The latest broadcasting honoree of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is Dave Van Horne, the voice of my hometown Florida Marlins. Van Horne has been announcing baseball on radio for two score and three years, the last decade for the Marlins, earning him the Ford Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. He got to join this year’s player inductees, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, in the ceremony last Saturday at the Hall. In Florida pretty much every parade gets rained on, so I might as well not hold back from commenting truthfully.
The old joke about the anti-Semite at the bar would seem to apply. The anti-Semite sees one Jew in the corner of a crowded bar, so he orders a drink for everyone in the whole crowded room but the Jew. He sees the Jew accepting the insult with a smile so, rankled, he does it again and again but the guy never gets ruffled. Finally, the anti-Semite asks the bartender if he knows who that guy is that he has been snubbing all night.
“Sure I know him,” the bartender replies. “That’s my boss. He owns the place.”
Sometimes life works like that. People snub the annoying guy by concentrating on everyone else in the room, but by being ignored that guy manages to linger there until he is accepted as a member in good standing. Baseball has a host of good announcers, many of whom I have had the pleasure and privilege of hearing over the years. The worst I have ever heard is Dave Van Horne.
This is not my personal opinion. It is shared by every intelligent fan I have ever conversed with in town. My friends have called the team and pleaded with them to find somebody else. But his role as a vintage old-hand old-pro multigenerational veteran grizzled revered classic performer has made him impossible to judge. Now whatever small hope we held out for relief is gone. No one is going to fire the Hall of Fame guy. We are consigned to misery for all eternity.
Basically, this guy has very little idea of where the ball is going when it is hit and often he does not know where it has gone. People around here compete with horror tales of ludicrously missed calls. There was the time the Marlins needed a hit with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning, down by one run. The batter swung and Van Horne said it was a hit to left. The crowd noise did not seem to fit with the call and we soon learned why: the batter had lined to third and the fielder had stepped on the base for a game-ending double play.
Balls hit “off the end of the bat” turn out to be monster home runs. Balls hit well turn out to be popped up to the shortstop. In Thursday’s game at Washington, a runner tried to steal on a 3-1 pitch with two out. The catcher threw him out and Van Horne gleefully proclaimed a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play. I was paying attention so I knew he was wrong. Sure enough, he came back after the commercial to correct the fact that the batter had not struck out and he would lead off the next inning.
What we do as listeners to compensate is to ignore him and follow the crowd noise. Since it takes him time to reconnoiter, the crowd generally calls the play before he does. We know if the player is safe or out from hearing if the crowd is happy or deflated by the result. Eventually Van Horne will catch up. The great announcers are able to describe the events in real time and include the listener in the excitement.
I grew up in New York City listening to Phil Rizzuto calling the Yankee games and Bob Murphy calling the Met Games. Both were delightful. Murphy had an ingenious way — literary, really — of building up drama and suspense by describing tangential details. He was a sort of Damon Runyon of the broadcast booth. “The pitcher leans over… looks for the sign… now he straightens… steps off… walks around the mound… picks up the rosin bag… now he’s ready… the windup… the pitch…” It was mesmerizing.
When I lived in Chicago in the ’80s I had the joy of following the late Harry Caray’s calls, first for the White Sox while Bill Veeck was the owner and then over to the Cubs. Caray became inebriated by about the seventh inning, so the end of the game was particularly entertaining, the slurred words somehow even more charming. If the game went into extra innings, poor Harry almost went into a coma. But it was so much fun; I hated to miss a minute.
In the ’90s I lived in Cincinnati, where I followed the Reds on the radio with the great Marty Brennaman and his late sidekick, the “old left-hander” Joe Nuxhall. Every game was a titanic struggle, in Brennaman’s felicitous phrase, and you always knew exactly what was going on. Jack Buck for the Cardinals, Vin Scully for the Dodgers, Jon Miller for the San Francisco Giants and ESPN; there have been so many great ones. Yet incompetent longevity can still get you into the Hall.
Giving Van Horne this award in the Hall of Fame is like giving Director Ed Wood, the famously horrible director who managed to hang on for years, a Lifetime Achievement Award. It is like rewarding Joseph Biden, the famously horrible Senator who managed to hang on for years, the Vice Presidency of the United States. No one would be dumb enough to do one of those things, now would they?
Okay, one last joke apropos to this event. Sam goes shopping with his wife and suffers through an interminable series of trying on one dress after another to solicit his opinion. Finally, on one trip out of the dressing room, his wife is actually wearing something he can tolerate. “You should get this one, my dear.”
“You idiot! This is the one I came in with.”
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