By Dan Bernstein–
Within a few days or so, we will know which former Cub will partner with Pat Hughes to call Cubs games on the radio.
And whether the choice is Dave Otto or Keith Moreland, the listener wins. There will finally be a real broadcast, complete with actual awareness, insight and information to replace the grunting, moaning, cheering confusion of Ron Santo’s tired, heart-on-sleeve act.
Amazingly, Hughes is worried about a fan backlash to the obvious improvement. “Please, please, give the new guy a chance,” he told the Sun Times. “They’ll make mistakes – we all do. But give them a chance.”
By the end of the season, the new guy will have made fewer miscues than Santo made in the typical game. Unless it’s seen as a “mistake” when the analyst knows how many outs there are or what inning it is. Mistakes were Santo’s whole bit.
But Hughes is saying what the team and flagship really are thinking, as bewildering as it may be that anyone could object to an immediately-superior product.
They created this problem by enabling the “Pat and Ron Show.” You had Pat (the kind, gentle, homespun play-by-play man with a soothing baritone voice, endless patience, and a non-threatening sense of humor), and Ron (the doddering uncle with who just wants the Cubs to win SOOOO bad). The show seemed to take place from a nursing home, with Pat sitting in a chair next to Ron’s adjustable bed, telling him what was going on in the game, and, I imagined, helping him open his mail and fold his clothes.
The decision-makers seem concerned that just calling the games, now, may not be enough for fans who listened for the overlaid seriocomedy. If they are right, it’s a shame.
A proud organization does not need to pander to those they think would tune out.
Win games, and people listen. The market is cornered. There is no alternative.
Good broadcasters know that the story is the game in front of them. The vivid description of the action, the multiple narrative arcs in the context of the season, and the endless opportunities to learn more about a fascinating sport make baseball on the radio special. To some, it borders on sacred.
You thought Hughes was good before? Just wait – he’s even better than you thought.
Not quite my cup of tea perhaps (a little too folksy for my taste), but he gets to leave that nursing home now and actually sit in the booth, employing his well-honed skills next to someone off of whom he can build substantive baseball conversation.
The evolution of the radio team is happening as we try to answer questions about Tom Ricketts and the new ownership.
Is this a new era of modernity, moving toward big-city MLB business, quantitative analysis, and an appeal to smart fans who just want to win? Or will they continue to sell joy, hope and familiarity; swimming in corny sentimentality in their crumbling, pastoral cathedral of Americana?
For the first time in many years, the radio call has a chance to be a step in the right direction.
(We should look carefully at the length of the new analyst’s deal. Neither guy seems to have the heft of a long-term hire, and Kerry Wood has a deal in place with Ricketts for when he retires. Despite denials, Wood and Ricketts did, indeed, discuss an on-air role of some kind as part of his personal-services contract that sits in Ricketts’s desk. Whether TV, radio, studio or a combination remains to be seen)
The “Pat and Ron Show” is over.
That means Cubs baseball on the radio is no longer for the soft, old and stupid, and that’s a very good thing.