Tag Archives: Marv Albert

The All-Star Game and Baseball Fandom

The All-Star Game is tomorrow in Minnesota. I have loved this game since I became a baseball fan, and still try to watch it every year. Honestly, I make more of an effort to watch it than to watch the World Series some years, depending on who is playing. I love the pageantry of the All-Star Game, how each player wears his own uniform (it is a travesty that this year they will wear league caps instead of their own caps), how the players get introduced individually along the baselines before the game, how the ballpark is festooned with red, white, and blue bunting. I love how, even though it is an exhibition game, the players clearly take pride in playing in it and trying to win it.

In thinking about how I grew to love the All-Star Game as a boy, I realize that part of my fanaticism for it resulted from the rarity of, not just that game itself, but televised baseball in general when I was growing up in the 1980s. My family did not have cable, so there would usually only be two or three games on per week that I was interested in watching: NBC’s Game of the Week on Saturday (I would watch no matter who was playing; I remember being crushed one April Saturday in 1988 or 1989 when there wasn’t a game because both games that NBC was going to show were cancelled due to weather. One was in Chicago, with the Cubs getting snowed out, and the other game was rained out. I still remember Marv Albert in the studio saying “No game today” like a death-knell.) and the Mets on WWOR channel 9 on Sunday. Sometimes the Mets would also be on Friday night (though I couldn’t watch the entire game because I had an early bedtime), and if I got desperate the Yankees would usually have one or two games a week on WPIX channel 11 (it is still incredibly weird to me that WPIX now televises the Mets). During the postseason it did not get much better because, even though all of the games were on network television, I was usually only able to watch the first half hour or so before bed.

As result of this limited television exposure, my baseball fandom took a much different form than it does now. I learned much more about the game from print media—especially from the newspaper and statistics on the backs of baseball cards—than from television, whereas now the ratio is switched. These days I almost never watch baseball aside from the Mets during the regular season because I am now fortunate enough to have cable and they are on SNY nearly every night (and my cable package even shows the games when they are on WPIX). Every once in a while I might watch a bit of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball to close out the weekend, but, unless the Mets are playing, I no longer watch Fox’s nationally-televised game on Saturdays. (A necessary aside: one reason I do not watch regular season baseball on Fox is that Joe Buck is their play-by-play announcer, and he is pedestrian at best. In hindsight, I realize that I was lucky to grow up in an era when Vin Scully was the national play-by-play man for NBC and Al Michaels was the primary play-by-play man for ABC’s postseason telecasts. It kills me that an entire generation of fans has grown up with Joe Buck as the voice of baseball. No wonder young people are not drawn to the game!) These viewing habits mean that I follow the Mets closely, but the rest of MLB much less so until the pennant races heat up in September. As a kid, aside from my favorite Mets I was also a fan of other good players such as Ozzie Smith or Tony Gwynn (R.I.P.), but now, although I appreciate the feats of players such as Miguel Cabrera in a general way, I do not feel any connection to them, and whereas I liked and respected Mike Schmidt growing up because I viewed him as a baseball player rather than as a divisional rival, that viewpoint has flipped and I have nothing but hatred for present-day Phillies like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels.

Thus the All-Star Game is the one time during the summer when my baseball gaze widens to observe the game in all its glory. I root for the National League, I hope the Mets’ representative (Daniel Murphy this year) gets a hit, and I remember why I fell in love with the sport in the first place: it is fun to watch, and it is a national language that, at its best, brings us all together.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports

The New York Rangers, the Stanley Cup, and Nostalgia

The Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings begins tonight. I’ve been a Rangers fan since 1990, when I decided to root for them in their first-round playoff series against the Islanders. I began following the team closely during the 1991-1992 season, Mark Messier’s first with the team, as they won the President’s Trophy before being shocked by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs.

But, of course, my fondest Rangers memories are from the 1993-1994 season, which culminated with them winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1940. I was in eighth grade that year, and had several classmates who were also fans to talk about the team with. I listened to most of the games on the radio because my family did not have cable. The games were usually on 660 WFAN unless they were at the same time as a Knicks game, in which case they got bumped over to 1050. Howie Rose did play-by-play and Sal “Red Light” Messina was the color commentator. However, the one game I got to watch on television all season was game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey, so I missed Rose’s famous “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” call of Stéphane Matteau’s double-overtime series winning goal live, though WFAN replayed it numerous times over the next few days. (Here is a clip of the play with Rose’s call.)

Most hockey fans are familiar with Rose’s call now, as it gets replayed every time the Rangers have a big playoff game, and it is one of the greatest North American sports announcing moments ever. But what gets forgotten, and, in hindsight, what was terribly unfair to Rose, is that the Rangers decided to let their long-time play-by-play man Marv Albert announce periods one and three of games 5 and 7 as the team tried to win the cup on home ice, with Rose doing period two. Now, Marv Albert is my favorite announcer of all time; he is the best basketball announcer of all time and is quite a good hockey announcer (much better than his younger brother Kenny, who absolutely murdered this year’s Western Conference finals for NBC). But it seems cruel to have taken this moment away from Rose, though now he’s an announcer for the Islanders, so who cares, I suppose.

But at the time, I was excited to have Albert announcing game 7. I was listening to the game in the living room on our family’s stereo, lying on the carpet, wishing I could be watching on television. The local Fox station, channel 5, tried to broker a deal with the MSG Network to show the game on free television to no avail, though they were able to show all of the post-game festivities. My most vivid memories from the game involve my favorite player, Brian Leetch, whom I had liked since his time with Team USA during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. I remember the excitement in Albert’s voice just before Leetch opened the scoring in game 7. I knew he was going to score before he scored, and then he did score, and from that point on I knew the Rangers were going to win. I also remember Leetch throwing a hip check later on that sent one of the Canucks flying, and how excited Albert got again: you could tell that the game and the team meant a lot to him personally, which is a side of himself that he very rarely shows on air. (The hip check is at 2:40 of this video, and Leetch’s goal is at 1:05.)

My family moved away from New York a few weeks later, and though I continued to root for the Rangers, it was never the same. I couldn’t listen to the games on the radio, and had to be content to catch a game whenever the Rangers were on nationally on ESPN or Fox with that ridiculous highlighted blue puck and stupid scoreboard robots (which Fox still uses in their NFL telecasts! Unbelievable.). I would always watch the Rangers in the playoffs, but without the bond that gets built up over a long season the games never felt nearly as life-and-death as they did in ’94.

As I grew older, baseball reasserted itself as my favorite sport and soccer became a close second, and now I follow the Mets and Manchester United with the same day-to-day devotion that I used to give to the Rangers. I’ve become closer to the Rangers now than I have been in years because I live in New York again, and I get MSG so I can watch them whenever I want, but I also know that I will never love them as much as I loved them then (a horrible admission, I feel dirty all over putting it in words, but it is the truth). In reality, all of my interactions with the Rangers since the mid-1990s have been a form of nostalgia for the 1994 team, an attempt to get back to those feelings of sheer joy and wonder.

Nevertheless, as the finals begin tonight, I’ll be rooting hard for the guys in blue, red, and white, and hoping that they will create some unforgettable triumphant moments of their own. Who will be this year’s Stéphane Matteau? Which save by Henrik Lundqvist will be remembered like Mike Richter’s save of Pavel Bure’s penalty shot in game 4 of the ’94 finals? (You can see video of it here. I love John Davidson’s reaction when the penalty shot is called: “Get your cardiologist!”) And most importantly, whose smile will be as big when they lift the cup as Mark Messier’s was when he held it high in front of all those screaming fans at the Garden?

Let's go, Rangers!

Let’s go, Rangers!

1 Comment

Filed under Sports

Marv Albert!

There’s a fantastic story by Bryan Curtis on grantland.com about Marv Albert’s childhood preparations to become a sports announcer here. It’s essential reading for anyone who cares about sports media. I knew that Albert was quite young when he began calling Knicks games, but I didn’t realize he began when he was only 21! I grew up watching him as the studio host for NBC’s baseball Game of the Week and listening to him announce football on NBC and the Knicks on WFAN. I remember him returning to announce game seven of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals on the radio even though by that point Howie Rose was the Rangers’ normal play-by-play man. Albert is a national treasure, and Curtis’s article gives him the honor that he deserves.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports