Wednesday, August 04, 2004
RIP Bob Murphy
The original Mets broadcasting team was first rate. Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson were old sports hands, and of course home run king Ralph Kiner (still at the mike for the Mets) provided color commentary that was actually relevant and interesting. They didn't have a heck of a lot to work with. The Mets under Casey Stengel were a cute joke, but by the time Wes Westrum came around people started asking what the heck was going on with the team. Gil Hodges came and there was that magic '69 season, and baseball was beautiful in the big town. Then the rot set in, probably because of Joan Payson and Gil Hodges' passing, and M. Donald Grant running the team like a sausage grinder. Oh, there was the cynical move of bringing Willie Mays to the Mets for his last season, which drew crowds into Shea (having Yogi manage didn't hurt either), but Grant was running the team down (do the words Tom Seaver and trade ring a bell?). But through it all Kiner, Murphy and Nelson kept up a relentless enthusiasm for the team and the game that far exceeded the roles of mere paid shills for the team. To be honest about it, they did have to shill for the team, as do all announcers, as management realized the team's talent as the 70s unfolded was less than stellar in comparison with the glorious Yankee teams emerging across the Triborough Bridge. In those days cable contracts weren't as lucrative as they are now, and putting butts in the seats was still a primary revenue generator.
But for whatever reason, the Mets announcers just seemed like the kind of guys you wanted to listen to. They knew the game frontwards, backwards and sideways and really gave this kid from Brooklyn an appreciation for the game. The Yankee announcers, even though they had Phil Rizzuto, just didn't seem to exude the camraderie and warmth that these guys had. Even with precious little to work with (remember George "The Stork" Theodore) these guys were able to really define and analyze the nuances of the sport on every level, so that not only the adults, but the kids were brought into the strategy and history of baseball.
One contrast I have to make is between baseball and football announcers. As a kid, learning about sports, the interesting thing was that a great broadcast team worked on many levels to make things accessible to kids. One thing I noticed about football broadcasters was that they really assume that everyone is fully plugged into the game and cognizant of all the nuances so that they can go and opine (which reminds me of a great Howard Cosell story, which I'll save for another day). Perhaps its true that football fans are more hardcore about it, but one doesn't necessarily pick up every nuance of a game by osmosis. There may be a market for dual commentaries on sports events, for the neophyte and the hardcore fan. For some reason there's an assumption that major sports automatically has generational legs, but there's an awful lot of dilution of the market out there, and shorter attention spans (how many ESPN-38 sessions of Slobbovian Pelt Throwing can we take?)