Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 7, 2013

Remembering Radio Days

Driving north from Gotham back to New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon, the car radio was tuned to WCBS 880, the flagship station of the Yankees radio network. As the states changed from Empire to Nutmeg and then to Bay, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman gave their account of the game between New York and Baltimore. Along I-495 north with the exits for Lowell at hand, the Yankees pulled out a victory in the nick of time, just as the 50,000 watt signal was becoming more static than sound.

Just the evening before I’d been in my usual place high above the first base line, taking in the first of the three game set with the division rival Orioles in person. From Friday night stretching back over the decades to an early memory of sitting in the stands at long-gone Griffith Stadium watching a Senators team long-removed to Minnesota, the experience of seeing a game in person has remained unchanged. But listening to Sterling’s play-by-play and Waldman’s color commentary reminded me of just how much the alternative ways of checking in on any sporting event have changed.

Regional sports networks put far more games on the flat screen in the living room than was once the case. If a television isn’t available the contest can be streamed on a computer. Smart phone apps provide real-time detail of every pitch and every play. Where once the sometimes scratchy radio signal ruled, today’s fans have a plethora of options. Yet as the tires hummed along the highway my mind wandered back to the days of listening to Senators games on WWDC. Then the radio was my principal connection to the Great Game. I thought of that, and of the game I had witnessed just the night before; when 8 ½ innings of frustration magically changed.

So we come to the bottom of the 9th. It’s the last licks for the Yankees, who trail the Orioles 2-1. Unless they can produce at least one run here to send the game to extras, they will have squandered just a magnificent performance by Ivan Nova.

That’s right, Mike. Nova was nothing short of brilliant this evening. He reminded us of the young man who went 16-4 in his rookie season, and not the often ineffective pitcher of last year when his ERA climbed up over five. This year he lost his spot in the rotation, spent time on the DL, and was given the spot start today as the Yankees try to sort out the extent of injuries to Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps. Nova responded by needing just 102 pitches to go all nine innings, allowing 3 hits and striking out a career-high 11 batters. But in the top of the 2nd he hit Chris Davis and then Matt Wieters sent a fly ball to left field that I thought at first was just going to be a routine out. But it’s still over 90 here in the Bronx and in the heat and humidity the ball just carried and carried. Vernon Wells jumped for it at the wall but the ball actually hit the top of the wall and bounced into the stands for a two-run homer. With the Yankees managing just one run off of three Orioles’ pitchers that’s the difference in the ball game so far.

Michael, I had the same thought that you did on the Wieters homer. When it took off I thought okay fairly deep, maybe warning track, but definitely playable. But I guess that’s why we’re up here in the booth. So now we’re ready to go. Jim Johnson has come on to try to close this one out for Baltimore. If there is a ray of hope for the Yankees it’s the fact that the back end of the Orioles’ bullpen has had its issues. Johnson has blown 5 save chances this year and the entire bullpen has blown a total of 16 saves. That leads the American League in a statistic that you don’t want to be leading in.

Okay David Adams steps in. He’s 0 for 2 plus a walk. Johnson delivers and the fastball is high, ball one. The third baseman Adams in ninth in the order, so Brett Gardner is waiting on deck. Here’s the pitch. Adams swings at the fastball and fouls it back into the lower deck, so the count is one and one.

You know Mike; well of course I know you know this. But for the benefit of at least some of our listeners, not counting the one inning that Vernon Wells played there, Adams is one of five Yankees to have played third base this year. And not counting the one inning that Robinson Cano played short, the Yanks have had six different shortstops. That’s eleven players on the left side of the infield, and we’re not even at the All-Star break.

But somehow they have managed to keep hanging around, Michael. Here’s the pitch from Johnson. Swing and a line drive to right field, base hit! So the leadoff man is on and Brett Gardner will be next. Gardy doubled in his first at-bat and has since struck out three times. Johnson checks the runner at first and delivers. Gardner bunts to the first base side. Johnson off the mound, and he drops the ball! Johnson dropped the ball! Jim Johnson couldn’t find the handle, and instead of one out there are runners at first and second with nobody out and Ichiro will be coming to the plate.

That was not a hard play, Mike. I have to think that in the back of his mind Johnson was aware of just how fast Gardner was motoring down the base path. Speed kills, as they say, and that’s what a speedy runner can do to a fielder. They shouldn’t think about it, of course. They should just concentrate on making the play. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Good point Michael. Now Ichiro Suzuki will probably be asked to lay down a bunt. He’s been on a bit of a tear lately and has his average back up to .280; but I think in this situation Joe Girardi will be looking to have Ichiro move the runners over. Here’s the pitch from Johnson and Ichiro squares. The bunt is down but not a very good one, it’s right in front of home plate. Matt Wieters has it, but there’s nobody on third! Wieters has to go to first so the sacrifice is successful. That bunt didn’t go five feet; I think it bounced off of home plate. Matt Wieters could have thrown out David Adams at third base by twenty feet, but Manny Machado was charging from third and shortstop J.J. Hardy didn’t get over to cover the bag. So Adams is on third and the potential winning run in the person of Brett Gardner is on second with one out. Most of the 43,396 have stuck around and they are making some noise now, because Robinson Cano is coming to the plate.

Except that he might as well walk up there without a bat, because he’s not going to need one. With first base open Mike, the Orioles will of course give Cano the intentional pass.

Yes Michael that is the downside of having Ichiro lay down the sacrifice; you take the bat out of the hands of your best player. While they go through the motions of throwing four balls outside we’ll pause ten seconds for a station break.

Okay, Mike and Michael here, back at a suddenly noisy Yankee Stadium. The Orioles still lead 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th, but the Yankees have the bases loaded with only one out. Travis Hafner, the designated hitter is stepping in to face Jim Johnson.

Mike the next three hitters, starting with Hafner, and then Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay, were all picked up in the offseason to fill in for the raft of injured regulars on the Yankees roster. There’s no question they all performed better than expected and carried the Yankees through the early going. But of late all three have been showing why their former teams were willing to let them go. But let’s see what they can do here in the clutch.

Yes Michael, the Yankees need these three to pretend it’s April again. Hafner is ready and Johnson is ready. Here’s the pitch. It’s a changeup and it’s in the dirt, ball one. Adams, Gardner and Cano on the bases. Johnson has the sign. Here’s the pitch. The fastball is outside and the count is 2 and 0. No place to put him. Johnson sets, and delivers. This one is inside and Hafner is way ahead in the count. The fans are starting to stand now.

Hafner has always been a very patient hitter, Mike. As a professional DH who hasn’t played the field in years he has to be. Let’s see if that patience pays off now.

The count is 3 and 0 and Johnson winds and deals. Ball four! He walks him on four pitches and David Adams trots home! We are tied at two and there is still only one out. So Travis Hafner did his job and now it’s up to Vernon Wells. Wells singled in the 4th and scored the Yankees’ first run on a single by Luis Cruz. But with two runners in scoring position he popped out to end the 5th inning. Now he has a chance to win it. The first pitch from Johnson to the right-hand batting Wells is inside for ball one.

Mike that’s five in a row outside the strike zone from the Orioles closer.

Yes Michael, I’m sure given Johnson’s past troubles Orioles fans aren’t very comfortable right now. Here’s the pitch, ball two. Now everyone is standing and it is very loud. Johnson delivers, that’s a called strike. Strike one on a 93 mile an hour fastball. The count is 2 and 1. Here’s the pitch. Wells swings and that’s a foul ball down the third base line. Wells got ahead of the 80 mile an hour curve. So the count is even at 2 and 2. Gardner leads off third, 90 feet from victory. Johnson looks in. Here’s the pitch. Ground ball to the hole, base hit! Gardner scores on the ground single to left past the glove of a diving Manny Machado, and the Yankees are walk-off winners! The players stream from the dugout to mob Vernon Wells at first base, and the fans are going wild!

Mike what was it that Shakespeare wrote, something about alls Wells that ends Wells?

Something like that Michael, something like that. We’ll be back for the wrap-up after a few words from our sponsors.

That’s how it was, back in the time when something called a transistor radio was the functional equivalent of today’s official MLB At Bat smart phone app. Those were the days.

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Responses

  1. Nice job, Mike.
    I always used to love to listen to baseball games on the radio. Did it back in the ’80’s as a Mets fan, then also listened to the Red Sox for years up in Maine for many years as well. You get a whole different feel for the game, more intimate and personal, than in any other mode of communication.
    Cheers, Bill

    • Thanks Bill. You are right, a good radio announcer can really make the listener feel like they are at the stadium. Of course Yankee fans have to deal with John Sterling, who can set the scene well but has difficulty with the minor matter of getting his facts straight. At one point when I was listening last Saturday he had Brett Gardner pitching. I know my team has had a lot of injuries this year, but I don’t think they’ve yet had to resort to having their center fielder take the mound!

      Thanks again,
      Mike


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