Baseball on the Radio and the Lost Art of Listening

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(Editor’s Note: Because we know that man does not live by politics alone, but also by film, sports, booze, and barbecue, RedState writers are expanding their base of topics covered. How nice will it be to be able to discuss the topics you’re passionate about with others – including that All-American pastime, baseball – who share your political views, and not the woke scolds in most comment sections?)

Earlier this year, the lone Major League Baseball club outside of our borders, i.e. the Toronto Blue Jays, announced they were going to streamline their announcing arrangement by combining the television and radio audio into one. Our friends up north were generally not amused, especially Rush (the band)  bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Geddy Lee. His own penchant for preferring multi-tasking notwithstanding, Lee quickly made his opinion known:

Some of my most memorable baseball memories were not from sitting in the stands or watching the game on the tube, but listening to the radio. Driving home from the cottage, I heard Dave Stieb’s heartbreaking first one-hitter.

There are nuances and descriptors that radio broadcasters share with their audiences that are simply not the same as a cabal of TV announcers, no matter how good they are. It’s a time-honoured craft that requires a special ability to bring to life what we at home simply cannot see. This is a bad and regrettable decision.

In an era when people are far more likely to get screenburn from staring into their phone too much instead of sunburn from actually going outside, the notion of following a baseball game on the radio when it takes little effort to stream video of the same may sound quaint. Then again, so does listening to a podcast, if you think about it.

Baseball is the great American constant, a sport that whether in war or peace, Democrat or Republican (pardon the repetition), wealth or poverty, has managed to bring us together regardless of furious efforts by fringe lunatics to line their pockets at the expense of exploiting and deepening divisions along artificial delineators. Even now, with justifiable grousing about MLB’s heavy-handed embracement of wokeness, baseball retains a level of comfort that somehow, despite the efforts of so many, should survive the present inane insanity permeating pop culture.

A huge part of this is baseball on the radio.

Skillfully calling a baseball game involves far more than accurately describing the action. It requires the ability to weave a narrative, connecting the immediate with the game’s storied past, both recent and distant. It fleshes out the players, accomplishing what ESPN failed to do in its recent NFL draft coverage, by making the athletes relatable, connectable; someone worth the effort of rooting for. And, given baseball’s ofttimes leisurely pace, it demands incorporating the fine art of storytelling, one rapidly eroding under a media avalanche of too much information containing too little genuine content.

Vin Scully, for decades the Los Angeles (and before that Brooklyn) Dodgers voice, was a master of the art. I remember spending the entirety of one summer evening in the ‘60s standing in my parent’s kitchen, listening to the entirety of Scully call a Dodgers game even though I was at the time a San Francisco Giants fan (I’ve been an Oakland A’s devotee since 1968), totally enraptured by his weaving of historical anecdotes into the broadcast.

Listening to a good announcer calling a baseball game also incorporates radio’s magic theater of the mind, one forcing the listener away from visual media’s strict definition of what is to be absorbed and instead echoing the written word’s power to invite one in, bringing their own imagination to the process. You don’t see the center fielder chasing down a fly ball, yet you do. You don’t see the fastball just catching the outside corner for a called strike, yet you do. A well-called ballgame allows you to make the game your own, something no television broadcast can ever accomplish.

Do yourself a favor. Lay aside the kvetch about how politics are ruining, or trying to ruin, everything. Enjoy what is good no matter how many silly gnats are buzzing about. Embrace the lost art of listening and tune in to a ballgame. Let your mind create its own field of dreams. Savor this rich aspect of what is good about America. You will be the better for it.

You can even enjoy a Dodger Dog.