How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

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Jon Chelesnik
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How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#1 Post by Jon Chelesnik » Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:09 pm

An interesting topic came up today during an STAA Google Hangout: how much description do you provide on a baseball that is put into play? Do you prefer, "Grounded to third. Jones has it over to first for the out," or "Grounded to third. Jones backhands it in front of the bag and throws over to first for the out."

Along the same line, is it permissible to fall a count or two behind the action as you provide your play-by-play?

I certainly have my thoughts on these questions but am eager to hear from others.

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#2 Post by ktomasch » Fri Aug 24, 2012 7:22 pm

Jon Chelesnik wrote:An interesting topic came up today during an STAA Google Hangout: how much description do you provide on a baseball that is put into play? Do you prefer, "Grounded to third. Jones has it over to first for the out," or "Grounded to third. Jones backhands it in front of the bag and throws over to first for the out."
I think the latter is always better, but the trick is doing it with an economy of words, innit? How well can you be descriptive while not being wordy? I know a longtime PBPer in a major sport who has always driven me batty because he too often (for me) describes the position of the primary object used in the game down to the angstrom. Enough already. Paint me a good picture, my imagination can do the rest.
Along the same line, is it permissible to fall a count or two behind the action as you provide your play-by-play?
Occasionally, surely, and more often on television. You probably should be ever so slightly behind so you can process information and then relay it and not be anticipating. If you're trying to describe events that no one else can see in realtime (on the radio), you're likely to get surprised at some point or anticipate something that doesn't actually then happen. You don't want to be consistently behind or so far behind that the ambiance of the game doesn't match what you're saying, but you can always catch up. Especially if you're finishing a thought.
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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#3 Post by Bisko » Sat Aug 25, 2012 7:17 am

I like to try to be as descriptive as possible. As for when to do the call, I have been trying to slow my call down, and put it a little behind what is actually happening in front of me since I am doing it for radio. If you are doing it for radio, I feel you can definitely be a second or so behind what is actually happening, as the listener wouldn't know either way.

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#4 Post by JesseG-S » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:00 am

Depends on a variety of different factors, like whether the groundout occurs in a rout, or in the late-going, or in a moment with contextual significance.

If we're talking a normal grounder on a normal day in a normal game, I'm opposed to excessive wordiness: "The 2-2 pitch... bounced to the left of the mound... the shortstop, Johnson, backhands... throws to first... one out." Hit all of that in rhythm and you're golden. It's a mundane groundout, no need to get overly poetic.

If you're inexperienced, yes, you can slow it down a little behind the play. If you're experienced, you can absolutely use short phrases to describe everything going on as it happens while leaving yourself room for bad hops or poor throws.

Then again, it's best to have command of both in your back pocket; you don't want to call every groundout the same exact way.

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#5 Post by JesseG-S » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:06 am

To reply to the esteemed Mr. Tomasch, too, you don't want to get too far behind on radio either, since the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd dictate what's occurring in the now. If we just heard the ball crushed, but you're still enmeshed in another thought and haven't described the pitcher throwing it yet, that's a problem. Likewise, the crescendo of a roaring crowd while you barely have the walk-off homer leaving the hitter's bat. You can't let your own inspiring commentary distract you from the game at hand -- you have to be on the play.

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#6 Post by ktomasch » Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:42 am

JesseG-S wrote:To reply to the esteemed Mr. Tomasch, too, you don't want to get too far behind on radio either, since the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd dictate what's occurring in the now. If we just heard the ball crushed, but you're still enmeshed in another thought and haven't described the pitcher throwing it yet, that's a problem. Likewise, the crescendo of a roaring crowd while you barely have the walk-off homer leaving the hitter's bat. You can't let your own inspiring commentary distract you from the game at hand -- you have to be on the play.
No, you're exactly right, and that's what I meant by ambiance. The sound of the game behind you should be close to what you're saying. I wasn't talking about a big lag (though sometimes they seem that way to us). In basketball, you can catch up.

Part of doing this job well, obviously, is knowing when to shut your digression off and describe the game. You never want to be really far behind, obviously.
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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#7 Post by jaymurry » Sat Aug 25, 2012 12:58 pm

I have to be careful to match the RPMs of my mind and thought processes with the speed of my speaking ability. I think a lot faster than I speak, and my brain has to have a govenor on it to make sure my delivery is not too fast (which, with me, leads to a stuttering situation). To help that governor, I try to make sure not to go overboard with the description of each play.

My focus is to call the play with some vivid descriptors, within maintaining an easily understandable rate of speaking. If needed in the more leisurely-paced sports of baseball and football, I'll add other descriptions and observations of the past play, during the lull in-between plays and pitches. In fast-paced sports like basketball, I try to follow Bob Ramsay's lead (PBP man for the St. Louis U. men's basketball games)...condense sentences into shorter phrases, and phrases into shorter fragments. All to make sure those descriptive phrases and fragments fit smoothly within the rhythm of the game and my speaking tempo.

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#8 Post by Bob Rotruck » Sat Aug 25, 2012 2:10 pm

Technically, you are ALWAYS going to be behind in your play-by-play. You can't say that the goal was scored or the basket was good or the grounder was hit to shortstop until you see it actually happen.

The question is really more along the lines of how FAR behind the play is acceptable or appropriate and if it is okay to be further behind than what you would consider normal.

The old Cincinnati Reds announcer of the 50's and 60's, Waite Hoyt, was known for being especially nitty on this aspect and I suppose technically more precise in his play-by-play in that he would always refer to the plays in the past-tense.

From his wikipedia article:
He was well known for calling games exclusively in past tense, which was and still is unusual for sportscasting. Where most baseball announcers would say, "Here's the pitch!" Hoyt would say, "There was the pitch!" He told author Curt Smith that he felt using past tense was accurate because "as I speak to you, what happened a moment ago is gone".

As for the topic of how descriptive you should be: mix it up. Routine grounder to shortstop you can just say it is a grounder to SS and let your overall tone convey the idea that it was not a big deal. Or you can even go into greater detail as it's happening IF the mood strikes. Try to generate a balance that feels right.

Slow-roller, in the hole, nice backhand pick, and a long throw across that barely gets him you can use a few more words and also pick up your excitement level of course since it's a good play and apparently took more skill than routine to get the out. But you also need to be careful to not speak too fast in the crammed amount of time you have on such a play. More words said quickly does not make the call better. I'm still battling those instincts.

I agree that going into painstaking detail on every pitch and every batted ball is too much and annoying. Vary it around.
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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#9 Post by AdamDSeidel » Sat Aug 25, 2012 10:17 pm

To give a short answer to the first question: As much as I possibly can with an economy of words and within the rhythm of the game.

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#10 Post by jpott » Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:25 am

Bob Rotruck wrote:Technically, you are ALWAYS going to be behind in your play-by-play. You can't say that the goal was scored or the basket was good or the grounder was hit to shortstop until you see it actually happen.
I don't agree. I think if you are describing the play AS IT HAPPENS you aren't behind. On a related note a pet peeve of mine is the announcer that almost broadcasts in future tense. I hear it a lot in younger baseball guys and have tried to advise against it.
Example: "fly ball down the right field line, and it's going to be a fair ball." When all they need to say is "fair ball."

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#11 Post by ktomasch » Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:36 pm

jpott wrote:I don't agree. I think if you are describing the play AS IT HAPPENS you aren't behind.
Realistically, you'd have to be ever-so-slightly behind. You can't describe something until you've had the chance to see it, process it and speak. Unless you correctly anticipate every play ever, you're always going to be slightly behind. On this planet, at least. This is the way the human mind works.

Some are able to see, process and speak more quickly than others. The average person who's not trained as a broadcaster struggles with the "process" (figure out what just happened and the correct words to use to describe that) part. Doing that is called being smooth.
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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#12 Post by Donny Baarns » Tue Aug 28, 2012 8:58 am

An older baseball broadcaster gave me a great piece of advice a couple years ago: be economical during the play, and then fill in more details immediately after it. As he told me, if you burden the initial call with a ton of words and over-description, it can be hard for a listener to follow. But if you provide a solid skeleton of description while the play unfolds, you can then circle back to it right after it ends and flesh out some of the details.

Example: "Line drive, down the left field line! It heads toward the corner! Johnson over to dig it out, he misplays it! Smith flying around second, digs for third, here comes the relay...not in time!..."

(Pause)

"It kicked off the fence at an angle to the right as it rattled into that corner area, and Johnson misread that bounce...He tried to correct himself, but his feet tangled underneath him, and the ball rolled about 10 feet past him. And by the time he was able to go back and retrieve it and relay it in, Smith was into third."

Or something like that.

If you're working with a color analyst, it can sometimes be tougher to do this, and that's where it seems that good color guys will often help you with that kind of thing. You especially hear this, in my opinion, in hockey radio...it's impossible to call every touch of the puck and every head fake and bounce, but after a goal is scored or a penalty is called, the best color guys will not only analyze the play but also help describe it in more detail.

Of course, this is still very general and open to interpretation on every play, but I found it helpful, and still do.
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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#13 Post by Nick Gagalis » Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:50 am

I agree with Donny (among many others who've posted here with the same sentiment). I try to be as succinct but descriptive as possible in the first go-around, and try to offer a different angle (as well as more details) after the fact.

Whether it's a coincidence or not I don't know, but if there are times I need to use a stand-alone clip for highlights instead of interjecting between plays, those descriptions are sometimes just as valuable to include if they happen to be brief but still effective.

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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#14 Post by ATowne » Wed Aug 29, 2012 2:30 pm

I agree with many of the points above - especially including more description after the play. Sometimes, especially if there was a lot that happened on the play, it can be helpful for your own benefit to describe it with more detail. Often, I would call a play with shorter fragments (still not in a 'boring' way, but not overly wordy) as it happened/as fast as I could react, then after the play I would look down at my scorebook and as I recorded what happened I'd repeat it over the air. Sometimes the listener may not be paying full attention and will tune back in if they hear the announcer get excited. In that case, they probably missed the beginning of the play and may be confused about what the situation was.

By the way, this thread is giving me good examples of why it's ALWAYS good to have more than one person listen and critique your stuff. I've had people tell me it's not OK to be behind the action on PxP - even a couple seconds - and that it's not OK to redescribe the action in further detail than the PxP man could while I was on color. Unfortunately, those were the people who had been in charge of my air time at the time of those critiques and because they didn't like it, I was further down on the 'depth chart' than I thought I should've been.
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Re: How much description to you provide on a ball in play?

#15 Post by Jon Chelesnik » Thu Feb 16, 2017 10:13 am

This thread is SO relevant. It's from nearly five years ago so I want to bring it back to the forefront to see what today's STAA Forums audience has to contribute.

It's mostly about tense in which I am interested. I am a firm believer that play-by-play should be broadcast in the present tense. Past tense is acceptable, of course, if you are recapping a play. Future tense is never acceptable. How can you describe something that has yet to happen?

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