (the school’s former Title IX coordinator) and lengthy interviews with top school officials and Board of Regents on the sex assault scandal.
5d. How Twitter would have reacted to the final game of Major League.
5e. There’s been a number of recent think pieces, (Decider.com, The Big Lead) on Any Given Wednesday, the Bill Simmons-led HBO program that has experienced subpar ratings up to this point. The invaluable website Sports TV Ratings has chronicled AGW’s ratings since its June 22 premiere and last Wednesday the show hit a season low with 82,000 viewers competing against heavy sports competition (the World Series and the second day of the NBA season). Michael Mulvihill, executive vice president of research, league operations and strategy for FOX Sports, said he believed AGW was HBO’s second least-watched original primetime program this year.
Can the viewership number be fixed? Well, you have to keep in mind what the overall viewership is as this Sports TV Ratings piece suggests. If the cross-platform numbers (e.g. DVR playback, encore telecasts, on-demand views and HBO Now streams) significantly boost the show’s first-run data, the narrative is much better. (HBO has not released the data.) But there’s no spinning the first-run data. Any significant increase in viewership will require patience—and patience is not always in short supply when it comes to television executives.
Given the viewership, I’ve seen some suggestions that HBO should get out of the Bill Simmons business. That would be foolish and likely has little basis in reality. Given his ability to draw a big audience (for instance, his podcast averages around 400,000-500,000 listens based on industry sources) and his connections in the sports documentary film world, cutting bait at this juncture would be short sighted. It would also cost HBO a lot of cash for little return.
How would I get people to re-engage with AGW? Personally, I’d start anew by creating a new format (and on a different day if possible because Wednesday is brutal for a weekly sports show) that adds a fulltime co-host because I think Simmons is much better on television playing off a co-host than going at it alone. If Simmons could find another Jalen Rose—an ex-athlete who lets the audience into his world—that would be ideal. I also thought Ty Duffy of The Big Lead hit on something important with AGW: Such a weekly show must regularly produce viral, shareable content that gets social media users excited as it did last June with Ben Affleck’s curse-filled appearance. Weekly shows don’t get the benefit of being on the next day to update an accelerated sports news cycle.
Some industry people have accused me of being in the Simmons camp (Hi, FS1 and ESPN-ers!) and I’m more than cool saying I respect how Simmons used his media fame and brand to create real and sustaining jobs for writers, editors and podcasters at The Ringer (and previously at Grantland). Some of these include former SI colleagues. That’s a far more important legacy than any book, television show, or podcast, and worthy of supporting over sports shows that revolve around bashing LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Colin Kaepernick.
If Simmons does well, many others do well, which is a good thing for the sports media. But it’s clear AGW needs a different direction heading forward if it wants to game-change the first-run viewership. I hope it succeeds.
5f. Bellator MMA channeled its inner Donald Trump to make this creative pitch for the upcoming Phil Davis-Liam McGeary fight on Nov. 4.
5g. Check out this Kickstarter campaign from Pete Axtman to raise funds for a new quarterly hockey magazine that celebrates the culture and character of the game with distinctive writing, design and photography.
5h. Jazz broadcaster David Locke launched the Locked On Podcast Network this summer, which includes a daily podcast on every NBA and NFL team in addition to a national, fantasy and draft show. Locke said the podcast network was on pace for 2.8 million listens in October and NBA opening day was their biggest day ever with 145,000 listens.
5i. The entire episode of Big Ten Network’s The Journey this Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET will be devoted to the passing of Sam Foltz, the Nebraska kicker who was killed last July in a car accident in Wisconsin.
5j. I 100% support this idea on NFL player celebrations from Pro Football Talk managing editor Michael David Smith.