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John Sterling Could Join the List of These All-Time Baseball Milestone Calls

I can’t say that I blame Sterling for coming back to the booth. Seems like he should be there and now he will to witness some possible history. 

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John Sterling, Aaron Judge

Milestone moments in Major League Baseball don’t happen every day. The lead up to such an occasion is usually stressful. There is a nervousness in the organization, the fan base, of course the player is feeling it and so are those getting set to call the big event. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on the team broadcasters because, these moments live forever. This call will be a part of history, just as the accomplishment by the player will be. 

I started thinking about these incredible moments, when hearing that John Sterling would return to the booth for Yankees road games. The long-time voice of the New York Yankees said he was cancelling some scheduled days off, so as not to miss Aaron Judge’s pursuit of Roger Maris’ team record for home runs in a season. Judge is also flirting with a chance at the Triple Crown. I can’t say that I blame Sterling. Seems like he should be there and now he will to witness some possible history. 

There have been many huge moments in the game in my lifetime, that have also been etched in my mind thanks to the call of the broadcaster. I’m going to focus on a few of them here. Each broadcaster had a story about the lead up to the moment and some shared advice for future play-by-play announcers, who may find themselves in a similar situation. 

HANK AARON 715 

There are two calls of Hank Aaron’s memorable home run in 1974 that are the ones best associated with the moment. Milo Hamilton’s exclamation of “There’s a new home run champion of all time, and it’s Henry Aaron.”, resonates with many, as Aaron passed Babe Ruth that night on baseball’s all-time home run list. Hamilton’s call nailed the action as it was happening in his own style. 

The other call people think of, was the one by Vin Scully, who was the Dodgers announcer when Al Dowling delivered the pitch that Aaron hit over the left field wall. Scully’s style was more eloquence than fluff. He would take the historic action on the field and make it hit home to baseball fans and non-fans alike. He put things into perspective, gave them context beyond the field. 

“There’s a high drive into deep left-center field, Buckner goes back… it is gone!” Scully said. He then said nothing for about 25 seconds, as Aaron rounded the bases and joined his teammates at home plate. Scully felt that hearing the crowd cheering and fireworks going off told the story better than he could. When he broke his silence, he put the moment into the proper context of the times. 

“What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world.” he said. 

“A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate, not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother.”

Scully says he never had anything scripted for that epic home run call. “I never do that,” Scully said during an interview in 2014 on WFAN in New York.  “I really concentrate on the moment… I’m afraid that if I tried to prepare, I’d be so eager to get my marvelous words out onto the air [that] I might do it prematurely and be wrong.”

With that frame of mind, there was really not a lot of pressure on the great and iconic announcer. He just let his instincts take over. 

MARK McGWIRE 62

The Summer of 1998 was one of home runs. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were battling it out to see who would break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. Each would pass the mark, but it was McGwire that got there first. 

Joe Buck, was the young lead play-by-play announcer on Fox’s baseball coverage. The network was set to cover the game between the Cardinals and Cubs on September 8, 1998. McGwire had already tied Maris and was looking for the record. 

Buck was asked repeatedly, for months about what he would say if he was fortunate enough to be behind the mic for the record breaker. 

“I had come up with, ‘There it goes. Here it is. A new single-season home run champion with 62. Mark McGwire as he floats around the bases and into the history books.’ I even had it written on my score sheet to make sure I wouldn’t mess it up,” said Buck after that Tuesday night game.

The best laid plans theory took over, because the 62nd home run was not a majestic, ‘no-doubter’ like many expected it to be. It barely cleared the left field wall at Busch Stadium and barely stayed fair. That’s a tough home run call any day of the week, but it was so magnified that night. Even Buck, who was only 29 at the time, adapted to the situation and scrapped the script. 

“Down the left-field line, is it enough? Gone! There it is, 62. Touch first, Mark, you are the new single-season home run king.” Buck then laid out to let the pictures tell the story his words couldn’t. 

“That home run shot was the old script-buster. Any long, drawn-out call that you had drummed up someday away from the ballpark, you could forget it,” said Buck. “That’s one of those you watch. You keep your head up, and you hope you got it right.” He did. 

BONDS 756

The 2007 baseball season had its share of moments, but maybe none bigger than one swing of Barry Bonds’ bat. Put aside whatever feelings you may have about the legitimacy of the record, instead put yourself in the position of Jon Miller who had the opportunity to call one of the biggest moments in baseball history. 

He was asked about what he might say when Bonds hits No. 756?

“That’s about the 1,000th time I’ve been asked that question,” he said to the LA Times. “It all depends on the circumstances — where he hits hit, the crowd reaction. A lot of things will come into play.” Miller said at the time. 

Here’s the call:  “Bonds one home run away from history. And he swings! And there’s a long one, deep into the right-center field, way back there. It’s gone! A home run, into the center-field bleachers, to the left of the 421-foot marker. An extraordinary shot to the deepest part of the yard. And Barry Bonds, with 756 home runs, he has hit more home runs than anyone who has ever played the game.” 

The unrehearsed call worked for him. Television voice Duane Kuiper only prepared for one aspect of the milestone home run. 

“I write the number of the home run in big letters on either a piece of paper or on the counter,” he told The Oklahoman. “I always felt like the only thing you can really do to look bad is get the number wrong. If you get the number right, at least you’re off to a good start. If you get the number wrong, you can’t put that bullet back in the gun.”

PETE ROSE 4192

September 11, 1985. That was the night that Pete Rose became baseball’s all-time hits leader. He broke Ty Cobb’s 57-year-old record at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. On the call, Marty Brennaman, the long-time voice of Reds’ baseball and his partner Joe Nuxhall. 

Marty: He levels the bat a couple of times. Show kicks and he fires. Rose swings…

Joe: There it is! There it is! Get down. Get down. Alright!

Marty: And there it is. Hit number 4192. A line drive single into left-center field. A clean base hit. And it is pandemonium here at Riverfront Stadium. The fireworks exploding overhead. The Cincinnati dugout has emptied. The applause continues unabated. Rose completely encircled by his teammates at first base. Bobby Brown of the San Diego Padres coming all the way from the third base dugout to personally congratulate Pete Rose. And the kind of outpouring of adulation that I don’t think you’ll ever see an athlete get any more of. 

Brennaman told the Athletic in 2018 how he got ready for that call. Again,there was no scripting involved.

“I know guys that try to plan what they are going to say and make it clever and memorable,” Brennaman said. “I was never that good. I could never plan something like that and make it sound anything other than contrived.” Brennaman added, “We knew it was going to happen. It was just a question of when. I never gave it any thought as to what I was going to say when it happened. The only thing you hope for is that whatever you say captures the moment and you don’t stumble over your words because you know you’re going to hear it ad nauseam for the rest of your life.”

The vocabulary alone in the call made it memorable for sure. 

CUBS WIN WORLD SERIES

This one was bound to happen, eventually, right? As former Cubs’ broadcaster Jack Brickhouse once famously said, “any team can have a bad century.” That was the Cubs, suffering from 108-years of championship drought. But things would change in early November 2016 in Cleveland. The Cubs and Indians (now Guardians) were going to a Game 7 to decide it all. Think about the enormity of the final call of this game. For Cleveland it would also end a drought, not quite as long as the Cubs’, but still in the several decades range, 68 years to be exact. 

Pat Hughes is the longtime Cubs play-by-play announcer. He told Sports Illustrated on the precipice of the series, how he would handle a final call with the Cubs winning it all. 

“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.”

Here’s how it turned out. “A little bouncer slowly toward Bryant. He will glove it and throw to Rizzo. It’s in time. And the Chicago Cubs win the World Series! The Cubs come pouring out of the dugout, jumping up and down like a bunch of delirious 10-year-olds. The Cubs have done it! The longest drought in the history of American sports is over, and the celebration begins.”

All the elements are there. The energy, the realization that the Cubs actually won a championship can be felt. One for the ages. 

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BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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