SMets radio broadcaster Howie Rose has a new book out, Put it in the Book: A Half Century of Mets Mania, written with Phil Pepe. Rose talked to us recently about what it's like to call games on the radio, and the Mets in particular.
Favorite call ever?
Whenever I'm asked this question, I always seem to eliminate TV calls. There you're punctuating, narrating. Radio, it's an enjoyable responsibility. You're not just describing the act, but setting the scene, with the weather, and the fans.
It's gonna be hard for me to ever feel better about a call than I feel about the call after Johan Santana's no-hitter. (Listen to the call here.) I'll be honest: I've been following this team for 50 years, with a vested professional interest for the last half of that, and I never believed it'd happen. I didn't believe it until the ball was in Josh Thole's glove. "Put it in the books" is my signature call, after every win. I wasn't planning anything. And then it just came out: "Put it in the books—the history books." That's been well received.
How have you improved as a broadcaster? When did you feel confident that you knew how to do it?
I've never felt that way, not even now. You can never have the luxury of feeling you're all the way there. You have to strive to do better, and maybe stumble on a new conservation of words here or there. That happens rarely now, but it happened a number of times over the course of my development years. Sometimes it's just something like staying with the times, keeping up with pop culture. Now, not everyone has to do that: Vin Scully is the greatest broadcaster who ever lived, and he can stay trapped in the 1950s. It's perfect. But the rest of us, we have to attend to what's going on outside of baseball.
So what do you think of John Sterling?
I've known John for 40 years, and I don't have anything bad to say about him. Everybody's got their style. The Yankees keep bringing him back, so someone out there must like his work. I wouldn't be so comfortable approaching baseball in that parochial a way, but that's just me. In Chicago, Hawk Harrelson gets away with being an unmitigated homer. Someone out there must like him too. So god bless him, and god bless Sterling. More power to them.
Who's the best on TV?
I've always loved Tim McCarver's work. I don't think I would ever have become any good as a broadcaster without him. More than that, he's the most important broadcaster in the history of the game. No one before him had ever worked in such harmony with a director (Bill Webb, of SNY and Fox) to explain what happens in a game. And he did it all in a smart and humorous way. He's one of the great, great broadcasters in the history of the medium, and it's really too bad that he's retiring.
As for play-by-play and working with analysts and directors, it'd be hard to find anyone more technically adept than Gary Cohen (of SNY). His preparation, his work ethic—there's no one else that works that hard.
You do play-by-play on television and on radio. What's different?
Everything's different. Radio, it's a much more capacious medium, artistically. And you're on your own. You'll have a producer in the booth who might feed you something now and then, but it's not much. Television, it's all about collaboration. The veteran play-by-play guys on TV are point guards. They set their guys up, after they take cues from their directors. TV's an analyst's medium now.
TV is the higher-paying, and higher-profile gig, but for the broadcasters of my generation, everyone wanted to do radio first. It's you, the microphone, and all the listeners. So long as you speak honestly, and never condescend—I strive to talk as though I'm talking with someone in the upper deck—you form a real bond.
Are you worried about having to call a lackluster Mets season?
No, never. The last two years have been very disappointing ones for the Mets. But we've seen some pretty amazing things we didn't think we'd be seeing: a batting champion, a Cy Young Award winner, and a no-hitter. So who knows what's next?
Interview has been condensed and edited.