Can You Hear
If you bought this book just to confirm that I am anidiot, I have bad news for you:
You will have to wait a few pages.
Hang in there. You can do it.
In 1994, I started broadcasting NFL games on FOX. I hadnever broadcast a football game in my life, yet FOX liked me enough to give mea chance.
With live broadcasting, you can prepare as much as youwant, and that can make it a little easier, but at some point you just have todo it. You never know what situations might arise, and you don’t even reallyknow what skills you have. I quickly learned that the good Lord blessed me withone of the most important physical gifts for any sportscaster: a good bladder.
You have probably never thought about this. You probablywatch game after game, night after night, eating and drinking without anyconcern at all for when the guys doing the game get to pee. But we’re human. Wepee. I don’t think Bob Costas and Al Michaels will mind if I tell you this.
I suppose that, like with everything else, each announcerhas his own style. Jim Nantz may unzip and say, “Hello, friends!” before firingat the urinal. I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t asked Jim. But sometimes,finding a chance to pee is harder than you might think, especially in some ofthe older stadiums, where the bathrooms are not always conveniently located.
You have a limited amount of time during a commercialbreak to get to your destination and get back. You may have to fight your waythrough sportswriters, which doesn’t make them happy, but they can miss a playand survive. I can’t.
Veteran broadcasters understand that in many cases, it iswise to start unzipping before you even arrive. You have to be efficient, oryou pay a price later. My father told me: “Never run to a microphone.” Youdon’t want to be out of breath. So you have to be able to get to the bathroomfast, catch your breath while you pee, and then calmly walk back into thebooth.
In December 1994, my otherwise trusty bladder betrayedme. What can I say? Even the great organs have a bad day at the office once ina while. I was doing a Packers-Falcons game in Milwaukee’s County Stadium. Itwas a memorable game for a number of reasons. The Packers used to play games inMilwaukee every year, but this was their last home game there. Packers starSterling Sharpe got injured on what seemed like an innocuous hit, and it endedhis career.
At some point during that game, unbeknownst to viewersbut extremely beknownst to me, I had to pee so bad that I could barely talk.The problem was that, at County Stadium, the football press box was really farfrom the restroom. You had be Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible to get there intime. There was a catwalk, some kind of pulley-and-ladder system—there mighthave been a zip line. It was rough.
With a few minutes left in the first half, I was dying. Ihad to go so bad. But in football, we have a mix of longer and shortercommercial breaks—and the way the game went, all of our commercial breaks atthe end of the half were only thirty seconds long. There was no way I could getout of the booth, to the bathroom, and back in thirty seconds. I had a solidforty-second stream in me, plus that long commute. Forget it.
Every time we went to break, I asked, “How long is thisone?”
At some point I explained my problem to my spotter, Gary.A spotter is the person who helps me during an NFL telecast “spot” who made thecatch, who made the tackle, or who blocked a field goal.
I said, “Gary, I’ve got to go, and I’ve got to go now.”
He was like, “I don’t know what to do.” This was not ascenario they address in spotter school.
I said: “I’ve got to pee. I can’t hold this any longer.This is not going to work.”
Then I said: “Give me something.”
Gary handed me a water bottle. Nice thought, and Iappreciate the ingenuity, but no. Not going to work. It’s December inWisconsin, I’m wearing this big parka, and anyway, I can’t hit that target.It’s too small. Who am I—William Tell?
I knocked the bottle out of Gary’s hand. I was besidemyself, but I was still calling the game. I said, “All right, next break, I’mgoing to open this parka. Give me the trash can.”
He said, “Really?”
I said, “Hand me the fucking trash can in the next break.If it’s not more than thirty seconds, I’m peeing in the trash can.”
All right, Joe!
Play stopped. We went to commercial.
I said, “How long is this break?”
I demanded the trash can. There was a young woman in thebooth, and I asked her to leave. I put the trash can in front of me, Iunzipped, I was ready to go, and...
You’ve got to be kidding me. I couldn’t pee. I was in thebooth, I had my parka open, I didn’t know what cameras were on me, and Icouldn’t bring myself to pee.
I was standing there, unzipped, waiting for thefloodgates to open, but they wouldn’t. It was like the Heinz commercial whenyou have to wait for the ketchup to come out of the bottle.
Finally they’re counting down: Ten...nine...
And suddenly it’s Niagara Falls.
On the first play from scrimmage after the break, BrettFavre took a snap as I kept peeing. People thought broadcasters had their dicksin their hands when they called Favre’s games—this time I actually did. Favrelooked to his right and threw to Sharpe down the sideline.
“He’s going to go for a touchdown!” I said as I keptpeeing in the trash can.
Wow, you do kind of sound like an idiot.
What? That’s not the story about me being an idiot. Thatwas just a man heeding nature’s call while calling a touchdown. We’re onlygetting warmed up here.
The first time I did play-by-play for a major-leagueteam, I was twenty years old. It was 1990. The St. Louis Cardinals were playingat Shea Stadium in New York. My father, the famous broadcaster Jack Buck, letme borrow his private plane to travel to New York, because my own private planewas in the shop, getting its gold-plated cupholders shined.
I was working with an announcer named Al Hrabosky. TheCardinals were playing a doubleheader, because there had been a rainout. Wewouldn’t be on air for the start of Game 1, because other programming wasalready scheduled.
The producer said, “We’re going to come on the air atsix. Whatever is going on, whether we’re in the middle of Game 1, betweengames, or into Game 2, we’ll come in wherever we are, recap what’s happened tothis point.”
OK, that sounds great.
“How do we do that?” I asked.
He said, “Well, we’re going to run highlights and you’lljust talk through the highlights.”
That sounds simple, except that I had no idea how to doit.
They said, “You’ll find your way through it.”
Well, if the producer says I will find my way through it,then I will. He must know what he’s talking about. He’s the producer. Heproduces. That’s his job.
So I did what I thought you were supposed to do when youwent on TV: I slapped too much makeup on my face. The stage manager, BeckySolomon, was making me up, and it was heavy stuff. I felt like Liza Minnelli. Iwas in this little booth in Shea Stadium on a scorching-hot summer day. I feltlike I was broadcasting in an oven.
At 6:00 p.m., we were in the ninth inning of Game 1. Ithought, “Oh, my God. They’re going to run a recap of the entire game and I’mgoing to have to talk through it, and I’ve never done highlights.”
So we came on the air. I said, “Welcome to Shea Stadium!Here we are in the ninth inning of this doubleheader. We’ll look back when wecan here and show you how we’ve gotten to this point.”
I went through the highlights, and I was awful. I had noidea how to do them. It was just terrible television. But at least I gotthrough it.
I thought, “The worst is over.”
ADVICE FOR YOUNG BROADCASTERS: Never tell yourself “Theworst is over.”
When the game ended, they said “OK, in between the games,you and Al are going to do a little stand-up.”
Stand-up? Like Richard Pryor?
I said, “What does that mean?”
I was told, “We’re going to stand up and talk about whatyou’re going to see. In the second segment, Al is going to jog down andinterview one of the players on the field, and you’ll throw it to him.”
I did the stand-up, mimicking what I had seen on TV as aboy, and finished with: “When we come back, Al is going to go down to the fieldand talk to one of the players.” We went to commercial. Al ran out of there.Now it was just me. I was sweating. The makeup was running onto my shirt. Itwas like Broadcast News, when Albert Brooks sweats through the newscast.
We were getting ready to go on the air. The producer wasin my ear:
I said, “Welcome back to Shea Stadium!”
But I was sweating so much that my earpiece popped out ofmy ear and fell to the floor.
I should have just said: “I don’t know what I’m doing! Ifyou think I only got this job because my father is a beloved broadcaster,you’re right! You all win! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lie down fora bit.”
I was talking gibberish, repeating myself, and I wascompletely on my own. Thankfully, I could throw it to Hrabosky. Or so Ithought.
“Now,” I said, “let’s go down to the field and check inwith Al Hrabosky, who has a special guest. Al?”
The red light in front of me was still on. I knew fromwatching The Brady Bunch that this meant I was still on TV.
Al couldn’t find his microphone in the dugout. Peopleworking on our broadcast were trying to tell me I couldn’t go to him, but Icouldn’t hear them because my earpiece was on the floor.
Ha-ha, that’s so pathetic—
Nope! That’s not the story that confirms I’m an idioteither.
That’s just a little dose of my own embarrassment foryour reading pleasure.
I could tell you about the time I interviewed a playerwho was standing next to a woman, and I said, “Is that your mom?” and hereplied, “No, man, that’s my wife.” But even that is not the story thatconfirms I am an idiot.
OK. Here we go.
In some ways, I’ve always felt like I took after mygrandfather Joe Lintzenich. He played for the Chicago Bears in the early 1930sand served in the Navy in World War II. He was a loyal husband, a lovingfather, and a wonderful grandfather.
Also, he was bald.
Yes: bald. Nothing scares a man more than that word. Ittrumps audit, terrorism, and herpes. Nobody wants to be bald. Go ask any man,“Who would you rather look like: Brad Pitt or Telly Savalas?” Nobody says,“Kojak!”
Bald people just look weird. I’m not worried aboutoffending bald readers here, because half of them are patting the tops of theirheads, convincing themselves they aren’t that bald, and the other half knowthey look weird, which is why they go to great lengths—sometimes ridiculouslengths—to avoid going hairless up top. It doesn’t matter how much money theyhave either. Look at Donald Trump. He is a billionaire, but what he reallywants is hair. That’s why he goes around the country with that dust mop on hishead.
You know what? I understand. I have been so deathlyafraid of my retreating follicle troops that, when I was twenty-three, I askedthe Cardinals manager—who shall remain nameless, especially to those who later watchedhim manage the Yankees to four world championships—about his hair plugs. I hadseen (redacted)’s hairline do its dance move—two steps back and one stepforward. I could tell he’d had plugs.
I got the name of his guy, called, and set up an appointmentfor a postseason sprucing-up in October 1993. Just a little sprinkling theinfield, if you will. My first wife, Ann, and I flew from our hometown of St.Louis to New York and stayed at a friend’s apartment in Manhattan, and I wentin for the operation.
There is a medical term to describe the operation:fucking barbaric. I’m not the toughest guy in the world, or even in mybroadcast booth, but I’m not a whiner. I have had a broken neck, two backsurgeries, dental surgery, and a fractured sternum, and I haven’t complainedtoo much. But this hair thing is otherworldly.
It starts by “numbing up” the back of your head witharound fifteen shots of Novocain. They keep giving you more shots of Novocainuntil the pain subsides. Pro tip: The pain NEVER subsides. There is a reasonthat “get scalp pierced with a needle” is not on anybody’s bucket list. Andafter you get the shots in the back of the head, you get shots in the front ofthe head. Those hurt even more.
Not long after the third shot goes in, you hear a voiceof reason inside your head, asking: “What the fuck is wrong with you? Are youreally doing this for HAIR? Who CARES? You don’t really need hair! WoodyHarrelson and Bruce Willis get work and get laid! They are doing FINE!” But youcan’t cancel an appointment when you are in the middle of it.
The procedure involves moving hair from the back of yourhead to the front. It’s like if Hannibal Lecter took up gardening.