Taking a Toll in the Booth

July 09, 2000

When I was eight, I'd spend warm, sunny Saturdays in the basement
with the voices. I was Curt Gowdy's voice. I was Jack Buck's
voice. I was constantly thanking Bob Gibson for stopping by the
booth. My audience was our clunky reel-to-reel and our dog, Pugs,
but only because I closed the door behind him. Sometime in the
next 34 years my play-by-play career died--until Tuesday night of
last week.

That night I finally made it. I weaseled normally sane Fox Sports
executives into letting me broadcast three innings of the San
Francisco Giants-Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field.

Bad idea. I was better when I was eight.

I misidentified players. I misidentified base runners. I missed
an entire pitching change. That's not a lie. I was finishing a
fascinating story about the mud the umps rub on baseballs when my
color man, former major league righthander George Frazier, said,
"That's great, Rick. By the way, Stan Belinda is now pitching for
the Rockies."

Somehow I had missed the sight of Belinda warming up, Belinda
running the 300 feet from the bullpen and Belinda taking eight
warmup pitches. It would be like Edward R. Murrow reporting from
World War II London and having somebody whisper in his ear,
"That's great, Ed, but are you going to mention the bombs
dropping behind you?"

It wasn't that I wasn't prepared. I was prepared. I had hounded
Joe Garagiola, Jon Miller and Bob Costas for advice. ("Pretty
much just shut up" was their advice.) I'd spent a week at the
elbow of the Rockies' fine play-by-play man, Dave Armstrong. I
even had a list of 25 home run calls typed on a sheet of paper
in front of me.

There goes another nine bucks, Mr. Selig!

Incoming!

No mas pelota! (for a Latin player)

Take a suck of that!

Close the shutters, Grandma, it's hailin' horsehide!

And...Fences? We don't need no stinkin' fences!

But when the Giants' Jeff Kent mauled one to deep right center in
the fifth, I didn't use any of them. I was in the middle of a
fascinating story about underwear when George about ripped my arm
off pointing to the baseball hurtling away from us. I was
somewhat flubberfluxxed and, unfortunately, said, "Oh, that's hit
deep to right. That might go. That's a home run!" Somewhere, Pugs
cringed.

But you don't understand how difficult play-by-play is. You have
to keep track of every defensive player, every runner, the score,
the scorebook, the stats, the promos, the ad copy, George, your
stories, the count, the outs and the huge burp knocking at your
esophagus because you were stupid enough to drink three Cokes
beforehand. It's like doing play-by-play of a car accident that
you happen to be in. O.K., I'm bleeding nicely from the neck now,
and, let's see, the Wal-Mart semi is skidding this way, and it's
78 degrees out, light cloud cover, and there's a tan 1988 Buick
Regal in the backseat and...

I confused Brian Hunter with Jeffrey Hammonds. I said Shawn
Estes's curveball was 74 mph when the graphic right on the home
viewers' screens said 71. I said Bobby Bonds of the Giants was
hitting "awful" against Rockies starter Kevin Jarvis, when, in
fact, Barry Bonds was hitting a not-very-awful .667 against him.

"This isn't live, is it, George?" I said.

I pretty much should've shut up.

I broke every rule Armstrong told me about. "Never start a story
with two outs," he said. I started a fascinating story about
John Rocker with two outs and was halfway through it when the
third out was made. "If it's not on the monitor, it doesn't
exist," he said. I told a fascinating story about Colorado
reliever Gabe White, who wasn't in the game and couldn't be
located by Fox cameras. "You can say anything--once," he said.
During a La Quinta hotel promo, I used the old line, "La Quinta
is Spanish for 'Next to Denny's.'" In my ear the director said,
emphatically, "We never make fun of the sponsors."

I really missed my DELETE key.

To be fair, I'm not the most horrible broadcaster in the history
of electronic media, but I'm in the photo. Still, I did some good
things. I thought I was particularly riveting on how the average
major league dugout floor would make a very good biological
warfare lab. I used the word "squibber" successfully. Most
important, I was not kicked off the team charter.

When my three innings were up, I felt I had performed fairly well
under the circumstances. Though, as I left, I noticed nobody
thanking me for stopping by the booth.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

I'm not the most horrible broadcaster in the history of
electronic media, but I'm in the photo.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)