Category: Sports

The last sportscast (for now?)

I am, I must say, opposed to Jay Wilson’s retirement from WISC-TV in Madison.

I’m opposed because I remember when WKOW-TV in Madison hired Wilson to do weekend sports. Then he left for WISN-TV in Milwaukee, and then he came back as WKOW’s sports director when I was a sports intern there, working mostly with Paul Rudy, now found in San Diego.

One of my highlights was when he sent me (and my then-girlfriend) to Green Bay to pick up videotape from the Packers–Chicago Bears game:

I also interviewed then-New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora and UW hockey players after their 1988 WCHA Final Four title (where I played for the UW Band).

I went into print instead of TV largely because I got my first job offer from a weekly newspaper instead of a radio or TV station. But working at 27 was an interesting experience, including answering the phone and hearing someone say “somebody’s going to blow up your fucking TV station” because the station chose to run informercials instead of Formula 1 racing that Sunday.

He has always presented himself as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously and has fun doing what he’s doing, but is always informative and insightful. The first piece of advice in broadcasting is to “be yourself,” but if I were showing a college student how to be a TV sportscaster, I’d show him Jay Wilson video. The reason he was called the dean of Madison sportscasters was not just because of his longevity, but because his work was good enough for much larger markets.

My favorite work of his was in 1993, when Wisconsin needed Michigan to beat Ohio State to give the Badgers a chance at the Rose Bowl. All Wilson did was show highlights of the game with no narration, but the Michigan fight song, “The Victors,” which the Wolverines were that day. That came a few weeks after the Camp Randall Stampede, when the Badgers’ win over Michigan was concluded by students’ trying to rush the field and getting crushed against a nonmovable fence, resulting in 70 injuries. Wilson demonstarted that he could report news as well that day.

One perk of being WKOW’s sports director is getting to announce the state basketball tournaments on TV. That is one thing I’ve wanted to do and have never been able to do since I’m not on the air for one of  WKOW’s owner’s stations. (That, though, comes with its own challenges due to the WIAA, from what announcers have told me.) Wilson got to announce state games, and I was always impressed at how well he did on play-by-play for someone who didn’t do play-by-play on a regular basis. Most people get good at it only by seasons’ worth of games.

For a few years Jay and I would run into each other at the WIAA state football championships, where he called games for Fox Sports North. I have been privileged to announce a state game for four years in a row on the radio. (Including, this year, the game that had the first two replays in WIAA history.) Since WISC’s parent company also owns the stations where I broadcast, I guess that made us coworkers of a sort.

Wilson calls his departure a “resignation, not a retirement.” Let’s hope we see him on the air around us.


Evers vs. hunters

M.D. Kittle:

Talk about tone deaf.

Gov. Tony Evers demands the state Legislature convene a special session at 2 p.m. [Thursday} to take up gun-restriction bills — just 16 days before the start of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season.

The annual hunting season is a Wisconsin tradition older than the Brandy Old-Fashioned, and cherished by families throughout the Badger State.

The hunt, as should be abundantly clear, involves the use of guns. Unlike many of his predecessors, the governor isn’t what you would call a gun guy. He’s definitely not a deer-hunting guy.

The Madison Democrat is more at home playing pickle ball at the Governor’s Mansion and pushing gun-control policies than he is in a tree stand or tracking whitetail tracks through a snow-covered woods. You’ll find plenty of photos of former Govs. Scott Walker, Scott McCallum, and Tommy Thompson, as well as former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch decked out in blaze orange or camo on the hunt. Evers is more of a tweed sport coat fellow with an eye for regulatory code.

Evers wants the Legislature to move legislation on universal background checks and a so-called “red flag” bill that would give judges and relatives of individuals perceived to be threats increased power to take away guns.

Last month, Evers told reporters he would consider mandatory government “buybacks” of assault weapons, a la the proposal called for by failed Democrat presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. A government “buyback” is a strange characterization of a what it really is: government seizures.

That kind of legislation feels like an assault on the Second Amendment and gun rights to a lot of hunters, some of whom use semi-automatic weapons on the hunt. Restrictionists have attempted to apply the moniker of “assault weapon” on just about anything that fires. While liberals like Evers insist that weapons bans and background checks aren’t designed to go after the average hunter’s guns, guns-rights activists have good reason to be concerned about the slippery slope of expanded government control.

Evers may not be into tracking deer, but he and his liberal advisers are political animals. The governor wants the political show a gun-control floor debate would create. Republican leadership isn’t biting.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) have said they are not interested in taking up legislation that restricts gun rights of law-abiding citizens.

“Wisconsin’s sporting heritage should be celebrated – and has been by leaders in our state for years. Sadly this year, I’m hearing from hunters all over southeastern Wisconsin that they’re afraid of what Tony Evers is up to just two weeks ahead of deer season. We weren’t elected to take away Second Amendment rights and I don’t plan on starting now,” Fitzgerald told Empower Wisconsin in an email statement.

Fitzgerald on Tuesday said Republicans expect to gavel in and gavel out without taking up any of the Democrats’ proposals. Dems worry the GOP majority won’t give them the show they’re looking for.

First, as a non-hunter and as someone who drives throughout this state at night (I had to swerve around a dead deer last weekend), including during the deer rut and deer hunting seasons, I fully support deer hunting because every deer a hunter shoots is one I won’t hit with my car. Evers’ party, on the other hand, is infested with animal rights activists who not only avoid hunting, but believe no one should be able to hunt or fish. (Or eat meat, or wear leather or fur.) Add to that the usual anti-gun types, and that’s the toxic mixture Milwaukee and Madison voted into office in November.


50 years ago, holy cow

Actually we’re starting 51 years ago with a long Sports Illustrated story written by Myron Cope:

Even before the World Series got under way Wednesday, it was shudderingly clear that one result was as predictable as bunting on the commissioner’s box: Millions of television and radio listeners, whose eardrums may have healed in the year since the Cardinals-Red Sox Series, are once again going to be exposed to a feverish clamor coming from a Cardinals delegate to the NBC broadcasting team. It was equally certain that across America the baseball public would then divide into two camps—those who exclaimed that by God! Harry Caray was almost as exciting as being at the park, and those who prayed he would be silenced by an immediate attack of laryngitis. Caray, should you be among the few who still have not heard him, is an announcer who can be heard shrieking above the roar of the crowd when a hitter puts the ultimate in wood to the ball: “There she goes…! Line drive…! It might be…it could be…it is! Home run…! Ho-lee cow!” You may not know that with a second home run his more dignified colleagues have preferred to flee the broadcasting booth before the ball has cleared the fence.

In the past decade the trend of play-by-play broadcasting has been decidedly in the direction of mellow, impassive reporting, a technique that strikes Harry Caray as being about as appropriate as having Walter Cronkite broadcast a heavyweight championship fight. “This blasé era of broadcasting!” Caray grumbles. “‘Strike one. Ball one. Strike two.’ It probably hurts the game more than anything, and this at a time when baseball is being so roundly criticized.” Never one to burden himself with restraint, Caray more or less began hoisting the 1968 pennant over Busch Stadium clear back in early July when, following a Cardinals victory, he bellowed, “The magic number is 92!”

The fact is that Harry Caray’s 24 years of broadcasting St. Louis baseball have been one long crusade for pennants, a stance that might be expected to have endeared him to all Cardinals past and present, but which, on the contrary, has left a scattered trail of athletes who would have enjoyed seeing him transferred to Ping-Pong broadcasts in Yokohama.

“What’s Caray got against you anyway, Meat?” asks Mrs. Jim Brosnan in a passage from The Long Season, a reminiscence her pitcher-husband wrote in 1960.

“To hell with Tomato-Face,” answers Brosnan. “He’s one of those emotional radio guys. All from the heart, y’know? I guess he thinks I’m letting the Cardinals down, and he’s taking it as a personal insult.”

“Well, you ought to spit tobacco juice on his shoe, or something. It’s awful the way he blames you for everything.”

Caray remembers Brosnan’s peevish prose with equanimity now that Brosnan is out of baseball. “I’ve seen him many times since,” he says, “and we get along splendidly. Of course,” Caray adds, repaying Brosnan with a needle straight to the ego, “he doesn’t throw the home run ball anymore.”

In the prudent little world of sports announcers, most men stand ready to go to the North Pole, if necessary, to avoid any conflict. The announcer is hired and fired by the ball club or sponsor, or by the two in concert; he is, in short, an organization man, whose paycheck is a writ of mandamus that says, “Be positive.” Inasmuch as the Cardinals are owned by a brewery, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., and in a sense are a continuous promotional campaign for its various beers, their announcer figures to be positive through hell, six percent, and 10-game losing streaks. But the trouble with Harry Caray—born, orphaned at 10 and raised in St. Louis—is that he has never got it through his head that he is not still sitting in the bleachers, still endowed with the right to issue a loud raspberry.

“Harry is a fan,” says Cardinals Manager Red Schoendienst. “Hell, he dies with the Cardinals.” Their acts of heroism move him to deafening cheers, but their failures make his teeth grind. And because his exasperation leaks from his lips into his microphone, he has been despised by more than one Cardinals manager, denounced in print by a clutch of Cardinals players, and called onto the carpet so often that it is almost threadbare. Pinching his forefinger and thumb together, Caray says, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been this close to getting fired.”

A fairly typical example of Caray’s attraction to turbulence involves Eddie “The Brat” Stanky. As he lunches at Busch’s Grove, a posh suburban St. Louis restaurant not owned by Cardinals President Gussie Busch, Caray traces Stanky’s antipathy toward him. Caray’s face is, as Brosnan suggested, right off a tomato counter, but at 51, a thickset man measuring a fraction of an inch under six feet, he is a picture of sophisticated leisure. Fresh from a $15 tonsorial treatment by Walter of the Colony Salon, his wavy hair is graying gracefully. He wears a black blazer, white turtleneck, tattersall slacks, white loafers and, of course, large sunglasses. He orders another Scotch sour—”Have Otis make it,” he specifies to the waiter—and then delves to the bottom of the Stanky-Caray Seventeen Years War.

It seems that one day in 1951, when Stanky was on his last legs as a New York Giant second baseman and Caray was at the mic during a Giants-Cardinals game, an umpire gave Stanky the heave-ho. His replacement then made a sensational play to snuff out a Cardinals rally. “Great stop!” Caray cried into his mic. “There’s a case where the Giants get a big break. If Stanky’s not out of the game, it’s a base hit!”

The next year Stanky—a clean-living, churchgoing family man but equipped with a blowtorch temper—became the Cardinals’ manager. “You’re the guy,” he groused at Caray, “who said I couldn’t get off a dime.”

“I did not,” Caray fired back. “I didn’t say anything about a dime. I didn’t mention the word.” Much preferring offense to defense, Caray then drove Stanky to the wall, so to speak, by railing, “When you deliberately twist someone’s words, doesn’t it hurt your conscience, you being such a devout man?” In the ensuing years the dialogue between manager and broadcaster lacked flavor only in that the two antagonists did not wear spurs on their heels, but somehow Stanky never got around to taking a punch at Caray. “Oh, no,” says Caray over his Scotch sour at Busch’s Grove. “Nor I at him.”

As the Cardinals sank toward seventh place in Stanky’s fourth season as manager, Gussie Busch’s Anheuser-Busch lieutenants took a hard look not only at Stanky but at Caray as well. “Stanky was very unpopular with the fans,” Caray recalls, adding with heavy sarcasm, “and the reason he was unpopular was me.” Caray fingers Busch’s top public-relations adviser, one Al Fleishman, as the man who advanced this theory in high councils, although Fleishman maintains he did nothing of the sort. “Fleishman’s approach was that I should be more sympathetic to Stanky,” Caray insists. “I can’t recall ever criticizing his managing tactics. I got enough headaches as a broadcaster without worrying about Stanky’s image. He’d step onto the field and there would be a loud boo. The thinking was that there was something I could do to keep that boo from being so audible over the mic.”

In the end it was Stanky who was fired, but the two continued to search out one another’s jugular vein from a distance. The Cardinals, bewildered by a slump last May, could cure themselves by consulting Harry Caray’s keen baseball mind, Stanky acidly suggested in a radio appearance. “KEEP UP THE WONDERFUL WORK,” Caray wired Stanky as the White Sox, with Stanky as manager, staggered through a torrent of defeats that led to Stanky’s resignation.

One reason that Caray has been able to survive the acrimony of field managers and high-echelon counselors in the Anheuser-Busch palace is that for two decades he has possessed the most fanatical following of any broadcaster in baseball. Through a network of 124 stations in 14 Midwestern, Southern and Southwest states, his unabashed trumpeting of Cardinals rallies brings genuine excitement to small towns and villages. Moreover, untold numbers of Cardinals fans, long since transplanted to the distant East or Northwest, sit glued to car radios to pick up the extremely powerful nighttime signal of Caray’s St. Louis station, KMOX, which under the right conditions can be heard in 45 states. “Cardinals win! Cardinals win! Cardinals win! Cardinals win!” the faithful hear Caray scream as if he were on closed circuit to the Home for the Deaf. When he appears at smokers and Elks Club gatherings in the provinces, grown men beg him to describe an imaginary home run. He does, and as the imaginary ball clears the imaginary wall the grown men bolt to their feet cheering.

No sir, Caray is having none of that drawing-room dignity affected by the boys with pear-shaped tones. Nor, as he settles into his Busch Stadium chair for a series with the Giants, is he having any of that kid-glove technique the ballplayers love so well.

“Here’s Ty Cline, who’s modeled a few uniforms,” Caray announces in the first inning. “His name reminds you of Ty Cobb.” Then the withering appendage: “And he’s batting .185.” From the enemy Caray soon turns to the home team. “Here’s slumping Orlando Cepeda, with two strikes on him and two runners waiting to be driven in. Struck him out, on a bad ball!” Back to the Giants. At bat is Willie Mays, of whom broadcasters speak encomiums. Steve Carlton fires. “Hooo! What a cut he took!” Carlton fires again. “Hooo! What a cut! Man, I’ve never seen Mays take a more vicious cut in his life. Looked like he left both his feet!” Carlton fires a third time, and Mays lands among the mortals. “Struck him out—on a bad fastball over his head!”

Although one might interpret these outcries as nothing more than blunt reportage, legions of ballplayers categorize such technique as the work of a “ripper.” In the peculiar accountancy of many baseball players all criticisms and harsh truths are entered upon the memory with indelible ink, while compliments are apt to fade away like dandelion chaff in a spring breeze. (“And the funny thing is,” points out a San Francisco Giants official, “that ballplayers take it for granted that every nice word said about them is absolutely accurate.”) Sensitivities being what they are, it was not surprising that Tracy Stallard, pitching for the Cardinals three years ago, rose to a boil when Caray said of him over the air, “I’m surprised more clubs don’t bunt on him. He’s slow fielding bunts and slow covering first base.” To St. Louis Globe-Democrat baseball writer Jack Herman, Stallard issued a furious denunciation of Caray, who was deeply wounded when he read Herman’s story. Caray hints he’d done Stallard personal kindnesses. “He’s a real nice kid, he really is,” Caray adds. “He’s a big, good-looking guy, a night person, my kind of guy.” One night, shortly after Stallard had leveled his blast, Caray was standing at the bar of a St. Louis club. Stallard, seated at a table with a young lady, arose and strode to the bar. “This girl I’m with would like to meet you, Harry,” he said. “Would you sit down with us for a minute?”

To the real nice kid Caray answered, “Drop dead.”

Caray’s detractors insist that he can damn a ballplayer in his broadcasts without misstating a single fact, but merely by employing the inflection of disgust. It is said, for example, that simply by repeating time and again the number of base runners ex-Cardinal Ken Boyer left stranded, Caray planted St. Louis fans squarely on Boyer’s back. Around the National League, ballplayers do takeoffs on Caray’s narration of a Boyer turn at bat. “It’s the last of the ninth,” goes one version. “The Cardinals have the tying run on second. Two out. Boyer’s the hitter. We’ll be back in one minute with the wrap-up.”

“Listen,” says Caray in defense of himself, “I don’t believe any ballplayer ever put on a Cardinals uniform who shouldn’t have known that I wanted his success as much as he did. But I refuse to fool the audience. These ball club-controlled announcers think they can, but they’re crazy.”

Put in perspective, Caray’s skirmishes with players and managers are infrequent happenings spaced over a broadcasting career of more than two decades; yet, because he works in a world of play-by-play pacifists, he emerges as a sort of Roland daring the Saracen jockos to take him on 50 at a time. Still, a great many ballplayers like him. A fun-loving man who talks the earthy language of the ball field, he hears raucous, good-natured greetings as he approaches enemy dugouts. “Harry is my friend,” says Cepeda with evident sincerity. Caray seldom passes a ballplayer’s restaurant table without sending over a round of drinks, and when players find themselves short of cash on the road, they know he always will come up fast with $100.

Up in Caray’s booth, the athletes are not always getting the short end of his critical stick—not by a long shot. “I have never seen a better play!” he bellows orgiastically as Mike Shannon makes a rather pretty play along the third-base line. Second Baseman Julian Javier charges a slow roller and goes into the Hall of Fame alongside Napoleon Lajoie and Frankie Frisch. “Beautiful! Ho-lee cow, he got him! There’s no play he can’t make, that Javier!” A batter pops a foul back toward Caray’s booth, whereupon Caray, who may have stripped to his shorts in St. Louis’ hot, humid climate, seizes a long pole, a fishing net attached to its end. He crashes over an empty chair to his right, lunges halfway out of his booth in an unrewarded attempt to snare the foul, and then returns to his chair grimacing, having given his elbow a terrific crack on the railing.

To Caray’s left in the booth sits a mountain of unopened fan mail, and beside that rises a growing hill of messages scrawled on crumpled pieces of paper and bits of cardboard. The messages, constantly being delivered by an usher, come from fans who have traveled to Busch Stadium from outlying points. (Surveys have shown that 40 percent of the Cardinals’ summertime crowds come from Caray’s out-of-town strongholds.) “My favorite town!” he crows as he glances at a note and reports the name of a fan in attendance from Monkeys Eyebrow, Ky. or Number Nine, Ark., at which the high-powered public-relations firm of Fleishman, Hillard, Wilson & Ferguson, the P.R. men representing Anheuser-Busch, scowl, calculating that for every fan Caray mentions he offends 20 others.

“Fleishman said this bit isn’t class,” Caray snorts. “I said, ‘You’re talking about people who come to the ball park. If I got a guy here from Timbuktu, I’ll help him to be proud of Timbuktu.’ I told Fleishman, ‘Class, my ass!’ “

An analysis of Caray’s audience impact—one that is repeated so often it is almost a refrain—is that Cardinals fans either love Caray or hate him, there being no middle ground. The haters, most of whom seem to be concentrated in St. Louis, where big-city sophisticates doubt his melodramatic word pictures, worry Fleishman, the Philistine in Caray’s nightmares. “Anheuser-Busch’s motto is ‘Making Friends Is Our Business,’ ” Fleishman points out. A tanned, slightly paunchy man with white hair and a cigar clenched in a curled forefinger, Fleishman recalls that Caray, in reply to a critical letter from a woman listener, exploded on the air, denouncing the woman in terms that judges save for those who molest old ladies. Top-level conferences had to be called. Indeed, when Caray’s eye lights on a harsh fan letter, he is apt to dictate a reply that is doubly nasty. His secretary, Mrs. Bea Higgins, surreptitiously throws the dictation into the nearest wastebasket and sends out a gentle thank-you-for-your-interest note instead.

Fleishman, meanwhile, denies that he has ever tried to have Caray fired (“Never, never—that’s not my role!”) and, in fact, relates that when Anheuser-Busch purchased the Cardinals in 1953, it was he who convinced Gussie Busch to keep Caray at the mic. Of course, he did not foresee the fun to follow. “About six years ago,” Fleishman says, “Harry called me a liar in a dispute over a contractual matter. I said, ‘The fact that you call me a liar doesn’t make me one. Only the facts can do that.’ This was in Mr. Busch’s presence.” Busch wearily ordered them to knock it off and shake hands. “But we’ve really gotten along—amazingly enough,” Fleishman says.

Caray agrees this is so. “But I never walk with my back to him,” he says.

Unable to purge himself of his unruly bleacherite ways, Caray goes on inviting little enemy fires around his existence which, on an annual income somewhat in excess of $100,000, is cushy indeed. Besides broadcasting Cardinal baseball, he does a daily 10-minute sports show on KMOX and broadcasts University of Missouri football. “When he hollers ‘Touchdown!’ ” says one Caray critic, “your ears can fall off.” The father of five children, two by his present wife, Marian, and three by an earlier marriage, Caray lives in an exclusive suburb called Ladue, in a 10-room colonial-style house with heated swimming pool, three French poodles, a black Labrador retriever, and a shaggy Sicilian donkey named Buzzy. The donkey is a result of a conversation Gussie Busch and Caray had at the side of the Caray pool.

“You don’t have a Sicilian donkey,” Busch suddenly observed, as if no home is complete without one.

“Of course I don’t have a Sicilian donkey,” Caray replied.

“You ought to have one,” snapped Busch.

At 7:30 the next morning a Sicilian donkey stood at the Carays’ doorstep. Somewhat grimly, Caray points out that it cost him $1,380 for a corral and shed as well as a harness and rig for the amusement of his children. The feed bill runs from $45 to $55 a month, Marian Caray points out, and the donkey keeps kicking the shed apart. Gussie Busch, fretting not long ago that Caray’s donkey needed a companion, had one of his employees phone the Caray residence to say that a second Sicilian ass would be sent over in the morning. “Forget it!” screamed Caray. The fact is, however, that he could afford a herd of elephants, for in addition to his broadcasting income, he has invested shrewdly in securities, principally Anheuser-Busch stock. Even his St. Louis friends who know him as an irrepressible check-grabber are unaware that Harry Caray, ex-orphan, is a millionaire.

Born Harry Carabina of French-Italian-Rumanian parentage, he spent his early years in a tough neighborhood a few blocks from downtown St. Louis. When he was an infant his father died, and when he was 10 his mother died of cancer. Passed around through foster homes, he was the only child in his grammar school class who did not own a pair of white duck trousers for commencement. “It was a mortifying feeling I’ll never forget,” he says. In his teens he landed with an aunt, Mrs. Doxie Argint, and moved to Webster Groves, a tony suburban address at the time. But soon after, Mrs. Argint’s husband moved out, leaving her to raise Harry and two children of her own. Among Webster Groves’ affluent youth, Harry was a pauper child.

“I was always a nut about baseball,” he says today, describing himself as having been a weak hitter but a dazzling fielder. “Well,” says a St. Louis advertising executive named Frank Fuchs Jr., once a high school classmate of Caray, “in his mind, he was damned good. He was a wiry little guy, but a competitor. Even if you benched him he’d be throwing every pitch, swinging every bat.” Following graduation from high school, Caray hoped to fatten up his 130-pound physique and become a big-league hitting prospect. He spent two years working as a flunky in a fight camp but then took a $17-a-week office job in St. Louis, married a home-town girl and finally, at 23, when it was too late, began to put on weight. Casting around, he hit upon an idea.

Seated in the bleachers at old Sportsman’s Park, Caray found that baseball made him quiver with excitement, and he felt that what St. Louis baseball needed was an announcer who could breathe that excitement into a broadcast. One day he wrote a brash letter to Merle Jones, then general manager of KMOX, informing him that he, Harry Caray, who had never spoken into a microphone, was that announcer. Jones auditioned him and, Caray likes to recall, immediately declared, “You have the same exciting timbre as Ted Husing and Graham McNamee!” Nevertheless, the best that Jones could do was recommend him to a station in the industrial town of Joliet, Ill. There, in the summer of 1940, Caray scored his first success. As a man-in-the-street interviewer he accosted immigrant housewives lugging shopping bags and dirty-faced children and demanded of them, “Did you marry your first love? Have you ever caught your daughter necking?” The housewives fought for the privilege of telling him their intimate secrets.

Inching upwards, Caray moved on to Kalamazoo, Mich. and finally, in 1944, what with big-city stations losing personnel to the wartime draft, landed back in St. Louis as a staff announcer and then sportscaster. (The army had rejected him because of myopia, a development that his critics of today may view with a knowing nod.) Late that sameyear Caray got his big break. Griesedieck Brothers, a St. Louis brewery, decided to sponsor Cardinals and Browns broadcasts. The company’s ad agency formed a completely new team of broadcasters and hired Caray to be No. 3 man. “I was to read commercials, that’s all,” he says. Then the ad men set out to find a big-name, play-by-play broadcaster who could hold his own against a competing station. But as the winter dragged on, the search yielded no star. So Caray barged into the office of Ed Griesedieck, the brewery president, and said, “Why not me?”

Griesedieck frowned at his uninvited visitor. Look, he said, the job demands a man of experience and craft. “When a real pro is at work,” Griesedieck went on, “I can have a cup of coffee and read a newspaper without having my concentration interrupted.”

“That’s why you want to hire me,” Caray cried. “You’re spending big money to put your message across. Shouldn’t you have a broadcaster who makes people put down their newspaper?”

For a full minute Griesedieck stared at Caray. Finally he said, “Dammit, you’re right.”

Off and running, Caray battled the competition—play-by-play man Johnny O’Hara and his famous sidekick, folksy Dizzy Dean—with his breathless excitement. It is said that Dean, seated in a booth adjacent to Caray’s, one day overheard Caray describe a routine infield play in terms suited to a miracle of acrobatics, whereupon Diz leaned into Caray’s booth and slowly shook his head, as if to say, “Are we broadcasting the same game?”

The next year, 1946, Caray made his big breakthrough. That season the Cardinals forged into the thick of the pennant race, whipping public interest to a fever pitch. Accordingly, the radio stations decided that on days when the Cardinals were playing on the road and the Browns were idle or rained out, the Cardinals game would be broadcast in “recreated” form—that is, the announcers would broadcast from their St. Louis studios, giving the play-by-play as it came in on a Western Union ticker. The chief flaw in this arrangement was that the ticker frequently broke down, sometimes for as long as five minutes, leaving the listening audience with deadly stretches of silence or meaningless helpings of trivia from the announcers. Caray, however, put his wits to work.

“I developed a helluva flair,” he says. “When the ticker slowed up or broke down, I’d create an argument on the ball field. Or I’d have a sandstorm blowing up and the ballplayers calling time to wipe their eyes. Hell, all the ticker tape carried was the bare essentials—B1, S1, B2, B3. So I used the license of imagination, without destroying the basic facts, you understand. A foul ball was a high foul back to the rail, the catcher is racing back, he can’t get it—a pretty blonde in a red dress, amply endowed, has herself a souvenir!’ ” It sold Griesedieck beer.

Also, it sold Caray to Cardinal club owner Sam Breadon the next year when Breadon assigned exclusive radio rights to a single station. Choosing Caray’s Griesedieck beer over O’Hara’s and Dean’s Falstaff, Breadon told Caray, “You put people in my ball park.” In the years since, Caray has proceeded on a course that somehow has continued through four Cardinal presidents—Breadon, Bob Hannegan, Fred Saigh Jr. and Busch—and enough strife to reduce the ordinary play-by-play man to quivering jelly. Regarded, for example, as a second-guessing so-and-so by onetime Cardinal Manager Eddie Dyer, Caray reported to club headquarters one day in 1950 for a press conference at which Dyer was scheduled to announce his resignation. “Stay out of the room,” Saigh told Caray, blocking the entrance. Dyer had warned Saigh that if he laid eyes on Caray he would punctuate his swan song by belting him in the teeth.

“Baloney,” said Caray. “He saw me yesterday. He had a chance to punch me yesterday.”

“Do me a favor,” Saigh said wearily. “Just stay away, will you?”

The St. Louis press devoted generous space, possibly with relish, to Saigh’s quarantining of Caray in an anteroom. Understandably, the newspapermen bore him little love, for on his increasingly popular afternoon sportscast, Sports Digest, he had adopted a tired, but nevertheless effective, artifice: “You won’t read this in the papers, but”—as if to convey that only he shared his information with the public.

Though his radio fans multiplied, Caray’s pugnacity inevitably carried him to a precipice overlooking oblivion, where he teetered on an evening in 1957. That year Cardinal General Manager Frank Lane resigned, embittered by interference from Busch’s brewery lieutenants. Soon after, Busch held a formal dinner party at his home, Grant’s Farm. The guest list consisted of the Carays and a dozen important St. Louis men and their wives. During cocktails, Busch hovered about Caray, repeatedly asking him, “What do you think about Lane? Don’t you think we’re better off?”

Caray sidestepped Busch’s questions, but Busch persisted into dinner. “All right,” said Caray finally, “if you’re forcing me to, I think Frank Lane would have been great, just perfect, if there weren’t so many stumbling blocks thrown into his path. Hell, are you kidding?” he roared at Busch. “Who the hell do you have who can carry Frank Lane’s briefcase?”

A whisper could be heard as clearly as a cannon in the horrified silence that followed. Then, far down at the foot of the table, a slender matron in a sequined gown leaned into the ear of her neighbor, Mrs. Gussie Busch, and whispered.

“If I were Gussie,” she hissed, “I’d fire the son of a bitch.”

Marian Caray, a black-haired woman seated to Gussie’s left at the head of the table, came up from her chair with fists clenched and dark eyes flashing. “Did I hear you call my husband a son of a bitch?” she demanded.

“No, no,” came the reply. “I was talking about the stableboy.”

“You are not telling the truth,” snapped Marian.

“Shall we have after-dinner drinks in the living room?” Mrs. Busch interrupted sweetly.

As the guests filed into the living room a member of the Cardinals board of directors, Mark D. Eagleton, drew alongside Caray and said, “I admire your guts, Harry, but I don’t know about your judgment. I hope things work out all right.” Next, Robert Baskowitz Sr., a glass manufacturer who sold bottles to Anheuser-Busch, sidled up and said, “Harry, it took a lotta guts. Good luck.”

“Well,” said Caray to himself, “there’s gotta be some good jobs around somewhere.” To his wife he sighed, “Come on, Marian. Let’s get out of here.” Then, suddenly, he heard Busch’s rasping voice bellow at him.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

“I’m going home. I got indigestion.”

“You’re staying right here,” Busch commanded. With that, he threw his arm around Caray and growled, “You son of a bitch. Are you afraid I’m going to fire you? Hell, if you’d have given me any other answer to that question about Lane, you would have been fired.”

In retrospect Caray suspects—and Busch confirms the suspicion—that Busch knew of his admiration for Lane and deliberately had been putting his veracity to a test. “You see,” says Caray, “everybody’s got the idea that you gotta be a yes-man to Gussie Busch. Hell, he’s the most democratic bastard in the world.”

Certainly Caray stood in need of the democratic tycoon’s goodwill when, four years later, the brewery hierarchy sat down to what one of them—a man named Curt Lohr—has described as the Court Martial of Harry Caray. The prelude to this crisis sounded when Caray popped up before his Sports Digest mic and read an editorial from a Lexington, Ky. newspaper condemning the St. Louis Hawks basketball club and the Boston Celtics for a lackluster exhibition they had played in Lexington. “The gist of it was that you saw more action in a University of Kentucky practice session than in an NBA game,” Caray says. In almost less time than it takes to say “I’ll have a Bud,” the long tentacles of the advertising industry had Caray by the throat.

Gardner Advertising of St. Louis, you see, had just come off a hard sell to Hawks club owner Ben Kerner, persuading him to switch Hawks broadcasts from Falstaff to Busch beer. Caray’s Sports Digest also was sponsored by Busch. So Kerner bearded the Gardner boys in their lair and said in effect, “First you tell me how much you love me, and in the next breath you’re letting that guy blast my property.” Gardner raced into conference with Anheuser-Busch executives, then fired off a telegram to Caray informing him that he was suspended indefinitely from the air.

Caray at once suspected a plot to rid the airwaves of him once and for all. “I think it was a squeeze play,” he says. Kerner, he believes, was trying to pave the way for his friend Buddy Blattner to seize Caray’s chair in the Cardinal broadcasting booth. “And the agency felt that I’m hard to control.” For four months Caray remained suspended while broadcasting people, a species that by instinct can spot a vulture 20 yards and beat it to a dying body, buzzed excitedly that Caray was a goner.

Finally, the Gardner ad men called for a meeting to settle his fate. Busch presided, surrounded by his big guns in advertising, P.R., and beer sales. Through the room ran the sentiment that life would be simpler if Caray’s contract were terminated. But then, as Busch patiently heard each man in turn, he at last got to Curt Lohr. Lohr, a stocky, fair-skinned man who at the time headed the brewery’s sales in the St. Louis area, spoke his piece bluntly.

“All Caray did,” he said, “was read an editorial that was printed in a newspaper that already had been read wherever it was circulated. What this boils down to is a personality clash. A good company does not deal in personalities.”

Now Busch himself spoke. “Has everybody had his say?” he asked. “Okay, then pack up your briefcases and get the hell out of here. You’ve taken up enough of my time. If you think I’m gonna fire the greatest broadcaster in baseball just because you people can’t get along with him, you’re crazy.”

Actually, with each passing crisis, Caray has seemed to grow stronger. He wound up, ironically, doing telecasts of Ben Kerner’s Hawks games, while his eldest son, Skip Caray, did the Hawks’ radio broadcasts. Busch gives Caray absolute freedom of speech, although Busch points out that “I can go crazy when he gives it that ‘Ho-lee cow, it’s going out of here!’ and then it’s a foul ball.” In recent years, both insiders and the general public have come to suspect that Caray is a power behind the Cardinals throne—a voice in Busch’s ear telling him which Cardinals to value and which to get rid of. Cardinals Public Relations Director Bob Harlan recalls that when he spoke at a smoker in a southern Illinois town, a fan in the audience asked him if it was Caray who persuaded the club to trade Ray Sadecki to San Francisco for Orlando Cepeda. “Nobody laughed, either,” says Harlan.

“Caray plays cards with Gussie, doesn’t he?” notes a St. Louis sportswriter pointedly. Caray not only does, Busch agrees with a wry smile, but vehemently accuses him of cheating.

During the 1964 season, when Busch was thinking of replacing Manager Johnny Keane with Leo Durocher, it was Caray whom he ordered to make contact with Durocher, then a Dodger coach, and speed him quietly from a St. Louis hotel to Grant’s Farm at an early morning hour. And before Busch eventually gave the job to Red Schoendienst, it was Harry Caray whose opinion he sought. But Caray disclaims the role of court sage.

“I’m positive Gussie already had made up his mind about Schoendienst before he talked to me,” he protests. “He asked me about Red at a party. Listen, I’d like to believe I’ve had something to do with some of these things but, honest to God, I haven’t.” Busch himself pinpoints exactly how much influence Caray has. “Not a damn bit,” he specifies. If he were to consult Caray on a trade in the works, Busch adds, “Harry probably would blab the trade all over town.”

At any rate, Caray contends that he has his hands full just trying to survive. “What play-by-play announcer do you know who criticizes players, who criticizes a trade?” he demands. “I like to think that if I’ve accomplished anything, well, I’ve tried to develop the feeling in the little man, the man we call the fan, that I have his interest at heart. In the baseball business I’m the last of the nonconformists. I feel that eventually, in this day and age, my kind of guy’s gotta get fired.”

Or perhaps confined to a padded cell. In Caray’s scrapbook rest four lines of doggerel clipped from an unidentified newspaper, that say: “If you lack the tickets to see the Cards, you can listen in your own backyards, and the greatest show, no ifs or buts, is to hear Harry Caray going nuts.”

Cope (more on him presently) wrote this in 1968, when Caray was about to announce his third World Series in the days when NBC’s TV and radio World Series announcers included one from each team:

So Caray was at the top of his career to that point.

And then, one year later, 50 years ago today, the St. Louis Post–Dispatch reported:

Harry Caray, after 25 years of broadcasting Cardinal baseball games, was job hunting today.

His employer since 1954, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., dismissed him yesterday. Caray said he was told at 3:25 p.m. by Anheuser-Busch advertising director Donald Hamel that his contract would not be renewed for 1970 and that he would be replaced by Jack Buck as head of the Cardinal broadcasting team.

Caray said he expected to talk to representatives of other major league teams, when he attends the World Series next week, about joining another broadcasting operation. He said, “I love the Cardinals but I love baseball too much not to broadcast it.”

A statement issued by company president August A. Busch Jr. said the decision was based on a recommendation from the company’s marketing division. Busch said, “We have been very glad to have had Harry Caray as a member of our broadcasting team since 1954, and we can assure our fans that we will do everything possible to make the Cardinal broadcasts of the future both interesting and enjoyable.”

In an interview after the announcement, Caray said, “I’m bruised. I’m hurt, and I feel badly about it.”

He disputed the marketing reason given for his dismissal, saying that Busch beer sales had risen from 200,000 cases to 3,000,000 barrels annually since he began advertising it.

Caray said, “I want to know why I was fired, I’ve heard a lot of rumors involving personal things.”

Referring to Busch, Caray said, “I think the world of Mr. Busch. I’d cut off my arms for him. But you’d think that after 25 years, they would at least call me in and talk to me face to face about this.”

The brewery said the decision was made “in conjunction with the entire advertising, promotional, and merchandising plans for next year. This has been the practice for many, many years and has not been deviated from this year.”

George W. Couch Jr. of Anheuser-Busch’s advertising department would say only, “We felt Caray would not fit into our 1970 program. I think the announcement speaks for itself.”

Robert Hyland, general manager of KMOX radio, the principal station on the Cardinal radio network, said that Buck would continue to be sports director for KMOX.

Who will assist Buck in broadcasting the games has not been determined, Hyland said.

Cardinal broadcasts are carried over a network of more than 100 stations in 14 states. Rumors that Caray would be dismissed had been circulating in the last half of the baseball season. Caray said a report in August that he would be replaced by Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince might have been a trial balloon.

Monday, Caray was given about six hours’ notice that he had been dropped as announcer of a 10-minute evening sports show on KMOX.

Hyland said that he called Caray at Shea Stadium in New York about noon when he received word of the cancellation from the brewery’s advertising agency.

Hyland said he expected Caray to continue his broadcasts of the University of Missouri football games trough the fall season.

A group calling itself the Harry Caray Fan Club has called a protest rally at 10 a.m tomorrow at the Musial statue at Busch Stadium. Jerome Collins and Robert Brown, spokesmen, expressed hope that baseball fans who enjoy the Caray broadcasts turn out in an effort to have Caray rehired. Petitions will be circulated. Meanwhile, a movement to gather petitions asking Anheuser-Busch to reverse its decision began in Jefferson City.

The petitions began as a joke Thursday, but John Harm, executive director for the Missouri Oil Jobbers, has started circulating them seriously. The petition says in part “Out here in the boondocks, Harry Caray IS the Cardinals to many of us. He makes the names in the line-up dance with reality, and the quivering faith or haunting doubt that goes into the outcome of every game, every play, gives new reality and lasting emotion to all of us who love the Cardinals.”

Caray, born Harry Carabina in St. Louis 52 years ago, attended Webster Groves High School. He was originally hired by Ed Griesedieck, president of a brewery that decided to sponsor Cardinal and Brown broadcasts in 1944.

He was selected by the Sporting News as the outstanding play-by-play announcer of the National League for 1946, 1948. 1949 and 1951. Caray brought great enthusiasm to his reporting and acquired a large and loyal following.

He had critics, however, who believed that his enthusiasm for the Cardinals detracted from the objectivity of his description.

He was the subject of a long feature story in Sports Illustrated magazine a year ago, in which writer Myron Cope said that “Cardinal fans either love Caray or hate him, there being no middle ground.”

His cry, “Ho-lee cow,” and his preparation of listeners for home runs “It might be, it could be, it is! ” became famous.

Caray was injured seriously when struck by an automobile Nov. 4, 1968, near the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel. He recovered in time to resume his broadcasts when the season opened last spring.

Buck said he had been offered the job yesterday and that details of his contract remained to be forked out. He said that he and Caray were on good terms.

“We always were and still are,” he said, “I always wanted to be No. 1 but not at the expense of Harry or anyone else.”

Caray, when interviewed last night in a suburban St. Louis restaurant, noted that about all could do in protest was to scrap Busch products and pick up another beer, which he did – a Schlitz.

He said that he considered the separation from the brewery final.

As for the aforementioned “rumors about personal things,” one widely reported rumor is that while Caray was convalescing from his accident he was also having an affair with the wife of August Busch III, son of Cardinals owner August “Gussie” Busch. Caray was quoted in a 1991 book, Under the Influence, that “You couldn’t say I did and I wouldn’t say I didn’t.” I was then told by someone who knew Caray that Caray wasn’t having an affair with Gussie Busch’s daughter-in-law; he was having an affair with Gussie Busch’s girlfriend.

Whichever rumor was true (and I suppose it’s not an either–or thing), Caray’s alleged violations of the adultery commandment angered at least one of his broadcast partners, who was quoted not by name as being disgusted when Caray said on the air one day that he mailed alimony checks to his ex-wives that day.

This did not harm Caray’s career, however. He announced for the 1970 Oakland A’s, then went to Chicago to announce the White Sox one year later. Caray was an institution, along with someone who had been institutionalized, Jimmy Piersall, at Comiskey Park …

… until the White Sox got new owners who had pay-TV plans. Caray then jumped ship for the Cubs and a nationwide contingent of fans thanks to WGN-TV.

One more thing about Cope: The year he wrote the Caray story he started doing radio sports commentaries in Pittsburgh. Two years later, Cope was hired to do color commentary on Steelers games, and he covered the Steelers for 35 years. He was rarely accused of being “one to burden himself with restraint.”

The 1964 Cardinals, by the way, had three players who became announcers — outfielder (later third baseman) Mike Shannon, with the Cardinals; catcher Tim McCarver, with ABC and Fox, and backup catcher Bob Uecker …

… from whose World Series check was deducted the cost of repairing the dents from balls that hit the tuba Uke used to catch fly balls.


Postgame schadenfreude, Da Bears Still Suck edition

Another NFL season gives us the opportunity to return to the Presteblog tradition of examining big sports wins from the perspective of the losing side.

This tradition started with the Chicago Bears because no sports media eviscerates the home teams quite like Chicago does, as proven by the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs:

Be careful. Don’t blame Matt Nagy for sitting his frontline players throughout nearly all of the preseason for the pitiful performance by his offense.

I’m positive that is what some folks are already doing, rationalizing a terrible showing by the offense on a little rust that wasn’t knocked off in preseason. The Bears were so bad on offense that it’s not something 40 or 50 snaps in preseason games would have cured.

It’s a best-case scenario that the reason the offense was disjointed and terribly ineffective on third down and suffered from communication breakdowns because the starters were observers throughout the preseason. But it’s really difficult to imagine how the Bears — who had since April to prepare for the rival Packers — could come out and look simply awful.

Nagy was the NFL’s Coach of the Year last season, an award he deserved. He didn’t forget what he was doing since then. But there’s no other way to describe it other than to say he was completely outclassed in this game. Never before had the Bears been held to three points or less in the season opener at home and this was in front of a national television audience with a huge crowd in Grant Park watching an offensive implosion.

Credit is due to the Packers, who reshaped their defense in the offseason with some bold moves in free agency, including a $36 million, four-year contract for former Bears safety Adrian Amos. Green Bay also made moves to bolster the front seven, signing outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. But the Packers don’t have the 1985 Bears defense. Heck, they don’t have the 2019 Bears defense.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was as bad as he was in the playoff loss to the Eagles last January. He completed 26 of 45 passes for 228 yards and was sacked five times, a couple of them avoidable losses. Amos picked him off in the end zone with 1:58 remaining to just about end the game. A good chunk of his 228 yards came on check-down throws.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson, the intended target on the interception, had a nice game with seven catches for 102 yards. But that’s about it if you’re searching for offensive highlights. I told Robinson folks will be wondering if a preseason without any action would be an explanation for a poor showing.

“They can keep wondering that,” he said. “We can’t change that. I felt very prepared to go out here and make plays and I think everyone else did the same. But we just got behind the sticks, whether it was a penalty, no matter what it was. In a crucial situation, for whatever reason, we end up getting — what — first-and-40? You know what I am saying? We were down four points at that time. First-and-40? It’s hard like that. We’ve gotta do a better job on first and second down to give ourselves a shot on third down. And we also have to do a better job on first and second down to stay out of some third downs too.”

Said Trubisky: “I know you guys are going to try to draw comparisons like that, but really it had — I wish I could have said this before, the snaps in the preseason has nothing to do with the way we execute or the sloppiness of tonight because we weren’t doing that in practice. We were smooth in practice, it was crisp getting in and out of the huddle, getting calls in and just everyone doing their job and executing our plays. So it just seemed a little scattered tonight with all our personnel (groups) and just trying to find a rhythm and trying to find our identity on offense, and we just put ourselves in bad situations and shot ourselves in the foot.

“You could maybe attribute it to that, but I think it’s kind of a stretch. It’s just we were uncharacteristic of usually who we were tonight as an offense, and I think we just need to do our job. But we just couldn’t find a rhythm, and I don’t think it’s because we didn’t play in the preseason, because we were rolling in practice, and it just didn’t translate the week of practice we had to the game. We’re going to look at the film and try to find out why and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

None of the other wide receivers distinguished themselves. Taylor Gabriel has only been over 52 yards once in the last 13 games, including the playoff loss. Cordarrelle Patterson caught one pass for three yards and Anthony Miller and Javon Wims were held without catches.

Robinson is right — the Bears were abysmal on third down, converting only 3 of 15. They failed on third-and-1 on two occasions. On one of them, Patterson lined up as the only running back and took the handoff on what was essentially a dive play. That didn’t work and it might not be the best use for Patterson. Yes, he carried the ball some for the Patriots last season, but if New England’s coaches, who are genuinely regarded as pretty sharp, can’t get a ton out of him, maybe the Bears can’t. On another failed third-and-1, the Bears ran an RPO that turned into a sack.

“Just trying to do too much with the pull,” Trubisky said. “It should have just been an easy hand and ride the wave and convert on the one I pulled. It kind of looked like I was going to have a throw with the RPO, so I know that one was on me.”

One thing the Bears wanted to improve this summer was huddle efficiency. They wanted to get in the huddle and get out of it quickly, giving Trubisky more time at the line of scrimmage to survey the defense in order to get an edge in the pre-snap process. The Bears had two delay of game penalties; that’s not managing the huddle.

What’s done is done in terms of the preseason. The Bears have a healthy roster, so maybe Nagy tweaks his approach next summer. But this was so bad in so many ways that I refuse to believe preseason is the explanation.

“It was terrible, absolutely terrible,” Nagy said. “It’s unacceptable. There’s no excuses. Every fan that showed up from Chicago today, that was a Chicago Bears fan, they should be upset, because that’s not who we are. We’re better than that. And like I said, it starts with me. Again, I told the guys that. “We didn’t have that all year last year. So, is it a preseason thing? No, it’s not a preseason thing. Our defense, they played pretty well today not playing in the preseason. But what it comes down to is just us needing to be better. If there’s one thing that I feel like is one of my strengths, it’s being able to accept this kind of stuff and then try to do everything you can to fix it. You man up, you talk to your players, you get input, you talk to your coaches, and you demand better, and that’s what we need to do.”

I wrote last season and in the offseason that Matt Nagy has appeared bored with the running game at times.

That sure seemed to be the case once again as the Bears handed the ball off five times on the first two possessions and then just seven times the rest of the game when they never trailed by more than seven points. It was a four-point game most of the way, but Mitch Trubisky dropped back to pass 53 times and there were a total of 12 handoffs.

“I think it was the flow of the game,” Nagy said. “We just couldn’t get in a rhythm. It’s as simple as that. And then you have a big play — I think we had that play to (David) Montgomery down the seam and then it happened, and then we have the miscommunication, the personnel, and then it’s just like, here we go again. We had a third-and-40 at one point. I don’t have a play call for third-and-40. You know, now you’re just trying to flip the field and do whatever you can.”

It’s hard to see what they have in the rookie Montgomery when he gets a total of six carries and only one in the second half. His 27-yard reception on a seam route was nice, but he didn’t get the ball enough, especially when the passing game was backfiring. This has to be a point of emphasis for Nagy and his coaching staff over the weekend and into next week because Trubisky isn’t good enough for the Bears to win this way consistently and the defense is good enough to carry the team to victories if they are more balanced.

“When (Montgomery) had his touches, which I think there was six of them, he did well,” Nagy said. “He had that nice catch down the sideline. It’s hard for me because I want to watch the tape and truly see, again, all three of those (running backs). That part is new to us a little bit, so we’ve got to make sure that, again, we figure out how to get that thing right. And luckily it is the first game of the year.”

Perhaps in Nagy’s evaluation he will determine that the running game needs to be a bigger factor, even if the flow of the game is choppy or worse.

“We’ve got to get the run game going a lot more,” Trubisky said. “I think when this offense is at its best, it’s a balanced attack with the run game and the pass game, and we just didn’t do a good enough job to get in a rhythm, and we had to lean more on the pass, which made it easier on the defense because they know it’s coming. When this offense is at its best, it’s balanced, it’s running, it’s passing, and we’re definitely getting the run game going.

“So I think that’s something we’ll look at. I’ve still got to watch the film and see exactly what happened. But we’ve got three great running backs. We definitely need to get them going and get the ball in their hands, and we’ve just got a bunch of playmakers, and it’s frustrating when we have all these playmakers and you just feel like you left a lot of plays out there with not getting the ball in these guys’ hands.”

Adrian Amos had a pregame lunch with outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, another free-agent signing for Green Bay— and Smith told him he was going to make a big play to help the Packers win.

Amos did just that and the irony is that if there was a consistent knock on Amos’ game during four seasons with the Bears, it’s that he didn’t make enough plays on the ball. This wasn’t a particularly difficult play. Trailing by seven, the Bears were facing third-and-10 from the Packers’ 16-yard line just before the two-minute warning. Allen Robinson ran a corner route and was fronted by cornerback Tramon Williams. Amos bracketed him on the back side and it was an easy catch for what turned into a game-sealing interception.

“I had a real feeling that play was coming and I felt right,” Amos said. “I wanted to make a big play to help us win.”

Amos figured Robinson, lined up in the slot to the left, would try a corner route as he had earlier in the possession.

“He called it,” Williams said. “He came to the sideline and said it. He came up with the play. Big play for Amos, especially here in Chicago.

”We wanted to make Mitch play quarterback. We knew they had a lot of weapons. We knew they were dangerous. We knew all of those things. We knew if we could make Mitch play quarterback, we would have a chance. Plus we got some new toys up front. They did their thing today.”

The Packers did get good pressure on Trubisky and I think what Williams means is they wanted to keep the quarterback in the pocket and make him beat them that way. They brought only four rushers on a zone pressure on the interception.

“That was a frustrating one,” Trubisky said. “I wish I would have had that one back. It felt really good when it left my hand and I thought I put it in a good spot for A-Rob. Didn’t keep my eyes on the safety (Amos) long enough, and it looked like there was a little contact there, that maybe I should have went in a different spot.

“But we kind of were in our stuff rolling there, and that’s one where I’ve just got to protect the ball and try to find the completion, to allow us to stay on the field. That’s one of the tough ones that I’m just going to have to look at on film, see what actually what happened, and then see if it was what I saw on the field at the time and just make a better decision next time and come back and can’t put my team in a position like that. It’s very frustrating. You don’t want that stuff to happen.” …

The last time the Bears were held to three points in a season opener was in 2007, a 14-3 loss at San Diego.

This one ranks worse, in my opinion, for the simple reason that the Bears performed so poorly at home. They scuffled in San Diego that day and Rex Grossman was hammered by outside linebacker Shaun Phillips on one of the hardest hits I’ve ever seen a quarterback take.

There are some similarities, though, as that Bears team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance and expectations were sky high. Expectations for this Bears team are massive, but there’s a difference between laying an egg on the road and doing it at home. That Chargers team had Ron Rivera as an inside linebackers coach and he had a good idea what the Bears were doing on offense. In that regard, you better believe Broncos coach Vic Fangio has an idea of what to expect next week when the Bears travel to Denver.

“There’s humility there just for the fact that I know that our guys — we feel really good, we felt good going into it,” Matt Nagy said. “I don’t know what the exact word is for it other than that what you can’t do and what you can’t fall into the trap of is all of a sudden making this seem like it was the Super Bowl and we just lost the Super Bowl. We didn’t lose the Super Bowl, we lost the first game of the regular season. We just need to make sure that we pull back and understand, okay, we’re 0-1, we were 0-1 last year, let’s go ahead and figure out how we rally together.” …

The Packers were a runner-up in the Khalil Mack sweepstakes last September, making a strong bid to acquire him from the Raiders. The thinking is one of the reasons Oakland dealt with the Bears instead is that the Raiders figured draft picks they acquired in return would be better than those they’d potentially receive from Green Bay. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was asked earlier this week about missing out on Mack.

“We kind of talk about, there’s deals every week, over the last week every day, that you’re talking about,” Gutekunst told Green Bay media. “I’ve always looked at it, you just keep moving forward. The one thing whether it was (former Packers GMs) Ron (Wolf) or Ted (Thompson) that I learned, there’s always opportunities coming your way so you don’t know what the next one is going to be. You can’t really worry about the ones that were behind you, you just worry about the ones that were coming.

“And so, whether it be the guys we acquired this offseason or this year’s draft or next year’s draft, you just keep moving forward looking at your team and seeing how you can make it better. For every kind of door that’s shut, there’s a window that’s open, you know what I mean? That’s kind of how I look at it. Where we are today, if we would have made a move, we might not be where we are today. And I kind of like where we are today.”

The Chicago Sun–Times:

It’s not good when the operative word of an enormously hyped football game is “boo.’’ It’s not good when the object of a crowd’s disgust is the quarterback of a team with Super Bowl aspirations and the head coach whose offensive creativity is supposed to make a team rise above.

It’s not good when boos are raining down on the Bears during and after a 10-3 loss to the hated Packers at home in the opening game of the NFL’s 100th season, which happens to be the Bears’ 100th season, too.

It’s not good when, afterward, coach Matt Nagy is talking about his “high character players’’ and the great week of practice the Bears had leading up to Thursday night’s opener.

It’s not good when the burning question of a year ago is still raging: Is Mitch Trubisky any good?

From beginning to end Thursday night, the quarterback was not good. Very not good.

“I definitely feel like I let my teammates down and the fans down with the way I played,’’ said Trubisky, who finished with 228 passing yards and a 62.1 passer rating.

If it’s hard to believe we’re still having this discussion about Mitch, you either haven’t been paying attention or you’re in denial.

“We knew if we could get Mitchell Trubisky to play quarterback, we could win,’’ Packers cornerback Tramon Williams told reporters after the game.

Very, very not good.

Nagy came up with a lot of wimpy play-calling against the Packers, but Trubisky didn’t ever look like he was capable of carrying the Bears to victory. That’s a massive red flag, even if it was the first game of the season.

“Three points is ridiculous,’’ Nagy said.

The start and the end of the game tell the story.

Before the Bears were forced to punt on their first series, Trubisky had a pass batted down, overthrew a receiver, had a run stuffed rudely by former teammate Adrian Amos and was sacked for a six-yard loss.

His last two series of the game ended in an interception in the end zone by Amos and a sack at his own 5-yard line. The interception was thrown into double coverage.

In between those ugly bookends was a lot of nothingness from the quarterback and a bizarre lack of energy from Nagy. It looked like a case of a coach trying to protect a quarterback in over his head. But that can’t be because Nagy has told us over and over again that Trubisky is on the verge of making big progress.

“I think he saw (the field) OK,’’ Nagy said after Thursday’s loss. “But I didn’t help him at all. I didn’t help him. I’ve got to help him.’’

Trubisky’s struggles in training camp were chalked up to the excellence of the Bears’ defense. The rationale for his unevenness in Bourbonnais was shouted from the rooftops by the team and by various analysts: You try being a good quarterback going against Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson every day!

Thursday’s opener against the Packers was supposed to be a chance for Trubisky to finally breathe without concerning himself with the loss of any more self-esteem. Even though he didn’t throw a pass in a preseason game, the Packers defense, though improved from last season, wasn’t nearly the Bears’ defense. That was the thinking, anyway.

By the first drive of the third quarter, Bears fans were booing the offense. They booed a Trubisky pass on third-and-10 that went for a two-yard gain. If you were a veteran boo reader, you sensed a good deal of frustration was with Trubisky, who, to that point, had almost been picked off twice.

If Trubisky had been overly amped, it would have been understandable. Just before kickoff, members of the ’85 Bears, waving white towels, walked out of one of the Soldier Field tunnels. You know, in case the crowd wasn’t at full froth already.

Maybe that’s why Nagy, having seen the ugly first “drive,’’ had Trubisky hand off four straight times to start the Bears’ second drive. Trubisky then completed his first pass of the night, for one yard to Tarik Cohen, but it fell short of a first down. That was OK because it allowed rookie Eddy Pineiro to make a 38-yard field goal and Chicago to forget about Cody Parkey for a moment.

You figured 3-0 would hold up for the victory. The Bears’ defense was that good.

When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling with a 47-yard completion in the second quarter, there were shrieks of disbelief from the Soldier Field crowd, as if it had never occurred to fans that the Bears’ defense could be breached. And when Rodgers hit Jimmy Graham with an 8-yard touchdown pass on the drive, the crowd went into mourning. Black shawls. Keening. The works. It was 7-3 Packers.

Trubisky’s halftime stats – 11-for-16 for 73 yards – didn’t inspire music or literature. It wouldn’t get much better.

Rust could have been an issue. But some of his problems against the Packers looked suspiciously like some of his problems in the first two years of his Bears career. It was disconcerting.

So was the play of the offense, which managed just 46 rushing yards.


Sean Wagner-McGough:

We spent so much time worrying about the Bears‘ kicker situation that we forgot they might have an even bigger problem at quarterback. It turns out the question isn’t, can Carli Lloyd be the unconventional solution to fix the Bears’ kicker problem? It really might be, can the U.S. women’s national soccer team legend play quarterback?

Against a revamped, hyped and young Packers defense, Trubisky went 26 for 45 (57.8 percent) for 228 yards (an ugly 5.1 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, a game-losing interception and a fitting 62.1 passer rating. It was as awful a performance as the numbers suggest.

Bears coach Matt Nagy deserves blame for his play-calling (a third-and-1 running play up the gut with Cordarrelle Patterson, to name one example), decision making (his decision to go for a fourth-and-10 instead of trying a long field goal, to name one example), and his eagerness to abandon the running game (the Bears ran the ball 12 times, not including Trubisky’s keepers). And the offensive line was overrun by the Packers’ defensive front. However, most coaches and O-lines wouldn’t have been able to win a game with that version of Trubisky.

There were missed openings that Trubisky didn’t see — just ask Allen Robinson, who was wide open on more than occasion, but didn’t always get the target his openness demanded. Below, in videos courtesy of NFL Game Pass (start your free trial today to rewatch Thursday’s game), Trubisky missed an uncovered Robinson and instead fired a late pass into traffic that very easily could’ve been picked.

There were wildly thrown passes sailing over the heads of his receivers — just like the missed passes that sailed over the heads of his receivers last year.

There were carelessly thrown passes that should’ve been intercepted. He was fortunate to finish with only one interception instead of three or four.

And there was a game-losing interception on a pass that never should’ve been thrown — into double coverage.

NFL Game Pass

The angle from behind the play is particularly damning. You can see Trubisky lock in on his target, which allowed former Bears and current Packers safety Adrian Amos to follow his eyes, which created the double coverage. And you can see exactly how Trubisky struggles against the blitz, lofting up a softball without stepping into the throw. It was a lazy pass that deservedly resulted in an interception.

NFL Game Pass

In fairness to Trubisky, he made a couple nice throws — mainly to Robinson, who was the lone bright spot on offense with seven catches for 102 yards. But it’s those moments of brilliance that make his inconsistencies that much more frustrating.

It felt a lot like last year, when Trubisky posted decent enough numbers, but lacked consistency on a play-to-play, game-to-game basis. Over the course of a 14-game regular season, Trubisky completed 66.6 percent of his passes, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, threw 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and generated a 95.4 passer rating. Those numbers are fine — good even for a second-year quarterback in a brand new system. It’s how he posted those numbers that was concerning. In six starts, he posted a passer rating below 80.0. In six starts, he posted a passer rating above 100. Consistency was lacking.

The problems that plagued him a year ago were the exact same problems that plagued him Thursday night. Missing open targets with both his eyes and arm. Forcing passes into interceptable coverages. Not handling pressure with poise and composure. Making unforced errors.

Last year’s Bears managed to capture the NFC North crown with a 12-win season and would’ve been onto the divisional round of the playoffs if not for Cody Parkey‘s double-doink, which is why the Bears (and all of us) spent the offseason obsessing over their problem at kicker. But the Bears’ problem at kicker feels rather trivial after witnessing their problem at quarterback.

The problem is, if the Bears are going to take the next step, they’re going to need Trubisky to take the next step in his development and emerge as a consistently good quarterback, and based on what we saw Thursday night, Trubisky isn’t at that point — at least not yet.

Jeff Dickerson piles on:

Whatever growth the Chicago Bears expected from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in Year 2 under coach Matt Nagy never materialized in Thursday night’s season opener against the Green Bay Packers.

Chicago’s offense, captained by Trubisky, ruined a stellar effort by the defense, losing 10-3 to Green Bay in front of a capacity Soldier Field crowd that just before kickoff believed the home team had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Now, not so much. It’s early, but the offense — lowlighted by Trubisky — looked worse than last year when Nagy first took over. It’s not a good sign, either, that, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, no team has reached the Super Bowl after failing to score a touchdown in its season opener.

QB breakdown: Bad, bad, bad, bad. Outside of a couple of nice throws to Allen Robinson, Trubisky looked out of sync the entire game. A third-year quarterback can’t let the offense be called for two delay of game penalties on the same drive, as Trubisky allowed in the third quarter when Chicago appeared on the verge of scoring. The Bears praised Trubisky’s during preseason at every turn, but all the 25-year-old quarterback did in Week 1 was provide fodder to those who criticized the Bears’ refusal to play starters in preseason games and brought up familiar criticisms about Trubisky’s viability as a franchise quarterback. Trubisky capped off the evening by throwing an interception in the end zone into double coverage. It was a fitting end to such a lackluster game by Chicago’s starting quarterback.

Readers of this blog are familiar with Keith Olbermann (formerly of more media outlets than you can list) and his identification of “one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions” back in 2008 when Da Bears were about to change quarterbacks … again. “With brief interruptions of stability from the likes of Jim McMahon and Billy Wade, this job has been unsettled since Sid Luckman retired. There has always been a Rex Grossman, he has always underperformed, and they have always been about to replace him.”

I last quoted Olbermann when Trubisky was a rookie and about to replace Mike Glennon, for whom Da Bears ridiculously overpaid. Sure enough, out went Glennon and in came Trubisky. Two years later, there is not an apparent heir apparent, but when your home crowd boos you, that’s not a good harbinger of things to come.

Meanwhile, the Packers haven’t played defense like that since the 2010 season. That may be irrational exuberance, but starting 1–0 is better than starting 0–1 regardless of what kind of game it was. Offensive slow starts under new coaching staffs are not uncommon. (Recall that Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy lost their first two games each, and McCarthy got shut out in his first game by Da Bears.)


The NFL’s voices

This is the 100th anniversary season of the National Football League, so the Associated Press decided to create a list of top NFL announcers.

I’m going to modify the AP’s list, because there are two that deserve a separate category, and this doesn’t mention an additional category that needs mention:

While fans of some sports all have their favorite local announcers, the NFL has been much more of a shared viewing experience.

With all games being shown on national networks rather than solely on local channels, the most memorable voices of football are universal.

There were the early voices of the game such as Curt Gowdy and Ray Scott; the unique combination of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford in prime time; to years of Pat Summerall’s brevity punctuated by John Madden’s boisterous interjections.

Everyone has a style they prefer, from Tony Romo’s role as Nostradamus to the exuberance of Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan to the understated style of men such as Summerall and Scott.

Here’s a look at some of the iconic voices of the NFL:


A versatile announcer nicknamed the Cowboy who started off as Mel Allen’s partner on Yankees radio broadcasts, Gowdy was one of the original voices of the AFL on ABC when the league started in 1960. He moved on to NBC in 1965 and was in the booth for some of the most memorable games in pro football history. He called the first Super Bowl for NBC; the “Heidi” game in 1968; Joe Namath’s guarantee in Super Bowl 3; and the Immaculate Reception. ABC wanted to hire Gowdy as the original voice of “Monday Night Football,” but NBC wouldn’t let him out of his contract. His final Super Bowl broadcast came when Pittsburgh beat Dallas for the title following the 1978 season before he was traded to CBS to create an opening for Enberg to become the lead voice of the NFL on NBC. Gowdy had few catch phrases but was known for colorful descriptions.


The Hall of Fame defensive tackle went on to have a long career as the top analyst at NBC, working alongside greats Gowdy and Enberg during the 1970s and ’80s and calling five Super Bowls. A physical presence on the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line, Olsen was more soft spoken as an announcer. He never tried to overshadow the game and was a comfortable listen throughout his career.

The former defensive tackle for the New York Giants became perhaps the most respected analyst of the early Super Bowl era. Working for years alongside Gowdy on NBC’s top team, DeRogatis was known for his ability to describe what happened even before a replay and helped millions of fans better understand the game. He worked three Super Bowls, including Joe Namath’s guarantee game in January 1969.

The first place I differ from this list is that there are two who need to be in both analyst and play-by-play roles, because they did both.


Summerall transitioned from a successful playing career to the booth in the 1960s and became the voice of the NFL. He started off as an analyst and was part of the first Super Bowl broadcast. He shifted to a play-by-play role in 1974 at CBS and that’s where he really shined. With an economy of words and understated persona, he helped analysts Madden and Tom Brookshier shine. A call of a big TD for Summerall could be as simple as “Montana … Rice … Touchdown.” He announced a record 16 Super Bowls on network television and contributed to 10 on the radio as well.


The Hall of Fame running back went on to have a career as one of the most versatile announcers in football history. Gifford started broadcasting following his first retirement when he was knocked out on a hit by Chuck Bednarik. He retired for good following the 1964 season and returned to CBS as a broadcaster, where he was an analyst for the Ice Bowl and the first Super Bowl, and a sideline reporter on two more Super Bowls. He then moved to ABC in 1971 where he shifted to a play-by-play role on “Monday Night Football,” often playing the straight man to Cosell and Meredith. Gifford then moved back to the analyst chair in 1986 when Michaels took over and remained in that role for more than a decade. Gifford and Summerall are the only announcers to call a Super Bowl as both play-by-play man and analyst.

The broadcasts are not what they’ve been were it not for the pregame shows, headed by Brent Musburger when he was at CBS …

… and postgame, led by ESPN’s Chris Berman:

Canadian NFL football (and other oxymorons)

Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press:

I’d love to tell you about the fantastic football game that went down at IG Field on Thursday night, with a raucous, packed house looking on as star NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr took turns going deep to their talented crop of receivers such as Davante Adams and Antonio Brown.

Except I’d be lying. Absolutely none of that happened.

What actually played out was nothing short of a sham. A boondoggle. A complete and utter embarrassment. And anyone who shelled out their hard-earned dollars to take in the action — and I use that term loosely in this case — has a right to feel like they got completely ripped off. Because they did.

The final score shows the Oakland Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers 22-21 on a last-minute field goal in a meaningless pre-season contest. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the full story of what unfolded. I’m not kidding when I say I expect to see a string of lawsuits flowing out of this gong show, with various parties pointing fingers at each other.

Sure, the game is going to be remembered. But for all the wrong reasons.

Where to begin?

How about the fact the field, which had to be reconfigured from the CFL size of 110 yards to the NFL size of 100 yards, was reduced to 80 yards just before the game began. That’s right, each end zone was actually on the 10-yard line. Marked by a bright orange pylon. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. All we were missing was the windmill and clown’s mouth.

Apparently there were last-minute concerns over the state of the playing surface. A gathering of players, coaches, management and NFL executives just a couple hours before kickoff led to some speculation the whole game might actually be canned. Which, in hindsight, might have been the best move rather than the farce that followed.

“The field met the mandatory practices for the maintenance of surfaces for NFL games based on an inspection (Wednesday). Concerns arose (Thursday) surrounding the area where the Blue Bombers’ goal posts were previously located. The 10-yard line will function as the goal line at this game. In lieu of kickoffs, the ball will be placed at the 15-yard line,” the Raiders, who were the “home” team, said in a statement emailed out during the first quarter.

Yes, even our football fields have potholes.

“LOL so now we have a bump in our lil end zone cause of this… we will play thru it tho! …. A sand baseball infield is way more safe in the middle of a football field for sure!” Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back and Winnipeg native Andrew Harris tweeted out Thursday night, a cheeky reference to the fact the Raiders share their home stadium with the Oakland Athletics of MLB.

Naturally, this led to all kinds of ridicule on social media from observers across North America watching the game on television, and it’s unfortunate Winnipeg (and the Bombers) will take their share of it. Because like everything associated with the event, this is entirely on the NFL and the Toronto-based promoter, On Ice Entertainment. The Blue & Gold simply rented out their facility and let the guests take over. They also have no financial stake in how it turned out, which they should be thankful for.

The absurd field flop was bad enough, but it’s just one of a number of “Lucy pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown” type whiffs.

How about the fact that, despite claims to the contrary when the game was first announced and tickets went on sale, none of the big names actually suited up. Of course, that news wasn’t communicated to anyone until moments before kickoff, with Green Bay announcing 33 healthy scratches, including Rodgers. Same goes for Carr, Brown and other prominent Raiders.

The whole sales pitch surrounding the game was that all of the stars would come out and probably play at least the first half, since it was happening during the third week of the pre-season.

Lies. All of it lies. Instead, we were treated to an assortment of NFL backups, wannabees and never-will-be’s, many of whom will likely be playing in the CFL in short order. It says something when the loudest cheers of the night came from fans applauding themselves in the fourth quarter for succesfully getting a sustained “Wave” going around the stadium.

As for the crowd, it was announced after the game that there were 21,992 fans in the stands. My best guess was somewhere in the 18,000 to 20,000 range. The bigger question is how many of those were paying customers versus giveaways meant to “paper the house” and save some face? We’ll never know, because the promoter won’t say.

Sluggish sales had been a big story leading up to the game, with approximately half of the stadium showing as available on the Ticketmaster site earlier this week, thanks to grossly overpriced tickets that were running north of $400 and represented a clear miscalculation of this market. Local sports fans were staying away in droves. But then a strange thing started happening, with many of the blue dots representing unsold seats on Ticketmaster suddenly vanishing.

The promoter previously slashed prices for about 6,000 end zone seats — after initially claiming there would be no such price reductions. And that angered many of the loyal fans who bought tickets when they first went on sale in June, only to discover they got suckered into paying about twice as much as others who were late to the party.

Despite On Ice president John Graham’s claim that the ticket agency would handle issues, I’m told many fans have been met with “Sorry, final sale, no refunds,” upon their repeated inquiries. On Ice painted themselves into a corner by charging way too much out of the gate, then made a bad situation even worse.

Speaking of Graham, he’s pretty much gone into hiding throughout this process, including not responding to several messages I’ve sent him. Other media colleagues have expressed similar concerns.

Graham did break his silence to speak with Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on Wednesday, sort of, and went on a bizarre rant, accusing him (and other local media) of biased reporting — even asking the veteran scribe at one point if he was trying to “go to war” with him.

Friesen was later told his media credentials were being revoked for the game, leading to an hours-long behind-the-scenes battle that ended with the NFL getting involved and Friesen rightfully being allowed to cover the game. Talk about trying to shoot the messenger.

But wait, there’s more! How about Graham’s promise in June for a big festival and celebration of football surrounding the game. He even cited the Winnipeg Jets “Whiteout” street parties as something they would try to emulate.

“It’s not that we’re flying in, playing a game and getting out of town,” he claimed at the time. “We don’t do those things.”

But that’s exactly what happened here. Both teams flew into town late Wednesday, with no practices or player availability prior to the game. And then they left, just as quickly as they arrived. There was little fanfare or related activities, other than the Bombers putting on a viewing party at The Forks for those who couldn’t afford tickets to the game.

Go figure that Oakland’s punter, A.J. Cole, getting off the team plane wearing a “Winnipeg, Alberta” T-shirt he’d ordered on Amazon, was actually far down the list of embarrassing things associated with this game.

We weren’t the first choice to play host, with Edmonton and Regina rumoured to be the original destinations targeted. Given how it all played out, those cities can breathe a big sigh of relief that they avoided having this debacle in their own backyard.

As for Winnipeg, I suspect most people will be saying good riddance to what was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but ended up being nothing more than a Mickey Mouse production that most people saw for the greedy cash grab that it was.

See you later, NFL. Sorry it didn’t work out. It’s not us. It’s you.

Winnipeg’s tabloid newspaper had a muted response:

Edmonton would have been a better choice, even though this was a home preseason game for the Oakland/L.A./Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. The Edmonton Eskimos, like the Packers, are a community-owned team that wears green and gold, and has a better, though older, stadium. The game also could have been played in Toronto, where the CFL Argonauts’ stadium has a hybrid grass surface similar to Lambeau Field.

McIntyre may not know the history of NFL preseason games outside the U.S. The Dallas Cowboys played a preseason game at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in 1994 against the Houston Oilers that drew 112,376 fans. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took one look at the turf before the game and decreed that none of his star players, including quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin, would play. Azteca was supposed to host Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams last season, but the game was moved to L.A. due to the state of the field.

At least the game, such as it was, was played. In 2016 the Packers were supposed to play the annual Hall of Fame Game against Indianapolis in Canton, Ohio, but the game was canceled because, of all things, the paint for the NFL logos and in the end zone didn’t stick to the artificial grass. There had been rumors yesterday afternoon that the game might be canceled due to the goal post issue.

The point is that there should have been an expectation that the field be nearly perfect if you want to see anyone you’ve ever heard of, based on past experience with the NFL. And on that score, Winnipeg failed. On the other hand, the NFL also failed because, thanks to both teams’ coaches keeping their starters out of the game, the game was utterly meaningless to each team. That could be said of a lot of NFL preseason games.

The NFL makes its teams play four preseason games even though the players hate it. There have been thoughts of dropping two two preseason games but increasing to 18 regular-season games, and the players seem to not like that either. (You can gue$$ why the NFL per$i$t$ in mandating four pre$ea$on game$, which are in team$’ $ea$on-ticket package$.) There probably won’t be a preseason change in the NFL until a team plays none of its starters for the entire preseason.


Back on the air, everywhere

My instinct for self-promotion requires me to say that I will be returning to the airwaves 31 years after I started on the airwaves with Cuba City at Platteville in football tonight at 6:40 Central time here.

My open (which I write out in advance so that I don’t, uh, stumble over, uh, something I am, uh, winging) indicates that this season will be unlike any football season before, because of changes to conferences in the southwestern half of Wisconsin, and will be unlike next season, due to changes to conferences statewide.

But upon further review, last year might have pegged the weirdometer in all the sports I covered. These are the things that happened In games I broadcasted over the past year:

  • A football game had to be moved from the local university, where the local high school plays, to the local high school the following afternoon because of predicted severe weather that did not materialize. The local high school had not hosted a varsity football game since the doors opened in 1967 until that day.
  • For the second consecutive year, the local high school had a weather delay during its Homecoming game. Fortunately the game was finished that night instead of the following afternoon, which happened the previous year.
  • The local high school had a winning record, but losing conference record, and therefore missed the playoffs, while a few schools had losing records and made the playoffs. (The tiebreaker was win percentage, and 4–5 is better than 3–4, which is better than 2–3.) One of those latter teams then won two road playoff games, making it one of the top eight teams in its division.
  • I announced a state semifinal game after spending three days in Missouri, where we went (blissfully missing Election Day) to pick up our military police oldest son from basic training. The radio station sports director was taken aback when he called me the night before the game and I told him I was in East St. Louis. But we got back, and I announced the game as scheduled.
  • I then announced a state championship game, a broadcast that didn’t go very well technologically. But the team we were announcing won, so no one cared.
  • The winter sports season started out fine. Then came New Year’s Day, and like a flipped switch every team’s schedule got blown apart because of weather — heavy snow, fog, freezing rain and ice storms, and bitter cold. Games were scheduled four and five times. One game was rescheduled to a Monday after school was out, giving the varsity game a youth basketball sort of vibe. For the first time in more than 30 years of doing this I got to announce “Five minutes left in the first half, and as of now we are in a winter storm warning.”
  • One of those weather postponements forced fans from one school to drive two hours on consecutive nights for a girls’ regional final and a boys’ regional quarterfinal. The schools involved should have scheduled a doubleheader, but no one did, or the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association didn’t, or doesn’t, approve something with common sense. (The drive home the second night was enlivened by freezing fog.)
  • Our radio station group had fewer boys basketball teams that survived the regional round than announcers, so I wasn’t assigned to any sectional games. But the day I thought my winter season was over, I was assigned to an Illinois “supersectional” game at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. That put me at center court announcing a game featuring the eventual Illinois Class 1A state champion, which happens to be the alma mater of Chicago trumpet player Lee Loughnane.

    It was a great experience, even though I spent the next day at home with food poisoning.

  • I also got to announce state wrestling for the first time. It was an interesting broadcast experience because the radio station sells hundreds of live-read ads (as opposed to prerecorded ads), so I got to read a lot of ads.
  • A couple months later, I got assigned to announce postseason softball and baseball during a spring that, even by Wisconsin standards, was pretty hideous. I had no weather cancellations, but the weather in most games was bad enough for me to wear the radio stations’ logo-equipped winter jackets and broadcast from a park shelter that at least kept the rain out, but focused the wind to create a wind tunnel-like effect.
  • Before one of those games, an assistant coach from the team I was covering asked where it would be online. He told me that a friend of his in Colorado, a graduate of the home team who was the son of two graduates of the road team, wanted to listen. So I mentioned the Coloradan on the air, and he said he listened.
  • Two days later, I got to announce the previous game’s winner in an 11-inning sectional final. The coach of the opponent, which had ended my team’s season the previous season, was having back problems, so I interviewed him squatting on the dugout floor while he lay on his stomach on the dugout bench. He had told friends of his, and I had told the opposing school, where the game would be, and so my game had quite a large online audience, while the opposing school’s fans sat right behind me, and I engaged them in conversation during the broadcast. That team, which won the sectional final minutes before the game probably would have been suspended due to darkness, ended up winning state.
    (While that was happening, another school we were covering was leading 1–0 in the sixth inning, though its opponent had two runners aboard. And then the rains came, and the unpires ruled the game couldn’t continue, and so the host won, making the losing team’s fans angry that insufficient effort, they thought, was made to dry out the field. The host ended up winning state.
  • Then came baseball, which started with a sectional final trip in the rain, making me wonder if the game would actually be played. It did delay the game … about five minutes, though it rained out another game. So just before my semifinal game I got a text asking if I could announce the rained-out game the next day. So in 24 hours I announced four baseball games, happily with the right teams winning, in the final case due to the opposing team’s trotting out several pitchers, none of whom could find the strike zone.
    (The technological adventure of the second pair of games included the cellphone on which we announce the games overheating because, unlike the previous day, it was sunny and hot. Fortunately there was a concession stand with a refrigerator and freezer, and so I ran to the concession stand and got ice in a bag, on which we put the phone, covered from the sun by an equipment case, so we could get on the air.)
  • Both our teams ended up playing each other in a state semifinal, guaranteeing us two days at state. Our game fortunately ended before the next division’s games were interrupted by a seven-hour-long rain delay, part of which we spent entertaining the announcer of the late game and young TV sports people in our broadcast booth. The semifinal winner ended up losing the state title, but in such a case they got to play in, and I got to announce, the last game of the season.

Not bad for a part-time guy, methinks. Have I mentioned I am really lucky to be doing this?

One reason why high school sports is so fun to cover is that you might think you know who will win, and that team may well win, but not always. You have to expect, or at least anticipate, the unexpected in sports, and that applies to sports broadcasting too.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 5

First, a non-rock anniversary: Today is the 95th anniversary of the first broadcasted baseball game, on KDKA in Pittsburgh: Harold Arlen described Pittsburgh’s 8–0 win over Philadelphia.

Speaking of Philadelphia … today in 1957, ABC-TV picked up WFIL-TV’s “American Bandstand” …

… though ABC interrupted it in the middle for “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

Today in 1966, the Beatles recorded “Yellow Submarine” …

… and “Eleanor Rigby” …

… while also releasing their “Revolver” album.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 5”

Post-World Cup pre-Olympics new$

The U.S. national women’s soccer team managed to alienate people who should have been fans by stridently dissing conservatives on the way to their Women’s World Cup win.

One year from now, the team will compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, assuming the team doesn’t do what, if they were serious about their pay situation, it should have done — strike.

Two pieces of news cast new light on the finances of international soccer and the U.S. women’s team. First, from Brad Polumbo:

The United States has the best women’s soccer team in the world, as evidenced by our recent Women’s World Cup win. But we’re told that the women’s team still faces blatant sexism and a pay gap compared to our men’s team.

That’s what woke feminists like USWNT Captain Megan Rapinoe keep telling us. In fact, the women’s team has even filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging gender-based pay discrimination. I’ve already made the argument against equal pay and explained why Rapinoe is far from a good role model, but a new open letter and fact sheet released by U.S. Soccer completely refutes the equal pay crusaders’ argument.

First, it reveals that while U.S. Soccer is the target of the USWNT’s equal pay lawsuit, they’re not even the ones paying the men and women unequally. According to U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro, they actually pay the women more than the men. He writes:

Over the past decade, U.S. Soccer has paid our Women’s National Team more than our Men’s National Team. From 2010 through 2018, U.S. Soccer paid our women $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses and we paid our men $26.4 million—not counting the significant additional value of various benefits that our women’s players receive but which our men do not.

How’s that for sexist? Cordeiro explains that this pay gap — in favor of the women — is due to different pay structures the men and women have negotiated, as the women’s team is given an annual salary and benefits while the men are paid more sporadically, proportional to participation. This disparity is necessary because the men have more professional soccer opportunities outside of international competition, such as the leagues in Europe and Major League Soccer. National soccer is a side gig for them, not a full-time job.

Now, it is true that the men’s World Cup offers significantly higher prize money, and that when prize money is counted, the men received $41 million from 2010 to 2018 and the women received just $39.7 million despite vastly outperforming the men relative to their own competition. And more generally, the winning team in the last men’s World Cup received $38 million in prize money, while the winners of this year’s Women’s World Cup get a relatively modest $4 million.

But this is up to the International Federation of Association Football, not U.S. Soccer, which means the “equal pay” lawsuit hasn’t even been filed against the right entity. Moreover, the differential in prize money offered by FIFA is explained by differences in revenue generation and viewership, not sexism.

As I wrote before:

Almost half the world watched the men’s 2018 World Cup, with nearly 3.6 billion total viewers tuning in to watch some part of the tournament. The final match alone reached an audience of over 1.1 billion people. Subsequently, the tournament’s sponsor, FIFA, brought in a profit of over $6 billion.
The women’s team garners significant but substantially lower viewership. We don’t have data for the 2019 tournament, but during the women’s last World Cup in 2015, 764 million viewers tuned in for some portion of the tournament. This is quite good, but it still pales in comparison to the men’s tournament’s audience.Unsurprisingly, Cordeiro’s letter explains, “We look forward to the day when Americans choose to spend their time and money equally between women’s and men’s soccer.” But as the U.S. Soccer fact sheet makes clear, today is not that day, and the pay structures reflect that reality.

But Cordeiro wasn’t done. David Hookstead:

U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro hit back hard at the women’s national team over equal pay.

With the World Cup in the news after we won the whole thing, the issue of pay between the men’s and women’s national teams has once again been a hot topic for debate. A lawsuit is currently underway over the pay disparities between the two teams. The issue at the core is simple. The women are more successful, but women’s soccer doesn’t generate the same kind of cash the men do.

Now, Cordeiro is claiming they actually lose money.

According to TMZ Sports, Cordeiro released a statement on Monday saying the following in part:

From 2009 through 2019 — a timeframe that includes two Women’s World Cup championships — the Women’s National Team has earned gross revenue of $101.3 million over 238 games, for an average of $425,446 per game, and the Men’s National Team has earned gross revenue of $185.7 million over 191 games, for an average of $972,147 per game. More specifically, WNT games have generated a net profit (ticket revenues minus event expenses) in only two years (2016 and 2017). Across the entire 11-year period, WNT games generated a net loss of $27.5 million.

U.S. Women’s National Team spokesperson Molly Levinson responded in part by calling the numbers “false” and the statement from Cordeiro a “ruse.” She also said the women’s team wants to “be paid equally for equal performance.”

If the women’s national team has actually lost money since 2009, then I don’t even know why we’re having this debate. Sports leagues and teams aren’t paid simply by how much they win.

They’re paid in large part by revenue generated. It’s why the worst NBA team still makes much more money than the best team in the WNBA.

It’s called economics, and it’s really not that difficult to figure out.

If the numbers are false, then that’s a different story. Luckily, that seems like that something that would be very easy to fact check.

I have no idea how this lawsuit will end, but I find there to be next to no outcome where it turns out the women generate more revenue than the men historically.

The women should try to get as much money as possible, but they’re only ever going to get cash as it’s tied to revenue.

Anybody who doesn’t understand that fact just doesn’t understand sports.

Or business. Of course, liberals have a well-known hatred of markets.

“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

The New York Daily News:

Ex-Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton was a 20-game winner, won two World Series games, spent 10 years in the big leagues — and made a bigger impact with a pen in his hand than a baseball.

The author of the groundbreaking hardball tell-all “Ball Four” died Wednesday following a battle with a brain disease linked to dementia, according to friends of the family. The Newark, N.J., native was in the Massachusetts home he shared with his wife Paula Kurman after weeks of hospice care. He was 80.

Bouton, who made his Major League debut in 1962, threw so hard in his early years that his cap routinely flew off his head as he released the ball. By the time he reached the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, the sore-armed Bouton reinvented himself as a knuckleballer.

Bouton spent that season collecting quotes, notes and anecdotes about life in the big leagues for his acclaimed book “Ball Four.” Released amid a storm of controversy, the account of Bouton’s tumultuous year was the only sports book cited when the New York Public Library drew up its list of the best books of the 20th century.

In “Ball Four,” Bouton exposed in great detail the carousing of Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, the widespread use of stimulants (known as “greenies”) in Major League locket rooms, and the spectacularly foul mouth of Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz.

“Amphetamines improved my performance about five percent,” Bouton once observed. “Unfortunately, in my case that wasn’t enough.”

But the book caused most of his old teammates to ostracize him, and he was blackballed from Yankees events for nearly 30 years until the team in 1998 invited Bouton to the annual Old-Timers Day event.

Bouton, across his 10-year pro career, posted a mediocre lifetime record of 62-63, with an ERA of 3.57.

But for two seasons, on the last of the great 1960s Yankees teams of Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford, Bouton emerged as a top-flight pitcher.

In 1963, he went 21-7 with six shutouts and lost a 1-0 World Series decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Drysdale. A year later, Bouton’s record was 18-13 with a 3.02 ERA and he won a pair of World Series starts against the St. Louis Cardinals.

And then he developed a sore arm in 1965 that derailed a promising career that started just three years earlier. Bouton’s career ended after the 1970 season with the Houston Astros, although he returned for a five-game cameo with the Atlanta Braves in 1978.

Post-baseball, Bouton became a local sportscaster with WABC-TV and then WCBS-TV on the evening news, enjoying ratings success at both stops.

Ball Four was a book unlike any other in baseball until it was published, but you knew that.