Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Men and Mikes

We lost Don Chevrier, the week before Christmas. He was a brilliant sportscaster, with more than 50 years in the business -- and when you figure he was only 69 (he died of a blood disorder, according to the reports), yes, he was a teenager when he broke in. I never met him, but he had the kind of broadcasting career I would have treasured: every sport -- one of his last gigs was calling the Kentucky Derby earlier this year -- on both radio and TV. Probably the one "prize" the eluded him was a regular gig on Hockey Night in Canada. According to the post in the Canadian Sportscasting Hall of Fame, Chevy was already major-market material by the early 60s (he was the English radio voice of the Montreal Alouettes), but was passed over time and again. After all, Danny Gallivan was entrenched as the Montreal Canadiens' play-by-play man, with Dick Irvin in the wings (and rightly so, on both counts), but I sure would have preferred to hear Chevy calling the Leafs' games, rather than the Hewitts with their grating nasalities. But of course, Foster and Bill were an "institution", and in broadcasting, "institution" trumps talent, any time.

That is, in fact, a glass ceiling that knows no gender differences: the one that holds back talented people in broadcasting. Broadcasters with talent tend to stay on the air, while less talented ones tend to move into management (CKNW and CKWX come to mind); but the ones in management then tend to see the talented ones on-air as threats, and do what it takes to keep them down. Including pass them over.

But enough of that. One of the items in Don Chevrier's bio from the Hall of Fame is a glorious on-air moment. Chevy was the Blue Jays TV broadcaster for 20 years, and in one game at Texas, color man Tony Kubek pointed out that a pitcher on the Rangers was ambidextrous, and would warm up right-handed and left-handed. Chevy noted that this would save the manager going to the bullpen early because, if the pitcher got into trouble right-handed, he could switch hands and thus relieve himself on the mound.

The field producer, Tom McKee (who related the story), says he opened the talkback and said, "did I just hear what I think I heard?". There was one of those pauses (15 seconds, McKee figures), and then Chevy and Tony went on as if nothing had happened.

I lay claim to a similar on-air remark -- and totally independently of Chevy, I'll have you know! I tend to store possible one-liners in my brain and wait for the opportune moment, and that arrived when I was doing sports at CFAX Victoria. The general manager of one of the teams in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League was also the coach, but the team had a bad finish to the season, so he announced that he would step down as coach and concentrate on the GM duties. But the new coach wasn't able to start his job when the new season began, due to work commitments, so the GM handled the coaching for the first few games ... to which I asked, rhetorically, if that meant he relieved himself behind the bench.

No one called.

Actually, in one of the Christmas Day NBA games, one commentator remarked on Steve Nash's excellent passing abilities left-handed or right-handed, and his color man pointed out that it was good that Steve was ambidextrous in both hands.

Sports is full of such things. When Jorge Bell of the Blue Jays had a contract dispute in the early 90s, it took GM Pat Gillick to step in and end the stalemate; some commentator noted that it was a good thing Gillick was able to take charge and "exacerbate the situation".

But my favorite was this past spring, when a Seattle sportscaster described a spectacular hydroplane crash on Lake Worth, and was so thrilled that the driver was uninjured, reported ... "and the driver walked away from the crash!"

Is it possible he missed one BIG story?

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