Thursday, November 21, 2013

It Was A Simpler Time

If you’re a baseball fan and haven’t seen the recently discovered video of the last few innings of a 1965 baseball game telecast by WGN, do yourself a favor, and when you have an hour, watch it.  You can find it lots of places, but there’s link on Deadspin that’s also got some other neat stuff.  The link is here.

It’s a great game; a ten-inning no-hitter Jim Maloney of the Reds hung on the Cubbies the afternoon of August 19th, 1965, and Jack Brickhouse and Lloyd Pettit are calling the game for WGN-TV.  My wife IDOLIZED Lloyd Pettit, not only for his Cubs broadcasts, but for the way he called the Chicago Blackhawks games.  Pettit is a hero to Wisconsinites, of course, not because of his connection to Chicago sports, but because of the tremendous gift he and his wife gave to the people of Wisconsin: the Pettit National Ice Center, an Olympic training/hockey facility at State Fair Park in West Allis.

I digress.

My friend Jim Bartlett wrote a great blog-post about this “ancient” TV footage recently unearthed, and pointed out how different televised baseball was back in the 60’s.  To paraphrase Jim, he referred to Brickhouse and Pettit as being like a couple of knowledgeable baseball guys who came to the park to watch the game and talk baseball.  They didn’t overanalyze, they didn’t preach, they treated the viewer with respect, and assumed you were following the game and didn’t have to be told every little thing that happened on the field.

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about my formative years in baseball. I grew up listening to a couple of the best “minimalist” sports announcers of the 50’s and 60’s: Earl Gillespie (and later, Merle Harmon) doing the Milwaukee Braves games; and the great Ray Scott doing the Packers’ telecasts on CBS during the glory years.  There was no “color” or “analysis”; just the announcer, describing the action.  Laconic doesn’t even begin to describe Scott. His patter consisted of stuff like “………Starr……….to Dowler……….Touchdown.”  Or “........second and six……Starr hands to Taylor….Thurston and Kramer leading the sweep………….first and ten.”

You really didn’t need much more than that.

And during my years in LA, I had the privilege of listening to Vin Scully call the Dodgers games.  What an icon!

The soundtrack of the “ancient” footage of the Cubs/Reds game at Wrigley in the 60’s with Brickhouse and Pettit really isn’t that different from the kind of announcing that WGN-TV has had for decades on the Cubs broadcasts, whether it was the colorful Harry Carey with Steve Stone, his grandson Chip with Stone, or Len and JD. Like most “local” guys…I’m thinking here of Brian Anderson and The Rock on the Brewers telecasts…they don’t wear out their welcome motor-mouthing, and the production elements are actually pretty basic.

But the network broadcasts of Baseball and Football…..whether on Fox, ABC/ESPN, NBC, or CBS – talk about OVERKILL.  There are so many graphics, so many sound effects, so many things on the screen at the same time including the “crawl” at the bottom of the screen updating scores of other games, that it can drive you batty.  And there's nonstop talk - much of it inane - as if a few seconds of silence would cause everyone to lose interest in the game and change the channel.  

I'm comfortable with silence, or simply "crowd noise".

Fox has this one sound effect they play every time they change the graphic on the screen, and on our “big” home theatre system in the media room at the Morrissey Compound, it’s enough to drive you batty, a combination of the sound of a 747 taking off and some other electronic element that causes the bass speakers in our system to move enough air to create a breeze.

I know, they’re aiming the broadcasts at my kids (who are 30 and 28 years of age), who “watch” a game while texting andsurfing the net on their smart phones, confident in the knowledge that if anything big happens, the TV will replay it a dozen times from a dozen angles so they don’t really miss anything by not truly paying attention to the broadcast.

Enough with my nostalgic rambling.  Bookmark the link and enjoy the old broadcast….when you have time to just savor the unhurried pace and un-hyped announcing.

It was a simpler time.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out, sir. During one of the Black Hawks' Stanley Cup runs I unearthed a YouTube vid with some of Lloyd Pettit's hockey calls, and he was one of the best ever. As was Earl Gillespie, who despite his years as the Braves play-by-play guy will always be the voice of Wisconsin football to me: "First down for Bucky Badger"! and "Now before the next kickoff listen to this."

    1. You're more than welcome, JB - your post was where I first found out about the old video. Funny, all the Braves and Badgers games I heard Gillespie call, and the thing I remember best is his ad "Where's the money coming from? HFC". (Household Finance Corp.) He hawked their high-interest loans on most of the broadcasts I heard, and when TV came in, he did HFC's TV ads. Strange.

  2. Great video. I just love the crowd noise between pitches.

    1. Thanks, Dan. Exactly what I thought - a time when we tolerated silence, as it was a part of the natural order of things. Kind of like when you get comfortable enough with a friend that you don't have to think up something to say to fill the silence.

  3. The Pettit National Ice Center is a great place to skate. It's lit says it is named after its chief donor, Jane Bradley Pettit, wife of above. I spent some long days there covering speedskating leading up to the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer. Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen and Casey FitzRandolph sliced through there, and before Pettit was built, the Heiden and Docter siblings from Madison, skated on the same spot. (It was from there, in fact, that the Harding-Kerrigan fiasco gained momentum, as the national figure skating media showed up for Olympic speedskating trials directly following the Kerrigan kneecapping in Detroit.) Ah, sports.

    1. She was the one with the money - Lloyd didn't get rich as a broadcaster! Thanks, George.