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The Family Affairs Of Baseball Broadcasting

“There are several “family affairs” throughout baseball and some transcend just one sport. The common theme is, growing up with a dad that travels a lot leads to having to get to know him later in life.”

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Father’s Day – a time to celebrate the dad’s in our lives and give them a special day or as former Mets’ broadcaster Ralph Kiner once said, “It’s Father’s Day today, so to all you father’s out there, happy birthday!”. Or something like that. We know what he meant. When you think of baseball, the fathers and sons that come to mind I’m sure are the Griffey’s, Ken and Ken Jr, the Bonds’, Bobby and Barry and the several generations of Boone’s, Bob, Brett and Aaron. 

On Aug. 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. became the first father ...

My mind of course goes to father and son duos in the broadcast booth. Almost as rare as a father/son combo in the game, it’s pretty rare off the field as well. There are several “family affairs” throughout baseball and some transcend just one sport. The common theme is, growing up with a dad that travels a lot leads to having to get to know him later in life. On rare occasions the duos get to work together, which leads to a relationship that wasn’t known before. The focus here, will be on the three most popular father/son combinations in baseball broadcasting. 

Jack and Joe Buck

Jack was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1954-2001 and did baseball and NFL national broadcasts. The elder Buck had a distinctive deep voice that was perfect for baseball on the radio. He was versatile, doing the NFL as well. I loved listening to Jack alongside Hank Stram on the CBS Radio coverage of Monday Night Football. 

Joe is now one of those voices you hear and realize. It’s probably a big game, or THE national game of the week. The younger Buck followed in his father’s footsteps in doing both Major League Baseball and the NFL. Joe started with the Cardinals in 1991 before he went on to national acclaim as the lead play-by-play voice for Fox Sports’ coverage of MLB and NFL games. The two were able to work together for many years in St. Louis, with Jack on Cardinals radio and Joe on Cardinals television.

Guideposts Classics: Joe Buck on His Hero, His Father | Guideposts

For Joe being in his dad’s shadow was something that he had a hard time with at first, but learned later on that there was no reason to feel that way.  “I was broadcasting Cardinal baseball in the major leagues at the age of 21, and that only happened because my last name was Buck. At the time, I fought that,” the younger Buck told NPR in 2016. He continued, “But there’s also a little bit more of a sharp knife out there, as far as critics are concerned, that you better be as good as the old man, or in some cases better, to be considered a success.”

Being modest, Joe continued to NPR, “I know I do a decent enough job to keep my job, but I will forever be known to some people as Jack Buck’s son. And thank God he and I were best friends or that would drive me nuts. Instead, I consider it a high compliment.”

The Bucks are the only father-son combination each to have called a Super Bowl.

Marty and Thom Brennaman

Hall of Famer Marty replaced Al Michaels as the Reds play-by-play announcer in 1974, a position he continued in until retiring at the end of last season. He spent his entire 46 year run behind the mic for the Reds. Marty is one of the nicest human beings you’ll meet and was the last of a breed of announcers that were able to really “tell it like it is”.

Marty broadcast games for the fans of Cincinnati and somehow still had the support of management over the years. His distinctive voice, a very “folksy” and “midwestern” delivery was an easy listen. Not many get to stay with one team for his entire career and go out on his own terms, still at the top of his game. 

In 2006 it was announced that Marty’s son Thom would be joining the Reds broadcast crew for the 2007 season. Marty was thrilled, “this is a dream fulfilled for me,” said Brennaman in 2006. “I was always a little bit envious of the Buck’s and the Caray’s. Now I get to work with my son. Nothing’s better than that.” 

Cincinnati Reds on Twitter: "#OTD in 2007: Marty & Thom Brennaman ...

Thom began his career in the late ’80s, working for the Cubs and Diamondbacks before returning to Cincinnati in 2006. Thom proved himself to be a top tier broadcaster with a very straight forward style. In some ways he took some of the best of his father and made it his own. Thom is not shy about voicing an opinion during a game, about a player or team or whatever. As mentioned, Marty was one of those “fans” in the booth back in the day, Thom has a knack for being able to do that as well. 

Thom was fortunate to grow up in Cincinnati and tag along with Marty to the ballpark. He learned a lot about the game from some of the greatest Reds in history and of course his dad. As Thom rose through the ranks, dad was always there for him. “After games or the next day or as the years went by to Chicago or Arizona or even now, I can certainly and have, thousands of times, picked up the phone or sat down with him and say hey how would you have maybe handled this or what do you think about the way I handled that?” Brennaman said last September on a Reds’ podcast. “Especially during football season. He’s able to sit back and watch a lot of the games I’ll do during the NFL season. He’ll say ‘hey what were you thinking about that?’ or I’ll say ‘what did you think about that.’ It’s a pretty dog gone good coach to have around.”

Thom spoke about his decision to leave Arizona and join his dad in Ohio on the Reds’ Flagship Radio Station, WLW. “Having a chance to work with him (Marty) is sort of the cherry on top of the sundae. You know the sundae was built on a foundation of I’ve always been an Ohio guy. I just love Cincinnati,” he said. “I loved growing up in this part of the country. I just thought it would be really great if our children could grow up here. I’m really just going to miss being around him.”

The Brennamans are the only father-son combination each to have called a perfect game (Marty for Tom Browning in 1988; and Thom for Randy Johnson in 2004).

Harry, Skip and Chip Caray

Maybe the most popular broadcaster of all the duos (in this rare case a trio) was Harry Caray. The elder stateman of the trio held down gigs with the Cardinals, White Sox and Cubs (he also had a brief stint with the A’s and St. Louis Browns). He teamed with Jack Buck in St. Louis to form a terrific broadcast team on Cardinals Radio. Harry was a showman though and that really came through when he went to the White Sox. The eldest Caray started the tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the PA, from the booth in the 7th inning (thank you Bill Veeck). He would swing his microphone encouraging the crowd to join him, to the delight of those in attendance and those watching at home. While it was big on the Southside of Chicago, it exploded on the Northside.

Caray leads 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' - YouTube

When Harry came to the Cubs, he was the attraction. The team was starting a rebuild under GM Dallas Greene and they weren’t very good. Caray was the ultimate salesman for baseball, pointing out the great things about being at the game and also calling things out that needed it. Some of the things Harry got away with then, probably wouldn’t fly in today’s game or world. Lost in all of that though, was Harry in his early days and up until he suffered a stroke in 1987 was a tremendous broadcaster – clean, crisp and concise calls of some big moments in the game of baseball. Not that he wasn’t good after 1987, he kind of steered into the skid and embraced his role as an entertainer and someone people wanted to watch. Harry passed just before the 1998 season, the year he was supposed to start working with his grandson, Chip. That duo never materialized. More on that in a moment. 

Harry’s son, Skip Caray was as much a part of Atlanta Braves lore as his father was with both Chicago baseball teams. Skip joined the Braves broadcasts in 1976 and stayed there until his untimely death in 2008. Skip and longtime partner Pete Van Wieren formed a widely popular duo on Superstation WTBS. They were seen all across the country (as were the Cubs during that time) growing a fan base in places not even near Atlanta.

Skip was widely popular and not for the same reasons his dad was. Skip’s style was often imitated but never duplicated. He had a quick wit and a sarcastic sense of humor that really made him so endearing to most fans. Some didn’t take his sarcasm to heart and weren’t fond of his deprecation of some of the bad Braves teams in the 1980’s. Skip would try to make light of horrible games, in fact with the Braves down big in a game he said, “It’s OK to walk the dog now, folks, if you promise to support our sponsors.” Priceless.

Chip Caray is the third member of the trio. Chip came into his own as the television voice of the Chicago Cubs from 1998 until 2004. Chip has an enthusiasm for the game that is hard to match. His home run calls during the ’98 race between Sosa and McGwire were featured prominently during Long Gone Summer when it debuted last weekend.

“Swung on and belted…” is a signature call. Chip is a cerebral guy and really knows the history of the game of baseball. You can tell that he really loves what he does and really loves the game with his style. 

Chip was hired by the Cubs to work with his grandfather Harry in the booth for the 1998 season. Unfortunately, Harry passed away in February of that year, and they never got to work together. “I never got to close the family book with Harry, I didn’t know him well and had very little interaction with him, which is why ‘98 is still bittersweet in many respects.”, Caray told me. “There is a ton of regret not getting to ‘know’ my grandfather on a personal level. Professionally, I mean, an entire history of baseball in our family was lost, I would have loved his advice on how to handle being a play-by-play guy in a big city like Chicago…all of that gone in a flash,” said Chip. 

When the Cubs chose not to renew his contract on the final day of the 2004 season, he announced he was headed to Atlanta to work with his father Skip on Braves’ broadcasts. A man he didn’t know very well. “My parents were divorced; I knew my dad loved me. I saw him two weeks a year. As he said one time, ‘I left when you were five and all of the sudden, I see you and get to know you and you’re 16 and 6 foot 4.’ That was an eye opener for him and an eye opener for me too,” said Chip. 

Skip Caray Dead at 68

“As bittersweet as it was to leave the Cubs, I was overjoyed getting a chance to work with my dad and be his son,” said the youngest Caray. “Understand that while divorce is in one way a failure it doesn’t make you a failure. We had a heart wrenching conversation one time. He said ‘I feel so guilty about the things I wasn’t able to do with you as a kid.’ I stopped him and said ‘do you like who I am as a person? Forget the broadcast, do like what you see of me as a person, a husband, a father?’ He said ‘yeah’, and I told him that he needed to understand that all of these experiences and things that I went through have made me who I am.”, he recalled. “So, celebrate that you did a lot of things right. It turned out ok. I think it gave him some peace and was sort of the basis of understanding for us and not looking back at what didn’t happen or should have happened but think about what could be from that point on,” Chip said with a smile in his voice.  

“The moments and times I had with my dad were great, we had a lot of laughs. He left us far too soon. I miss him every day,” Chip said.

He recalled how important it was to forge a relationship with his dad. “We were able, as adults, to reconnect the fibers of family that weren’t frayed by any stretch, but had never really been put together.  My dad developed amazing relationships with my kids, my wife and it was so rewarding to see how proud he was of me being a husband, father, and yes, broadcaster too.”

In May of 1991 all three Caray’s were in the booth together, for the open of the broadcast when the Cubs hosted the Braves. Chip and Skip with Atlanta and of course Harry with the Cubs. 

Chip Caray remembers grandfather, others as Cubs play in World ...

It still amazes me how the game of baseball is such a family affair. Whether it be on the field, the broadcast booth or in the stands, it’s generational. It’s meant to be shared with father’s and sons or father’s and daughters. Let’s hope those in charge of the game realize it and get the players back on the field soon. 

Others include (not specific to baseball only):

  • Marv and Kenny Albert 
  • Harry and Todd Kalas
  • Ian and Noah Eagle
  • Will and Sean McDonough
  • Don and Daron Sutton        
  • Ken and Casey Coleman
  • Woody and Wes Durham
  • Dan, Dan Jr. and John Kelly

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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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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