Allen Rutter kindly welcomed me (as did many others) to Ricochet and asked for some dishy stories about people and events from my career in sports broadcasting. It seems like a good idea, so here goes!
As I have already said, I was lucky to enjoy a 40-year career in sports TV production. In that time I worked as a cameraman and replay operator in almost every major sport and and lot of minor ones. Some memories from my career are shared by millions of us, some are more particular. I hope to share some of both.
Because it’s October, let’s start with a baseball playoff series.
How many of you remember The Baseball Network? In 1994, Major League Baseball wasn’t happy with its broadcast partner CBS and decided to take production of their national telecasts in-house. They owned the shows and brokered airtime on ABC and NBC as well as producing regional regular-season games. The postseason was going to be only on ABC and NBC. Unfortunately for baseball fans, especially for those of us in the production trucks, on August 12, 1994, MLB players went on strike. The season was canceled shortly after. I was one of many directly affected. I had committed my month of October to work on the upcoming playoffs and World Series that now would not happen.
The strike lasted until April ’95 and soon, a shortened 144-game season began. Again, The Baseball Network started broadcasting. During the regular season, baseball got back on track. I worked local Giants and A’s games over the summer. Just like the previous summer, I was asked to sign up for the Baseball Network in October.
My postseason began October 3, 1995, in Los Angeles, where the Cincinnati Reds met the Dodgers in the NLDS. Curiously, I don’t remember anything about the games. What I do remember is that we were told to get to Dodger Stadium hours before our normal call time. There was a trial going on at the time downtown and a verdict was expected. Yes, that trial, the OJ trial. The fear was that if he was convicted, riots would break out and make it hard to get to work. Of course, if riots were to break out, we would be alone at an empty Dodger Stadium waiting for a game that wouldn’t happen. (I was at the Forum in Inglewood the day of the Rodney King riots, but that’s another story.)
The verdict came in, acquittal, and a relative peace allowed the games to go on.
After the Reds took a two-game lead in the five-game series, they moved on to Cincinnati. I stayed west and flew up to Seattle for the final three games of the Mariners-Yankees series. The wildcard Yankees had taken the first two games and could eliminate Seattle by winning one of the last three games in the Kingdome. This was the Don Mattingley, Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs, mid-’90s Yanks against the Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez Mariners.
On Friday, Oct. 6, the Mariners, with Randy Johnson pitching, led the Yankees 6-1 after six innings and held on to win 7-4. The series was now 2-1. The next day, the Yankees were up 5-0 by the mid-third. Seattle started back with Edgar Martinez’s three-run home run. By the end of six, the Mariners led 6-5. In the top of the eighth, a wild pitch tied the game. In the bottom of the inning, Seattle loaded the bases and Edgar Martinez cleared them with a grand slam. Another homer put the M’s up 11-6. The Yanks put two on the board in the top of the ninth and the game was over, 11-8, series tied 2-2.
Now, a television digression. Doug Coffland and I were the two lead replay operators. The first task for us was to set up the truck’s tape room, assign the other operators, and make sure the producer was happy with those assignments. In a sports broadcast crew, the tape room primarily works for the producer, the cameras work for the director, but the producer is the overall boss. Once the broadcast starts, everyone in the room puts their head down and concentrates on television, not the game. There’s a saying: No cheering in the press box. It applies to the truck as well. Sometimes, you can’t help but get into the excitement the crowd brings. And this was one of those. It was the first time Seattle had made the playoffs in 18 years and now they were tied with the biggest dynasty in MLB history.
Our play-by-play announcer was Brent Musberger. In his career with CBS, he acquired the unflattering nickname of the “Anchor Monster.” I had never met him until that series and it opened my eyes that some reputations unfairly precede one. Doug and I were in the truck editing the tease for the deciding game. The tease is that 30-second piece of video that looks back at last night’s game and sets up the next one. Pictures, music, and words that are meant to hook the viewer at the beginning of the telecast. As we finished the pictures, Brent came into the tape room to come up with the words. We played him the video a few times and he began to write. As he wrote he bounced ideas off us and looked for just the right phrase. He asked for our opinion until he was satisfied. For those 30 minutes, the three of us worked together, with no ego, to get it right. And when we were done, he thanked us. Most of us can tell when someone is insincere. He was sincere. We were colleagues and he wanted our input to make it the best effort from all of us. And for most of us, a sincere thank you goes a long way.
Back to baseball. Sunday, October 8, 1995. Game 5. David Cone and Andy Benes started and the game was tied through four innings. The Yankees went up 4-2 in the top of the sixth, the Mariners scored two in the bottom of the eighth to tie. No score in the ninth. Yankee starter “Black Jack” McDowell and Seattle starter Randy Johnson both came in as relievers after having started on Friday. Yankee Pat Kelly scores in the top of the eleventh to put the Yanks up 5-4. Three outs away. In the bottom of the 11th, Seattle’s Joey Cora reaches on a bunt. The next batter, Ken Griffey, Jr, hits a single and moves Cora to third. Edgar Martinez now faces McDowell. He doubles to the left-field wall. “The Double!” Cora scores easily. Griffey races around second, accelerates past third, slides safe at home. Seattle wins! Seattle wins!
You can watch the bottom of the 11th here:
Tell me that’s not exciting! And I helped to bring those pictures to America.
By way of an anticlimax, Seattle went on to lose to Cleveland in the ALCS. Cleveland went on to lose to Atlanta in the ’95 World Series. The Baseball Network folded over the winter and Fox and NBC shared the postseason for a few years.
But gosh that was fun!Published in