An Interview with Joe Castiglione
“You try to paint a word picture of what’s happening on the field and you try to entertain and inform between pitches. That little sphere with 108 stitches is only in play for about eight minutes out of three hours. You have to be more prepared than any other sport because there’s so much down time. You prepare a lifetime.”
“Part of my on-air personality is really my off-air personality. You can tell I want the Sox to win. People say they can tell if the Sox are ahead or behind by my tone of voice. I take that as a compliment, though if I were an objective reporter I would not. I give you an honest report but it’s with passion. It that’s the case I’m proud of that. I do take wins and losses to heart.”
“I try to be conversational and friendly. I don’t have the booming pipes. Be as conversational as possible, which I think is what the audience wants. Be consistent. You have to be wearable. We’re on three hours a day 162 times a year. I would say my voice is wearable.”
Joe Castiglione: Interviewed on November 16, 2007
Position: play-by-play radio broadcaster, Boston Red Sox
Born: 1947, New Haven
Education: Colgate, 1968, history; Syracuse, 1970, Masters TV and Radio
Career: Youngstown, Ohio, TV and radio, 1970-72; Cleveland TV and radio, 1972-79; Cleveland Indians TV play-by-play, 1979-80; Milwaukee Brewers pay-TV, 1981; Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers, cable TV, 1982; Red Sox radio play-by-play, 1983 –
Personal: married (Jan), three children, two grandchildren
Favorite Restaurant (home): Luciano’s, Wrentham, “best Italian restaurant in New England – a little more upscale than North End spots”; Bunker Tavern, Scituate “great swordfish”; Assaggio, Boston North End
Favorite Restaurant (road): La Scarola, Chicago; La Scala, Baltimore; Foley’s, New York
Favorite Hotel: Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Don CeSar Beach Resort, St. Petersburg “old pink hotels that were built in the 1920s and have been renovated”
Author of: Broadcast Rites and Sites, 2005 “so many Red Sox fans plan vacations around the Sox schedule I wrote a book about restaurants and things to do before games”
Joe Castiglione’s call of the final out, Game 4, 2004 World Series:
“Foulke to the set, the 1-0 pitch, here it is … swing and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke. He has it. He underhands to first. And the Boston Red Sox are the world champions. For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox have won baseball’s world championship. Can you believe it?”
Q. Did you plan your call of the final out in 2004?
A. It was pretty much spontaneous. I thought about it for years – what am I going to say? I thought about it through the Yankee series, which was the greatest win in Sox history even thought I was 10-3. It was the only time the Yankees lost to the Sox with the season on the line since 1904, when the Sox won on a wild pitch by Jack Chesbro, but the Sox couldn’t go to the Series that year because there wasn’t one. Other than that the Yankees always had won with the season on the line. I planned to say that.
With the World Series the only thing I thought about was to not say anything that would be trite or wouldn’t stand the test of time. Keep it simple. Don’t interfere – get across the greatest comeback of all time, especially get in the 86 years. ‘Can you believe it’ sort of came out – I probably had used it in the past – I used it when Bill Mueller hit the home run off Rivera in July of that year. I wasn’t conscious of it. I only use it for big moments, like Papelbon’s pickoff in this Series because it was startling. It’s become a trademark. When the Sox won this year I made sure to mention that they were the first team in the 21st century to win two titles.
’04 probably will always stand by itself, though the two Series were fairly similar. You can’t pick between world championships – there were different players – it’s like picking between your children. ’04 was about history and the end of curses and winning for people no longer with us, our deceased relatives. ’07 was about having the best team in baseball.
Q. What are the ABCs of broadcasting baseball?
A. You try to paint a word picture of what’s happening on the field and you try to entertain and inform between pitches. That little sphere with 108 stitches is only in play for about eight minutes out of three hours. You have to be more prepared than any other sport because there’s so much down time. You prepare a lifetime. It starts when you’re playing sandlot and Little League and collecting cards and reading bios and stats about the greats of the game. It’s important to have a total background. It’s like a pyramid – what happened today is built on what happened yesterday and last year. It’s built on the last generation and on the generation when Ruth and Cobb played.
Q. How do you paint a word picture?
A. You have a blank canvas and you put a painting on a canvas. Describe every move of the pitcher in going to the stretch and as his arm comes around, the batter swings and fouls it, where, right field line or upper deck? Be very descriptive about what happens to the ball. You have to fill between pitches with interesting material, and not just stats. Bio material, or things that have nothing to do with baseball. We do that a lot. Always be ready to capitalize on action, because you never know when it’s going to happen – it could happen in the first inning or the twelfth. The great thing about radio is that nothing happens until we say it does. Baseball is an announcer’s medium. TV is an analyst and director/producer medium.
Q. Is talking too much a concern?
A. Yes. You have to let it breathe. You have to back off of superfluous information when the game is on the line. Set the scene, the count, where the runners are, who are the runners and who is up next, who is up in the next inning. Anticipate what the audience wants to know – the audience wants to know the same things you want to know. If I’m watching a game I get irritated if they don’t tell me who’s up next and who’s available to pinch hit. You have to focus on those things when the game is on the line. The rest of the time you might tell a story or laugh about something or come up with an anecdote. No game has the same pace – you have to change gears. Baseball is the only sport where the defense controls the ball.
Q. Do young announcers rely too much on stats?
A. I don’t know if we can generalize by age. Guys older than me were stats crazy. Stats should tell a story – not just be a number. Given a choice between a human interest story and a stat go with the human interest story – people are more interested. Some audiences are turned off by stats. Not that you have a great story every day, but it could be something you read or hear on the way to the ballpark.
Q. Do you look for anecdotes and human interest?
A. Yes. They come up in normal conversation. We spend a lot of time shooting the breeze with players, executives, and scouts for other teams in the media dining rooms – it’s a great source of information. We get to the ballpark three or four hours before the game – there are so many pre-game shows to do. If you’re not recording an interview you’re still talking baseball and getting information. It might be a scouting report or something humorous that happened to a player – you always have your antenna up.
Q. How is your job different from print reporters?
A. In some ways it’s the same. I’m looking for updates, injuries, status of players and reaction. But in many ways it’s different. We are the first line to the club – we’re not paid by the club but we’re still part of the organization and we know that. The newspaper guys are entirely different concept. The electronic media took the game story away from the print media. They do other things – features, gossip, rumors. Our job is to describe what happens in the game – we call balls and strikes – and our other job is to entertain.
Q. What type of print stories do you avoid on the air?
A. You can’t make a general statement. The difficult stories involved off-the-field issues. When Wade Boggs had Margo Adams we didn’t get into that because he still hit .370. When we had a pitcher charged with spousal abuse we reported it because he wasn’t with the team. Every case is individual – you can’t make a blanket statement.
Q. Are you more circumspect with criticism than print?
A. I would think so. We’re still an arm of the club – though not employed by the club. You use common sense with each story. You have to be honest. If a guy makes an error or doesn’t hustle we have to point it out no matter what uniform he’s wearing. You’re not going to say that’s a horrible signing they just made – though you might later if it doesn’t work out.
Q. Does your tone of voice convey more than the words you use?
A. Part of my on-air personality is really my off-air personality. You can tell I want the Sox to win. People say they can tell if the Sox are ahead or behind by my tone of voice. I take that as a compliment, though if I were an objective reporter I would not. I give you an honest report but it’s with passion. It that’s the case I’m proud of that. I do take wins and losses to heart. Nothing is more euphoric than winning a World Series. I always said my greatest call hadn’t come yet till ’04. Now it’s happened twice.
Q. How would you describe your voice?
A. I try to be conversational and friendly. I don’t have the booming pipes. Be as conversational as possible, which I think is what the audience wants. Be consistent. You have to be wearable. We’re on three hours a day 162 times a year. I would say my voice is wearable.
Q. Does the frequency of ads intrude on the call?
A. Most are natural breaks and come at the half inning. When you have to drop in an announcement into a live half inning you try to do it with a foul ball or a batter stepping out – now when the ball is in play. If you have a sense of timing it doesn’t interfere. There are plenty of opportunities with all the down time.
When rights fees are $16 million there’s not enough inventory. It gets back to paying the players. The Fallon Community injury report. Volkswagon keys to the game. Verizon call to the bullpen. There are some creative salesmen working for the club.
Q. How do you ask a tough question?
A. I tell my students (at Northeastern) there are three keys. Be prepared. Be sensitive. Listen. You try to be sensitive and ask in a way that will get a better response. This is not investigative reporting where you’re pounding on the door of the slum landlord. Put yourself in their shoes and ask in a sensitive way so you get an answer that’s expansive. It’s always tougher to do an interview after a loss than a win.
Q. The season is long – how do you keep from getting on nerves?
A. There are 25 players. If somebody doesn’t want to talk you get other people. You deal with the manager every day and they become friends, although they come and go. I don’t find it to be a problem – there’s always somebody – you can move on if somebody doesn’t want to deal. Not many have been difficult over the years. Manny might not want to do an interview but he’s always hugging people.
Boston is a tough place to play – not everybody can play here – they don’t have the temperament. Our job is not to be confrontational. Sometimes a writer might have to be more confrontational. We’re probably more conscious of the words we use in asking questions because we deal with the spoken word.
Q. Do you miss not having Jerry Trupiano in the booth?
A. I missed him personally and as a partner but I enjoyed my new partners. The transition was seamless from my standpoint but that’s something the audience has to judge. Both Dave (O’Brien) and Glenn (Geffner) are really good guys. We won the World Series – everything was upbeat.
Q. Pirates Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Prince was an early influence on you. What can you relate about Prince for people who never heard him?
A. The Gunner. He was a great star, a huge star – one of the great characters in baseball history, off and on the field. He had a larger-than-life personality. In some ways he was bigger than the Pirates, which probably irritated some management people and probably got him in the end.
I can’t use his style. He would say ‘We need a bloop and a blast’. That doesn’t work in New England. I can’t openly root like Gunner did. He was a wild guy – there’s a story about him jumping out of a third story window at the Chase Park Plaza into a swimming pool. The Hall of Fame has one of his sport coats with his sayings sewn on, like ‘a gnats eyelash’. ‘We had em all the way’ – I use that sometimes. I don’t know if he would be as successful today – the audience is more sophisticated. He struggled when he went to ABC – he was a fish out of water – not used to working with analysts.
I remember visiting him during rain delays. I was in Youngstown working high school games and anchoring TV and I would go to Pittsburgh on weekends. Once I asked him for advice on how to make it in the business. He said ‘the only sure way to make it is to hit .300 or hit 20 home runs’. He was a tremendous entertainer and a very generous guy, too.
Jim Woods was his No. 2. He was probably the best No. 2 in baseball – he never wanted to be the top guy. Woods was great – he should be in the Hall of Fame. He was here with Ned (Martin) in the 70s – they both hated doing sponsor things. Their last game was the ’78 playoff game and then they were fired – there was a great story in SI about it. I quoted Ned in ’04 and ’07 – ‘pandemonium on the field’ – that was Ned in ’67. He was doing TV when I was doing radio – we never worked together. Ken Coleman was my mentor – he brought me here. It was great to be associated with those guys.
Q. Do you study other broadcasters?
A. We copy. We have models. I know Vince Scully doesn’t listen to other broadcasters but I do. My ultimate hero was Mel Allen – the greatest who ever lived. I met him late in his life – he did the Righetti no-hitter on cable. Ernie Harwell is a good friend – I still go see him when we play there.
Q. Was more personality permitted in those days?
A. I think there are more broadcasters today and more venues – TV, cable, radio, satellite. In those days Mel Allen did radio and TV – he was a star on both. Same with Prince. When he went on TV he said it was like time off – he’d say ‘ball one, ball two’. I don’t think it’s not allowed. In some ways there’s more personality today because there’s more time to fill. The games are an hour longer. We have more byplay with partners than they did – those old guys were one-man bands. What do you do at a ballgame? You b.s. with the person sitting next to you – that’s the approach I take with my partners, except when the ball is in play.
(SMG thanks Joe Castiglione for his cooperation)