By Bob Socci
Maybe it was more than mere coincidence the night Yankee Stadium’s speakers were silenced.
Last month, as New York tried to rally during an eventual 5-4 loss to Boston, the climactic innings were played without audio advertising pitches, music to rev up the fans and formal announcement of each batter. According to the New York Daily News, the public address system automatically shut down after one of the ballpark’s water pumps registered a low-pressure reading.
The fact that it was Friday the 13th of May must have struck some as eerily cosmic – an untimely ballpark malfunction representing more than a stroke of bad luck.
But for others, including some players, the unusual shutdown was a blessing. For them, hearing fans left to their own devices – namely passion for the home team and awareness of the game situation, knowing when to clap and what to chant – was music to the ears.
“I thought it was pretty cool, actually, for the last three innings,” Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez told reporters.
“(The fans) made up for that (muted audio),” added Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson. “It was absolutely amazing.”
Upon experiencing that organic Bronx beat – of the fans, by the fans – the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wondered why ballparks can’t regularly take time out for quiet time. Cafardo proposed a two-inning moratorium on electronic stimuli at the stadium.
Realistically, no one’s going to the pull the plug on what team marketers and, frankly, many paying customers value as in-game entertainment. Not even for just an inning or two. Bells and whistles, as well as a myriad of other sound effects and musical clips, are now part of the fan experience.
Nonetheless, what Cafardo wrote calls to mind a conclusion I reached long ago, while frequenting dozens of ballparks across the country – from minors to majors. It’s based, essentially, on the wholly unoriginal idea of less being more.
What I’d like to see – hear, actually – in those places where ballgames are treated somewhat like tractor pulls or monster trucks is a little less volume.
It’s not so much the tunes that get to me. Let the music play, I say. More often, it’s the sound and fury from the pipes of the rare stadium voice who mistakes our leisurely night at the ballpark for his Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.
Society could use more civil tones. And so could baseball.
That’s why, if ever designated czar of the game – after first ending the habitual fidgeting with batting gloves that grips today’s hitters (please see previous post Baseball Addition by Subtraction) – I would decree:
2. There Should Be No Screaming in Baseball…
…unless, that is, you’re arguing with an umpire. And since I’ve yet to see a public address announcer or stadium emcee charge onto the field doing his best Bobby Cox or Lou Piniella impersonation, it’s time in some parks to dial it down a bit.
On any given outing to a ballgame, you can be treated to a beautiful arrangement. It’s the voices of vendors heard above the murmur of a grandstand; dugout chatter and bleacher banter; and the hubbub of a crowd taking cues from clutch hits and rally-ending strikeouts.
But in some places, particularly at the game’s grassroots, the minor leagues, electronic intrusion creates an assault on the senses. They’re where you’re liable to hear special effects, like the sound of shattering glass, on every foul ball out of play and/or an over-amplified and amped-up announcer shouting for the sake of shouting.
Years ago, The (insert sponsor) Pizza Scream was a widespread promotion. The premise was simple enough. During a designated between-innings break, fans were invited to scream for a free pie. Whoever was judged to make the most noise received an in-seat delivery. At least in that case, it was the fans doing all the screaming.
There are times, however, when the in-game, on-field host – filling a role created fairly recently – gets a bit carried away. For instance, at one International League stadium, the M.C. is a talented guy with plenty of timbre. He just happens to go overboard from the bed of a four-wheeler that circles the warning track and launches t-shirts into the crowd.
“Make some noise!” he repeatedly seems to be yelling from the top of his lungs. In moderation, his message would be clear. Over-modulation makes it just plain loud.
One of the great appeals of going to a ballgame is the idea of relaxing in your seat, washing down a dog slathered in mustard with a cold beverage and enjoying good conversation. You shouldn’t have to shout to be heard by the person in the next seat, as if bellied-up to the bar of a loud nightclub.
I’m totally into the idea of pumping up a crowd, trying to energize fans during a rally or entertain them when there’s a lull in the action. And, absolutely, a hometown hitter walking up to a clutch at-bat should be identified with a little extra oomph on each ensuing syllable of his name.
For that matter, creative use of music and videos definitely enlivens in-game presentation. There aren’t many ideas in sports marketing more ingenious than the Rally Monkey. I mean, except for Giants fans, who didn’t love seeing the Angels answer the monkey’s call to come back and win the 2002 World Series? The Rally Monkey was (is) so cool, one can almost forgive the Halos for perpetrating Thunder Sticks on the public that same postseason.
It’s understood that one can’t possibly expect other venues to sound like Fenway Park when Sherm Feller welcomed “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” or old Yankee Stadium when Bob Sheppard enunciated every syllable of Alvaro Espinoza with impeccable elocution.
And, granted, in most places announcers strike a perfect balance between Rex Barney (the late pitcher-turned-P.A.-man in Baltimore whose elongated “Thank Yooouuu!” punctuated announcements) and Michael Buffer (you know, the “Let’s get ready to rumble!!” ring announcer).
It’s not that I’m strictly advocating what some consider stodgy and stale over what’s hip and hop. And unless I really do get to reign over the game someday, all I can hope for is that those proud to be loud take the words of a longtime baseball man to heart.
For 35 years, Bob Brown was public relations director for the Baltimore Orioles. Later, in the mid-90s, he went on to a consult for a group of Maryland-based minor league clubs, including the Delmarva Shorebirds.
Once, speaking on the subject of what really draws fans to the ballpark, Brown offered a gentle reminder.
“The next time the club goes on the road,” he suggested, “open the gates, invite people to buy tickets to hear music and announcements, and see who shows up.”
Click here to hear how at some ballparks, the announcer screams for fans to scream for t-shirts!
Click here to compare how at other stadiums, including the home of the hugely successful Durham Bulls, only the fans do the yelling!
On deck: Root, Root, Root for the Home Team…
Bob calls Norfolk Tides games, in addition to his roles as the radio voice of Navy football and a freelance television broadcaster. To view and listen to samples of his work, please visit www.bobsocci.com.