Calling the shots

Manny Ramirez, Jeff Mathis

If, by chance, you find yourself in a social gathering or soiree, and you happen to be asked, “What do you do for a living?” to which you respond, politely and modestly, “I am a baseball broadcaster,” you are virtually assured to hear this follow-up:

“So what’s your home run call?”

It’s true, you might also be asked which team you work for, and you might be asked why you’re a baseball broadcaster when there are so many other more significant professions in this world. Yet more often than not, your interested audience wants to hear your home run call.

Inside the baseball broadcasting industry, broadcasters evaluate themselves and each other on such attributes as smoothness, voice, pace, diction, quality of description, and honest, accurate reactions in the moment. The idea of a great “Trademark Home Run Call” elevating one broadcaster from among his peers is laughable.

Still, a baseball broadcaster does need some sort of hook to rely on, that word or phrase to go to when the ball sails over the wall. I learned this from personal experience, oh, pretty much immediately.

Thanks to the kindness of Dave Collins, then the voice of the Bowie Baysox (and now with the Lancaster Barnstormers), I was invited to record a demo from an open booth at Prince George’s Stadium. I sat down, pulled out my minicassette recorder, hit the REC button, and began my best impression of a broadcaster.

I described the pitcher’s motion, yelped at the first crack of the bat, followed the white orb back to the wall – and lost my tongue. My thoughts tugged between all of the different ways I had ever heard a home run saluted, and my words disappeared. 

As I wasn’t calling the game for a live audience, I promptly broke the cardinal rule of broadcasters; I pressed STOP, rewound my minicassette, pushed REC once more, and called the home run again. The background sounds might have indicated a far milder crowd, but let me tell you: It went far better the second time.

The textbook call of a home run involves four parts:

 

1. Contact

However a broadcaster sets up the pitch, be it with a simple “the 2-2 pitch” or “Price kicks and fires,” or even perhaps interrupting a story to pause as the delivery hurtles in, there’s the distinct sight of the batter putting ball to barrel, and it awakens the broadcaster. “Swing and a drive!” says the Indians’ Tom Hamilton, among others. “Swing and a drive,” anticipated the Red Sox’ Jerry Trupiano. “Swung on and belted!” emoted the Mariners’ Dave Niehaus. Others prefer to use such verbs as “crushed” or “hammered” or saying directly, “Here’s a high fly ball, hit deep to right…” Alerted, the listener freezes… or perhaps leans in with excitement.

 

2. Going… Going…

The flight of the ball as it nears its destination. “It might be. It could be,” hoped the Cubs’ legendary Harry Caray. “Stretch!” exhorts the White Sox’ Hawk Harrelson. “Get up, baby! Get up!” encourages the Cardinals’ Mike Shannon, though “Get up!” is also the property of the Brewers’ iconic Bob Uecker. The Orioles’ Joe Angel begins increasing in volume with his “Way back, way back…,” related to Vin Scully’s “A-waaaaaay back!” The listener can virtually see it soaring back toward the fence.

 

3. Gone

As the home run becomes official, the broadcaster punctuates his or her call (ideally) at the exact moment that the crowd reacts,

And so the fun begins.

As noted by Paul Dickson in “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations” (2008), the classic description of “Going, going, gone!” – deriving from the auctioneer’s verdict of a sale – is attributed first to the Reds’ Harry Hartman in 1929 (by Dan Schlossberg), though it was the Yankees’ Mel Allen who gained wider fame for his use of the call.

The classic baseball home run call, and most common as well, still remains the straightforward “Gone!” There is perhaps no better way of conveying that a fly ball has evolved to become a home run, and it works as both an emotional trumpeting (witness Dan Shulman’s magnificent “It – is – gone!” to depict David Freese’s dramatic game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 2012 World Series) as well as a suitably tempered term for that inconvenient evil, a round-tripper by the enemy.

(Ernie Harwell, the revered voice of the Detroit Tigers, amended the phrasing slightly to “Long gone.”)

The second most common among home run calls is the tried and true “It’s outta here,” connected first with the late Harry Kallas of the Phillies and NFL Films, and currently with two highly respected broadcasters in their own right, Duane Kuiper of the San Francisco Giants and Gary Cohen of the New York Mets.

Neither of those calls, however, was theatrical enough for the beloved old Pirates broadcaster Rosey Rowswell, who called out “Open the window, Aunt Minnie, here it comes!” On several occasions, Rowswell topped the call off by smashing a light bulb to give the impression of the home run ball crashing in through the fictional Aunt Minnie’s window, inserting a wry note about how good ol’ Aunt Minnie just couldn’t get there in time.

In 1999, Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin wrote an entire column on home run calls, spotlighting current Padres’ voice Dick Enberg’s pioneering use of “Touch ‘em all!” The call has now been appropriated, and masterfully at that, by the Diamondbacks’ Greg Schulte.

Rushin similarly gives the late Mets’ broadcaster Lindsey Nelson credit for “Good-bye, Dolly Gray!” though Dickson credits Hall of Fame manager Leo “the Lip” Durocher. The very idea of bidding the baseball farewell has caught on in a number of a different ways. The Orioles’ Gary Thorne enjoys the simple “Good-bye!” The Rangers’ Dick Risenhoover exulted, “Good-bye, baseball!” a salutation carried on now by the Mariners’ Rick Rizzs. Former Pirates voice Bob Prince went with “Kiss it good-bye!” The Giants’ Jon Miller uses “Tell it good-bye!” (the favorite expression of the great Lon Simmons, whom Miller admired). Angel, his old partner with the Orioles, prefers “Wave it bye-bye!” (Angel is also partial to an “Hasta la vista, pelota!” for a Latino player’s home run.) Former Baltimore voice Michael Reghi and Washington’s Bob Carpenter each utilize “See you later!” while the Yankees’ Michael Kay opts for the simpler “See ya!”

The late Dave Niehaus, voice of the Seattle Mariners, was far more poetic. “Fly away!” he breathed, and you could hear his utter delight. (Should the launching be of the grand slam variety, Niehaus turned Rowswell-esque, chortling, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma! It’s grand salami time!”)

Then there are those wonderful touchstones of controversy: Feel free to ask a baseball fan what he or she thinks of Hawk Harrelson’s “Put it on the boooooard… yes!” or John Sterling’s “It is high, it is far, it… is… gone!” and be prepared to hear a definitive opinion, one way or the other. (Sterling, being Sterling, makes sure to nickname the Yanks’ home runs even further, down to labeling each particular player’s blast with a distinctive turn of phrase. We’ll mention “An A-Bomb, by A-Rod!” and leave it at that.)

 

4. Denouement

The broadcaster supplies the score and summarizes everything neatly: The context, the significance of the home run, the number of home runs that the batter has now hit that season, the number of home runs that the pitcher has allowed that season, the description of everyone’s reaction to the home run. And now the broadcaster moves on, since there is a new batter already stepping toward the plate.

Until the next home run.

Or, perhaps, the next soiree.

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