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Bedtime Story Lullabies
Written May 27, 2011

Red Barber described Cincinnati Reds baseball games on WLW radio from 1934 through 1938.  One of his listeners was my future father, then a bachelor working in nearby Falmouth, Kentucky.

Much later, when my father retired in March of 1973, he needed something to occupy his time.  Often in the evening he would wander into the guest bedroom, settle into the armchair there, switch on the old console radio, and sit in the dark listening to the Reds on WLW.  By then, the announcers were Al Michaels (replaced in 1974 by Marty Brennaman) and Joe Nuxhall.  I think my father stayed awake throughout the game.

When I moved to Pennsylvania, sometimes I’d go to bed early and distract my mind from the day’s problems by turning on KDKA’s broadcast of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  No offense to baseball, but listening to the game would lull me right to sleep.

In 1981, a baseball strike was threatened.  (When it became a reality, regular-season games were canceled from June 12 until August 10.)  If the Pirates were not going to be on the radio, how could I doze off?  Whatever would I do?

As a precaution, I taped 90 minutes of KDKA’s broadcast from Cincinnati on May 6.  During the strike, I figured I could put on this tape and be snoring long before it ran out.

Let me play for you a couple of minutes from that 1981 recording, with Lanny Frattare behind the microphone.   You can access the Windows Media Audio (.wma) file by clicking here.

Note that every pitch in that excerpt was put into play; no balls and no strikes to slow the game.  Also, 30 years ago, there was no “analyst” on radio.  There were two voices, but they took turns describing innings solo.  And when it was time for a commercial, the announcer took the time to lead to it in what was then the traditional fashion, tallying up the runs, hits, errors, and runners left on base and then giving the score after X innings.  For a 1-2-3 inning his summary would be “nothing across:  no runs, no hits, no errors, nobody left.”  That’s what I always thought “nothing across” meant:  0/0 0/0, zeroes in all four columns.  Nowadays some announcers use it to mean merely that “no runners came across the plate to score.”

On another matter of terminology, I always thought that an outfielder “trapped” a fly ball by wedging it between his glove on top and the grass below, which would not be a valid catch.  But we rarely see that.  This month an outfielder caught a ball on a very short hop — it bounced off the ground and directly into his glove — and everybody referred to that invalid catch as a “trap.”  That’s not right, I thought.  He didn’t use the ground to corner the ball and force it into his glove; he simply caught the ball after it bounced.  But then I looked it up.  It turns out that “trap” does in fact refer to this sort of short hop.

Then this week we were talking about the statistical differences between day games and night games.  I had always assumed that these resulted from lighting conditions that affect the players’ ability to see the ball, on defense or at the plate.  But then another contributing factor was pointed out to me:  Most day games follow a string of night games.  The players have less rest than they’re accustomed to, and for an afternoon game some of them may not be at their best or even fully awake.

Being fully awake?  That sounds familiar.  What was I talking about before?  Oh, yes, lulling myself to sleep by listening to baseball broadcasts.

Of course, there’s not always a ball game on the radio when I want to be distracted from the thoughts that are keeping me awake.  Music doesn’t work because my thoughts soon wander.  TV doesn’t work because I keep wanting to open my eyes.

Lately, therefore, I’ve taken to calling up audio podcasts on my computer.  A one-hour talk show is ideal, provided the participants are discussing innocuous subjects like movies or weird news stories.  Ten minutes into the conversation, I drift off.  And as an added benefit, the computer goes silent when the podcast ends, so I don’t wake up hours later to an annoying infomercial.



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