Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome voices from The New York Mets pressbox

I don't miss living in New York - five years was enough for me, and unfortunately I lived there for six - but I do find I can't quite relinquish my subscription to The New York Observer, a weekly newspaper with a voice that sounds like the smart, informed, cynical people I knew in that city.

The latest issue delivered to me here in St. Louis has a long, wonderful discursive feature on the smart, informed, cynical people that call The New York Mets' games for the team: Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez.

Written by John Koblin, it quotes generously from transcripts of the trio's broadcasts. These passages have the rhetorical power of a great novel in conveying how people really speak to one another - in this case, how incident leads to anecdote and back to play-by-play over the lazy course of an uneventful ballgame.

Gary and Ron talked about how deflating it is for a pitcher when he’s working on a no-hitter and loses it. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the time the Mets—who have, amazingly, never had a no-hitter—came their closest to one: a game in July 1969, when Tom Seaver was two outs away only to surrender a left-center hit to the Cubs’ reserve man, Jimmy Qualls.

“Seaver looked like he wanted to go and strangle Jimmy Qualls,” said Ron. “That’s the look he gave.”


Keith: “He’s a winemaker now—Thomas.”

Ron: “Don’t forget Nancy Chardonnay.”

It was a reference to the wine Seaver named after his wife.

Keith: “It’s Nancy Fancy—it’s a red.”

Ron: “Oh, it is? I thought it was a char.”

Keith: “It’s like a petite sirah, almost.”

Gary: “Are you oenophiles done?”

Ron: “It’s a blend, right?”

They all laughed.

Keith: “Sorry, Gar.”

Gary: “It all tastes the same to me.”

More silence.

Keith: “I had a splendid Joseph Phelps the other night!”

Gary: “Reyes down swinging, and that’s seven strikeouts for Burnett.”
The abrupt return of the real - a fresh report on the actual baseball game they are being paid to report - is hilarious in this fragment Koblin has preserved for us.

I hope I'm not taken as a "thought of it first!" bore, but when I lived in New York, I spent many evenings sitting under a tree in my backyard, listening to Cohen call The Mets on the radio (he now works TV with Darling and Hernandez), and as a journalist who makes a living turning what people say into stories on pages, I often would imagine what Gary Cohen's publishable spoken prose would look like in print.

I was living in New York on 9/11. When the games were suspended, I was amazed to hear Mike and the Mad Dog (who worked for The Yankees' channel) interview security experts and elected officials with all the fearless grit and sarcasm they brought to the late-inning decisions of opposing managers.

When the games resumed, I was back in my backyard, one of millions of shattered New Yorkers - a nervous wreck, listening to Gary Cohen do his best to talk about baseball when none of us felt it mattered anymore.

I don't have a transcription of the broadcast in front of me - Koblin's story makes me want to go find one - but I remember at one point Cohen botched the score and had to go back and correct himself. "If we're going to play these games," he sighed, "we might as well keep track of the score."

That was exactly what I needed to hear right then, and said in the way I needed to hear it.


The sketch is mine from the press box at Shea Stadium (R.I.P.), where I met Cohen a few times when reporting features for various local publications.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but you haven't lived if you didn't hear Jack Buck, Mike Shannon and Bob Uecker together during a rain delay.