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I Raise My Microphone to You, Vin Scully

Thank you for your graciousness and for the gift you bestowed upon all of us. I wish you a peaceful rest.

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Vin Scully

“It’s time for Dodger baseball! Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.” That’s how the legendary Vin Scully would greet countless thousands of Dodgers’ fans every time they’d watch or listen to a game. His gift was making every single listener/viewer feel like he was your buddy, the guy sitting next to you at the game or a bar or wherever. Vin made everyone feel special because that’s who he was. 

Now, unfortunately it’s time to talk about the passing of an absolute legend. Scully died earlier this week at the age of 94. Scouring Twitter and reading reactions to his death, there’s one theme I noticed. Most everyone that watched him or listened to him, Dodgers fan or not, say it feels like they’re losing a friend. Not that Vin’s career needed any validation, but to me, that’s the mark of a great broadcaster. Being there, through the ups and downs and being a trusted voice that people could rely on if they had a bad day or a great day. 

Vin’s passing leaves a void in our industry that will never again be filled. I say that, not just because he was the greatest baseball play-by-play announcer to ever crack a mic, but because he was a tremendous person. He seemingly had time for everyone. Even a green around the gills play-by-play apprentice, me. 

In 2004, when I was with the Cubs broadcast team, we made our annual trip to Los Angeles. I had been traveling with the team for a couple of years at that point, but never had the chance to meet Scully. I mentioned this in passing in the booth one afternoon. Pat Hughes, Ron Santo and our producer Matt Boltz started talking about Vin. Hughes said something to the effect of, let’s go visit him after the game. I thought nothing of it. But sure enough, after the postgame show, Pat motioned to me to come with him. I will admit, I was nervous. Out of character for myself, I didn’t know what I was going to say to him. I even had a baseball with me for him to sign. Such a geek. 

We made our way through the press dining room at Dodger Stadium and tucked away in one of the back corners was a doorway marked “Private”. Pat and I entered the private dining room for the Dodgers broadcasters and there was Vin and the rest of the crew. Pat was greeted immediately by the guys and proceeded to introduce me to everyone. He saved Vin for last. The ever-gracious Scully stood up from his chair and stuck out his hand. I’ll never forget what he said and in his dulcet tones, I can still hear it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Andy, I understand you’ve been doing some play-by-play, how’s that going?” Floored, I managed to speak and told him that it was a work in progress, but I was happy for the chance. He told me to keep at it and shook my hand. He then noticed the baseball in my hand, and asked if I wanted him to sign it. The fanboy in me, shook my head and I still have that ball in my collection. 

Vin Scully

I moved on to San Diego and saw Vin numerous times. I almost literally ‘bumped’ into him before a Dodgers/Padres game at Petco Park. Vin would walk the hallways in the broadcast area to ‘warm up’ before a broadcast. I marveled at this man, who still seemingly had that nervous energy that we all experience before going on the air. He would stroll up and down humming, not loudly, but with enough volume that you could hear him. He told me that was how he exercised his voice in getting ready for a game. It was amazing to see and hear, then get the explanation. 

Scully was a decorated man, winning many awards. He was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1982, receiving the Ford C. Frick Award. He was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 and had his microphone retired by the Dodgers. 

This great gentleman broadcast baseball for 67 years. Starting in Brooklyn in 1950 and finishing in Los Angeles in 2016. Scully worked for both CBS and NBC during his career and not only covered baseball, but on CBS he called NFL games from 1975-82. In his final telecast for the network, he was on the call for the NFC Championship Game, when Joe Montana hit Dwight Clark in the endzone for ‘the catch’ that put the 49ers into the Super Bowl. He also was on the network’s golf coverage as well as tennis. 

At NBC he did baseball and he did it well of course. He called four All-Star Games, four NLCS and three World Series. Scully had some memorable calls in the Fall Classic. Scully provided the call for one of baseball’s most memorable plays when Bill Buckner’s error in the 10th in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series gave the Mets an improbable win over the Red Sox:

“Little roller up along first. Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it! “

Scully also called Kirk Gibson’s famous homer during Game 1 of the 1988 World Series: 

“High fly ball into right field, she i-i-i-is … gone!”

Scully said nothing for over a minute, allowing the pictures to tell the story. Finally, he said:

“In a year that has been so improbable… the impossible has happened!”

Well before those moments, he was part of so many legendary and unforgettable calls with the Dodgers. Upon his retirement Dodgers fans voted on his greatest calls of all time. There are too many to list here, but a couple come to mind immediately. 

Scully had a flair for the English language. He would say things in a way that made the listener/viewer feel like they were right there with him. He set a scene unlike any other broadcaster. Take for example the 9th inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965, a 1-0 win over the Cubs at Dodger Stadium. 

When Koufax struck out Harvey Kuenn for the game’s final out, this is what Scully said to paint the picture as perfectly as Koufax painted the corners that night:

“You can almost taste the pressure now,” he said as the ninth inning got underway. ” … There are 29,000 people in the ballpark, and a million butterflies.”

“It is 9:46 p.m.,” Scully said. “Two and two to Harvey Kuenn. One strike away. Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch … swung on and missed, a perfect game!”

There were then 38-40 seconds of nothing but crowd noise. 

“On the scoreboard in right field, it is 9:46 p.m. in the city of the angels, Los Angeles, California. And a crowd of 29,139 just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games, and he’s done it four straight years. And now he’s capped it; on his fourth no-hitter, he made it a perfect game.”

Brilliant. Simple, yet incredible. The first of the three perfect games Scully called, took place in the 1956 World Series. Don Larsen faced the Dodgers in the Bronx and as the game went into the 9th inning, Scully epically described the tense feeling building at Yankee Stadium.

“Well, all right, let’s all take a deep breath as we go to the most dramatic ninth inning in the history of baseball,” he said.

Scully later described Yankee Stadium “shivering in its concrete foundation” as 64,517 fans hung on every pitch.

When Larsen struck out Dale Mitchell on a called third strike to end the game, Scully said, “Got him! The greatest game ever pitched in baseball history by Don Larsen, a no-hitter, a perfect game in a World Series.”

“When you put it in a World Series, you set the biggest diamond in the biggest ring,” Scully said.

Scully was the gem of the biggest kind. I’ve heard many words used to describe the man upon his passing. Gentleman, kind, warm and friendly are a few. To me, Vin always displayed class. Even as his final game in the booth for the Dodgers came to an end, he eloquently said so long:

“You know, friends, so many people have wished me congratulations on a 67-year career in baseball, and they’ve wished me a wonderful retirement with my family, and now, all I can do is tell you what I wish for you. May God give you, for every storm, a rainbow; for every tear, a smile; for every care, a promise; and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life seems, a faithful friend to share; for every sigh, a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer. You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know, in my heart, I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me, and I’ll miss our time together more than I can say. But you know what, there will be a new day, and, eventually, a new year, and when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, ooh, rest assured, once again, it will be time for Dodger baseball. So, this is Vin Scully wishing you a pleasant good afternoon, wherever you may be.”

A year after he signed off, the Dodgers advanced to the World Series for the first time in 29 years. Dodgers’ fans started a petition for him to come out of retirement and call the games on Fox. Joe Buck was even on board. Scully declined, preferring instead to lay low. “I honestly don’t feel I belong there and I would not want anyone to think I was eager for a spotlight.” Scully said. He added, “I’ve done enough of them.” 

I think any of us, that got to meet him, watch him or listen to him over the years would disagree with that last statement. You could never get enough of the great Vincent Edward Scully. Thankfully his voice lives on through audio recordings and YouTube videos to show the younger generation how it was done. And done so well for so many years. It’s always hard to say goodbye, to someone you feel like you knew, even if you never had the chance to meet him. 

Vin, I raise a microphone to you. Thank you for your graciousness and for the gift you bestowed upon all of us. I wish you a peaceful rest. And we all know where you’ll be, in our hearts and fondest memories forever.

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Does ESPN BET Complicate NFL, NBA Equity Plan for Disney?

“Can a league comfortably take an equity stake in ESPN if its involvement makes a valuable sector of the business less attractive to consumers?”

Demetri Ravanos

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ESPN BET Icon

Disney has big plans for the future of ESPN. It seems like not that long ago, we were debating the ethics of the company selling an interest in the network to the NFL or the NBA. Now we are talking about all of the different ways we will be able to stream content from the Worldwide Leader.

It doesn’t mean that talks for leagues to buy a piece of ESPN are gone. They have just been moved to the back burner of the media news cycle. It’s still something worth talking about though, because I don’t think we have hit on what would have to be the biggest hurdle to any league owning a piece of the biggest brand in sports media.

ESPN has a good reputation. Unless you have a political dispute with Disney or one of the network’s talent, you probably don’t have a lot of complaints about the way they cover your favorite sport. An investment in ESPN the network would not be controversial, but investing in ESPN the brand is, well, complicated.

The destigmatization and legalizing of sports gambling across the country has brought with it an economic boom for every team and league in the United States. Ad revenue, marketing partnerships, and data deals have opened up new revenue streams. But sports gambling only works if the leagues keep their relationships with the sportsbooks formal and cooperative.

Caesars is an official betting partner of the NFL. I didn’t mind placing my Super Bowl bets there because while the two companies work together, Caesars isn’t owned by the league. It’s an independent entity and I have faith that neither side would let the other do anything that would compromise its business.

That used to be something ESPN could simply nod in agreement with, but since partnering with Penn Entertainment on the launch of ESPN BET, there are a whole new world of questions Disney has to answer as it looks for a strategic partner. I gamble because I trust the results are pure. I may not always like them, but because I am not terrified of Taylor Swift, I have no reason to believe the outcomes are manipulated.

If the NFL or NBA were to take equity in ESPN, then the perception would be that they have some equity in a sportsbook. Maybe it’s fair, maybe not, but I know that I would always look at ESPN BET’s line movement a little cock-eyed. Can a league comfortably take an equity stake in ESPN if its involvement makes a valuable sector of the business less attractive to consumers?

Last year, WWE executives were trying to convince gaming regulators in multiple states that it was possible to secure the outcomes of scripted matches in a way that would make it possible for casinos to take action on Raw and Smackdown results. 

The plan was met with skepticism and ultimately led nowhere. There was just no way the company could convince the states they were trying to persuade that they could guarantee the sanctity of results.

For the WWE, AEW and other professional wrestling outfits, it’s just a bump in the road. They weren’t counting on gambling revenue. Maybe some of those conversations even began with Triple H or someone else acknowledging that the idea is a bit of a hail mary in the first place.

Basketball and football do not have such a luxury. It’s projected that the NBA will take in more than $167 million from sports gambling partnerships this season. The American Gaming Association estimated that the NFL takes in an astounding $2.3 billion per year that way. Gambling may not be as valuable as media rights deals yet, but no one in either league office is dismissing that cash.

Change comes to every business over time and ESPN is no exception. Licensing used to mean putting the famous four letters on restaurants or selling t-shirts, pint glasses, and basketballs with Stuart Scott’s catchphrases emblazoned on them. The company got more adventurous with things like ESPN Mobile and Disney vacation packages, but in the time when all of that was raising eyebrows, no one even considered the possibility that the network’s name could one day be on a sportsbook.

Verizon was the network muscle behind ESPN Mobile. Still, users associated the product’s quality (or lack their of) with ESPN. The same is true of ESPN BET, and I think it’s something Adam Silver and Roger Goodell have to consider.

It doesn’t matter what the realities or details of the deal between Disney and Penn Entertainment are. If you’re buying part of ESPN, you are buying a piece of ESPN BET. As someone that likes to have a vested interest in the games I watch (particularly football), I am going to think twice about betting on a game in the league that could profit if things go “the right way.”

Diversity is a good thing for your portfolio. Disney has known that for years. Outside of the entertainment space, the company also owns stakes in several real estate companies, technology company GoPro and so much more.

The company has slapped the ESPN name on products and events before. Now though, the combination of timing and market could make that a liability as it looks to sell a stake in what used to be its most valuable subsidiary. 

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Jermaine Wiggins is Loving Life at WEEI

“As I played through my career, I always loved just talking about sports and always having an opinion on something regardless of what it is.”

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Jermaine Wiggins
Courtesy: Audacy

Some athletes loved talking to the media during their playing days and even had their sights set on getting into broadcasting.  There are also some athletes who were never really comfortable with speaking to reporters and go on to other things when their careers were over.

In the case of former NFL tight end Jermaine Wiggins, he subscribes to the former.

Wiggins is doing great on the airwaves as part of The Greg Hill Show mornings on WEEI in Boston.

“I’ve been having an absolute blast,” said the 49-year-old Wiggins who enjoyed an 8-year NFL career and was part of the Patriots Super Bowl XXXVI team. 

“For me, as a former player, I’ve always been a fan of sports.  I’ve always been a guy that, as a kid growing up in Boston, was always having conversations about who was better…Magic/Bird…Yankees/Red Sox.”

Wiggins credits a lot of his success at the microphone to the trash talking environment that he grew up in.  If he could dish it out with family or on the streets with friends, then he could do it on the radio.  But as he transitioned into broadcasting, he just had to refine the way that he presented his thoughts.

“As I played through my career, I always loved just talking about sports and always having an opinion on something regardless of what it is,” said Wiggins.  “Making the transition was relatively smooth.  It was more of learning some of the do’s and don’ts and how to get better as you get more into the business.  It’s just really about being who you are and being authentic.”

And being authentic was how he handled talking to the media during his playing career.  If he did something well, he was there to talk to the media.  If he made a mistake, he didn’t hide from the media.

Wiggins always wanted to talk and now he talks for a living.

“I was always the type of player who would stand there and say I could have done this better or I could have done that better and taking accountability,” said Wiggins.  “I always enjoyed that element of it.  I’ve been fortunate.”

Wiggins, along with Courtney Cox, contribute to the show which airs weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and the trio enjoys tremendous chemistry on the air.  Hill is the point guard setting things up and distributing the basketball to his teammates.

But Wiggins prefers a football reference.

“(Greg is) basically our Tom Brady and Bill Belichick all rolled into one,” said Wiggins.  “He puts us in the right spots.  He allows us to be great at what we do.  He’s an unbelievable leader. Courtney with her coming in and the things she does and Greg allowing her to be who she is has been spectacular.”

While Wiggins is flourishing in his on-air role and learning a lot from Greg Hill, he has also been fortunate to receive guidance and advice from management at WEEI.  Wiggins credits Senior Vice-President Mike Thomas and Brand Manager Ken Laird for being great resources to learn the little things that will allow him to grow as a talk show host.

“When you have guys who have been in the business for so long who are great people and understand what it takes to be successful, all you do is keep your mouth shut and take in the information that they give you,” said Wiggins.  “I think that’s what Mike has allowed me to do.  Whether it’s him or Ken, I like the constructive criticism.  Mike has seen so much in the radio business that when he starts to talk about things, you just sit there and listen.”

And Wiggins also has to listen to his critics.

As a former player, he is well aware of what it’s like to read or hear negative comments made by a member of the media.  And now that he’s on the other side of the microphone as a sports talk show host, he is now subject to commentary from reporters who cover sports media.  Just based on his playing days, Wiggins is well-equipped to handle any criticism that comes his way, but he also has something else to lean on.

He learned how to have thick skin from the environment that he was raised in.

“I grew up in East Boston in a single-parent household and my mother was an Italian woman raising a black kid,” said Wiggins. 

His mother taught him how to handle anything negative said to him.

“Her biggest thing was people are going to say things but they don’t put food on our table, they don’t put a roof over our head and they don’t put clothes on your back,” said Wiggins.  “She used to say it doesn’t matter what anybody says about you and if they’re not saying anything about you, then you’re probably not doing nothing”. 

In other words, haters are going to hate because they can’t handle that you are having success and living the good life.

“When people are criticizing you or they’re jealous or they’re saying things about you, then that means you’re doing something right,” said Wiggins.  “Never let that bother you.  If you’re good enough, that means you’re doing something right and people generally don’t want to see you soar.”

For Wiggins, as well as all of the hosts at WEEI, these are certainly interesting times when it comes to talking about the Patriots.  The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, and the six Super Bowl championships that came with it, is now over and the team is in transition with new head coach Jerod Mayo.

That has led to taking phone calls from fans that they have not been used to taking in recent years.

“When they’re not winning, the sky is falling but the sky hasn’t been falling for a long time,” said Wiggins.  “The sports fan here is when your team is doing great, you’re willing to die for them and as soon as they make one simple mistake, you’re ready to ship everyone out of there and blow it up.  It’s been a while since the team has been bad so we kind of are in unchartered waters for some of the younger fans.”

But at the end of the day, Boston sports fans are some of the best in the country and they’re going to be there win, lose or draw.

“We’re going to stay loyal to our teams even if they are shi**y at times,” said Wiggins.

From growing up in East Boston, to an NFL career that included hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy, to having a successful career now in broadcasting, Jermaine Wiggins is well-equipped to taking calls from both ends of the sports radio spectrum.

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Major League Baseball Needs to Find More Exclusive Windows for Broadcasts

Like every industry in the world, baseball is trying to find a way to adjust to the habits of a country that has everything at their fingertips.

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Major League Baseball
Courtesy: Major League Baseball

The last few weeks, I’ve written about the media storylines for Major League Baseball entering Spring Training, and last week I looked at how MLB’s relationship with ESPN can evolve. This week, I will tackle how baseball’s relationship with their national television rightsholders, in general, can evolve.

Most of the networks/streamers lean more towards exclusivity with their packages. In the next deal they sign with the NBA, I’d imagine ESPN will likely not sign up for the Wednesday and Friday games, which can also be shown in the home markets. With Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney’s deals with the NHL, games shown on their platforms are exclusive to their platforms.

Major League Baseball has already done this with most of their packages, only TBS’ Tuesday night games and games on FS1 are non-exclusive packages (excluding games on MLB Network – which is league owned). However, the windows where the exclusive games do exist, have seen less viewership.

Baseball, unlike basketball and football, is very much regionally oriented. Whoever your favorite team is, you will watch a majority of their games and not much more baseball outside of that. Therefore, MLB has to lead the audience to watch other games. The catch-22 with baseball is they have made games so easily accessible with MLB.tv and MLB Network over the last 15 years, if you are a Cubs fan, and Aaron Judge is up with the bases loaded, there could be an alert to your phone to go to MLB.tv and switch over or “MLB’s Big Inning” or MLB Network and they would go to it.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has implemented more special event games during his stewardship, with games held internationally in Australia, Japan, Korea, Mexico and England. The “Field of Dreams” game and the “Little League Classic” have also been played in unique locations on standalone nights. Baseball may need to have more standalone games featuring its star players.

The NBA has made sure almost every LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant or LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry matchup is on national TV, in primetime, with few if any games going against it. There is no reason why every single one of the Dodgers-Yankees games this season can’t be treated the same. The problem is, with that 3-game series, the Friday Night game will be on Apple TV+ when other games are scheduled, the Saturday game on FOX will have most of the audience, while Sunday’s game will be on ESPN.

Creating more exclusive standalone windows that would appeal to the audience would be better served for the league and their networks. Here are some suggestions to change around each of the current packages:

Current RightsholdersTBSApple TV+FOX/FS1PeacockESPN
Total Games2650921930
Exclusive050521930
Day of WeekTuesday NightFriday NightSaturday at 7pm EST on FOX (except 4/27), Weekdays and Saturday on FS1Sunday starting at 11:35am EST or 12 Noon ESTOpening Night (March 28th), 25 Sunday Nights beginning at 7pm EST, 3 additional Week

(*Note – Peacock Schedule Based upon 2023 Season – No Deal Official for 2024 Season)

TBS Tuesdays

Currently, the TBS schedule has announced games through June, and the start times vary from 6:30 p.m., 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (all times Eastern). The games are also non-exclusive, and air on one of the busiest nights of the MLB slate. Most baseball fans are not trained to tune into TBS until October, and don’t even realize there are regular season Tuesday games on the network.

TBS should move to another night, where they could replicate what TNT does with the NBA and NHL. When there are games on TNT, there is a much smaller slate in basketball and hockey. Moving baseball games to Mondays, when it’s a smaller primetime slate, could give TBS the best chance for a larger audience. Wednesdays and Thursdays are typically travel days, so sometimes the best matchups may not be available because there are more day games. However, on Mondays it’s usually a smaller game schedule, so the network could work with the league to maybe stack some Mondays with a 3-4 game schedule with the best games.

Apple TV+ Friday Night Baseball

Like TBS, the Apple TV+ games are on the busiest night of the week. Additionally, people have complained enough about when the games are on the streamer, that it might not be worth a fan paying the subscription fee for missing 1-3 games of their favorite team in a 162-game season. So, why couldn’t Apple TV+ do something different and buy out a series?

From the day after Memorial Day to the last week of the season, Major League Baseball could make one series the Apple TV+ “Series of the Week.” This would typically be a Tuesday-Thursday series, with special start times for each of the games. Friday nights, especially in the summer, people have other things to do. The weekdays are more routine for baseball fans, and for Apple TV+ to buy out an entire series would give them a better chance to maintain subscribers.

FOX Saturdays

This is almost completely stealing from “Hockey Night in Canada,” but as FOX markets itself “Baseball Night in America” for all their games (except for April 27th this year), why not make it the entire day? MLB’s Saturday schedule is shockingly dormant from 1 p.m.- 4 p.m. EST, then there are a bunch of games between 4-7 p.m. EST, then FOX takes over usually from 7-10 p.m. EST, and then a few west coast games follow. FOX does typically air an additional game at 4 p.m. EST on their cable channel FS1.

For a change, MLB should try to schedule as many games that start between 1-3:30 p.m. EST. FOX could have a doubleheader at 4 p.m. exclusively on FS1 and 7 p.m. EST on FOX, and one of the 10 p.m. games back on FS1. On Saturdays, kids are usually coming back from playing in a baseball game, so they likely want to see more baseball. MLB can load the games earlier in the day and then taper off and make sure FOX has all the action as the day goes on.

Sunday Leadoff on Peacock & Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN

These two packages work because there is nothing going on against either game. As part of Peacock’s Major League Baseball Package no game can start until 1:35 p.m. EST, thus giving Peacock a 90-minute head start. Meanwhile, with the advent of the pitch clock and games going, on average, 2 hours and 45 minutes, all baseball games are done by the time the Sunday Night game comes on.

Like every industry in the world, baseball is trying to find a way to adjust to the habits of a country that has everything at their fingertips. At the same time, baseball is a business which is still trying to get increased revenue from rightsholders, while those same companies are trying to evaluate the costs of live sports. These tricky circumstances for Major League Baseball will be something to follow in the next few years.

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