I know I’m one of the only Chicagoans paying attention to the Stanley Cup finals this year – and maybe one of the few Americans outside of Boston – but I can’t help it. Hockey is the only sport that grabs my full attention anymore. When there’s a game on, I sit still and watch it. No other sport makes me do that.
I still love baseball, but I don’t think of it as a sport as much as a languid, friendly, leisurely radio talk show that I tune into on summer evenings while making dinner and washing up afterwards. I rarely sit down and rivet myself to the TV screen when a baseball game’s on. Instead, I drift in and out of awareness of the game’s progress, while I do whatever else is distracting me at the moment, and it doesn’t seem to detract from the general enjoyment of baseball, as I know it.
Hockey requires attentiveness. The broadcasters don’t have time to yak about that day’s lunch or yesterday’s golf game, or their college days at Notre Dame, or the state of affairs in Burkina Faso, or anything but hockey. Baseball announcers have time to receive guests – actors promoting movies, politicians running for office, famous athletes from other sports, etc. They have time to do observational comedy bits about their misadventures with frozen yogurt machines.
One of my favorite all-time baseball broadcasting moments was an exchange several years ago between the Chicago Cubs’ play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes and the color commentator Ron Santo (now deceased), on WGN radio. Pat and Ron were discussing, as was their wont, Ron’s eating habits. I’m pretty sure a contest was underway on the field below, but it was not right then featuring one of those heart-stopping action-items that occur every three or four ballgames, if you’re lucky. Pat, for reasons known only to him (at most), brought up the fact that Ron’s favorite luncheon dish was a grilled-cheese sandwich. It also came to light that a favorite breakfast item of Ron’s was the English muffin.
Ron was reminded of an anecdote. I guess – although I don’t specifically recall – there were some pitches thrown, balls and strikes registered, runners held, but who knows for sure.
Ron said, “You know, it occurred to me one day. You know I love English muffins, right?”
Pat said, “Uh huh.”
Ron: “And I love grilled cheese sandwiches. You know that, right?”
Pat: “Yes I do, Ron. You’ve made that very clear.”
Ron: “So I was thinking, why not combine them? Why not put them together? Why not make a grilled cheese sandwich with English muffins for bread? Gotta be good, right? So today I tried it.”
Pat: “Oh! How’d that turn out, Ronny?”
Ron (sadly): “Didn’t work.”
In a way, I guess it might be a shame that we don’t get to know hockey announcers as intimately as we get to know baseball announcers, as human beings. But my mind is not made up on the question.
Santo must have brushed up on his grammar for this segment. I remember when Pat Hughes used the word “plethora” to describe the number of pitches an opposing pitcher had. Ron’s response was he broke out in lsughter and said, “what the heck is a plethora?”
Vince Lloyd, another big vocab announcer once referred to Manny Trillo as the majordomo of second base and Lou Boudreau didn’t even grin.
I still miss Santo’s voice, though.
I can still hear that conversation in my head.