Sunday, April 15, 2018

YES broadcasts from Coney Island are getting weirder and weirder, and that's a good thing

Maybe I've gone hinky-dinky. Hit a certain age, and your egg gets poached. You spend hours wondering why the design of boy and girl bicycles is backwards, or who was the first French sucker to ever eat snails? Either way, for nearly 30 years now, various mental wards within the Yankiverse have awaited The Second Coming of Scooter - that is, the free-form announcer for which games are inconsequential afterthoughts, and the central question is not who will win, but onto what alien planet the conversation will next wander? 

Baseball is a four-hour game that features barely five minutes of physical play. The rest is a vast stretch of grown men fidgeting with their nut sacks or expertly streaming spittle onto the dirt. During those moments, the late Phil Rizzuto used to comb the human condition, musing about squirrels outside his kitchen window or the way kids preferred to play in the boxes their gifts came. Back in the '80s and early '90s, a period in which the Yankees were twice the worst team in baseball, The Scooter changed the way I listened to sports. It was Rizzuto who kept me coming back for game after game. It was he who inspired my first break in the realm of publishing. (With Mustang, of course.) 

I'm not ready to anoint David Cone as the next Scooter, mostly because there can never be such an entity. But last week in Boston, I found myself laughing at the otherworldly antics of Coney and Paul O'Neill, as they covered the series from a vantage point east of the moon and west of Professor Irwin Corey. They critiqued cold-weather fashions. They talked about food. They reminisced about great on-field brawls of the past, including some they triggered. They meandered in whatever direction their thought river flowed. At one point, they mused about the nature of talking.

"You know what's really great?" Coney said, after a brief silence. (I'm paraphrasing here.) "We're so comfortable in the booth that we don't even feel the need to talk."

"Huh? What do you mean?" O'Neill said. "I figured somebody cut my mic. I've been talking all this time."

Yeah, it's stupid. And yes, I realize that if you're absorbed in a game, such chatter can be maddening. Some fans never developed a taste for Rizzuto. But for years, the YES announcers - with their terrified pro-Yankee stances, a Fox News like devotion to the team - were boring and predictable. Maybe it's because the 2018 Yankees have lofty expectations; if this team fails, no excuses will work. Or maybe it's just that Cone and O'Neill have been bouncing off each other now for 10 years - (Coney started at YES in 2008; O'Neill in 2002) - and because he talks incessantly on radio, Michael Kay has finally learned that, on TV, less is more. But lately, watching games from Coney Island, especially with Pauly, have become prime time ice cream. 

(I should note: We've chewed lately on a sad story about Molly O'Neill's battle with cancer, and whether her brother is helping enough financially. There is no easy way to deal with a sick family member, and all I can offer is that these situations are always more complicated than news stories make them seem. That's my guess here. From where we sit, it's hard to pass judgement.)

Anyway, like I say, maybe I've gone soft. It's not that we have a new Rizzuto. But come summer, if this team collapses upon itself, nightly visits from Coney Island may become the best reason to tune in. Wouldn't that be weird?


HoraceClarke66 said...

Great post, Duque! And YES, I've always wondered about that myself: Why is it that boys' bikes have that ball-busting bar??

I suspect it has something to do with Victorian obsessions about preserving an intact hymen—hence all that side-saddle horse riding. But still, why have a bar at all, for anyone?

The mysteries of life remain.

But yes, I would love to see a return to the gold days of Scooter, so beautifully captured in Duque's collection. And it just got better the more the Yankees broadcast family increased.

One tete-a-tete I remember, from circa 1980:

BILL WHITE: So the Yankees had a team meeting before the game. I always think that's a good idea, just to clear the air and get things back on the right track. What do you think, Scooter?

RIZZUTO: Ohhh, White, I dunno, I never saw much point in having those team meetings. Fran?

HEALY: I liked them if there was food.

Rufus T. Firefly said...

My favorite Scooter memories are him talking about cannolis and Bill White commenting on the shot of the GW Bridge during the seventh inning stretch, saying he could see Scooter's car on it heading home.

And yes -- those were horrible teams, almost as bad as the last CBS years.

Anonymous said...

Hey Duque, I think that was one of the funniest and truest pieces you've ever written in a life time of writing things funny and true.

No one is Rizzuto but you're right Cone and O'Neill are definitely getting there in their own way.

As a side note: I used to love to imitate Rizzuto and the longer I would do it the less sense it made and the more accurate it would be.

(BTW There's a comic named John Caponera whose Harry Caray is worth listening to. He's got the absurdity of the man down. Try YouTube)

Anyway, really really good post.

Doug K.

Carl Weitz said...

Everyone that worked in the booth with Scooter seemed to have a great time with his antics, whether it be his fear of lightening or his need to leave in the 5th inning in order to avoid the GWB traffic. But the most insane interaction, in my opinion, occured between The Scooter and Bill White. Bill was a very bright man and especially knowledgeable about baseball. The perfect color commentator. But Bill was very stoic and seemed to be almost military-like concerning broadcast protocol. So it was very out of character when he teamed with Phil. Phil seemed to make Bill let his guard down and go cuckoo with him. I vividly remember seeing "White" laugh uncontrollably, tears rolling down his cheeks many times when the game director had the good sense to have a camera take in their banter. It truly appeared that he loved "Rizzuta".

Anonymous said...







Retired Stratman said...

My everlasting memory of Rizzuto/White was when Scooter said he had a terrible nightmare and was about to relate it when the inning ended and they cut to commercials. When they came back on White exclaimed "Nightmare! Nightmare!" and Scooter told of how he put a golfball in his mouth and it got stuck and he couldn't breathe, and White laughed himself silly.

Pure gold.

Anonymous said...

Oddly, neither Red Barber nor Mel Allen liked working with Rizzuto. They considered him an amateurish vulgarian, an irritant--and this was when Rizzuto aspired to be a serious announcer, not the homer-clown into which he gradually evolved.

Rizzuto initiated a tradition of buffoonery in the Yankee broadcast booth that has found earnest acolytes in Sterling and Kaye. Cone is really a different specimen, because he takes his job seriously and offers some of keenest insight available among any analysts of the game in the intervals of his free associations--unlike Rizzuto, who cultivated the role of lovable loon to compensate for his deficiencies as an analyst and broadcaster--a kind of second-rate Dean Martin of sportscasters.

Do people who remember Allen and Barber really find this Rizzuto-Sterling vaudeville preferable to consummate professionalism of the kind exemplified by Scully, Allen, Barber, Enberg, Miller (to take a more recent example), etc.? At the risk of provoking gales of opprobrium, I think there is no doubt that Dave O'Brien of the Red Sox is clearly superior--as a play-by-play man--to anyone in the Yankee booth, as are Howie Rose and Josh Lewin and Gary Cohen of the Mets. Strictly no contest.

The Steinbrenner/Levine mafia values loyalty over competence in every domain of their baseball empire.

HoraceClarke66 said...

You're completely right about Barber and Allen, Anon, and they were amazing announcers.

But it is show biz. Barber's response to the wild ending of the 1947 World Series game in which Bevens lost his no-hitter—and the game—in the 9th inning: "Well, I'll be a suck-egg mule!"

HoraceClarke66 said...

Also, met Bill White in an elevator once, after he had left the booth . He was an incredibly gracious individual, and spoke very well of Rizzuta.

Anonymous said...

Barber's folksy Southernisms were punctuation marks in a superbly professional, masterfully detailed narrative flow. Sterling doesn't even give the score half the time, and bothers with the count only about half the time as he meanders into his fatuous reflections on whatever and champs at the bit waiting to unleash another dopey personalized home-run call. Whether the pitch was a called or swinging strike is to him an ancillary detail to be mostly dispensed with if it cramps the dilations of his ego. Rizzuto's radio work was an abomination, and his TV announcing was a farce. To compare the Rizzuto-Sterling tsunami of buffoonery to Barber's judiciously drizzled jots of color is itself buffoonery--the instinct of an apologist for all things Yankees--something quite different from critical thought.

Long Island Jazzman said...

Since when does being a fan have anything to do with critical thought? Acting as though a bunch of overgrown boys making a gazillion dollars playing a kid’s game really “means anything” is pretty silly when you get right down to it. Scooter was entertaining and fun, a true Yankee, and I miss his endearing goofiness a lot.

Anonymous said...

If I want entertaining and fun, I'll stream a Will Ferrell movie. When I'm listening to the ballgame on the radio, I'd rather know what the count or score is than be treated to the bloviations of an inept megalomaniac--you can get your fill of that on the Fox News Channel if that's your cuppa. I also value original and striking insights into strategy, tactics, and the experience of being on the field--not some grandmother's cannoli recipe or the state of the towels in the hotel room or Suzyn's distaste for those AWFUL Sunday night games when she and John have to arrive at the next city and check into their luxury hotel at 4:00 a.m. while making six figures to dribble on incompetently on the air. I don't find any of that endearing or entertaining or engaging--just vexing to exasperating. But to each his own.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Barber was incredible. He and the other early guys really set the standard for broadcasting, and it has not been exceeded since.

Of course his wonderful Southern aphorisms and expressions were picked up by James Thurber, for use in that terrific short story, "The Catbird Seat."

Seems like another world, an America that contained any two such characters and talents.

Anonymous said...

Anon, you had me until this, "If I want entertaining and fun, I'll stream a Will Ferrell movie."

Doug K.

Carl Weitz said...

I remember Barber's home run call: "There's a high fly ball to right field...ooops, it's gone"!

But my most distinct memory of Red was circa 1962 when he did a live pregame show about 11 AM. It was a new show whereby Barber would go into the stands, most often in the right field bleachers to converse with the "real" Yankee fans and talk about their favorite players and team news. As most will remember, Sundays were almost always day double-headers with Monday an off day. In any event, Barber's Sunday show was maybe 2 or 3 weeks old when the inevitable had to happen. He sits in the middle of two teenagers, maybe 15 or 16. He tries to make small talk with them so he asks one of the kids "so, what did you do last night"?. The kid casually says, "well Red, I fucked your mother"! The look on Barber's face was priceless-complete horror and panic. He turned and looked into the camera and just stared for about 5 seconds, completely frozen. Then a Yoo Hoo commercials pops up. When the commercials were done, Red was back in the studio talking baseball as if nothing happened. Never again was there a live show with the fans. As a 10 year old I was dumbfounded but found the humor of the event. It's a moment I'll always cherish!

Carl Weitz said...

The above:

Announcers Phil Rizzuto, Mel Allen and Red Barber, of the New York Yankees, pose for a group portrait in 1959 in New York, New York.

Anonymous said...

For a master class in TV broadcasting, go to the 57:00 mark of the following. No Yankee fan will need a refresher course on the situation: the Yankees trail the Pirates 9-8 in the top of the ninth at Forbes Field. Mantle has just singled home Richardson with the eighth Yankee run, and Yogi steps up to the plate; Macdougal is on third with the potential tying run. Allen's account of the ensuing startling play sounds as though it had been composed, written, and edited in advance--but he describes the stunning moment with a fluency and drama that is all the more astonishing for being purely spontaneous:

Anonymous said...

SORRY--I posted the wrong URL in my previous post about the 1960 World Series. Here is the URL for the broadcast I spoke of--again, the relevant section begins at 57:00: