Sweet Deal: Howard Hoffman Becomes Baseball Announcer On ESPN Radio/Walla Walla

 

 

 

 

 

 

Howard Hoffman, whose voice has been heard on many commercials, programs and radio stations, is now bringing his pipes to the ballpark, as he will be calling baseball games for the Walla Walla Sweets on the local ESPN Radio affiliate starting this summer.

Howard Hoffman, whose voice has been heard on many commercials, programs and radio stations, is now bringing his pipes to the ballpark, as he will be calling baseball games for the Walla Walla Sweets on the local ESPN Radio affiliate starting this summer.

Whether you’ve watched TV commercials or animated programs, or listened to big-market radio, chances are you’ve likely heard the handiwork of Howard Hoffman.

He’s lent his voice to several cartoons, and has been heard in advertisements from Hostess to Hyundai, and from Post to Publix.

But he also has an impressive track record on radio, having been heard in the top four markets over the last five decades, including three in New York City. Though his most recent radio gig with KABC-AM in Los Angeles was quite steady, enjoying a 17-year run that included being the station’s production director, as well as contributing to the Los Angeles Dodgers radio network, which was based at KABC.

In October 2011, Hoffman was a victim of budget cuts by KABC’s parent company, Cumulus. Not coincidentally, the Dodgers would be moving their radio flagship to KLAC the following year.

While largely a free agent since then, Hoffman remained busy through his voiceover production company, and would remain so even after he relocated to the town of Walla Walla, Washington last year.

You might think this is the point of Hoffman’s career where he officially starts dabbling into retirement – on the contrary. Because he has found a new calling: baseball announcer.

Yes, you can now add Howard’s name to the likes of Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Harry Kalas, and current Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, whom Howard himself has dubbed “a national treasure.”

Okay, so he’s going to be calling games for the Walla Walla Sweets, so it won’t be in the same league as the others. But given his background, Hoffman will be in a class by himself.

Because in Hoffman, the Sweets, who play in the West Coast League, Eastern Division (no contradictions there) will be getting a living legend – no, I’m not trying to upstage another living legend, Vin Scully, but he has the talent, the knowledge and the “enthusiasm” – a trait that Sweets vice president/general manager Zachary Fraser awaits – to pull this off.

Even if his only work as a play-by-play baseball announcer was in a Bud Light commercial.

“Doing play-by-play on the radio is a totally different animal,” Hoffman told the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

Recently, he spent some time with his good friend Ken Levine, who like Hoffman was a disc jockey in the “music radio” era of the 70’s, and is a noted film and television producer, writer and director – but he has a baseball announcing career of his own: for six years during the 1990’s, he worked games on radio and/or TV for the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres; upon the untimely passing of Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, Levine agreed to step up to the plate, and is currently in his second go-round with the M’s in the booth. The time was spent watching baseball with the volume down and interpreting the game action – just as Hoffman will be doing for real starting with the season opener on June 5.

“I’ve got three months,” Hoffman said. “It’s going to be a lot of homework.”

The one subject in particular that he’ll be studying: stats. “When you’re watching the game, you really have to immerse yourself,” he explains. “You have to know if the batter’s right-handed, and describe what happens when he faces batters from a certain direction.”

In addition to painting a verbal picture for radio listeners, he’ll encourage Sweets fans at Borleske Stadium to get involved via Twitter and Facebook. “I’ll be keeping the lines of communication open through social media,” he promises. “It’s going to be a truly interactive live experience with every broadcast.”

He also hopes that fan interaction can enable him to learn as he goes. “As a rookie in the broadcast booth, I know I’ll learn more from our fans than from anywhere else.”

And in a flash of wit, the kind displayed behind the microphone at radio stations like WABC and Hot 97 in New York and KMEL in San Francisco, Hoffman made sure to thank the Sweets “as a fan… for this opportunity to see all the games for free.”

The local radio station that will be carrying Sweets play-by-play is “1490 ESPN”, KTEL-AM – not to be confused with the K-Tel record label. And yes, the station streams online, so anyone who has followed Hoffman through his vast radio career can join him in his next chapter of broadcasting.

“This is a dream job for anyone who grew up loving the game,” he admitted. “I’m genuinely excited to be working with a great team that’s become an instant tradition in the Walla Walla Valley.”

As long as players aren’t fixated on any Bud Light vendors in the stands, Howard Hoffman should do a swell job.

No – a Sweet job.

Advertisements

Keith Olbermann Will Appear On MLB Network As Guest Host

‘Tis the season: Keith Olbermann will be doing vacation relief during Thanksgiving week, guest hosting the “Hot Stove” program alongside Brian Kenny on MLB Network.

Back on March 30, the day Keith Olbermann was dismissed from what appeared to be the umpteenth television job in his long and storied career – the Al Gore-backed Current TV network – I argued why it would not only be a good fit for the former ESPN and Fox Sports personality to land at MLB Network – but it’s one of the few places left where he has yet to burn bridges (or in the case of ESPN, “Napalm” them).

And the fact that he already maintains a blog on the Major League Baseball blog network – titled “Baseball Nerd” (which was the source of a juicy Yankees rumor during the past postseason) – it’s basically a match made in, well, baseball nerddom.

On Friday morning, the day after the announcements of the American and National Leagues’ Most Valuable Players, MLB Network announced that Olbermann will be a guest host of their midday “Hot Stove” program on the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. He will be joined by another former ESPN alum, Brian Kenny. “Hot Stove” is usually anchored by another ex-ESPN-er, Harold Reynolds, along with Matt Vasgersian, who had previously toiled at Fox Sports as well as NBC.

As many familiar with Olbermann’s career already know, he was relieved of his duties at all three of the aforementioned networks.

Before appearing on “Hot Stove” on Friday morning via telephone, he appeared on in-studio panel discussions as recent as this past Thursday on “Clubhouse Confidential,” hosted by the aforementioned Brian Kenny.

Only time will tell if this guest host stint on Thanksgiving week is a precursor of something bigger down the line.

It’s not necessarily a flat out hire of Keith Olbermann, as I had speculated back when he was fired from his recent television gig at Current TV.

But it’s a start.

Of course, the question is whether or not he’ll stay out of Tony Petitti’s hair.

Could Free Agent Keith Olbermann Step Up To The Plate And Join MLB Network?

With the news that former ESPN, NBC and FOX Sports personality Keith Olbermann has parted ways with Current TV, there may be a chance that, after concentrating on political news content for the greater part of the last nine years, he may go back to his sports broadcasting roots and resurface on MLB Network or CBS Sports Network.

Former sports broadcaster Keith Olbermann is once again out of a non-sports broadcasting television job.

His political news program “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” which he had hosted for nearly eight years at MSNBC, has been canceled by Current TV after just nine months, and fifteen months after Olbermann joined the network. According to The New York Times’ Brian Stelter, who broke the story, Current severed ties with Olbermann after citing that he has violated the channel’s “values” as “an authentic progressive outlet.” Olbermann’s program content on “Countdown’ reflected his Democratic political leaning, which conformed with the demographic of Current, and MSNBC before it. (Both networks’ programming is mostly of a progressive political persuasion.)

There is a saying: When one door closes, another one opens. Perhaps there’s a chance that Keith Olbermann could return to sports broadcasting – provided there are any takers.

Such a move would bring Olbermann’s career full circle. In the late 1970’s, while he was concentrating on academics at Hackley School and Cornell University, he had dabbled in those schools’ radio stations. He would get his first round of face time when he joined the upstart CNN in 1981, where he would anchor sports updates. For the remainder of the 1980’s, Olbermann would hold sports anchor jobs in radio and television, in top markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

It was at ESPN where his star flourished in the mid-1990’s. His pairing with Dan Patrick was said to be the most popular “SportsCenter” anchor era of all time. That would come to an abrupt end in 1997, when former colleague Craig Kilborn, invited Olbermann to appear on his new Comedy Central program, “The Daily Show.” At the end of the segment, Kilborn did a “Five Questions” bit with Olbermann. One of the questions was: “What is the most God forsaken place on the East Coast?” Olbermann’s answer: “Bristol, Connecticut.” That counted as a correct answer, at least on the show. But not in the Worldwide Leader’s eyes. And it didn’t help that Olbermann’s appearance on “The Daily Show” was not authorized by ESPN. Olbermann would eventually leave ESPN later that year. (Kilborn would voluntarily leave “The Daily Show” in 1999; the show has since been hosted by Jon Stewart.)

In the dozen years that followed, Olbermann would work odd sports jobs at other outlets: his three-year relationship with FOX included a weekly program on FOX Sports Net. His tenure would come to an end in 2001 when he reported on FOX about rumors that the Dodgers were being sold by owner Rupert Murdoch, which also owns News Corporation, which owns FOX. (Murdoch would sell the team to Frank McCourt, who sold it to a group including Magic Johnson just this week.) He provided daily sports commentary segments for ABC Radio. And he spent three years as a co-host of NBC’s “Football Night In America” from 2007 to 2010.

As Olbermann donned his sports broadcasting hat, he would also work, at times simultaneously, in news journalism. When he left ESPN in 1997, he started a nightly program on MSNBC that was originally titled, “The Big Show with Keith Olbermann.” The next year, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal involving former President Bill Clinton, his program has focused on “Intern-Gate”, much to his chagrin. It was at that point that he left MSNBC for FOX.

Olbermann would return to MSNBC in 2003 to host “Countdown.” As he verbally sparred with FOX News Channel host Bill O’Reilly – whose “O’Reilly Factor” aired opposite “Countdown” – and President George W. Bush, during and after his second term, he would become one of cable news’ most polarizing personalities. Despite that, NBC signed him as a co-host for their “Sunday Night Football” extended pregame show, which recapped the NFL games played earlier that day. When NBC brought his old pal Dan Patrick on board, it was just like old times, if only for once a week: The duo would spark “SportsCenter” nostalgia in the hopes that it would help the ratings of “Football Night,” which were never stellar, especially when airing opposite late games that went into overtime, or, simply, prime time. (You will recall “Football Night” also hired one Tiki Barber.) Olbermann would be removed from the program in 2010, at the behest of his bosses at MSNBC, over concerns that the extracurricular NBC program was a distraction; clearly, “Countdown” had been Olbermann’s bread and butter.

Later that fall, it would be revealed that Olbermann had sent $2,400 in campaign contributions to three Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2010 elections, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who, unfortunately, resigned her seat over a year after she was tragically shot in the head. When MSNBC learned of this, they had suspended Olbermann indefinitely. Like his appearance on Comedy Central years ago, his political contributions were not authorized by management of the network signing his checks. Olbermann and MSNBC would part ways in January of 2011.

Olbermann was hired by Current TV in February 2011 with the title of “chief news officer”. The channel, co-owned by Al Gore, who served as Vice President under Clinton in the 1990’s, would relaunch “Countdown” in June 2011. Despite a “rocky relationship” with network brass, the former veep would give Olbermann a vote of confidence. (Sports fans: You already know how valuable votes of confidence are in sports.) Apparently, the situation between the anchor and the network came to a head, as Current abruptly severed ties with Olbermann this afternoon.

Already, many are wondering what the next stop for Olbermann will be – if at all.

Based on this recap of his career in news and sports broadcasting, it may give the impression that he’s not a good employee when the cameras are off. Certainly, Olbermann has been notorious for burning bridges with his former employers. So you can already cross a few media entities off the list: ESPN/ABC (where he didn’t just burn bridges, “he napalmed them“); FOX (especially if it’s still under Murdoch’s watch; Murdoch himself was once quoted as calling Olbermann “crazy”); and his most recent cable news employers, Current and MSNBC.

The very post that you’re reading may be a case of deja vu. When Olbermann left MSNBC last year, there were many speculating whether it would be possible for Olbermann to return to sports broadcasting. Of course, back then, there were two fewer cable sports networks at the time. CBS Sports Network launched in April 2011, with NBC Sports Network following on the day after New Year’s Day 2012. And incidentally, word on the street this week is that FOX is planning to launch a new general cable sports network. Obviously, FOX’s new network is not an option, and it isn’t even on the air yet. But it certainly is not out of the question for Olbermann to resurface at CBS Sports Network, or perhaps, even NBC Sports Network: remember that in 2011, Olbermann was discharged by MSNBC, not NBC or NBC Sports; it was MSNBC that ended his association with NBC Sports. And I don’t recall Olbermann trashing NBC in the wake of his departure from MSNBC, so there is a possibility he could appear on NBC Sports Network – but it’s not a lock.

The lock in this instance would be CBS Sports Network. With all of the many stops on Olbermann’s storied resume, his only employment for CBS was at the network’s owned-and-operated Los Angeles station, KCBS, in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Also, he has a good friendship with CBS late night host David Letterman. That in and of itself would be a huge endorsement for Olbermann’s future at CBS, if not CBS Sports Network. CBSSN could benefit from a huge name; they’re already going all in with Jim Rome, the former ESPN program host whose new show on CBSSN launches next week. Olbermann might bring a slightly higher demographic to CBSSN than Rome, but he brings experience and a wealth of knowledge to the table. Olbermann could be best suited for a baseball-themed show. He’s maintained a blog (endorsed by Major League Baseball) going back to the days when he balanced football on NBC and politics on MSNBC. In fact, he just posted a new blog entry previewing the season ahead for the American League East just hours before his departure from Current TV was made public.

Which leads to another possibility of a future television employer, and perhaps a more likely landing spot: the three-year-old MLB Network. They, too, could use Olbermann’s vast knowledge and star power. A nightly highlight show in the vein of “SportsCenter” would be ideal. In case you missed it, the title of his MLB-sanctioned blog is “Baseball Nerd.” He’s even authored baseball-themed stories on “Countdown.” An Olbermann/MLB Network marriage would benefit both sides. And it wouldn’t be Olbermann’s first appearance on MLB Network: He had appeared on the January 12 edition of “Clubhouse Confidential“. And given his political penchant, it didn’t take long before posters on a thread promoting the appearance on MLB Network’s Facebook page started mentioning the likes of Ron Paul and Rush Limbaugh.

Of course, of concern to any future employer, such as CBS or MLB Network, is Olbermann’s history of “burning bridges” and excess baggage, but most importantly, his political patronizing over the last decade. There are thousands of videos on YouTube of Olbermann’s old MSNBC shows, specifically his popular “Special Comment” segments, in which shades of anger are regularly exhibited, that could turn a network off, depending on what clip they were looking at. But it’s not his fault. When he chose to delve into a political news niche, that was a decision that he believed in, and he gained a loyal following from his days at MSNBC. Because Keith Olbermann may be known in recent years as a bridge burner, and an anger spewer on television, it should not ensconce the days of sports broadcasting that put Keith Olbermann on the map.

While mollifying his political pep may be a requirement if hired by a sports outlet, such as CBS Sports Network, it’s possible Keith Olbermann may find it in his heart to do so.

This is obviously contingent on whether or not he wants to return to sports broadcasting in the first place.

But there could be a couple of opportunities knocking in the form of CBS and MLB Network – and I’m sure Keith’s got a few more innings left in him.

UPDATE: Since this blog was first posted, there’s been new developments: As Olbermann vowed to take legal action against Current over breach of contract, Current claims Olbermann himself was in breach of contract by missing “19 out of 41 working days” over the first two months of 2012 alone (did we mention his appearance on MLB Network was in January?); apparently, network management was incensed when Olbermann asked for another vacation day in March and, despite not being an approved vacation day, he took it anyway.

Incidentally, I wonder if Olbermann had asked Current about taking a vacation day for this upcoming Thursday, April 5 – that’s when he will once again be reunited with Dan Patrick for a live seminar at New York’s Paley Center titled “Twentieth Anniversary Of The Big Show: Keith Olbermann And Dan Patrick Together Again.” It will be moderated by Jim Miller, co-author of the book “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN” – and already, his Twitter followers are taking bets on whether or not he’ll show up. Stay tuned.

Pitch Black? Mets' SNY Network Might Be Victim Of Madoff Settlement

The New York Mets, who had been involved with the infamous Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff, reached a settlement with a Madoff trustee, preventing the case from going to trial. The Mets own 65% in the regional cable network SNY, and failure to reap enough funds for the Madoff settlement could lead to big changes at the network. Pictured, ironically, is how SNY broke the news of the settlement on their air.

On Monday, a trustee, representing hundreds of victims of Ponzi scheme artist, Bernard Madoff, was set to go to trial, in which he would seek upwards of $300 million from the New York Mets, a trial which would no doubt serve as a disconcerting sideshow to a 2012 season that many sports prognosticators project will be a futile one well before the first pitch of the regular season is even thrown.

Just before jury selection was set to begin for the trial, Mets chairman/CEO Fred Wilpon and team president Saul Katz have reached a settlement with the trustee, Irving Picard, for $162 million, or just over half of Picard’s original asking price.

Still saddled by the franchise’s involvement with Madoff, the Mets will likely find it difficult to invest in talent, and could be confined to the basement of the National League East division – if not the league itself – possibly until their current player that bears the highest price tag, injury-plagued pitcher Johan Santana, turns 40.

Which makes you wonder about SportsNet New York, or SNY. A network which the Mets own roughly two-thirds of (and in return, SNY owns 16% of the Mets). A network that itself may have been financed by Madoff: Katz tried passing off a $54 million payment in 2004 from Madoff’s wife, Ruth, as an investment toward the initial capital of SNY, which went on the air exactly six years ago on Friday, March 16; though last year, a general counsel for the Mets said that payment was deemed unnecessary and returned within 24 hours.

One part of the settlement agreement is that the Mets aren’t obligated to make any payments until 2015. Which should give them a good deal of time to raise some of the assets. But with a team projected to be a cellar dweller long into the next President term, their ability to do so will be limited. Earlier this year, it was reported that revenues at the Mets’ ballpark, CitiField, had dropped significantly since the stadium opened its doors three years ago, with sales for premium seats cut literally in half, from $99.3 million in 2009 to $50.6 million last year.

It’s bad enough thinking about how many empty seats, premium or otherwise, there will be at CitiField in the years ahead. Imagine how many eyeballs will be chomping at the bit to rush to SNY to watch the team.

At the midseason point last year, the regional cable network’s average ratings suffered a 29% decrease from that same point in 2010, with their market share among the worst in Major League Baseball.

Buoyed by its existence in the largest market, the Mets’ average of 175,000 homes placed that number in the top 5 in terms of home viewership. But that can only take you so far. It’s possible that with the underperforming play that everybody expects, this team can fall out of this category’s upper echelon.

This would be a convenient time to remind you that the Mets’ current radio home, sports radio pioneer WFAN, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer, is set to start what is speculated to be the final year of a thirty-year relationship with the team, dating back to WFAN’s predecessor, country station WHN. As the New York Daily News’ Bob Raissman accurately predicted in February 2011, WFAN sister station WCBS-AM, the current radio home of the New York Yankees, re-upped with the Pinstripes for only one year, which would coincide with the expiration of the current WFAN/Mets deal. All signs point to WFAN obtaining Yankees radio rights in 2013, and kicking the Mets to the curb.

In fact, the future of the Mets is so dire, their longtime Albany affiliate dropped them in favor of the Red Sox. (In fairness, they recently added a new affiliate in the area last week.)

Even though a settlement means the Mets are absolved the responsibility of $141 million (perhaps more) to Madoff’s victims, it’s clear that the foreseeable fortunes of this franchise are bleak. Which is why, if ticket sales and television ratings fall even further, the Mets may have no choice but to gut SNY.

Just as the Mets are hard-pressed to hold onto popular players due to their financial predicament, SNY’s talent roster may also be forced to part ways with the network, as well. Everyone from the famed Mets field reported Kevin Burkhardt to studio host Adam Schein (also heard on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio) might be affected. (By the way, how’s that deal with Tiki Barber working for them?)

It may very well be in the realm of possibility that SNY could air more infomercials than the ones currently running in the late-night and mid-morning hours. Hard to fathom, given the fare currently offered by the network.

But if you’re a cash-strapped team that needs to come up with mime figures, to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs – or, in the Mets’ case, breaking loose with notable talent.

Indefatigueable New York Times columnist Richard Sandomir, who has been on this Mets/Madoff saga like white on rice (he was at the courthouse and immediately tweeted that there would be a settlement no sooner than it was announced) respectfully disagreed with my view. “I don’t see any effect,” he told me via Twitter. “It operates separately from the Mets, with healthy subscriber fees that pay the freight.” (Remember that the Mets owns 65% of SNY.)

That’s another thing to keep in mind: Cable subscribers, like you and me, end up footing the bill for many networks, such as ESPN. These are based on agreements between the networks and the respective cable systems. So ratings may not have much of an impact. But it should be interesting to see what happens when Cablevision’s current carriage deal with SNY expires – keep in mind that about a quarter of the network is owned by rival Time Warner Cable… and we all remember how both sides were at an impasse for close to two months on Time Warner coming to terms on a new carriage agreement with MSG Network, owned by Cablevision. In fact, SNY’s first week on the air was denied to Cablevision subscribers, as a result of a carriage tiff. If the Mets perform poorly for the duration of SNY’s current Cablevision contract, I don’t think even Jeremy Lin would be able to save the day in the SNY/Cablevision squabble that is bound to take place.

Bottom line: Mets baseball over the next several years may not be television worth watching on SNY.

But if the Mets are not successful in raising enough funds to put toward the Madoff settlement, the situation behind the scenes at SNY will be.

Prayers Needed For Mets Hall-Of-Famer And Former Marlins Broadcaster Gary Carter

Gary Carter's health has taken a turn for the worse. The popular catcher for the Expos and Mets was the first television color analyst for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. Hopefully, owner Jeffrey Loria has some sort of tribute in store for Carter.

The big story today in the baseball offseason is a dire one.

Many media outlets are reporting an account credited to Kimmy Bloemers, the daughter of baseball great Gary Carter, who was diagnosed last May by doctors at Duke University with an aggressive form of brain cancer, stage 4 glioblastoma.

“I write these words with tears,” she wrote in a post available on the Gary Carter Facebook page. “My mom received a phone call from [a doctor] at Duke.” The doctor had evaluated MRI’s of Carter’s brain and shoulder that were taken Friday, January 13th at a hospital in North Palm Beach, Florida. Carter had torn a rotator cuff during a fall at a previous doctor’s appointment.

“I wish I could say that the results were good,” Bloemers continues. “[The doctor] told my mom that there are now several new spots/tumors on my dad’s brain.” She added that a family doctor is meeting with the Carters at this hour to discuss “the next step.”

“I am so sad for my dad,” writes Bloemers, who said that the last several days “has been one of the hardest weeks for my dad.”

When the Florida Marlins was an expansion major league baseball franchise in 1993, Gary Carter served as a color analyst for the team’s television games through its first four seasons of existence. The Gold Glove catcher who won a World Series with the New York Mets in 1986, had just missed calling the first of two Marlins World Series championships in 1997. Carter’s successor in the color commentator role, Tommy Hutton, will embark on his sixteenth season as the team becomes the Miami Marlins. He recalls how both he and Carter “broke down” when they had their first conversation since his initial cancer diagnosis. “He’s close to me because we’re friends for over thirty years and neighbors,” Hutton said in a newspaper interview last year. “We’re all pulling for him.”

Carter was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame in 2003. As someone who was an important part of the Marlins franchise when it was first established, I would like to see the team extend a similar gesture to Carter – maybe name the Miami Marlins’ television broadcast booth after him. He was the first television color analyst – that’s history. And it would only be right if the Miami Marlins planned to document that piece of history in his honor. And soon – since Carter’s cancer is inoperable, the latest MRI results are not very favorable.

To Jeffrey Loria: You once owned a piece of the Montreal Expos, the franchise that Carter starter (1974-84) and ended (1992) his storied baseball career. And while he didn’t play for the team under your ownership, certainly you’re aware of his history with the Expos. And while you assumed ownership of the Marlins in 2003, certainly you’re aware of the first television color commentator of the team. You may have more money than me and most other people – but if you have a soul, you will pay some sort of tribute to Gary Carter.

Do it, Mr. Loria.

Do it for The Kid.