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The Family Affairs Of Baseball Broadcasting

“There are several “family affairs” throughout baseball and some transcend just one sport. The common theme is, growing up with a dad that travels a lot leads to having to get to know him later in life.”

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Father’s Day – a time to celebrate the dad’s in our lives and give them a special day or as former Mets’ broadcaster Ralph Kiner once said, “It’s Father’s Day today, so to all you father’s out there, happy birthday!”. Or something like that. We know what he meant. When you think of baseball, the fathers and sons that come to mind I’m sure are the Griffey’s, Ken and Ken Jr, the Bonds’, Bobby and Barry and the several generations of Boone’s, Bob, Brett and Aaron. 

On Aug. 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. became the first father ...

My mind of course goes to father and son duos in the broadcast booth. Almost as rare as a father/son combo in the game, it’s pretty rare off the field as well. There are several “family affairs” throughout baseball and some transcend just one sport. The common theme is, growing up with a dad that travels a lot leads to having to get to know him later in life. On rare occasions the duos get to work together, which leads to a relationship that wasn’t known before. The focus here, will be on the three most popular father/son combinations in baseball broadcasting. 

Jack and Joe Buck

Jack was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1954-2001 and did baseball and NFL national broadcasts. The elder Buck had a distinctive deep voice that was perfect for baseball on the radio. He was versatile, doing the NFL as well. I loved listening to Jack alongside Hank Stram on the CBS Radio coverage of Monday Night Football. 

Joe is now one of those voices you hear and realize. It’s probably a big game, or THE national game of the week. The younger Buck followed in his father’s footsteps in doing both Major League Baseball and the NFL. Joe started with the Cardinals in 1991 before he went on to national acclaim as the lead play-by-play voice for Fox Sports’ coverage of MLB and NFL games. The two were able to work together for many years in St. Louis, with Jack on Cardinals radio and Joe on Cardinals television.

Guideposts Classics: Joe Buck on His Hero, His Father | Guideposts

For Joe being in his dad’s shadow was something that he had a hard time with at first, but learned later on that there was no reason to feel that way.  “I was broadcasting Cardinal baseball in the major leagues at the age of 21, and that only happened because my last name was Buck. At the time, I fought that,” the younger Buck told NPR in 2016. He continued, “But there’s also a little bit more of a sharp knife out there, as far as critics are concerned, that you better be as good as the old man, or in some cases better, to be considered a success.”

Being modest, Joe continued to NPR, “I know I do a decent enough job to keep my job, but I will forever be known to some people as Jack Buck’s son. And thank God he and I were best friends or that would drive me nuts. Instead, I consider it a high compliment.”

The Bucks are the only father-son combination each to have called a Super Bowl.

Marty and Thom Brennaman

Hall of Famer Marty replaced Al Michaels as the Reds play-by-play announcer in 1974, a position he continued in until retiring at the end of last season. He spent his entire 46 year run behind the mic for the Reds. Marty is one of the nicest human beings you’ll meet and was the last of a breed of announcers that were able to really “tell it like it is”.

Marty broadcast games for the fans of Cincinnati and somehow still had the support of management over the years. His distinctive voice, a very “folksy” and “midwestern” delivery was an easy listen. Not many get to stay with one team for his entire career and go out on his own terms, still at the top of his game. 

In 2006 it was announced that Marty’s son Thom would be joining the Reds broadcast crew for the 2007 season. Marty was thrilled, “this is a dream fulfilled for me,” said Brennaman in 2006. “I was always a little bit envious of the Buck’s and the Caray’s. Now I get to work with my son. Nothing’s better than that.” 

Cincinnati Reds on Twitter: "#OTD in 2007: Marty & Thom Brennaman ...

Thom began his career in the late ’80s, working for the Cubs and Diamondbacks before returning to Cincinnati in 2006. Thom proved himself to be a top tier broadcaster with a very straight forward style. In some ways he took some of the best of his father and made it his own. Thom is not shy about voicing an opinion during a game, about a player or team or whatever. As mentioned, Marty was one of those “fans” in the booth back in the day, Thom has a knack for being able to do that as well. 

Thom was fortunate to grow up in Cincinnati and tag along with Marty to the ballpark. He learned a lot about the game from some of the greatest Reds in history and of course his dad. As Thom rose through the ranks, dad was always there for him. “After games or the next day or as the years went by to Chicago or Arizona or even now, I can certainly and have, thousands of times, picked up the phone or sat down with him and say hey how would you have maybe handled this or what do you think about the way I handled that?” Brennaman said last September on a Reds’ podcast. “Especially during football season. He’s able to sit back and watch a lot of the games I’ll do during the NFL season. He’ll say ‘hey what were you thinking about that?’ or I’ll say ‘what did you think about that.’ It’s a pretty dog gone good coach to have around.”

Thom spoke about his decision to leave Arizona and join his dad in Ohio on the Reds’ Flagship Radio Station, WLW. “Having a chance to work with him (Marty) is sort of the cherry on top of the sundae. You know the sundae was built on a foundation of I’ve always been an Ohio guy. I just love Cincinnati,” he said. “I loved growing up in this part of the country. I just thought it would be really great if our children could grow up here. I’m really just going to miss being around him.”

The Brennamans are the only father-son combination each to have called a perfect game (Marty for Tom Browning in 1988; and Thom for Randy Johnson in 2004).

Harry, Skip and Chip Caray

Maybe the most popular broadcaster of all the duos (in this rare case a trio) was Harry Caray. The elder stateman of the trio held down gigs with the Cardinals, White Sox and Cubs (he also had a brief stint with the A’s and St. Louis Browns). He teamed with Jack Buck in St. Louis to form a terrific broadcast team on Cardinals Radio. Harry was a showman though and that really came through when he went to the White Sox. The eldest Caray started the tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the PA, from the booth in the 7th inning (thank you Bill Veeck). He would swing his microphone encouraging the crowd to join him, to the delight of those in attendance and those watching at home. While it was big on the Southside of Chicago, it exploded on the Northside.

Caray leads 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' - YouTube

When Harry came to the Cubs, he was the attraction. The team was starting a rebuild under GM Dallas Greene and they weren’t very good. Caray was the ultimate salesman for baseball, pointing out the great things about being at the game and also calling things out that needed it. Some of the things Harry got away with then, probably wouldn’t fly in today’s game or world. Lost in all of that though, was Harry in his early days and up until he suffered a stroke in 1987 was a tremendous broadcaster – clean, crisp and concise calls of some big moments in the game of baseball. Not that he wasn’t good after 1987, he kind of steered into the skid and embraced his role as an entertainer and someone people wanted to watch. Harry passed just before the 1998 season, the year he was supposed to start working with his grandson, Chip. That duo never materialized. More on that in a moment. 

Harry’s son, Skip Caray was as much a part of Atlanta Braves lore as his father was with both Chicago baseball teams. Skip joined the Braves broadcasts in 1976 and stayed there until his untimely death in 2008. Skip and longtime partner Pete Van Wieren formed a widely popular duo on Superstation WTBS. They were seen all across the country (as were the Cubs during that time) growing a fan base in places not even near Atlanta.

Skip was widely popular and not for the same reasons his dad was. Skip’s style was often imitated but never duplicated. He had a quick wit and a sarcastic sense of humor that really made him so endearing to most fans. Some didn’t take his sarcasm to heart and weren’t fond of his deprecation of some of the bad Braves teams in the 1980’s. Skip would try to make light of horrible games, in fact with the Braves down big in a game he said, “It’s OK to walk the dog now, folks, if you promise to support our sponsors.” Priceless.

Chip Caray is the third member of the trio. Chip came into his own as the television voice of the Chicago Cubs from 1998 until 2004. Chip has an enthusiasm for the game that is hard to match. His home run calls during the ’98 race between Sosa and McGwire were featured prominently during Long Gone Summer when it debuted last weekend.

“Swung on and belted…” is a signature call. Chip is a cerebral guy and really knows the history of the game of baseball. You can tell that he really loves what he does and really loves the game with his style. 

Chip was hired by the Cubs to work with his grandfather Harry in the booth for the 1998 season. Unfortunately, Harry passed away in February of that year, and they never got to work together. “I never got to close the family book with Harry, I didn’t know him well and had very little interaction with him, which is why ‘98 is still bittersweet in many respects.”, Caray told me. “There is a ton of regret not getting to ‘know’ my grandfather on a personal level. Professionally, I mean, an entire history of baseball in our family was lost, I would have loved his advice on how to handle being a play-by-play guy in a big city like Chicago…all of that gone in a flash,” said Chip. 

When the Cubs chose not to renew his contract on the final day of the 2004 season, he announced he was headed to Atlanta to work with his father Skip on Braves’ broadcasts. A man he didn’t know very well. “My parents were divorced; I knew my dad loved me. I saw him two weeks a year. As he said one time, ‘I left when you were five and all of the sudden, I see you and get to know you and you’re 16 and 6 foot 4.’ That was an eye opener for him and an eye opener for me too,” said Chip. 

Skip Caray Dead at 68

“As bittersweet as it was to leave the Cubs, I was overjoyed getting a chance to work with my dad and be his son,” said the youngest Caray. “Understand that while divorce is in one way a failure it doesn’t make you a failure. We had a heart wrenching conversation one time. He said ‘I feel so guilty about the things I wasn’t able to do with you as a kid.’ I stopped him and said ‘do you like who I am as a person? Forget the broadcast, do like what you see of me as a person, a husband, a father?’ He said ‘yeah’, and I told him that he needed to understand that all of these experiences and things that I went through have made me who I am.”, he recalled. “So, celebrate that you did a lot of things right. It turned out ok. I think it gave him some peace and was sort of the basis of understanding for us and not looking back at what didn’t happen or should have happened but think about what could be from that point on,” Chip said with a smile in his voice.  

“The moments and times I had with my dad were great, we had a lot of laughs. He left us far too soon. I miss him every day,” Chip said.

He recalled how important it was to forge a relationship with his dad. “We were able, as adults, to reconnect the fibers of family that weren’t frayed by any stretch, but had never really been put together.  My dad developed amazing relationships with my kids, my wife and it was so rewarding to see how proud he was of me being a husband, father, and yes, broadcaster too.”

In May of 1991 all three Caray’s were in the booth together, for the open of the broadcast when the Cubs hosted the Braves. Chip and Skip with Atlanta and of course Harry with the Cubs. 

Chip Caray remembers grandfather, others as Cubs play in World ...

It still amazes me how the game of baseball is such a family affair. Whether it be on the field, the broadcast booth or in the stands, it’s generational. It’s meant to be shared with father’s and sons or father’s and daughters. Let’s hope those in charge of the game realize it and get the players back on the field soon. 

Others include (not specific to baseball only):

  • Marv and Kenny Albert 
  • Harry and Todd Kalas
  • Ian and Noah Eagle
  • Will and Sean McDonough
  • Don and Daron Sutton        
  • Ken and Casey Coleman
  • Woody and Wes Durham
  • Dan, Dan Jr. and John Kelly

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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