Credit the B. League for making an earnest effort to raise the professional reputation of men’s basketball in Japan. Elevating the sport is not just about
After a month of games, there are two 1-7 teams in the B. League’s 18-team first division. And they are both vying to climb out of the cellar. The Central
By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Oct. 17, 2016) — Steve Bitker grew up with the San Francisco Giants, attending his first Giants game during the team’s first season in California. That led to a lifelong interest in baseball and the team and, eventually, a career in sports media.
Decades later, the longtime San Francisco Bay Area morning sports anchor for KCBS Radio researched that team and penned a fascinating book, “The Original San Francisco Giants: The Giants of ’58.” It consumed nearly five years and featured interviews with, in his words, “30 of the 32 surviving members” of the team.
In a recent interview, Bitker reflected on the project 18 years after its publication and generously shared a lot of background about the stories behind the stories.
His enthusiasm for the project shined through during our email exchange and he brought to life, and greater clarity, the cast of characters that played, managed and coached for the Giants in ’58, the same year the Los Angeles Dodgers began their stay in California after decades of existence in Brooklyn.
For Bitker, who worked at the English-language JCTV (Japan Cable Television, Ltd.) as a sports/news anchor in Tokyo for three years before joining KCBS in 1991, it all started at Seals Stadium, before Candlestick Park and before the Giants’ current home, AT&T Park.
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What sparked this book project to begin? Was it in the back of your mind for many years? Or was it more of a sudden idea that popped into your head one day – perhaps a realization that this was a topic that really wasn’t represented in print, especially in books?
What initially sparked this book project was the fact that my dad started taking my brother and me to Giants games at Seals Stadium in S.F. in 1958, when I was just 5 years old, and that was accompanied by me being an avid first-time collector of Topps Baseball Cards. This was back in the day when very few games were televised, so for young kids like me, the images on the Topps cards were often times the first time I actually had a close-up look at the players, through those cardboard images.
As I got older and older, the magic of that 1958 season never left me. I still have the entire 1958 Topps set. Segue to the early ’90s, and I’m having lunch in SF with a media colleague named Rob Gloster — an AP sportswriter — who is working on a book about his father’s favorite ballplayer, outfielder Pete Reiser of the Dodgers. I’m fascinated listening to him describe the task of finding a publisher, and his own research, and his passion for writing this book, for his father as well as for himself, when it finally hit me: Wouldn’t it be GREAT if someone would write a book about the 1958 Giants?!? And that’s when Rob told me that if I really want to see someone write that book, I’d better do it myself, because if nobody’s tackled the project by now, chances are that nobody ever will. So I more or less decided on the spot, that this was something I wanted to do. I wanted to write the book as a tribute to the men who first brought major league baseball to SF, and I wanted to personally meet them all, and to learn much more about their careers, and what kind of people they were, and what they did after playing ball, etc. So I was going to write this book for them, as a contribution toward preserving the memory of that first season of big-league ball in SF, and I was going to write it for myself.
In your best estimation, how long did this project take from start to finish? How many interviews were conducted? How many miles were traveled? How many states and locales did you visit to meet with the Original Giants and other key sources?
This book project took about five years to complete. I started by going through microfilm in the Oakland Public Library of San Francisco and New York newspapers from the mid-1950s, when talk began in New York that the Giants and Dodgers might be considering a joint move to California, through the entire 1958 season. I went to the library four or five days a week for several weeks, for 2-3 hours a day. Once I had finished that part of the project, and making copies of many articles, and taking many notes, I was ready to start contacting former players, who played for the ’58 Giants. The Giants organization was very helpful in providing me with phone numbers to several players, along with some addresses, and I chased down contact info on my own. I interviewed 30 of the 32 surviving members of the team (excluding catcher Bob Schmidt and shortstop Andre Rodgers), in addition to their manager, two coaches, one of their newspaper beat writers, their one surviving radio play-by-play announcer, one batboy and the Giants’ longtime clubhouse manager. I traveled to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to interview three key members of the team, and interviewed most of the others here in the Bay Area, several who live(d) here, and others who visited SF as guests of the Giants.
Who did you interview in St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands) for this book? What was unique about that experience compared to some of the others?
Valmy Thomas, the first native of the USVI to play in the majors, was the Giants’ opening- day catcher in 1958. He picked up my wife and me at the island’s small airport, and spent several hours with us, driving us all over the island to see the sights, taking us to lunch, and showing us (unintentionally) that he was one of St. Croix’s most famous and revered residents!
“Everywhere we went, people called out to him, from little kids, to senior citizens. As I subsequently learned, he was well known not simply for being a former major league ballplayer, but also for his work in education and recreation affairs, in broadcasting, and for the sporting goods store he opened many years before, initially as a side business when he was still playing baseball.” – Steve Bitker reflecting on his observations of people’s admiration for Valmy Thomas in the U.S. Virigin Islands
Was there a certain standard style for most of the interviews with the Original Giants? Did you have a basic list of questions for each of them? Or did you try to tailor each interview with certain specific questions?
The one standard part of the approach was to ask each of them about their experiences moving from NY to SF, living in SF, playing at Seals Stadium (known as perhaps the most beautiful minor league ballpark in the country, and the Giants’ home for their first two years in SF), etc. Otherwise, I tailored each interview with questions related to their overall careers playing baseball (I did my homework, in advance, of course, so that I knew many specifics about their careers before interviewing them), from childhood through their retirements, and what they did for a living after playing baseball. I was also curious about social/racial issues, in so far as how they affected the Giants’ black players in particular, as well as their foreign-born players from the Caribbean, the Bahamas (technically NOT part of the Caribbean) and Venezuela.
Did you conduct the interviews at regular times – one a week, one a month – or was it more irregular or compact in nature, done, say, mostly during the baseball off-season?
There was no consistent schedule of interviews, because while I was able to schedule some of them rather easily, it took me many months (and even years) to track down some of these former players. It was never tied to the baseball season, because these former players were no longer playing ball. So I did the interviews whenever I could schedule them, and I was always well-prepared with a list of questions for everyone.
Looking back, who were a few of the best storytellers and anecdote givers to you from that team? Was somebody particularly funny in the way they told the tales?
The best storytellers were Ruben Gomez, Felipe Alou, Willie Kirkland, Leon Wagner, Bill White, and their manager with the ’58 Giants, a man often referred to as “the greatest baseball storyteller of all,” Bill Rigney.
As for humor, it was Ruben Gomez, no doubt about it. He was known as “the butcher of the Caribbean,” when he pitched for the Giants in the 1950s, because of his reputation for throwing at hitters, and inciting brawls, and to be perfectly honest, I was a nervous as a high school freshman, asking the pretty girl in my English class to go on a date, when I finally tracked him down in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I had no idea whether he spoke English well, nor whether he might have turned into an old and temperamental crazy man. Quite the contrary. His English was fine, and he could not have been more gracious, coming to our hotel for the interview, inviting me to play golf with him, and taking my wife and me to his favorite nightclub in San Juan. And his stories were priceless, over a three-hour period, regaling me with tale after tale from his colorful career, including the time his major league career ended when the owner of the Minnesota Twins told him to stop dating his white girlfriend, that he had to choose “the girl or the Twins.” Ruben told him, “I love baseball, but I have more fun with the girl,” so the Twins released him, and he went to pitch in the Mexican League.
Did someone surprise you with his humor, his clarity, his details of that season and its place in the grand scheme of S.F. Giants baseball history?
Again, Ruben Gomez’s humor was priceless, recollecting key events over the course of his career, and telling the stories in a very entertaining way. I remember laughing so hard at times that I had tears coming down my face, which had him laughing as well. Gomez, and several other players had vivid memories of that 1958 season, particularly those who spent the entire year with the Giants, and were regulars in the Giants lineup. Conversely, other players who didn’t play as much, or who didn’t spend the entire season with the Giants remembered far less, and that was OK, because at times like that I let the interview detour from the ’58 Giants and settle instead with another team, in another city, because it was that player’s time in that city, with that team, that left a greater impression on his career.
On the other hand, Willie Kirkland spent the entire ’58 season with the Giants, as a starting rookie right fielder, and yet the one lasting memory he had from ’58 was when the Giants spring training hitting coach Lefty O’Doul screwed around with his swing (getting rid of a hitch in the swing that Willie always had) to such a degree that he could never get it back, and Willie felt it had a lasting negative impact on his career. But Willie had incredibly vivid memories of the six years he spent playing in Osaka, Japan (after nine years in the majors), and his early years in the minors, playing in the Deep South, where he was subject to racial discrimination, including threats on his life from a shady character (and apparent gambler) in an overcoat, at a stadium in Morristown, Tennessee, who told him, during the ninth inning, that if he caught the next ball hit to him in right field, he’d be shot to death.
Felipe Alou and Mike McCormick had very detailed memories from the ’58 season, and from their careers in general.
But, again, the greatest recollection of details from the 1958 season in San Francisco, by far, came from the team’s manager Bill Rigney. He was so good, and so thorough, that Bison Books Publisher, at the University of Nebraska, told me that while they were intrigued by my book project, they were not quite sold on it, unless I wanted to change it from a book on the ’58 Giants to a book on the ’58 Giants manager Bill Rigney. In other words, Rigney was such a great storyteller, Bison Books wanted me to write the book on Rigney. Just Rigney. Looking back, I wish I had done both. But my chapter on Rigney is a gem.
Did Willie Mays prove to be an easy-going interviewing subject or a challenge? Did he have a greater attachment to the team’s New York years than the new beginnings in California?
Interesting that you asked about Willie Mays. I tracked down every surviving member of the ’58 Giants, and interviewed every one of them, except two, who for personal reasons, declined my interview requests. However, Willie Mays is the one player I did not track down directly, even though I knew exactly where he lived (very near where I grew up). In fact, he still lives there. I could have simply walked up to his front door, introduced myself and asked him. But, instead, I went through one of the former Giants’ long-time executives, Pat Gallagher, who was close with Willie, and who handled interview and other business requests that Willie received.
Fortunately, I knew Pat well, so he acted as the middle man, and set up the interview at Willie’s house, where Willie greeted me at the door, invited me into his kitchen nook area, where we sat for two hours, and conducted a seamless interview. Willie was fighting a cold that day, but he was very warm and generous with his time that day, and I know he was that way because Pat set up the interview.
Unfortunately, unless Willie knew you well, he didn’t trust you, and that’s fairly understandable, I suppose, because of all the people over the years that invariably wanted a piece of Willie’s time. So he was very guarded, very suspicious, and sometimes he could come across as fairly rude. Thus, I decided, in advance, that I’d be better off going through Pat, and I’m very glad I did. Otherwise, it would not have been an easy interview, I’m certain, nor as long.
To answer to your specific question, yes, he had a very strong attachment to his years in NYC, in part because he was not immediately welcomed with open arms when he arrived in San Francisco. First, there were white residents who objected to him buying a home in their neighborhood. Second, the fans in San Francisco took more of a personal liking to Orlando Cepeda, who was a wide-eyed, charismatic rookie in ’58, and had the kind of infectious personality that endeared him right away to SF Giants fans, who adopted him as one of their own, as they did with Willie McCovey when he was a rookie in ’59, and with Juan Marichal when he was a rookie in ’60. Mays, to them, was a NY Giant, and somewhat stand-offish. Eventually, the SF fans came to love Mays as much as any Giant, because he was such an incredible player, but the personal connection was never as tight with him, as it was with Cepeda, McCovey and Marichal.
Similarly, can you offer brief explanations of what it was like talking to Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Johnny Antonelli and Bill Rigney?
It took much more time than I imagined it would to nail down an interview with Cepeda, even though he was among the easiest to find, because he worked in Community Affairs for the Giants, so he was always at the ballpark (Candlestick), but every time I tried to schedule something, he always had a reason to blow me off, even though we always had an easy time talking with each other. Finally, I scheduled the interview, and it took place DURING A GIANTS GAME, inside an office, with the Giants game on TV in the background — I remember Daryl Strawberry hit a homer for the Giants during that interview, distracting Orlando enough, that the interview was put on hold for a minute or two. The interview lasted only 45 minutes to an hour, in contrast to the 2-3 hours I spent with Mays, Gomez, Kirkland, Alou, McCormick, Wagner, Thomas, Rigney, etc. Orlando’s answers were good, but not terribly deep or reflective. I always had a feeling that he was in a hurry to get it done.
Alou was fabulous, just fabulous. I met with him at the Montreal Expos’ hotel lobby, in downtown SF, several hours before he had to get to Candlestick for a night game. He was warm, detailed, thoughtful, passionate. He told me about growing up in the Dominican Republic, and about his love of fishing, which he continued to enjoy when he played for the Giants — in fact, he enjoyed fishing off the coast of Candlestick Point, very near where the Giants future home was going to be built. In fact, when he first heard that the Giants planned to build a stadium there, he couldn’t believe it! He said all the fisherman in the area knew that the wind was calm in the early morning hours, but that by about 10:30 in the morning, the wind would pick up steam, and make it a very uncomfortable place to fish…and a very uncomfortable place to enjoy a baseball game. How right he was.
Antonelli was wonderful, too. Like Alou, a strikingly handsome man (both still are!), with some very mixed emotions about his days pitching for the Giants in SF, at Seals Stadium, where the wind wasn’t as notorious (in reputation) as it was later at Candlestick, but where the wind blew out toward left field (at Candlestick it blew in from left, and out toward right). In fact, when Antonelli lost a critical home game to the Dodgers during the final week of the ’59 season (a three-game sweep that cost the Giants the NL pennant), Antonelli ripped the windy conditions in a post-game session with the press, because it blew what would have been a routine fly ball over the left-field fence, costing him the game. Well, the provincial SF press went after Antonelli, for having the gall to criticize San Francisco, suggesting he should go back to NY! The truth was that Antonelli really liked SF, as did his wife, but he honestly felt that the press targeted him from that point on, and it got so bad that it affected his pitching, and (he said) helped convince him to retire prematurely in 1961 at the age of 31!
Rigney was the best. We did our interview during an A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum, because he was employed as an A’s adviser at the time. The interview started in the first inning, and it didn’t end until the seventh or eighth. I have absolutely no idea how that game turned out, and Bill probably didn’t either, because both of us were so into the interview. Bill loved talking baseball, loved telling stories, and loved talking with anyone who was as passionate about the game as he was. He was often referred to as a “civic treasure,” and there was no greater ambassador for the game of baseball than Bill Rigney, and nobody with a greater recollection of specific players and anecdotes covering more than 60 years of professional baseball, including his days with the NY and SF Giants, his time as manager of the expansion California Angels in 1961 (when they played at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, the former home of the PCL’s Hollywood Stars, as well as the home of the 1960 TV classic, “Home Run Derby,” and in ’62, when the Angels finished 86-76 (astounding for a second-year team).
Eighteen years after its publication, how do you think the book has gained, and can gain, a deeper appreciation from a younger generation of readers and also those with a nostalgic desire to revisit the Giants’ first year and era as a West Coast franchise?
I really have no idea how many of the younger generation of readers that this book has touched. I would like to think that many have read it, but I’m also wise enough to know that the younger generation, in general, is not as interested in history as its counterparts in other cultures. Every now and then, I run across a young fan who read my book and loved it, because he loves reading about Giants’ history, but I know from all the book signings I did that my book appealed mostly to Giants fans who remember those days when the Giants settled in SF, and remember the players who first introduced big-league ball to SF.
What can you recall from attending your first Giants game at age 5 at Seals Stadium? Are there certain highlights from that game that remained in your mind’s eye for decades?
Unfortunately, I cannot remember my first game at Seals Stadium, which has always frustrated me. Most of my friends remember their first major league game, because it happened when they were 8 or 9, but not 5, as I was when I attended my first game. However, I remember many things about Seals Stadium, which I’m very happy about, since my entire experience of Seals Stadium happened when I was 5 and 6 years old. I remember exiting the auditorium-like concourse at Seals Stadium, and exiting through an open door to our right, and seeing the most beautiful field of glistening green grass and bright white bases, basking in sunshine, with the Giants wearing their white flannel uniforms. Instantly, they were my heroes. They were the guys whose faces I memorized on my Topps trading cards. I remember the Hamm’s Brewery’s flashing beer mug, high behind the stands behind home plate. The glass would gradually fill with beer to a foam-covered top, flash on and off three times, then start the process all over again.
Many years later, I discovered I wasn’t the only one fixated on that Hamm’s beer glass. Don Drysdale, who lost the first big-league game played on the West Coast, 8-0 to the Giants in SF, on April 15, 1958, said many years later that he didn’t remember much about the game itself, but he remembered that beer glass filling up and flashing three times, over and over and over again. And I also remember that when the games ended, the scoreboard in center field would open up, and fans were allowed to walk down to the field, and across the outfield grass to their parked cars, and to the surrounding neighborhood streets.
Did you attend the game with your parents, classmates, a large group? Was it a special day in the season – perhaps for your birthday?
Since this question pertains to the first game I ever attended, which I don’t recall, I can tell you that I did celebrate many birthdays at Giants games, since I was born on April 3rd, and that as long as my grades were good, my parents would always let me skip school on Opening Day. That was such a treat. My mom would drive my brother and me to the game, and my dad would join us from his office in downtown SF. Always a special day.
Did you became a die-hard baseball (and Giants) fan at a young age?
Yes, I did. I became a die-hard baseball fan, and Giants fan, beginning in 1958. Going to the games was a huge contributor. And, again, so were the Topps baseball cards that I collected. Those were my direct connections to major league baseball, as well as listening to the games on the radio. My folks were great about taking us to 10-12 games a year, sometimes more. They even took us to the 1962 World Series. My dad bought two tickets, so my mom took me to game one, my dad took my brother to game two, my folks went to game six, and they let my brother and me (ages 12 and 9) go to game seven.
Did the 1958 Giants, and the team in the general in those early years in San Francisco, plant the seed in your mind that a career in sports media was your goal, your dream? Or did something else lead you on this path? Can you reflect on that?
I’m sure that the ’58 Giants, and their successful years in SF that followed throughout the 1960s, into 1971, were instrumental in planting that seed. I remember checking a book out of my junior high school library, titled, “So You Want to be a Sportswriter?” I actually got hired as a part-time sportswriter for the Redwood City Tribune when I was 16, at which time I was also sports editor of my high school newspaper, near Stanford University. And I got into news and sports radio in college, at both San Diego State and at Cal. My full-time post-collegiate career actually began as a radio news anchor/reporter, from 1976 to 1989, at which point I moved into sports, where I’ve been a morning sports anchor for the last 27 years, the last 25 at KCBS.
I also spent 17 years announcing baseball games on the radio, the first six for the minor league Sonoma County Crushers, of the independent Western League, in Rohnert Park, Calif., from ’95 through ’01; and then 11 years as the backup radio voice for the Oakland A’s, from ’01 through ’11, announcing an average of 10-15 games a season.
Also, did you focus quite a bit on the differences between playing at Seals Parks and then just a couple years later at Candlestick and how the team performed differently at both venues?
Seals Stadium was a much nicer park than Candlestick, both aesthetically, and weather-wise. Despite Johnny Antonelli’s experiences at Seals Stadium, the wind there wasn’t anywhere as oppressive as it was at Candlestick. They were at Seals for two years — despite fielding a very young team, full of rookies and second-year players, the Giants were in first place on August 1, 1958, before sliding to third at the finish; and they led the NL by two games with eight games remaining in ’59, before sliding to second. They were at Candlestick for 40, with a mixture of great success and not-so-good years. They were a perennial contender in the ’60s, had some lean years in the ’70s, they lost 196 games in the ’84 and ’85 seasons, and they came back strong after that, winning the NL pennant in ’89, and winning a franchise-record 103 games in ’93, before moving to Pacific Bell Park (now called AT&T Park) in 2000. As oppressive as it was to call Candlestick home, the Giants often tried to gain a psychological edge playing there, by minimizing whatever discomfort they felt there, knowing full well that opposing teams hated playing there, and often complained openly about it.
Who were a few of the key primary sources – print journalists and authors – you relied on for your research for this book? (Perhaps it was more general – such as all of the local newspapers and a lot of microfiche from the library.) Or was your primary research more driven by oral history and the spoken word by those who witnessed the season, such as announcers and others around the ballclub and the NL at that time?
I did all the background research myself. The book is a combination of detailing the background of why and how the team moved from NY to SF, the Seals Stadium experience, the 1958 season in great detail, virtually day-by-day, and then finally, an oral history from the former Giants (and media members), chapter by chapter. I did get invaluable assistance from local sports journalists Marty Lurie, Bill Arnold and Tom Stern, in proofreading my manuscript, so by the time I sent it to the publisher, it was a finished product.
What is the biggest compliment you have received about this book?
The biggest compliment I got from this book came from the longtime SF Chronicle baseball beat writer who covered the Giants for more than two decades, Bob Stevens. He and several former Giants players sent me letters, thanking me for writing the book, but Stevens’ letter stands out:
“The Original San Francisco Giants format and substance is stunning in its originality and art. Each interview had its moments of realistic drama, offered by man who clearly and honestly, sometimes with ego, sometimes with wrenching anger, sometimes with almost tears of their own, candidly take their readers through their successes and failures.
“I’m reading each page slowly, Steve, as I want to absorb it all as it is; like once again re-living a life I still regard as magic. You have done one helluva job; you have the words, they are beautifully crafted, your research is thorough and beyond question, and–well, Steve, as I read your paragraphs recalling your visit to the Caribbean, interviewing Ruben Gomez, Valmy Thomas, etc., and Eddie Bressoud, and Willie Mays, and Daryl Spencer, Leon Wagner — oh, all of them. I was deeply touched. Honest, Steve, I at times had to stop and wipe away tears produced by memories that gave me, and still do, the genuine thrills to a life I’ve lived so gratefully and so fortunately induced by the greatest game ever invented.
“Thanks again, Steve, for including me in a book of indelible memories that I insist made possible my career of never having to work a day in my life.”
In your view, what is the legacy of this book?
The legacy is a detailed and first-person account of the Giants’ first year in San Francisco, with personal stories and anecdotes, and photographs, thus preserving the memory and accounts from all the players (and more), who made it all possible.
Was it one of the more satisfying tasks you’ve accomplished as a sports journalist/broadcaster?
YES! It’s the single-most engrossing and satisfying career project I’ve ever completed. Since then, I’ve been approached by my publisher, wanting me to write other specific books, but I’ve always declined, because none of those suggestions thus far has come anywhere remotely close to providing the inherent passion I had for this book, from start to finish. I am immensely proud of it, and so relieved that I took on this project, and conducted the interviews when I did, because, not surprisingly, many of the ’58 Giants whom I interviewed have since passed away.
In recent years, have you had the urge to write another baseball book?
I thought about writing a book about the unwritten rules of baseball, but a pair of locally-based writers beat me to it.
As a West Coast-based sports announcer, how special has it been to see and hear the final years of Vin Scully and Dick Enberg’s long distinguished careers in broadcasting?
I’ve always enjoyed Dick Enberg’s genuinely enthusiastic and passionate broadcasting, on a variety of sports, but in terms of baseball, Vin Scully is the greatest ever, and I doubt anyone will ever come remotely close, both in terms of brilliance behind the mike, and longevity on the job, particularly considering that Vin Scully was the voice of one team, the Dodgers, for 67 years.
Do you have a favorite Vin Scully story? A favorite Dick Enberg tale?
My favorite example of Scully’s brilliance (as opposed to a specific story) has been the times when he essentially has done play-by-play of two games at once, and pulled it off brilliantly. Here’s what I mean: In years when the Giants and Dodgers have been battling each other for first place, down to the final days of the season, Vin Scully has done what few others, if any, could pull off. He would do his normal play-by-play of the Dodgers games, while simultaneously mixing in the play-by-play of the Giants games, being played elsewhere, from the information being relayed to him by a producer. For example, the Giants and Dodgers battled hard for the NL pennant in 1971, neck-and-neck in the standings throughout the final month of the season. So, as the days remaining in the season grew fewer, Scully started including as much of the Giants’ play-by-play as he could, when the teams were playing games simultaneously.
So if we were listening that final weekend of the season, when the Dodgers were hosting Houston, we might have heard Vin say, “So Billy Buckner delivers a sacrifice fly to center, putting the Dodgers ahead 2-1, here in the seventh, while meantime, in San Diego, Dave Kingman has just whacked a three-run homer off Dave Roberts in the 5th, to put the Giants ahead of the Padres 3-0. First pitch to Jim Lefebvre is down low for a ball. And as you well know, if the Giants hang on and win that game, they’ll clinch the pennant, no matter what the Dodgers do here tonight. Next delivery to Lefebvre is golfed foul down the left field line, and into the seats….”
I grew up, like many baseball fans from my generation, listening to baseball on the radio. I’d listen to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons call the Giants games on KSFO, even at night as I was supposed to be falling asleep, and if the Giants weren’t playing that night, I’d often listen to Vin Scully announce the Dodgers games on KFI, which had a strong enough signal to reach the SF Bay Area at night. Even then, I knew Scully was great. He had such a smooth and melodious way of describing a ballgame.
What’s a “typical” week like you for you in 2016? Can you offer a basic overview of what you do and how you do it to help inform and educate the pubic about sports teams and news in the Bay Area and beyond?
I’m up at 4 a.m., and hit the road with Stan, my on-air colleague at KCBS. We live one mile from each other, in Alameda, he goes on the air at 5:30, and I go on at 5:45, so we commute in together nearly every day, leaving Alameda at 4:45, stopping for espresso drinks when we arrive in SF, and reaching the radio studios at 5:10. KCBS is an all-news station, so no talk shows. We have news, weather, traffic, sports, business, 24/7, except for the airing of “60 Minutes,” and a half-hour local news program focusing on a single issue, every Sunday morning. We do regular interviews at the station, and that includes sports. I’ve got twice-an-hour sportscasts, all morning, beginning at 5:45. Those casts last 2-3 minutes each. Within those casts, I’ll invariably include edited interviews, sports sound bites, etc., and write or ad-lib around that accompanying sound, all while telling the sports stories of the day.
I pay close attention to what’s happening in the world of sports, even when I’m not working. It starts when I wake up each morning, and hear the sports headlines. I read several newspapers each day, follow a variety of sports websites, keep an eye on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” at my desk, follow breaking stories on Twitter, etc.
I attend numerous games (baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc.) always looking for good interview subjects.
Follow Steve Bitker on Twitter: @SteveBitker
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