My eyeballs did lock, admittedly, when MLB Network provided sweeping visuals we haven’t seen in eons: Wrigley Field swallowed by sunshine, the pause in Clayton Kershaw’s windup, Max Scherzer already in full uniform, Bryce Harper swinging in a bandana. Yep, the brainwashers had me going until I looked around those ballparks, at the start of “Summer Camp’’ in the most ass-backward year of our lives, and noticed a familiar disparity that has turned America into the globally mocked epicenter of COVID-19.
Some players wore masks.
Many players, defiantly and foolishly, did not.
I should have known this was the precursor of a debacle, a weekend that reminded us that Major League Baseball has no chance of surviving a pandemic-slammed season when it can’t even begin to repair the rampant troubles threatening its very existence. Just hours into commissioner Rob Manfred’s bumbling folly, the testing protocol already resembles a sham — filled with misinformation if not downright lies, including suspicions that MLB isn’t being transparent about a sizable number of positive coronavirus tests. All of which surprises no one accustomed to baseball as the most scandalous of sports.
Forget Harper, Kershaw and Scherzer. All attention should be paid to Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, a vocal critic of Manfred and the owners during the embarrassing recent labor squabbles with the players’ union. On a Zoom call Sunday, Doolittle told reporters that of his four tests, two required longer than 48 hours for results to return from MLB’s ridicule-made Salt Lake City laboratory. The Oakland Athletics had to cancel a workout for position players because test results weren’t available, and other teams were awaiting testing data before resuming.
Only 17 days remain before Opening Day. At this point, Manfred has a better chance of putting people in body bags than pulling off a 60-game season. It’s about time to mercy-kill MLB, assuming Doolittle hasn’t done so with a memorable commentary.
“There’s a lot of players right now that are trying to make decisions that might be participating in camp that aren’t 100 percent comfortable with where things are at right now,’’ he said. “That’s kind of where I am. I think I’m planning on playing. But, if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health, with all these things we have to worry about, and this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I’ll opt out.
“Those results gotta be back. That’s one of the biggest things — a lot of guys on the fence decided to try to play and see how this was going to go, because we were going to have our results within 48 hours.’’
Baseball is slow about everything. You thought a sport that can’t finish a game in three hours would have COVID-19 results in two days?
At least the NBA has a shot to resume a season, with its Disney World biobubble awaiting the arrival of players. Baseball looks dead before it starts. “I think there’s still some doubt that we’re going to have a season now. By no means is this a slam dunk,’’ said Cardinals reliever and union leader Andrew Miller.
Mike Trout, baseball’s transcendent figure and someone you don’t want to upset, wore a heavy-duty mask in the outfield after voicing considerable apprehension about playing a 60-game season in a pandemic. Emphasizing that his wife, Jessica, is due to deliver the couple’s first child next month, he said, “Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable. We’re risking our families and our lives to go out here and play for everyone. Obviously, with the baby coming, there’s a lot of stuff going through my mind, my wife’s mind, just trying to (figure out) the safest way to get through a season. I don’t want to test positive and I don’t want to bring it back to my wife. We thought hard about all this, still thinking about all this. It’s a tough situation we’re in, everyone’s in, and everybody’s got a responsibility in this clubhouse to social distance, stay inside, wear a mask and keep everybody safe.’’
In essence, Trout was PLEADING that his Angels teammates not be COVID-iots in coronavirus-slammed California, where face coverings are mandatory in public places and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti again is warning, “You should assume everyone around you is infectious.’’ And yet not minutes later, within a few feet of Trout, maskless teammates were frolicking and talking while shagging fly balls, oblivious to his concerns about an outbreak. This on a weekend when dozens of major-leaguers — including Braves star Freddie Freeman, who isn’t well and will sit a while — tested positive for the virus, along with NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson, more soccer players amid an MLS restart collapse, a main-event fighter in UFC 251, and, naturally, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend. Several NBA teams shut down facilities because of the virus. And in the haste to rush workouts, Giancarlo Stanton almost took off Masahiro Tanaka’s skull inside an eerie Yankee Stadium, counterproductive to the title cause.
It all seems so fragile, hapless, hopeless. But at least wear a mask, right? Reports had some major-league players discarding masks when, of course, they should be covering up when possible as a symbol of their commitment to safety, an infomercial for America to stop political mask warfare and a respectful nod to Trout, who, armed with the sport’s most lucrative contract, has every reason to sit out this shotgun season. He still might go home at any moment. Can we blame him?
“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle, taking aim at mask warfare in America. “We’re way worse off as a country then we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are the reward of a functioning society. And we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.
“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands.”
Amen. Sean Doolittle for commissioner.
It’s time to ask the question no one in sports wants to face: If enough marquee athletes bow out, will competitive integrity be diluted to the point it’s useless to continue what would be an illegitimate season? The thought of a total sports shutdown mortifies the broadcast networks that drive the sports engine, particularly Fox Sports and ESPN, both of which might crumble if the cash-cow NFL cancels its $15-billion-a-year, TV-dominant season as ESPN parent Disney suffers an abysmal fiscal third quarter. The pressure already is palpable as athletes begin to realize they ultimately hold the power in this restart ecosystem.
If too many players don’t want to play and scram, as David Price and Victor Oladipo have done and Buster Posey is pondering, down goes MLB, down goes the NBA and down goes the NFL. Once college football players (and their parents) realize they are assuming health risks without being paid, down go Clemson and other superpowers — and down goes the season. And down go the TV networks, doomed to financial disaster. A baseball season is not a baseball season without Trout. And as more prominent athletes fail tests and suffer injuries — bubble or no bubble — sports become less about the games and more about a coronavirus survival test that fans will not enjoy, much less the players.
“If I test positive, it’s my first child, and I have to be there,’’ Trout said. “If I’m positive, doctors have told me I can’t see the baby for 14 days. Jess won’t see the baby for 14 days if she tests positive. We’re going to be upset. I can’t put them in jeopardy. … It’s going to come down to how safe we’re going to be. You never know what can happen tomorrow or the next day, if there’s an outbreak. … A lot of guys have families, some are single and younger, need to get out of the house. One guy can mess this up. One guy can go out and not wear a mask and contract this virus and bring it into the clubhouse. I’ve talked to a lot of guys across the league. They’re all thinking the same thing, `Is this going to work? ‘ ‘’
For all his wondrous skills on the field, never has Trout been more valuable than he was in that virtual interview room. Passionately and reasonably, he spoke to a sports industry that insists on restarting play when common sense and workplace ethics demand a shutdown until 2021. As infections surge and new single-day case records are established daily in the U.S., leagues and broadcast networks that once derided President Trump are conveniently embracing his delusional belief the virus will “just disappear.’’ Driven by massive, stubborn business egos and a hunger to recoup billions of dollars, the industry’s power elite thinks it can beat down the virus and prove that humankind is bigger than a killer disease. And athletes? They’ve been conditioned most of their lives to think they’re superheroes when, in reality, nothing is heroic about resuming sports amid a still-raging crisis.
It’s stupid, actually. And exceedingly dangerous, a recipe for outbreaks in all leagues and an abrupt end to all sports seasons, which underscores the importance of the preeminent baseball superhero speaking out. He’s not alone. “I think we’ve seen with these owners, they’re not scared of anything, and they’re not scared to put anyone at risk if they get the opportunity to, especially if it makes them money,’’ Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. Not only is it unfair to ask athletes to resume seasons and assume all health risks — commissioners and owners, remember, will be bunkered down with their accountants — the reset ignores data that sounds alarms about the outsized impact of coronavirus in the black community. When about 75 percent of NBA players and 70 percent of NFL players identify themselves as African American, the discussion has been suspiciously non-existent about: (1) a COVID-19 mortality rate that is 2.3 times higher for black people than for whites and Hispanics, according to the Washington Post; and (2) a metric that shows African Americans are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than white people, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The leagues can take all the measures they want to appease black athletes in a turbulent, potentially explosive summer, from the NBA’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter’’ on the Disney World courts and allow players to wear “social justice’’ slogans on jerseys to the NFL’s plan to play “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing’’ before “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ in pregame ceremonies. Daniel Snyder finally can find a non-racist nickname for Washington’s NFL franchise, and the Cleveland Indians can do the same. If players don’t feel safe in a pandemic, they’re not playing. Major League Baseball, mired in a disastrous diversity crisis on all levels, looks worse when Price follows Ian Desmond in opting out. It was Desmond who said baseball is “failing’’ in efforts to aid minority participation, writing on Instagram, “Think about it: right now in baseball we’ve got a labor war. We’ve got rampant individualism on the field. In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating. We’ve got a minority issue from the top down. One African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners. Perhaps most disheartening of all is a puzzling lack of focus on understanding how to change those numbers. A lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it. If baseball is America’s pastime, maybe it’s never been a more fitting one than now.’’
The NBA has racial peace. But to prevent the virus from spreading in the bubble, all players will have to obey the safety protocol and commit weeks, if not months, to life in isolation. Do they have it in them? I’m not the only one doubting it “My confidence ain’t great,’’ said All-Star guard Damian Lillard, “because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom, everybody don’t follow all the rules.’’
Said Spurs star DeMar DeRozan, whose publicly shared battles with mental health underline another issue with players in virtual lockdown: Will they go stir-crazy? He can’t understand why ping-pong doubles games are banned. “Guys can’t do this, but we can do this and battle over each other (on the court),’’ he said. “I got through 10 lines of the (safety) handbook and just put it down because it became so frustrating and overwhelming at times, because you just never thought you’d be in a situation of something like this. It’s hard to process.’’
On the mental health topic, Doolittle said, “I can already tell this is going to be a grind mentally, and I might go crazy before anything else. There’s this cloud of uncertainty. You’re always kind of waiting for more bad news. Every time I get a text message or something on my phone throughout the day I’m worried that it’s going to be some kind of bad news, like somebody in the league tested positive or somebody opted out or so-and-so broke protocol and there’s pictures of people going out on social media when they shouldn’t be.’’
Then there was JJ Redick. The NBA veteran delivered the defining observation of the restart, surely speaking for many athletes when he said, “To say that we have any sort of comfort level would be a lie. There is no comfort level. We’re not with our families. We’re not at our homes. We’re isolated in a bubble in the middle of a hot spot in the middle of Florida — while there’s social unrest going on in the country — and we’re three months away from potentially the most important election in our lifetimes. Now, we have to figure out a way to perform and play basketball and all that, because I do believe it is the right thing to go and play. But there is absolutely no comfort level — none.’’
All weekend, like a toxic drip, the news digest offered more reasons not to play sports in 2020. I even read a story suggesting the PGA Tour will continue to risk outbreaks as long as winners hug caddies, as Daniel Berger did after winning the Charles Schwab Challenge. Maybe that’s why ESPN.com refused to budge for hours on what it viewed as the leading story: Joey Chestnut (a record 75 consumed) and Miki Sudo continued to dominate Nathan’s Famous Dog-Eating Contest, even when separated from other slobberers by fiberglass panels.
It wasn’t proper journalistic judgment. But it did generate a grin. When was the last time we grinned about sports?
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.