Once, at a business dinner, Kenny Mayne asked a Latin American
executive of ESPN International how to say "home run" in
Spanish. The man looked the SportsCenter anchor in the eye
and--aspirating his h's and rolling his r's regally like Ricardo
Montalban--replied: "Hhhome rrrun."
Mayne, who now uses that pronunciation on SportsCenter whenever
Spanish-speaking players go yard, is the homer's Homer. He has
coined more phrases to describe home runs than Australians have
for inebriation. "I am not sure what the pitch is," he will say
with deadpan delivery as a ball leaves the park, "but it sure
tastes like chicken." Whatever that means exactly, it is funny
on the air. "If you just say, 'He hit a home run,' every time,
it's boring," says Mayne. "A lot of these are just to amuse
myself and the crew."
Signature home run calls, to paraphrase Vin Scully, go "back,
a-way back" in baseball history. Longtime New York Yankees
broadcaster Mel Allen popularized the much-copied metacall,
"Going, going, gone!" (At the behest of the Bombers' beer and
stogie sponsors, Allen was obliged to call home runs "Ballantine
blasts" and "White Owl wallops.")
Dick Enberg, as the voice of the California Angels, is believed
to have been the first announcer to utter, "Touch 'em all!"--a
phrase that has since touched us all.
Many other calls, mercifully, have gone unemulated. Baltimore
Orioles announcer Chuck Thompson has called some home runs as if
he were secretly signaling alien invaders: "Go to war, Miss
Agnes!" For others, he inscrutably has shouted: "Ain't the beer
cold!" (Yes, it must have been.)
Another Sultan of Non Sequiturs was Lindsey Nelson, who called
New York Mets home runs from 1962 to '78 with the phrase,
"Going, going and goodbye, Dolly Gray!"--Nelson's reference to
the ancient music-hall standard Good Bye, Dolly Gray.
More obscure, but intentionally comical, are Mayne's manifold
calls. He often morphs himself into a medieval king brandishing a
leg of mutton. "All this land is mine as far as the ball shall
travel!" he'll say as McGwire hits one 400 feet. Or, for grand
slams and game-winners only: "I am king of the diamond! Let there
be an abundant clubhouse feast! Bring me the finest meats and
cheeses in all the land!" Viewers now mail in suggestions. "I've
used one," says Mayne, "and I shouldn't have. It was, 'The blood
of the disbelievers will flow through the streets!'"
Bob Costas of NBC, too, receives unsolicited calls. Before the
1997 World Series, Keith Costas, 11, was the author of an
excellent home run call and begged his father to use it on the
air: "To the track, to the wall, goodbye, baseball!"
Stylistically, the call was an homage to the announcer in The
Natural ("Goodbye, Mr. Spalding!") and to Fox announcer Joe
Buck, whose elegant "Track, wall, gone!" is itself evolved from
a Scully call ("To the track, to the wall, and she's gone!").
When Bobby Bonilla hit one out in Game 7 and Costas pere yet
again obstinately refrained from using Keith's coinage, the boy
upbraided his old man in the booth: "What's the matter with you?"
The difficulty lies in coming up with something original,
reasonably spontaneous and appropriate to the moment. In a
Saturday Night Live sketch, comedian Ray Romano played a
SportsCenter second banana desperate to coin a catchphrase. "He
was one of these guys who keeps saying something like 'Slap me,
Daddy, I'm your laddy!'" recalls Costas. "For anything. For a
sacrifice fly." (Romano's actual phrase was "Sweet sassy,
Molassy!") The point of the skit was well taken--everyone is
hungry for a signature phrase.
No one knows the fickleness of catchphraseology better than
Mayne, a first banana who preemptively parodied himself in an
ESPN ad. He treats his phrases like a wardrobe, seasonally
working in new lines and phasing out old ones. "Right now,
'Yahtzee!' is tabled," Mayne says. He is sometimes tempted to
retire them all at once and has also thought of calling a home
run by saying, as bat meets ball, "Whatever."
Or better yet, says Mayne, "Insert your line here."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO