The end of an era in Sports Broadcasting….
IT’S NO CHOKE
Yesterday was not a good day for sportscasting. A legend of the business gave way to age and announced his retirement. 87 year old Joe Garagiola, who began a mediocre career as a Major League Baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946, before moving into the Cardinals broadcast booth with Joe Buck and Harry Caray in 1955, has decided it’s time to take a break. Most people outside of Arizona probably didn’t know Garagiola was still active, but for the last 15 years he’s been in the Arizona Diamondbacks broadcast booth with occasional assignments as an analyst for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. He’ll be best remembered for his stint on NBC’s Major League Game of the Week from the early 70′s to the late 80′s. He was a Renaissance Man of the business, a regular on NBC’s Today Show for six years. A favorite of network talk shows for most of his career, Garagiola not only guested on all of them, he frequently served as guest host. One of his greatest personal memories was filling in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show the only time John Lennon and Paul McCartney appeared together on the program. Perhaps the saddest thing about Garagiola’s retirement is that it represents the end of a golden era in sportscasting, and the announcement came on a day when the worst of the new era was on display for all to see. Political correctness reached an all time low yesterday when University of North Dakota basketball play-by-play man Paul Ralston was suspended for two games for using the phrase “Choke job” in assessing an overtime loss to Northern Arizona in which North Dakota blew a lead in the final minute of regulation. To say a team ‘choked’ in such a situation, or to use the phrase “Choke job” to describe such a loss, has been a staple of the industry for decades, but not in today’s politically correct world. Not keeping a close rein on seemingly harmless phrases can now jeopardize your employment. The hypocrisy of the situation couldn’t have been better puncutated than it was with yesterday’s confirmation from ESPN that former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will join the network as an NFL analyst on “Monday Night Countdown”, “NFL Countdown” and “Sportscenter”. The resume that makes Lewis so attractive to ESPN includes agressive tactics on the field that often verged on dirty and, more importantly, the “bad boy” notoriety for his indictment and ensuing plea agreement on murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from an Atlanta nightclub incident in 2000 from which lewis, spattered with blood, fled the scene. ESPN, all networks actually, can’t get enough of guys with Lewis’ “street cred” so his job should be safe at least until someone who actually did jail time on a murder charge becomes available. But don’t ever refer to a bad ‘come from ahead’ loss as a “Choke job”. There’s no place in this business for you if you do. It makes me yearn for that simpler era when you felt like you were part of the conversation in the broadcast booth and you didn’t feel guilty about laughing along with some of the corny coloquialisms. Say it ain’t so, Joe. Don’t tell us those bygone days are bygone for good. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.