As a baseball broadcaster, I would like to be evaluated for the full scope of my work: My description, my warmth, my anecdotes, and my bringing the listener that feeling of getting closer to the game. But no: Baseball broadcasters are, by and large, judged in two respects: Their voice, and their home run call.
A great many broadcasters are annoyed by the very question of “What’s your home run call?” or “Do your home run call for me right now!” We say things like, “We don’t have a specific home run call,” and “It’s important that the call stays organic and honest.” Which is absolutely correct. And… a little false.
When a ball disappears into the crowd, I don’t want to be saying something rehearsed. Home runs don’t all look the same. They’re not all hit high. Some are liners. They’re not all hit far. Some would be flyouts in other parks, were it not for short porches and bandboxes. But if I don’t have words at the ready to describe a home run, I’m lost. I’m the person saying, “What’s it going?” at a party because I got caught in between “What’s up” and “How’s it going.” (I’ve been that person.)
My very first home run call, words entirely failed me. I called the ball going back to the wall, and then… There were too many potential things to say. It was paralyzing.
In search of clarity and comfort, I have tried out different home run calls. I learned that the old standbys “Gone” and “Outta here” taste so right in the moment. One month in 2008, I tried out the phrase “Back it goes… there it goes!” but it could never emerge without a feeling of clumsiness. Several years ago, I put “Going, going, gone!” into the rotation because it was old school. This year, I added “Kiss it good-bye!” and “Good-bye!”
Learn from my mistakes. Consider this a guide to executing the home run call.
Pre-AB Mindset: Home runs can be hit at any time in any place, more so if that time is the second decade of the 21st century and that place is Cincinnati, Ohio. Still, while the broadcaster should not be surprised by the occurrence of a home run, other items – like storytelling, letting the game breathe, and including one’s broadcast partner in conversation – are crucial. Reset the score and situation, introduce the hitter, and then regale the listener with that great anecdote that you memorized/wrote down earlier today while doing your prep work. If you’re anticipating a home run a little too much, every fly ball will look like a potential homer. In other words, be ready – but be measured.
Trigger: A television broadcaster is aided by the visual and so does not have to specifically call each pitch, though some do. A radio broadcaster should specifically call each pitch, though some don’t. Still, each pitch needs space. A broadcaster caught chatting away when the *crack* rings out is in danger of suffering verbal whiplash in the haste to catch up with the call. Don’t be surprised by a pitch. Give it that momentary beat, or that anticipatory call on radio – and see what happens next.
Contact: Evocative verbs are at the broadcaster’s command: blasted, drilled, hammered, tattooed, and onward. (My initial search for the best ways to describe a batted ball led to the creation of the Baseball Thesaurus.”) “Swing and a drive” works as a call, depending on the mastery of the broadcaster, as does Tom Hamilton’s enthused “Swung on and belted!” “In the air to right” also works fine, as long as it receives the proper follow-through and receives the proper rising excitement. Put that ball in play and begin your vocal ascent as the ball ascends. Don’t peak on your excitement level too soon. The most exciting part of the entire call should be the outright declaration of the home run. Start shouting now, and you’ll find that you’ve already reached your ceiling, with nowhere higher to go. Then you’ll either build a wall of shouting where nothing stands out or your voice, reaching its limits, will break.
The Follow-Through: Travel with the baseball, to left, to center to right, to left-center, to right-center, down the line, or toward the batter’s eye. How long does it take a home run ball to carry over the wall? If it’s gone in a hurry, there’s no time for vocal enjoyment, only posthaste marvel. If it’s in the air forever, the broadcaster can be left doubting, speechless, or redundant. Describe that path. If there’s a question that it might be caught, describe the outfielder’s pursuit. Otherwise, follow the baseball, lest you get caught staring at an outfielder while the ball ricochets around the bleachers 30 feet beyond him. “Way back! Way back!” says Joe Angel, and Jerry Trupiano. (Jon Miller’s preference is for “Way back there…!”) “Stretch, stretch,” says Hawk Harrelson. “Get up, get up,” says Bob Uecker, and Mike Shannon, and Buck Martinez. “It might be,” began Harry Caray. “It could be…”
Call it: “It is!” The home run call belongs to you and you alone, but there is no shame in following in the words of others. Gone, long gone, history, not coming back, outta here, forget it, good-bye, see ya, adios, touch ‘em all, there she goes, wave it bye bye, and onward. The crux here, and it is upon this that your home run call will primarily be judged, is that your line, whatever it is, must be: 1) clear as a day that it is communicating a home run, and 2) delivered at the crescendo of crowd excitement. You cannot miss that beat. You cannot shout, “It is gone!” and then have the crowd erupt a second later. You cannot be saying, “Going… going…” all the while the cheers behind you let the listener know that the ball is already gone. You must hit that timing, and hit it hard, so that you are surfing on the crest of their jubilation rather than swimming desperately behind or in front of it. You must say exactly what has happened, and you must say it in as few words as possible.
Finish: Let the crowd roar. Let it pound at your heart. And then cap everything mightily, summing up all that you are seeing and feeling, pouring all of your energy into words. Do not fight against the crowd behind you. Work in tandem. Let the moment live for as long as the crowd is willing to carry it.
Two balls and two strikes on him
Here’s the pitch on the way
A swing and a BELT
The Follow-Through –
Way back there
Call it –
Blue Jays win it
The Blue Jays are World Series Champions
As Joe Carter hits a three-run home run in the ninth inning
And the Blue Jays have repeated as World Series Champions
Touch ‘em all Joe
You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.