Sunday, October 24th, 1999
Excruciating. And how was your weekend?
Watching the Braves play in Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday was painful on all kinds of levels. First, of course, there was that losing thing, which, if disheartening, is at least comfortingly familiar to long-time Atlantans. But more, it was the tone of desperation that creeps into the Braves own announcers (who I praised, what, one, two columns ago as being far superior to NBC’s Costas and Morgan)-whenever the Braves plight seems so hopeless on the field that they (and all of us) want to don jerseys and get out there to dosomething, anything.
Caray and Company’s voices-the amplified, broadcast unspoken angst of true Braves fans around the Southeast-was just too agonizing to listen to, so I switched WSB radio off and turned up the NBC audio.
Admittedly I was also in full-TV mode before the game to hear the cheers of the crowd as they introduced the Team of the Century (brought to you, we were told nonstop, by MasterCard.) Here was a true television moment-a bunch of old legends-names muttered reverently by our fathers, for the most part, standing up, live, for the most part, on a platform together mid-infield on a cold Atlanta Sunday night. Koufax. Musial. Willie Mays. Henry Aaron-of course.
Some of these baseball heroes were simply before my time-I had no idea what they looked like-how they smiled, who was taller, who got along with whom. A couple survivors all but predated television. But now, I saw-we all saw them standing together, no longer just names or faded baseball card images. And there too were the more contemporary heroes of the seventies and eighties-the likes of Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, and, I’ll be damned, Pete Rose. The big Red machine ran roughshod through my baseball childhood, and I wasn’t surprised when Rose was accused of rampant sports betting-including wagers on his own team. The guy always seemed more than willing to plow anyone down to win. But there he was, like Nixon a decade or two post-Watergate, standing up to a thundering ovation for what he did accomplish when he played the game. Fitting enough, I suppose. And even I wouldn’t deny him a moment with his peers, flawed humans all.
And since this was a precisely-orchestrated piece of televised public relations choreography, I didn’t expect that anyone else would, either.
Which is to say, I didn’t count on Jim Gray, the weasely NBC sidelines announcer I think I’ve seen at one time or another on all three networks now.
There he was with Pete Rose, in full prosecutorial mode. Don’t you think this would be a good moment to admit the gambling charges, Pete? Rose looked stunned, sweaty, furious. Isn’t this your last chance to come clean with the American people? Rose looked like he would like to devour Gray as a ballpark snack and get the hell away from that camera. Pete, why won’t you just come out and say you did it? This isn’t the time, Rose tried to say.
Maybe I’m getting older. Maybe my journalism-school instincts have dulled with time. But anyone who could make me feel sorry for Pete Rose, an old, flawed ballplayer denied the warm afterglow from a century’s end round of applausewell, Jim Gray did just that.
And the rest of the evening continued downhill.
Monday, October 18th, 1999
All season long, Braves fans enjoy games-whether aired on TBS or WUPA/69-presented by announcers we’ve all come to know and (more or less) love: Joe Simpson, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton, and Skip Caray. Then, during the now-almost-routine postseason, we find a familiar game in unexpected places-like Fox 5 or WXIA-with other voices not quite as comfortable as an old armchair. In fact, you might hear a discouraging word-or several-out of the mouths of these interlopers.
This can, I suppose, be a good thing. Taken in moderation, a dose of announcers not from ’round here give us a sense of how the rest of the world sees our favorite sons of the diamond. Caray and company are, after all paid by the Atlanta Braves Baseball Club, Inc., which of course is to say-by Ted. Or Time Warner. So although they’re not quite the "homers" some local announcers are, there’s no mistaking their loyalty to the corporation who signs their checks.
Joe Buck and Tim McCarver or Bob Costas and Joe Morgan have no such fealty, of course, so we get their slightly New-York-centric take on the baseball world. In terms of "objectivity" and accuracy-two admittedly hard to pin down characteristics-I’ll take NBC’s Costas and Morgan over the other two, no contest. Costas, the once and always smartest kid in school brims over with facts about every nuance of the contest, and Morgan just plain thinks about the game, and is kind enough to share his thoughts with us. Fox’s Buck does a fine enough play-calling job, but McCarver clearly has no love lost on our Atlanta boys. He’s not pure broadcasting evil, but he has his days.
Speaking of having their days, Skip Caray-in a class of his own as a baseball announcer and especially as a radio baseball announcer-does seem to have those days where he’s just plain pissed off at everything, and more often than not, during the playoffs when big ‘ol NBC or Fox are calling the shots-he’s noticeably grumpier in the announce booth-and on his pre-game talk show. It’s almost reached the point where callers phone in to ask Skip to explain the infield fly rule just to hear him go off on the voice at the other end of the line. (Seems also as if some people put their more naïve friends up to this.) Caray is (okay, like most artists) talented, yet temperamental. Of course, we don’t have to hear most artists host radio call-in shows.
An informal survey of baseball watchers 18-55 who I know indicates that what most Atlantans do is turn the Fox or NBC audio down and listen to Caray and company on the radio, so maybe our familiarity trumps grumpiness.
One strange side-effect of watching NBC’s coverage-where they apparently think they’re doing us a favor by not having the intrusive scorebox in all the darn time-is that I actually end up missing the score. I walk back in the room and I want to see the score right now.
Jeez. Familiarity breeds mindlessness, too.
Tuesday, October 5th, 1999
Gee, I wish I could sync up writing to you with my mood swings. Sure, it’s easy when you’re Hollis Gillespie, and the world is selling crack just outside your door. The only thing that’s happening immediately outside these walls is that my neighbor’s wailing on a jackhammer and to be honest, I just don’t want to know exactly what that means.
I pour myself some iced coffee, pop an ibuprofen, and, squinting, consider the grotesque pile of magazines gathered around my feet. We’ve been out of town for a few days, and it shows.
We get way too many magazines. And I’m not talking about the professional journals my wife and I must (must?) subscribe to. There’s Newsweek, with a bizarre cover this week featuring Jesse Ventura, Warren Beatty, and Donald Trump, labeled "The Wild Bunch." It’s amazing how much this weekly has transformed itself in the past half-decade, now resembling the mutant love-child of Wired and Vanity Fair. When cataclysmic international news happens, they’ll get going on it (occasionally even grudgingly giving up a cover otherwise slotted for new breakthroughs in your and my health), but they’re really a lot happier going over The Blair Witch Project in painful detail.
An inordinate amount of the critical press has spent the last week wailing on Edmund Morris, the biographer-slash-fictional pal of ‘Dutch’ Reagan. So much as been said about this bizarre exercise in writer’s block evasion that I’ll leave the role of wise critic to the Tom Tomorrow cartoon that ran last week above this space. Me, I think we should assign smart-ass penguins to write all the psuedo-biographies from here on out, and save ourselves a lot of pain.
I kick Jesse’s face out of the way with relish, uncovering-who the heck is this anyway staring at me from the cover of Atlanta magazine? Yet another in a series of generic models who almost look like Helen Hunt or Janine Turner or some darn TV actress-but aren’t. Across the top: "Who’s Killing Atlanta’s Trees?" It takes a lot of guts for a glossy publication printed on one or two ex-forests to ask that question on the cover. Ah, I’m just in a bad mood-I kinda enjoy reading our hometown citymag these days, and not just because this column’s predecessor is working wonders behind the scenes there. No, I think they’re slowly conjuring a sense of "here" that even eludes the AJC’s daily efforts.
More publication shuffling reveals Georgia Trend, which I think we get for free because someone’s under the impression I’m a Georgia small businessman. (They’ve obviously never seen me in person.) This issue features "40 under 40"-a bunch of "successful" business types, mostly young, scrubbed CEOs of companies with fake-sounding-but-real names like Directo, Visionex, VerticalOne, and ProLinia. Yikes. I read Trend for the features about tiny South Georgia counties and their electric power companies. Yep.
I begin to kick the pile of print out into the hallway. There goes a National Geographic with a pig on the cover, a Smithsonian with a lizard, and a New Yorker with a grotesque Art Spiegelman illustration of their city’s mayor. Out, damn pubs!
I tell you, just too many magazines.