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Look Who's Talking

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THERE ARE 2,430 major league baseball games in a regular season, and last year's average game time was 3:04, which works out to 7,452 hours of baseball, enough to fill 310 full days. During that time the ball is in play for approximately six minutes of every hour, which means that televised baseball is really just ... two guys talking.

Those two guys are, by long-standing baseball custom, a play-by-play man and his ex-jock color analyst, the latter of whom is introduced at the top of every broadcast by his birth name, then addressed thereafter exclusively by his nickname. In Cleveland, it's "Matt Underwood alongside Rick Manning," who becomes Arch for the rest of the evening. In Milwaukee, Matt Lepay introduces Bill Schroeder, who instantly transforms into Rock. In Cincinnati—as with water flowing down drains in the Southern Hemisphere—the system reverses to nickname followed by birth name: "Alongside the Cowboy, Jeff Brantley, I'm Thom Brennaman."

Spend a couple of days watching every team's local broadcast, and these voices become your friends on a first-name basis. These shotgun pairings of single syllables—Chip & Joe, Dick & Bert, Rock & Matt—take on the quality of ancient marriages. In a matinee at St. Louis, the Pirates bring a three-hour rock block of Bob Walk and Joe Block to narrate the exploits of Jedd Gyorko and John Jaso.

Who is the audience for midweek, midday, televised baseball? Anyone who is in need of a getaway day. Which is to say, all of us. To judge by the signage on the outfield walls of North America, we are people desperate for a quick cash infusion (Oakland's LOANMART: MONEY WHEN YOU NEED IT) to spring us from prison (San Diego's ALADDIN BAIL BONDS) before we file a lawsuit (Toronto's PRESZLER INJURY LAWYERS) against the guy who assaulted us (Houston's UNITED AIRLINES).

Indeed, personal injury—very personal injury, given the number of strained groins and inguinal hernias that fill the air—is the lifeblood of televised baseball. In Pittsburgh the litany of player trauma is sponsored as "The Allegheny Health Network Injury Update." We're told that Twins pitcher Phil Hughes had a rib removed last season—he said he kept it as a souvenir—and after about 20 similar anecdotes, the players' own names begin to rearrange themselves into exotic disabled list phrases: Starlin Castro becomes Scrotal Strain, Andre Ethier is Reherniated.

If you're tempted to say of such anagrams, "You must have a lot of free time," you don't know the half of it. On a disputed bang-bang play at first the other day, the Rangers' announcers whiled away the review delay by debating the definition of a catch: It used to be when the ball hit the pocket of the glove, but now a catch merely requires the stitched orb to enter the interior space of the collapsing mitt, or some such thing. The players killed time as the umps reviewed the play, and the announcers killed time watching players kill time. And so the irrepressible Rex Hudler, in the Royals' booth, told us of his encounter with Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner that morning. "MadBum, I tell ya what, he's a big, bad dude. I said, 'You gonna take it easy on our guys?' And he said"—long pause for dramatic effect—"'Heck no, Hud.'"

If baseball had a motto etched onto its marbled halls, it would be whatever the Latin is for "Heck no, Hud."

Some days it is possible for an East Coaster with no job and the MLB.tv app to have nine consecutive hours of baseball under his ample belt by the time the West Coast games come on, when the Giants' great Jon Miller signs on in a butterscotch voice that lends dignity even to the phrase, "Welcome to NBC Sports Bay Area, powered by Xfinity."

Miller's is the voice you want to hear on your deathbed, narrating your life as it flashes before your eyes. Falling asleep to him, the supine listener can dream he has already passed away and been greeted at the gates in those gorgeous tones. "Welcome to heaven," the voice purrs, "powered by Xfinity."

Spend a couple of days watching every MLB team's local broadcast, and these voices become your friends on a first-name basis.

Who is baseball's best broadcaster?

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