OUTdrive Episode 63 with Bill Brown
Baseball may be America’s Pastime, but for play-by-play announcer Bill Brown, the sport spans a lifetime. In this episode of OUTdrive, I visit with Bill about the journey from his childhood as a baseball fan in rural Missouri, all the way to the MLB broadcast booth.
Bill is a semi-retired sportscaster who spent 30 years as a play-by-play announcer for the Houston Astros from 1987 to 2016. As a veteran MLB broadcaster, Brown has been honored several times over the course of his career including a 2013 Texas Sportscaster of the Year Award by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. A Sedalia, Missouri native, Bill earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and started his career by calling local high school and college sports in the Jefferson City area. Bill made his way to the MLB scene with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970’s, joining the broadcast team following back-to-back World Series and NLCS titles in 1975 and 1976.
Listen along or read the transcript as Bill shares stories about former professional players, winning and losing seasons, and what it’s like to live a day in the life of a sportscaster.Show/Hide Transcript
Get ready for actionable marketing insight you can apply to help you reach, connect and convert rural American consumers. Hop in the front seat as you’ll be riding shotgun with Cliff Callis, your outdrive host, as he takes you down the road to success. Let’s go.
Cliff Callis 00:24
Hey folks, welcome to OUTdrive, I’m Cliff Callis. We’ve got another great story to share with you today about growing up in rural America and following your dreams. You know, growing up out here in the country, we played a lot of baseball, from catch with my brother to wiffle ball with the kids down the road, to throwing a baseball at a brick wall just so it would come back to me. Little League, high school, you know, baseball was always a big part of life each summer as it is for a lot of kids. But, you know, my guest today made it his career, not as a player, but as a sportscaster. And Bill Brown grew up in my hometown of Sedalia, Missouri. And he tells a story about how he would fall asleep at night listening to the legendary Jack Buck and the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio. I remember those nights as well. I got to know him through my uncle who’s a close friend. And when he was in high school Bill would help out announcing High School games in the area. And then he went off to the University of Missouri, where he studied journalism and called high school and college games on the side. And he was good at it. And Bill got his first professional job with the Cincinnati Reds a couple of years later, where he did the play by play for 10 years and from there, went on to the Houston Astros, where he was the TV broadcaster and Ambassador for the Astros for nearly 35 years. He’s a true student of the game. And it always showed in the way he talked about the history of baseball, and through his knowledge of the fundamentals. And today he’s retired from broadcasting and has just published a new book, Sportscasting 101: the Road to Play-by-Play. Welcome to OUTdrive, Bill.
Bill Brown 02:00
Thank you, Cliff. Pleasure to be on with you and good to see you again.
Cliff Callis 02:04
Good to see you as well, my friend, been looking forward to it. How’s retirement treating you?
Bill Brown 02:07
Yeah, it’s been a perfect mix. I guess a lot of times when we enter into this last phase, so to speak of life, we’re not quite sure how it’s gonna go. But there’s golf a couple days a week. There are some podcasts like this, some opportunities to speak to groups. I’ve done a few games. I’ve done a few of our AA Corpus Christi /hooks games, went to Corpus Christi, and a couple of our AAA Sugarland Skeeters games. I did a couple of Astros games remotely, which I did not like, a lot of chance to do some reading and some other volunteer work. It’s a really good mix right now.
Cliff Callis 02:45
So you’re not really fully retired from broadcasting, sounds like?
Bill Brown 02:46
No, I’m not.
Cliff Callis 02:48
That’s great. That’s awesome.
Bill Brown 02:49
It’s hard to do. It’s hard to do.
Cliff Callis 02:51
Well, when you’re good at it, people want you. Hey, let’s go back to growing up in Sedalia. You know, what was the sports scene like back then?
Bill Brown 03:02
I remember reading the St. Louis Post Dispatch. And Bob Brigg was the sports editor. He is a legendary Hall of Fame writer-type guy. I just tried to absorb everything I could about sports, and as you mentioned, listening to Cardinals games every night. You know, and Tony and I, Tony Monsees and I used to talk about the Cardinals every day, our other buddies did, too. So that was kind of the main topic. As you said, you know, playing ball in the backyard, all these things were in play very much for kids in Sedalia, but the universe was so much smaller. TV was an occasional treat. We had Saturday afternoon NBC baseball one game a week on TV. That was it. So, a much simpler time and not a bad thing.
Cliff Callis 03:57
No, there is a lot of good to that. So how did you actually get your first opportunity to do sports casting, was it Jimmy Glenn?
Bill Brown 04:09
Jimmy Glenn at KDRO in Sedalia was the sports director and he owned a portion of the station. And we had a journalism teacher at Smith Cotton High School named Don Lamb. Everybody loved Don Lamb. So when I was a junior in high school, I took his journalism class. And through that, we had an internship situation and a couple of us got to go on the air at KDRO. Five minutes, I’d say, I think I was on three times a week and somebody else did it twice a week with the “high school news of the day” kind of thing. But I just turned it into a sports cast. You know, well the basketball team did this this week, and I’d get my buddy Barry Wallace to come in and I’d interview him. So I was just totally using this as an audition for a career, rather than really reporting Smith Cotton news of the week. I would hang around KTRO and offer to mop the floors and all these things that they tell you to do when you want to get into broadcasting, and met Jimmy Glenn and kind of puppy-dogged around after him. And he would ask if I wanted to spot for him on some high school football games. So I’d be up in the booth with him ad ccasionally they’d need somebody to go on the air to a little color. Our team was in the state championship baseball game in St. Louis, when I was a senior. So my first date with Diane was her senior prom. And we were in her driveway talking about two o’clock in the morning and I said, “Well, unfortunately, I have to go catch a train now to go to St. Louis for the state championship game because we’re broadcasting on KDRO.” So I got to be Jimmy Glenn’s companion on the broadcast that day. And that was a huge day for me. But that’s kind of the way it started.
Cliff Callis 06:00
Well, that’s a great start. And, you know, internships are pretty, pretty cool. And the local school district has a great internship program. In fact, Sacred Heart, the private high school, does, as well. But they’ll put kids in for a week, do sort of a job shadow, let them experience two or three different kinds of careers. And, you know, I think that’s really valuable for a young person growing up.
Bill Brown 06:27
I don’t think it is any better for an aspiring broadcaster than to get started early. And I always encourage them, you know, get on the air as soon as you can. If you can’t get on the air, grab your phone, do a voice memo at a ballgame, play-by-play and have your parents critique you or have your friends critique you or somebody in the business do that. That’s the next best thing. But there’s nothing like being on the air.
Cliff Callis 06:51
Yeah, so the Cardinals were pretty good back in the day. Brock, Gibson, McCarver. Were they always your team?
Bill Brown 07:00
Um, I was kind of a fan of baseball at large. I wasn’t, you know, Tony Monsees, was dyed in the wool of Cardinals. I didn’t go that far with it. But I tried to follow every team I could. And you know, I got a press pass, and I think Tony went with me to Busch Stadium. In 68. We were juniors at Mizzou. I wrote to the public relations director of the Cardinals and told him I was a student at Mizzou and would really like to come to a game and he gave me a press pass. I think Tony went with me, and went down to the clubhouse after the game. But that final weekend of the ‘68 season, when the Cardinals went to the World Series and lost to Detroit, I saw Bob Gibson beat Larry Derrker, who, as it turned out, would be my partner on the broadcast for 10 years in Houston and then manage the team, 1-0. And that’s the year Gibson set the era record of 1.12, so a very memorable time.
Cliff Callis 08:06
There was a great season. I think Denny McLain on the other side. Didn’t he go on to win like 31 games or something?
Bill Brown 08:15
He did, good memory.
Cliff Callis 08:16
Yes. Yeah. Well, lucky, lucky, lucky guess. We’ll talk a little bit about your time at Mizzou.
Bill Brown 08:20
Mizzou, I thought, you know, had one of the best reputations of any journalism school. And I was kind of thinking being a Sedalia guy, you know, maybe it might be cool to go out of state. So I looked into Oklahoma, which had a good journalism school, but it didn’t measure up in my opinion and the opinions of a lot of other people. So Mizzou was the fit and it was a really good fit for me. And I tell kids now, “Hey, look, if you could get into Mizzou, you’re fine with the financial part of it and all that, it’s a great place to go. But you need to get experience other than the college classes in the college setting.” And that’s what I did. I was fortunate that one of the disc jockeys from KDRO in Sedalia had left and moved to a station in Jefferson City KWOS and he called me when I was a junior and he said, “Hey, we’re looking for a sports play-by-play guy for our high school football and basketball, and also Lincoln University college basketball, and would you be interested?” and I said absolutely. So I got that job. And every weekend when I was a junior and senior I was out on Friday and Saturday night doing High School games, college games, traveling all around the state. We’d do home and road, and I did Jefferson City Jays and Jefferson City Helias, the Catholic High School, games. And it was better than a Missouri journalism education. I will frankly tell you.
Cliff Callis 09:56
So that’s, I think, pretty good advice for anybody that’s wanting to follow your career path. Would you say,
Bill Brown 10:01
I would strongly suggest that. I might, actually Cliff, I’ve been talking with a local college Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas, which is a couple of hours drive from here about maybe doing visiting and teaching this fall. And that’ll be one thing I will emphasize very strongly to the students there if that pans out, or even if it doesn’t, when I talk to students, that’s one thing I really stress. I got a call the other day from a young man I’ve known, he’s a northeast Texas guy, and he’s going to Texas Tech. So he’s going to be a sophomore. And he said, “Hey, I just wanted to see what you thought, I’ve been offered a job of 20 hours a week, covering the Texas Tech softball and volleyball teams, and I have to be at every game and I would be broadcasting,” and I said “Take it!” If you can handle the academic load, and you know, the 20 hours working a week, do it because this is the best experience you’re gonna get. And he’s a sophomore. He’s not even in journalism school yet, so he plans to take it. And that’s the path that I would recommend for anybody who wants to do this.
Cliff Callis 11:18
Well, good luck with the teaching gig. I hope that all works out. I think he’d be great at that.
Bill Brown 11:23
I look forward to it. I like working with the youngsters.
Cliff Callis 11:26
Well tell us how you got on with the Reds. Because you were pretty young at that time, then.
Bill Brown 11:31
I was. I had gone into the army and got out and got a job in Cincinnati with the NBC affiliate WLWT TV. And they had radio also. So it’s a great place to work. And I was doing weekend sports. And then I was what they call a booth announcer during the week, which is the most boring job in television every half hour you say, “TV-5 Cincinnati,” and that’s about the extent of what you do in the booth. So they encouraged me when they hired me,”Hey, look, just put your recordings together and record your announcements and go out to a ballgame every night for two, three hours, we want you back to the late news,” because I had to intro the on-camera talent, you know, they wanted that done live because sometimes somebody got sick and somebody else was filling in, so I couldn’t be on tape with that. But I’d go to a Reds game for two and a half hours and come back in. And they just wanted me to learn the whole local sports scene, whether it be University of Cincinnati, Xavier or whatever it was, and I did that. And of course baseball was my first love. So I would take my little tape recorder down to the Reds game at Riverfront Stadium, and I’d try to find an empty broadcast booth where nobody was using it and get in there and just turn my tape recorder on and I have the game notes. And I’d just take a whirl doing radio play-by-play. And so that was another part of the learning and then my first – this was weird – my first game, first game ever was in September of ‘72. The Reds were in Houston. And they were in a position to clinch the NL West Division title. Wade Hoyt, the legendary Hall of Fame pitcher with the New York Yankees, he was on the ‘27 Yankees and he was a longtime broadcaster, too, in Cincinnati. He had done a lot of radio there. He had retired, they had brought him back out of retirement. He was in his 70’s. And he was doing the analyst job on TV. He was sick, and he was in the hospital. So they said well, you’re going to Houston to fill in for him. And I had no idea what I was doing at that point. I mean, I was scared stiff. You know the first six innings of that telecast, I don’t think I said four words. I was just afraid of saying the wrong thing. And a guy named Tom Hedrick, we used to do Kansas City Chiefs, way back in the day was the play-by-play guy. Good guy. And after eight innings, the Reds were ahead, 4-3. And the producer said to us, well, Tom is going downstairs now because if the Reds win this game, they clinch and he’s doing interviews on the field with the celebration and all that. So Tom got up and left and I looked around the booth and I was the only one left. So here I was doing play-by-play when they brought in the closer, Clay Carroll, to nail it down and nail down the division. And that was my first game ever. How about that?
Cliff Callis 14:27
Wow, that is an awesome story. That’s like getting thrown right in the firing pan, isn’t it?
Bill Brown 14:33
Yeah, and that’s what I work with kids. I tell them that I said, “Look, do all the preparation you can possibly do. But there are things that you will not feel prepared to do. Take the opportunity and do them.” If somebody calls you on a Friday and says “Hey, we need a volleyball broadcaster for Saturday,” and you don’t know volleyball, do it anyway. Now I was not very good at that. I would turn down some things if I felt really comfortable. I wound up doing hockey and I really didn’t know hockey, but I had time enough to prepare for it. I did tennis, I did bowling, you know, some of the sports that aren’t commonly, at that time or not on television all that much, but I did them, and it really helps to be on the air in any form.
Cliff Callis 15:16
You think baseball just came more naturally because you’re such a fan yourself?
Bill Brown 15:20
Yes. Yeah. So I just had always studied the game, history of the players, listen to games. That was number one for me. I wound up doing football. I did Cincinnati Bengals preseason. I did some college. Loved it. But nothing like baseball. There’s nothing like baseball for me.
Cliff Callis 15:40
I agree. Well, you had a good run in Cincinnati and then moved over to Houston. Would you have ever thought you’d be there for 35 years?
Bill Brown 15:49
Oh, no, good grief. We had bounced around. You know what happened was I got fired in Cincinnati, we had a bad year in ‘82. And the Reds had gone from, remember ‘81 was the strike shortened season. And they actually had the best record when you put together both halves of the season. And so they went from that to 101 losses in ‘82. And I wasn’t very good that year, as a broadcaster, you know, we lost 101, and you’re bringing bad news. I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. So I got fired. And we started bouncing around the country with Pittsburgh for a year. We went back to Cincinnati for a year, both those two companies were out of business then. Then I went to L.A. for two years and it just didn’t seem like things were going to work out with the sportscasting thing. And I had moved more off the air and a senior producing type jobs where I was supervising the program but really wasn’t on except on a fill-in basis, so I’d pretty much given up on any chance to get back into baseball, and didn’t expect anything to happen. And I had actually interviewed with a company called Paychecks to be an office supervisor, I think was the job and I would have run the office and done payroll for small companies. And that would have been the end of broadcasting. And it came down to the fact that they needed a decision from me and I talked it over with Diane, my wife, and we just decided not let’s stick with this. It’s too late in life to change. I was 39. And Dick Wagner had been the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds when I was there. And he had written me a nice little note when I got fired, saying hey, the Reds didn’t do this, it was your station. So we’re sorry it happened blah, blah, blah. And hadn’t heard from him for years. But when we were doing the show in Santa Monica, California for two years, I was a senior producer. We were always trying to get guests on, it was a nationwide cable sports talk show. And so the Astros were coming to town to play the Dodgers in September. And I was looking around for guests. We didn’t have a lot of guests booked that week. And I called him and asked if he was traveling with the Astros to L.A. and he said, yes, he was and I asked him if he would be on the show. And I did the show because I knew him. So we did an hour talk show. And then I gave him a ride back to the hotel downtown L.A. And during that conversation, he asked me if I’ve been trying to get back into baseball, and I said, well, not really because, you know, I’ve been with these companies that have gone out of business. I’ve been scrambling for jobs for the last few years. And I’m just trying to do the job I have. And that was the end of that. And then two months later, he called me and said, “Hey, I remember our conversation, would you be interested if I told you we have an opening in Houston?” I said absolutely. Well, they had fired Jean Elston, who had been the original voice of the team, who had been with them for 25 years. So I wound up getting that job. But it was against all odds really, Cliff, they narrowed it down to three of us. They flew all of us in on different days, gave us auditions, we didn’t know this was coming. Because in our business, you send them a tape of your work and they look at it and they check around with the different employers you’ve had, people we’ve worked with and, and then probably the personal interview accounts for a little bit and then they make their decision. But in this case, that was not all of the process. We went to the television station, they said you’re going to do three innings of this game, we’re going to put some crowd noise behind you. Here are the lineups, here the media guides, we’ll give you a half an hour to get ready, and then we’re going to roll the tape. And so they had all three of us on different days doing the same three innings of the same game so they could compare. So that’s how close it must have been in their minds. And so you know, you’re down to that point. What are the odds? But it worked out, and, no, to give you this is the long, long answer for your good question. No, I could never have foreseen being in Houston this long.
Cliff Callis 19:59
Yeah. Well, you did a great job, you did a great job. And certainly getting that. I mean, you were prepared, you’d prepared your whole life for that. And you just never know, do you. I mean, I, that’s one of my favorite sayings anymore. It’s just you never know how things are gonna work out. And you just got a lot to kind of let them play, and good things happen to good people.
Bill Brown 20:20
Well I think, you know, God was watching out for me, certainly, because baseball was always number one. And so I felt as if – this is bonus time here. You know, you cannot do what you did in Cincinnati, you have to work harder, you just have to reach down and find a better way to do this job because it wasn’t successful there. And they’re giving you another chance that very few people get. So it worked out, the people on the air with me were fantastic and you know, what you try to do is just just let them carry it. Because that first year, you know, I don’t know the team. They had been in the playoffs a year before, they had a great playoff series, which they lost to the Mets and the NLCS and the Mets went on to win the World Series. So the Astros were just a heartbeat away from being world champions that year. And I came into that situation not knowing anybody. And so I just, you know, relied on the analysts, the other broadcasters to carry it and I was the new guy. And I wasn’t going to try to act like I knew what had been going on, because it’s an awful lot to process your first year on the job. And I didn’t get hired until February, the season started and we were in spring training in March.
Cliff Callis 21:31
Well, talk about what goes into prepping for a ballgame.
Bill Brown 21:36
For me, it was kind of an all day process. I’d get up in the morning, I’d watch the highlight shows, look at the box scores, I made notes on my own team, of course, after every game, you’d have a sheet for every player, what they did every game. I would make notes on all the other teams that we played. So when we were in the National League, I kept a line on the New York Mets every day, what did they do, who pitched, who hit home runs, that kind of thing. Now, were other people doing this? Not really. But this, you know, I didn’t have that great memory, in my opinion, so I really needed something to be able to review in the form that I wanted it in, you know, and this was when we weren’t really relying on the internet very much at all. So it worked for me. And then I continued to do it, Cliff, all through. Even when the internet was there, for all the information anybody would ever want about baseball, I continued to write it out by hand every day, it was just a part of the discipline that I wanted to have, you know. I’d listen to talk shows, I’d watch other games, just kind of a day full of preparation every day. And that’s kind of what baseball is like, if you’re not willing to be immersed in it, and you know, they’d call you to do an appearance here and there, you have to fit that and you’d have to travel. If you’re not willing to be consumed by baseball, it’s pretty tough to do this job.
Cliff Callis 23:08
What sounds like a lot of what a player might go through during the day.
Bill Brown 23:13
I would agree with that. I’d say the players get a little more sleep, but they have a little more pressure, too.
Cliff Callis 23:20
You know, our show is about marketing. Talk a little bit about, you know, some of the marketing that you maybe saw over the years that would really bring people out to the ballpark?
Bill Brown 23:30
Well, that’s a really good question. And one that I do not get very often. But it’s changed in major ways, from just reading a 15 second promo when I started. Now, you know, it’s so different. I think visually, there are a lot of things on television that are almost subliminal marketing. But what we try to do on a telecast is with a team effort of okay, we’re gonna do a promo on this. Well, now we have a sideline reporter. We never did, you know, for many years when I started, so they’ll call on her to read promos sometimes. And then we, being two guys in the booth, will bounce off that a little bit. And we’ll talk about, hey, we got bobblehead day coming up Friday, and so and so’s pitching and this and that. So there will be a way of elongating that promotional effort for that game. And just casual talk and things of that nature because baseball lends itself to that, as you know better than the other sports.
Cliff Callis 24:38
So do you ever struggle to get fans in the ballpark?
Bill Brown 24:43
Oh yeah, yeah. In 2013 we lost 111 games and we really didn’t have people in the ballpark to speak of. So what we would do is, if we’d be behind, you know, nine to one in the seventh inning, we’d start pulling highlights the producer would have, you know, last night Jake Meyers Class A Williamsburg had three home runs, we’d show that. Now that was pretty extreme, but we’d rather show that than show our team the way our team was playing.
Cliff Callis 25:18
Yeah, that’s got it. That’s got to be a challenge to make your fans feel good about a team that’s not playing very well.
Bill Brown 25:26
Yeah. And as you know, you know, people I think fans tend to think of the best broadcasters as the ones on the best teams. Well, yeah, the crowd is very supportive. The stands are packed, you know, everybody sounds great when they’re calling a home run to win a game. And let’s just flip the script on that and go 180 degrees to a team that hardly ever wins hardly ever gets big hits, is constantly falling behind by four or five runs by the middle innings. It’s a totally different challenge. And so quite often, the guys who do this job, we’d get together and be chatting about this, that and the other thing, and we’ve eventually come around to the topic of you know, so and so’s boy, he’s been with the last place team, like Herb Carneal of Minnesota for so many years, that guy really has to do a better job than we do. Because he doesn’t have all the excitement going, you know, he’s got to come up with stuff to talk about. He’s got to keep it interesting. That’s a much bigger challenge than doing games for a first place team.
Cliff Callis 26:32
Yeah. So you mentioned Jack Buck early on, but you did not mention Harry Caray. And I, as a kid, I always thought they made such a great team, you know, sort of the Laurel and Hardy Abbott and Costello of broadcasting. And of course, I don’t remember what year Harry went to Chicago. I’m sure you do. You know, I just thought they were a great team together.
Bill Brown 26:55
They were a great team. And it was odd because Tony Monsees would always prefer Harry. And I think most fans did because Harry was the ultimate showman. He built drama probably as well as anybody ever has in baseball. You know, if the Cardinals were batting in the bottom of the ninth, tie score, there’s nobody you’d rather have the mic than Harry Carey, because he could portray the excitement of that game better than anybody on the air. I always like Jack. Jack was understated. I was a sort of Jack Buck, really, you know, I’d be doing games and I’d say something and, and in my head, this little red flag would be waving that well that’s Jack Buck. But you know, and so I subconsciously would do games the way Jack Buck did. It was just a part of my DNA at that point, I’d listened to him so much. But, the reason I prefer Jack over Harry was accuracy. I took my transistor to a cardinal game one time – yeah, this is one game. But he said “there’s a hot smash to Boyer.” Well, Kenny Boyer was a third baseman. Well, I’m watching and it’s a routine to hop groundball right at Kenny Boyer. You know, this is not a great play that Kenny Boyer was making. Now Harry made it sound like a great play. I had a problem with that. Jack wouldn’t have done that. So I always preferred you know, being in journalism, school and guy, accuracy. Yeah, that’s why I tended to lean more toward and then I got to know Jack and he, I’ll tell you what Cliff, he lived up to every possible dream I could have had of the way a big league broadcaster, not only does his job but treats people.
Cliff Callis 28:47
And did you get to know him?
Bill Brown 28:50
I did. He actually even had me on a couple of his pregame interviews on radio, which blew me away. And it was one of my biggest thrills.
Cliff Callis 28:59
What a dream come true. You know, from the outside looking in, sportscasting for Major League Baseball looks like a pretty good gig. I’ll always remember, and I’m very gracious to you for inviting me up into the box when I was in Houston to watch the Star Spangled Banner before the game. You know, I still get goosebumps every time I think about it. Give us some of the highs and lows of a sportscaster.
Bill Brown 29:22
I think the highs are, you know, obviously when you’re with a great team, there are many highs. I just had a high Saturday night when they asked me to emcee on the field at Minute Maid Park before the game, the induction ceremony of the 2020 Astros Hall of Fame class. We didn’t get to induct them last year because of the pandemic and wanted to wait until fans got back in the stadium so we did this year. But man that is so much fun being down on that field with those guys and you know with a big crowd applauding and there’s just nothing like that. That is definitely one of the highs. Or a few times I got to be on the field, introducing the starting lineup. One year, we started with the Yankees at Minute Maid Park, so Jeter was leading off, and it was his last year. And that was really a special thrill, also. But then on the low end of things, you know, you’re in 2013, we had that last place team I talked about, and we had several teams that were pretty bad. I think we lost 100 or more, three years in a row, just awful teams. And then you know, you’ve been on the road for 10 days, and you’re arriving at 4am, we’ll say from the West Coast, and you’re gonna have to do a game that night. So those are then yeah, you know, you’ve got some family things going on, those are some of the laws.
Cliff Callis 30:48
Yeah. And people don’t hear about those. They just hear about the highs.
Bill Brown 30:52
Yeah. And I don’t like broadcasters who talk about personal things. Well, I went out for dinner and such and such last, who cares? You know, I just never liked that. So you’ve got to keep that aside. And players do a very good job of compartmentalizing, as well. You don’t know what’s going on in their families. But that’s pretty much a professional approach that I always prefer.
Cliff Callis 31:15
Well, I agree with that. I think if you’re listening to a game, or you’re watching a game, you want to hear about the game. You don’t want to hear about pizza the night before with the boys. You’re a storyteller. Tell us a couple of your most memorable stories from baseball.
Bill Brown 31:34
Oh, gosh, I love the Cincinnati Reds. And you know, we, with that team, our timing was so fortunate to be there then. But you know, as much as I could remember stories from ‘75, ‘76, the back-to-back National League titles and World Series titles, and no team has done that in the National League since then. And all those great players getting to know them a little bit personally, you know, I played some, some doubles tennis against Pete Rose. And he was so competitive. One time I called the ball out and he said that ball wasn’t out. And he could not lose, the man could not, you know, I don’t care if it was ping pong at three o’clock in the morning. And I didn’t do that with him, but I heard stories about other guys who did, he couldn’t lose. He couldn’t, he didn’t know how to handle it. And so when we went to Johnny Bench, his hometown, Bangor, Oklahoma with a camera crew and did a feature on him and talked to his childhood buddy and he told us how he pulled some kids out of the back end of a school bus when it was teetering. The bus had slid off to the edge of a roadway and there was an overhang and it was about to plunge down. And he was pulling kids out of the back of the bus to save their lives, that kind of thing. So there are a lot of stories like that that may not mean anything to people but then they flip around, and years later we’re at Cooperstown for the Jeff Bagwell induction into the Hall of Fame and Johnny Bench is there and they encourage all the Hall of Famers to go to parties. Each inductee has a party the night before the induction so there might be four parties going on at one time. They each go to a party for half an hour and go to another party. So he happened to be on the shuttle bus sitting right behind us and I hadn’t seen him in years and, and my wife Diane reminded him that he once picked up our daughter and she started crying. She was about two years old, but you gave us a jersey to make up for. And he didn’t remember of course, but I don’t know just a little personal things. I was down in Ray Knight’s batting cage one time when he was in Cincinnati, in Albany, Georgia, and I was feeding balls in a pitching machine. And we’re picking up balls, and somehow I lost my wedding band. I think it had grown too small for the left finger that it’s supposed to go on and I put on my little finger and it dropped off and we looked around for a half an hour. And every time I would see him after that he would say, “Did you ever find your wedding ring?” No, I had to buy another one.
Cliff Callis 34:04
So it was Bench and Rose, those guys, were with those your favorite players?
Bill Brown 34:11
Morgan, yeah. George Foster. Yeah, I love those guys. But when I got to Houston then you know Billy Doren was one of my favorite guys, Altuve, Biggio, Bagwell, of course. So I think those memories, Cliff, are the ones that really resonate because of the fact that they’re over such a long period of time. And they continue on past the time that we’ve been involved with baseball.
Cliff Callis 34:39
Yeah. So what about favorite ballparks? Surely you’ve got a favorite or two?
Bill Brown 34:43
Yeah, well, I like Oracle Park, they call it now in San Francisco, is one of my favorites just because of the setting right there on the bay. And one time I was in a kayak out in McCovey Cove, we had a day off on TV and the Astros radio guys were working so I called Alan Ashby in the radio booth and, and it was right before the game. So what are you doing? He so I just came back in the booth after lunch, what’s going on? I said, look at that orange kayak out beyond the scoreboard and centerfield. He said, yeah, I see it. I said, well, I’m in it. And he got mad because he was working and I was off. That’s one of my favorites. I love San Diego, you know, I do like Wrigley and Fenway, the historic parks, but, but for broadcasters, they don’t have the creature comforts, you know, the booths are tiny. And you know, it’s just hard to get in and out of there and run to the bathroom, you know, in the fifth inning, that kind of thing. So I do like some of the newer parks, but in Pittsburgh and Washington, they put the broadcast booths on the very top level. That is not a good way to watch a ballgame. It’s like watching a bunch of ants running around, you know, down the field level. So yeah, those are some of my favorites anyway.
Cliff Callis 35:57
So you’ve just released a new book, Sportscasting 101: the Road to Play-by-Play, tell us how that came to be.
Bill Brown 36:05
I just reached the end of the line, I retired at the end of last year, and thought, well, I need to do something for this next generation. You know, I’ve been blessed with so many things in the game, I need to give something back. And the only thing I could think of was to write a book for the younger generation. It was the start of the pandemic so I thought, well, why don’t I just talk to other broadcasters about their careers. And in doing so, that would show an 18-, 19-, 20-year old who wants to go into this business, alright, here’s what Eric Nadal did. He was actually a hockey broadcaster. And then he moved to Detroit. And he started listening to Ernie Harwell, and baseball became his favorite sport. And he became a Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster for the Texas Rangers, those types of stories. And he went to Brown University. Well, that’s not a journalism school. They didn’t even have a journalism school there. But he wanted to go to a school where he could get on the air sooner without as much competition and it worked for him. So I’m trying to tell all these stories through these other people to show kids the different routes that they could take to get into a broadcast booth someday. And it was a lot of fun. And the fact that, you know, the baseball season didn’t start till July, all these guys were out of work. So they were happy to talk. They had plenty of time, they weren’t traveling. And so I wanted to do, you know, not only baseball, but football, basketball, soccer, you know, as far down the line as I could go with it – hockey – to have a variety of sports, because some kids choose early. They want to be a hockey guy. And that’s all they’re really interested in. Yeah.
Cliff Callis 37:50
Sounds like great curriculum for college class.
Bill Brown 37:53
Well, I think it may work out that way, Cliff.
Cliff Callis 37:55
So how are you going about promoting it?
Bill Brown 38:00
I haven’t been. I’m not very good at promoting it. I put it on Facebook. And that’s about it.
Cliff Callis 38:10
So if somebody wanted to get a copy, where would they get it?
Bill Brown 38:15
It’s on Amazon. Yeah, it’s Sportscasting 101 on Amazon. It’s a $15 book. You can get an ebook for three dollars, four dollars, whatever that is on Amazon, too. That’s the cheap way to go. And it reads just the same, plus, you know, I like the ebooks because you can put color photos in there and I couldn’t do that because of how high the price would have had to be for a printed book.
Cliff Callis 38:34
Yeah. So this is your second book. I read your first one, my baseball journey. Sounds like there was a little different inspiration for that book than this one.
Bill Brown 38:45
Yeah, the inspiration for that was that I had met a kid named Zach Hamm, and he and I are on the cover of the book. And he was, through the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasia, he had a condition of ectodermal dysplasia, which involves, in his case, there could be different varieties, but he’s had like 10 or 11 surgeries on his bones. So his fingers are not are not formed. The way you know yours and mine are, he only has three toes on each foot, sort of web foot condition. And but the biggest problem he’s had to deal with is sweat glands that do not work. So – and he’s been a golfer. So in Houston, if you’re a golfer in the summer, it’s 95 degrees, you constantly, they would have to pour water on his head and he’d be drinking Gatorade the whole time. So his parents really had to be with him, watching him and now he plowed through all that and he’s now at Texas A&M and not too far from getting his degree, but the proceeds went to that foundation. And I didn’t want to do a book about me, but the co-author Tim Gregg, really convinced me. He said well, you know, it’s not about you, but all these people you’ve known you could write about them. I said I kind of like that. So we picked, you know, a lady who had been a president of the Astros, you know, that kind of thing, you know, picked the first African American general manager, Bob Watson. And so we tried to cover a lot of different areas in the book other than just baseball games themselves.
Cliff Callis 40:26
Yeah. So have you always liked to write?
Bill Brown 40:29
I, you know, in journalism school, I picked that up. And I did, I enjoyed writing. I didn’t think I would ever write books. But I always enjoyed writing articles. And you know, I actually wrote for the Sedalia Democrat as part of that journalism class. I covered the team and, you know, Cliff, back in those days, we had to drive back to the newspaper office, go up and grab a typewriter. And bang out the story before midnight, or if we were on the road, call it in to Pete Daniels on the editing desk, and he would type it up and get it in the paper.
Cliff Callis 41:10
That’s great experience. Great. So you grew up in a small town out here, we’ll say rural America because it is. I knew your parents. What kind of experiences, kind of life lessons did you take away from growing up out here in the country?
Bill Brown 41:25
We were fortunate dad was an attorney there in Sedalia and fact he was a district attorney before that, before he went into his own practice. But, you know, we had a very, very stable upbringing, had a very small house, on the corner of a big lot and gradually just kept adding rooms to it. It became a fairly large house, but very stable upbringing. Never had to move. My sister and I, you know, we’re blessed with that. And then our grandmother lived with us, she was in a wheelchair for a while. The schooling was good. I think it was an ideal situation that honestly, is tough to find today, people are a lot more mobile now. There’s a lot more going on. We didn’t have a lot of the distractions, of course, social media and all these things that kids have today. So we spent a lot of time, you referred to it, out playing in the backyard. Not a bad thing.
Cliff Callis 42:25
So you’ve traveled all over, when you hear the words “rural America,” what kind of thoughts and images come to mind?
Bill Brown 42:32
You know, our daughter lives in central Minnesota and her husband is considered to be a rural doctor. And we love going up there, love coming back to Sedalia, love the slower pace. I think that the pace of life has caused a lot of difficulties in the world. People think they have to make decisions within, you know, 40 seconds and they make bad decisions. And we have a lot of bad drivers. I think the rural part of it is very good because of the groundedness it gives to kids. Yes, they may not have all the diversions. You know, our granddaughters are driving a different task to play basketball in July. That’s a little crazy to me. But I think life is a little simpler. And I think it allows kids to be a little more normal, so to speak, just concentrate on not so many things at one time. Maybe they don’t have to live like the Joneses do you know and that type of competitiveness in terms of material possessions and things along those lines. So I really like small town upbringing, farming life, it’s Ithink it’s a great way to ground children.
Cliff Callis 43:52
Yeah, me too. Me too. We’ve got it pretty good. Yeah. So Bill, I appreciate you being with us today. What else would you like to share with our OUTdrive audience that you think they might find interesting?
Bill Brown 44:04
Oh, I guess just just from a newly retired guy, Cliff, you know, looking back now, being blessed to have all these memories. It’s really not, I know, you talk about this probably all the time, yes, okay, you may have done this, you may have done that, may have a bank account of this or that, but it’s really becoming less consequential. Now, if you’ve become retired, it’s not so much about what you’ve done, what you’re worth, people you know, as where you’re going. You know, your time on earth is limited. You will leave Earth at some point. Where are you going next? So that more and more, I think, becomes our focus.
Cliff Callis 44:48
Yeah, I’m, I’m thinking about all that myself. Are we going to see you at a Mizzou football game this fall?
Bill Brown 44:50
Yeah, I’d love to come up there. That sounds like a great idea. Yeah.
Cliff Callis 44:55
Well, hope to see you there. Bill. Thanks for being with us today.
Bill Brown 45:00
Thank you so much for the time.
Cliff Callis 45:18
Folks, thanks for listening to OUTdrive. I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit today with Bill Brown, former television announcer for the Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds and others, also an author. Come back again next week and I’ll take you down the roads of rural America, where it’s heaven on Earth.
Thanks for taking a ride with us on our drive. This episode is complete. So head on over to ecallis.com for show notes and more insight. You can apply to help drive your business growth and be sure to sign up for our free monthly e-letter OUTthink for even more helpful content about marketing to rural America. Have a great day, and keep on driving.Close Transcript