Baseball can be as much a sport for the ears as it is the eyes.
The crack of a bat, the bark of an umpire, the noise of a crowd, even the music in a stadium — these are more than just components of the game, they’re storytelling pieces that can instantly tell you what’s going on in the game.
But without a voice to add in the details, provide stats, and offer perspective, these sounds are nothing but impressionistic elements. Which is why a good radio broadcaster is such a vital component to a team’s image, character and appeal.
As I wrote in my first-ever article for East Village Times News in April, I grew up in a home where New York Mets radio broadcasts were a constant soundtrack to my childhood.. And while the team was routinely a disappointment on game days, the quality of the announcers was stellar.
Their voices – Bob Murphy’s, Lindsey Nelsen’s and Ralph Kiner’s especially – became the team, the manager, the visits to the mounds and the game itself. Now, in a weird colliding of worlds, the TV station I grew up watching, WFSB in Hartford, had a sportscaster at the time (circa mid-1970s) named, in the words of Bob Scanlon… “Mr. Ted Leitner.” One of the greatest visuals you’ll ever see (or worst, depending on your taste for short shorts) is Teddy in glasses and a white YMCA t-shirt playing racquetball in this “Talent Promo” piece that he did for the station in 1976 which is on YouTube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_IfCMWKqWM). The hair and wardrobe too, by the way, are outstanding. But I digress.
Even back then, some 40 years ago, Ted had a voice and a persona that distinguished him from his fellow sportscasters. You might not agree with his take on things, but you couldn’t help but remember them.
Fast-forward to the summer of 1996 when I moved to Southern California. I remember getting into my Avis rental car at the airport and hitting an AM preset button when low and behold, the voice of Mr. Ted Leitner, and his partner Jerry Coleman were yucking it up during a Padres broadcast on KFMB. I was hooked instantly.
Since then, I’ve always associated their voices with the plight of the Padres. I particularly loved The Colonel’s insights and “Jerry-isms,” and through the years I developed an affection for him that I know Dodgers fans have for Vin Scully. But then, sadly, he passed away last year. And with that acute sense of loss came the question of whether his absence would impact the bond I felt for the Padres as a team. Thankfully, because of Ted and his often candid reflections about Jerry, my fervor for this team never waned.
When I think back over the past few years when the Padres were regularly maligned for playing a brand of baseball that was bland, predictable and soulless, you didn’t hear it in the voices of the guys in the broadcasting booth. Rather, they were the ones who kept people like me engaged and connected to the Padres – even when it became clear that the team was slipping out of contention. And despite the many hiccups that this 2015 edition has faced thus far, they continue to.
So to me, that’s the beauty of radio in this day and age of smart devices and video-on-demand. Just as relationships between people are formed and nurtured through the power and nuance of voices, so it is between sports teams and fans.
We’re extremely lucky to have guys like Randy Jones, Bob Scanlan, Jesse Agler and yes, Ted Leitner connect us to these Padres each week. Trust me, it’s a totally different vibe than the sports personalities here in Boston. Padres broadcasters aren’t in it for the headlines, or ego boost, or who can Tweet out the biggest diss. Their focus is solely on this team and the game that they love – and that’s reflected in their voices.
Even on nights when the bats go silent, ground balls become errors, pitches become (yet more) home runs, and we have to avert our eyes, our ears are somewhat spared. On such occasions, listening to a team that’s stuck in a one-step-forward-one-step back mode isn’t nearly as painful as watching it. And that’s a gift in its own right.