Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Remembering Joe Garagiola

So sorry to learn of the passing of Hall of Fame broadcaster and former player Joe Garagiola at the age of 90, known mostly for his years of play-by-play and color on NBC's national baseball telecasts during the 70's and the years surrounding.

It wasn't his play-by-play ability that made Garagiola so popular, at least in my opinion. It was his enthusiasm for the great game of baseball and his appreciation for the role that he had. He was very adept at communicating a player's perspective on the game.

One of my most wonderful personal experiences during my years as a sportscaster happened to have been the first time I met him in person. It was during spring training of 1977 and I was in Florida making the rounds of several of the training camps. The day I was in Sarasota at the Chicago White Sox camp, I had just watched their exhibition game and completed some interviews. I knew of a press lounge at the stadium and walked in expecting to use one of the desks to go through my tape and find the interview clips to send to the radio stations I was working for.

When I walked in, there was then White Sox owner Bill Veeck sitting on the couch talking with two other guys. Since Veeck knew me from seeing me around, I focused on him and he stopped talking and said "Hello". I then realized that the two other guys in the room (that Veeck was talking with) were none other than Garagiola and Hank Greenberg.

I said something like "Sorry", and turned to start walking out, not wanting to interrupt a conversation like that. Veeck said something like "It's OK", and then Garagiola said "You can stay here, sit down", and I did. I suddenly forgot I was supposed to get my work done and sat there listening to those three chatting about baseball.

After a few minutes, it was Garigiola who said something like "You can talk if you like", seeing my fascination at simply being there, which any baseball fan can understand. I think I said something like "I'm not sure I can add anything to this, but I'm sure I'll remember this forever", and they all chuckled a bit. I knew then and I know it now that Garagiola didn't have to be that nice to a kid with a cassette recorder and a press pass, but he was. He could tell I was a big baseball fan, and that was good enough for him. You'll be missed, Joe!

Speaking of baseball telecasts, kudos to ESPN for its all around coverage of the spring training game from Cuba on Tuesday (3/22), since the game between Tampa Bay and the Cuban team was far more than just an exhibition game. ESPN did an excellent job with their extended pre-game presentation and in-game activities as well.

Showing the behind the scenes workings both inside and away from the ballpark was most informative, along with the special guests which included President Obama from the stands. Having the broadcast team move around to several vantage points during the broadcasts is normally too much of a gimmick, but in this instance it totally worked.

As we prepare of another weekend full of the NCAA Tournament coverage, we have to look at all of the basketball consumed by TV viewers last weekend.

It is curious that the three most watched telecasts were all shown on CBS, the easiest for the casual fan to find. The Indiana vs. Kentucky game, understandably, drew nearly 10 1/2 million viewers to lead the way. Of course, CBS took most of the better opening week games. Some will argue it is because of that, while others point to many casual fans not understanding that Turner Sports was using three of its channels for the remainder of the games.

What adds to the demand for basketball is the fact that ABC-TV's telecast of the NBA Saturday Prime Time game between Western Conference powers Golden State and San Antonio was seen by more than 5.1 million viewers, despite the NCAA telecasts going on at the same time.

On Sunday (3/20) it was a most curious decision by NBC to concede to basketball on Sunday afternoon and not even bother to show a national NHL telecast during their usual window of opportunity. What makes that decision even more ridiculous is that if they used their usual 12:30 PM ET time frame, their selected game would have been over prior to the start of the evening's NCAA games.

Instead, NBCSN carried an NHL doubleheader up against the Tournament, and then failed to allow enough time between games. The Pittsburgh vs. Washington telecast, which turned in to a blowout game, ran into the first three minutes of the Minnesota vs. Chicago game. Even the Chicago market had to wait for their game of interest to be joined in progress, much to the frustration of Blackhawks and Wild fans. No reason one of those games couldn't have been played earlier in the day on NBC, allowing both games to be shown in their entirety with complete pre and post-game coverage.

Elsewhere, I seem to be in disagreement with many reporters regarding the Fox Sports decision to release Tony Siragusa from his duties on their NFL coverage after nine seasons as a sideline reporter. Siragusa was what a sideline "reporter" should be for an NFL telecast, or for that matter any football telecast.

As a former player with a true on air personality, he was able to provide some analysis as witnessed from a different perspective than what they crew sees in the booth. Whether you agreed with him or not, he was reporting and analyzing the plays and the players, instead of just interviewing the coaches and providing viewers with information which is otherwise available to the working press.

For the past few years, having Siragusa on the sidelines meant having one sideline reporter who actually contributed to the telecast. Now it might never matter who is on the sidelines.

BOSTON: The recent rumors about the future of CBS Radio could very well have an immediate impact on the Boston sports talk radio ratings battle. WBZ-FM Sports Hub had been rumored to be a heavy bidder for the Red Sox broadcast rights, which would have taken the games away from rival WEEI-FM after its ten year deal ran out.

WEEI-FM has signed what is termed a "short term" contract renewal, which seems odd given the potential of a bidding war between the two highly rated stations. The inside thinking is that the Red Sox want to wait and see what does or doesn't happen with CBS station WBZ-FM in order to hopefully (for them) facilitate a full on bidding war.

CLEVELAND: Indians fans are delighted with the word that long time voice Tom Hamilton isn't going anywhere, signing another multi-year contract to continue as the team's primary radio voice. Hamilton, whom The Broadcast Booth considers to be one of, if not "the", finest radio MLB play-by-play voice, has been on Indians radio since 1990 and served as the lead announcer since 1998 after Herb Score retired.

LOS ANGELES: KLAC 570 Sports has rescued the Clippers broadcasts for the remainder of this regular season and for the playoffs. The games had remained on KFWB 980 after it changed to new ownership and a foreign language format last month. No word yet on where the Clippers broadcasts will wind up when they conflict with Dodgers baseball.

BALTIMORE: WBAL 1090, while revising its news/talk lineup during weekday drive times, is continuing its 7 to 10 PM Brett Hollander Show, which is primarily sports talk.

HONOLULU: KIKI 990 has switched to an all sports format, although it currently only airs Fox Sports Radio programming when not airing play-by-play. The station will, of course, continue to air L.A. Dodgers games and Tennessee Titans football. The Titans games are carried there since QB Marcus Mariotta is from Hawaii.

JAMESTOWN NY: Sorry to learn of the passing of Jim Roselle earlier this week after more than 61 years with WJTN. Although Roselle was known for his (general) talk shows year after year, he actually began with WJTN in 1953 as a part-time sportscaster.

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