The sounds of baseball

By Jay Jamison

Last week the 2019 baseball season ended the night before Halloween. The familiar voices on the radio are no longer relaying the situation on the field interspersed with anecdotes. I call it the situation on the field because the actual amount of ball-in-play action in the average major league baseball game amounts to about two minutes. Everything else is anticipation, the gyrations of batters standing in at the plate, pitchers getting the sign from catchers, and a whole lot of other feints and postures of the players on the field.

Baseball is like a chess game with managers moving players around, revealing surprise substitutions, giving the green light for the guy on first to steal second, all through a language of confusing hand signals and decoys. The pitch selections, blown calls, and baseballs caroming off the outfield wall–sometimes making heroes or fools out of million-dollar fielders–are all part of the fabric of America’s past time. I suggest that if anyone takes up the insane idea of broadcasting chess games on the radio, they pass over the grand masters, and consider hiring baseball radio broadcasters instead. If it’s true that the actual amount of action in a baseball game amounts to a few minutes, the chess metaphor is apt, with possibly one primary exception; in the top echelon of competitive chess, time is governed by a clock, whereas baseball games can, theoretically, go on forever. Only seasoned radio baseball broadcasters with a gift for gab, could keep an audience on edge and have their listeners anticipating every move. Baseball is a game made for radio.

I confess that during games I have the TV on with the sound turned off. Instead, I listen to the radio broadcasts and if there is an interesting play, I have several seconds to look up from whatever I’m doing and catch the action on television. TV broadcasts of baseball games are delayed several seconds, giving me time to look up and see what the radio people just described. After listening to radio play-by-play for many years, with each season running 162 games, the voices on the radio sound so familiar in my house that they almost seem like family. I can listen to a game in my car, in my kitchen, in just about any place where a radio can be found.

Many years ago, I was doing a lot of traveling, and as I was driving in Colorado, I turned the dial of my ancient car radio, hoping to hear something familiar. For weeks I’d been listening to the baseball broadcasters on the west coast, as they ruined the games they were describing with endless amounts of trivial statistics. As I continued to turn the dial, a familiar voice came crackling out of the ether, it was Harry Carey, slobbering into the microphone from Wrigley Field. I nearly drove off the road frantically trying to lock onto the weak signal, just to hear the sound of a Midwest baseball announcer, the sound of home. Risking life and limb to hear a Cubs game may seem a surprising confession, coming from a Cardinals fan, but weeks of travel and smarmy west coast play-by-play can do funny things to a prairie baseball fan Every fall after the final pitch and final out of the season, I go into a kind of withdrawal. Hope springs eternal in a game where anything is possible until that final out, so I won’t despair. Pitchers and catchers report for spring training in less than 100 days.

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