DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. The World Series begins tomorrow, and we at FRESH AIR were excited and a little stunned, along with much of the country, to discover that our hometown team, the Philadelphia Phillies, are in the big dance. They meet the Houston Astros tomorrow night in Houston for Game 1. For Phillies fans, the magic moment in the series that got them to the World Series was last Sunday, when the team was trailing the San Diego Padres by a run in the eighth inning and the Phil’s (ph) marquee player, Bryce Harper, was up with a runner on.
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SCOTT FRANZKE: Two balls, two strikes to Bryce Harper. Suarez delivers. Swing and a drive. Left field. It’s deep. It’s going.
LARRY ANDERSEN: Yes.
FRANZKE: And it is gone.
ANDERSEN: Yes. Yes.
FRANZKE: It is bedlam at the Bank as Bryce Harper has put the Phillies on top.
ANDERSEN: Are you kidding me?
FRANZKE: His 10th career home run in the postseason, and he may never hit a bigger one.
DAVIES: The man with the call there is Phillies radio announcer Scott Franzke, who broadcasts games on local radio station WIP. He’s a familiar and treasured voice to fans throughout the Philadelphia area. We thought it would be a good time to bring Scott in to talk about the World Series, changing trends in baseball, the special relationship that home team broadcasters have with their fans, and the life of a play-by-play announcer. Scott Franzke has been calling games in Philadelphia since 2006. Before that, he hosted pre- and postgame broadcasting duties and did play-by-play work for the Texas Rangers. Scott Franzke, welcome to FRESH AIR.
FRANZKE: Thank you, Dave. It’s great to be here.
DAVIES: Jayson Stark, the veteran baseball writer, wrote about the home run that we just heard you call, that in the 140 seasons of the Phillies, there has never been a home run like that. What did the moment feel like?
FRANZKE: It was kind of surreal. It was one of those moments that you want to have happen whether you’re a fan or a broadcaster. You know, as you said, he’s the marquee player. He’s the money player. And you want him to come through in that moment. But you also understand, having seen thousands of baseball games over the years, that it doesn’t happen like that all the time. And when it does, it’s such a rare event and such a joyous event for the home team.
DAVIES: His teammates said when he got back to the dugout after it, he said, I can’t believe I just did that. But they were excited about that.
FRANZKE: (Laughter) I doubt that. I mean, he may have said that, but I doubt he could disbelieve it. I think Bryce is one of those players who is so much better than the average player in baseball. He’s generally if not the best player on the field in any particular game, he’s one of the two best players on the field in any particular game. There’s not many that can hold a candle to Bryce Harper when he’s on. And right now, he’s on.
DAVIES: Yeah, remind us – you know, people who follow the game probably know this story, but how he got to the Phillies and what kind of pedigree he came with and what kind of price tag.
FRANZKE: Well, I mean, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager. I mean, everybody knew he was going to be a superstar in the game. He was the No. 1 overall pick. He bypassed – you know, basically got his GED to get to college early, went to a junior college, was the first pick in the draft, and was a star for the Washington Nationals – never won a playoff series as a member of the Nationals.
And when free agency finally came around, everybody knew it was going to be a big payday. And the Phillies were one of the teams that courted him, one of many – and signing with Philadelphia in an off-season when the Phillies were trying to sort of really make a name for themselves once again. They had been, a number of years, at the bottom of the division, and they wanted that to change. And he was going to be the centerpiece to change it – but not just on the field, but off the field as well, as a marketing tool, as a face for the organization. He was going to do a lot of different things for the club.
DAVIES: Yeah. And so that was 2019, they got him…
DAVIES: …For what was then maybe the largest contract ever, I guess? (Laughter).
FRANZKE: Yeah, they come fast and furious nowadays – but 330 million or whatever the case might be. But the biggest point of the deal was that it was 13 years, and it was with no trade clause. He had committed fully to being a Philadelphian and to coming to the Phillies and being a Phillie for the rest of his career.
DAVIES: Yeah, that’s pretty remarkable. You know, Bill James, the famous statistician who kind of started the whole sabermetrics analysis of baseball, I remember him writing once that he’s not sure there really is such a thing as a clutch performer, that it’s sort of influenced by people’s anecdotal impressions. Boy, Bryce Harper sure looks like one, doesn’t he?
FRANZKE: Yes, and I – he does look like one. Right now, he just looks like a great player. And that could be in the second inning of a game, or it could be in the eighth inning of a game. Obviously, when you’re in that moment, in the eighth inning of a game that you’re trying to win to send your team to the World Series and you’re trailing – right? – there’s clearly a lot of pressure there. But I think it takes a special person to be able to block out all the noise, block out everything else, and focus on one thing. And that’s what the pitcher is going to throw you next. And he has an ability to do that. He obviously showed that ability on Sunday. I mean, I don’t want to necessarily say it’s – it’s Michael Jordan-like.
FRANZKE: Everybody remembers Michael Jordan when he would be in the zone, as they say. It didn’t look like a surprise to Michael that he was able to do what he was able to do with the game on the line. And I feel like Bryce kind of showed a little bit of that on Sunday.
DAVIES: You know, after that home run, they asked the starting pitcher – Phillies starting pitcher in that game, Zack Wheeler, what that moment was like. And he says, actually, I was in the trainer’s room because he’d thrown a lot of innings and was getting worked on. But he said he heard the roar, and the room was shaking.
DAVIES: The ceiling was shaking. You know, Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies play, in a playoff game, is a really loud and raucous place. You’ve been at a lot of parks. Is it something different there?
FRANZKE: Well, the last five games here at home have felt very different. And maybe that’s the length of time between the last time we were in this position, playing in the playoffs and playing in the World Series. It’s been a number of years. Fans were so starved for, you know, watching the success of the Phillies and for just getting back into the playoffs, for No. 1, that I think – I mean, I wouldn’t say I’ve been anywhere louder. I can’t remember a moment – just from the fans.
I mean, there’s other stadiums – you go to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and they have one of the greatest PA systems. And I mean, it hits you in the chest when they play music, and they get the fans going. But that’s part of the overall decibel level, if you will. I felt like over the weekend and over these last two weekends in Philadelphia, it’s been purely the joy of the fans that has made all that noise.
DAVIES: Do you think it affects the game, that thundering support?
FRANZKE: You know, I – yeah. I mean, I think there are moments when certain players will – you know, fans react to something that has happened. And I think that can have a carryover effect. We saw in San Diego in the first game of the series, the Phillies committed an error in the ninth inning. And the San Diego fans, I mean, I’ve never heard them that loud. And they were really, really loud. And it was that moment for the manager, Rob Thomson, to go to the mound – first time all year he’s ever gone to the mound without taking out a pitcher.
DAVIES: The Phillies manager, yeah.
FRANZKE: Correct. And he just wanted to deliver a message. And the message was what just happened has already happened. What we need to think about in this moment is what happens next. And I think for an athlete, that’s probably a good reminder because, you know, we all make mistakes, right? Now, you and I, we do our jobs. And we don’t have 40,000 people screaming at us when we’ve made a mistake, at least not right in front of us.
DAVIES: There is Twitter for that, yeah.
FRANZKE: Yeah. Exactly. But they’re not right in your face and reminding you of that mistake. And I think some players will feel that tension. I don’t know that it’s necessarily intimidating. I do think it’s uplifting for a home team.
DAVIES: So you know, one of the reasons that Phil’s fans are so exciting is that this was so unexpected. And I want you to just kind of briefly, for, you know, people that don’t follow baseball carefully, take us back to the middle of the season, where the Phillies were and how they turned it around.
FRANZKE: Sure. Well, they – obviously, they spent a lot more money last offseason. After the owners and players had come together to formalize a new agreement, there was a slight window, a short window before spring training began. And the Phillies threw a bunch of money out there. They signed two big-money players in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to major contracts. And so that really kind of upped the ante.
It was ownership saying, look, we believe that this is a team that can win now. We’re going to give you a couple more pieces here to get you over the hump, which, for the last four years, the Phillies have been in the playoff race in September. And for the last four years, they’ve failed to come through. So you get a couple more guns to work with. And they felt like they were going to be a contender. And at the end of May, they were seven games under 500. They were 11th out of 15 teams in the National League in overall record. They were buried. So they changed managers. Joe Girardi, who comes with a…
DAVIES: Kind of a legendary guy.
DAVIES: Managed for the Yankees. Yeah.
FRANZKE: Managed for the Yankees for many years and was in his third year with the Phillies. And he was let go. And they brought in his bench coach, Rob Thomson, who had been with the Phillies for the last four years. And he took over as manager. And they won some more. And they started to develop their confidence again. And they felt like they were in it once again. And baseball’s a really long season. And, you know, they got back to 500. They started playing better and getting over 500. And then it became a question of September coming around. And would they finally get in? And they barely did.
DAVIES: Barely (laughter). They were the last team in – the worst record in the playoffs. I mean, it really was kind of a Cinderella story once the playoffs began.
DAVIES: You know, this happens all the time. When a team that is not meeting expectation and is struggling – and they fire the manager. And I always wonder, can you really blame the manager? Does it really make that much difference? I mean, you’ve watched the game for a long time. I mean, Rob Thomson, not a demonstrative guy, not a dramatic guy publicly. Do you think it made a difference?
FRANZKE: I think it’s hard to argue the opposite, right? It’s hard to say that it didn’t make a difference. The evidence is they were seven games under with the other manager. And they were 20-ish over with the new manager. I think, from a game strategy standpoint, it – I don’t know that managers make that big of a difference. Managers through the years that I’ve worked with, they will tell you players play the game, right? And the manager’s job is to put them in the right position, to make them as comfortable as possible and to allow them to try to have success. And I think that’s one thing that Rob hit on, Rob Thomson, is that he has done his best to make them comfortable. And I think that’s a big part of this – not just the players, but the staff around him. And everybody was a little more comfortable.
DAVIES: Relax. Play.
DAVIES: And sometimes good things happen. We are speaking with Scott Franzke. He’s the play-by-play radio announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we’re speaking with Scott Franzke. He’s the play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have just completed a playoff run and will face the Houston Astros in the World Series starting tomorrow night. So let’s talk about the Astros.
FRANZKE: Good team.
DAVIES: Formidable team, aren’t they?
FRANZKE: Yeah, very good team.
DAVIES: Tell us about them. They have an interesting story also.
FRANZKE: Well, they’re – they’ve been doing this for a while now. It seems like they’re getting to the World Series just about every year. And this year, obviously, they have Dusty Baker again at the helm, very respected manager, a manager who has done a lot in this game. The one thing he hasn’t done is win the World Series. And he’d very much like to check that box. And he thinks he’s got a team that can do that. They’re deep. They have great pitching. They have great players up and down the lineup. This is a really, really good baseball team.
DAVIES: Well, we know that they have not lost a game in the playoffs.
DAVIES: They’ve swept the Yankees in four straight. To what extent does the stain of the cheating scandal that was revealed in 2019 – that they had been stealing signs during their one World Series championship season in 2018…
DAVIES: To what extent does that hang over them, affect the mentality of the players, affects their support for, you know…
FRANZKE: You know, there’s a few players that are still there, that are still a big part of it that were part of that team in 2017. A few of the faces have changed, for sure. The managers obviously changed as they kind of cleaned up in the wake of that scandal. But I think the players tend to block that stuff out. They’re not thinking about that stuff. They’re just thinking about how to play that day’s game and how to hit that day’s pitcher.
DAVIES: Right. You know, on the one side, you know, it’s – players have been trying to get advantages forever. I mean, there were spitballs, grease balls…
DAVIES: …And sign stealing. On the other hand, you look at it from the point of view of the integrity of the game, I mean, some of the players that were there then had to have known that these signs were being relayed. And they didn’t…
DAVIES: I mean, they were being stolen.
FRANZKE: Sure. And the other teams had suspicions. I mean, baseball is a sport rife with paranoia. If a pitcher gets hit really bad one day, they immediately start thinking, do they have something on him? Does he do something with his hands or his glove that would indicate he’s going to throw a slider versus a fastball? And, you know, whether it’s flat out stealing a catcher’s sign, you know, with a runner at second base, or whether it’s seeing something that the pitcher does, they’re always trying to get an edge and an advantage. And if you’re on the receiving end of that, you’re wondering.
DAVIES: You want to predict who’s going to win here (laughter)?
FRANZKE: No, I’ll steal the line that my predecessor, the great Harry Kalas here in Philadelphia, always said. He said, I don’t try to predict them. I just call them.
DAVIES: All right. So I want to talk about what it’s like to do your job. Do you ever estimate how many hours you spend in front of a live mic every year?
FRANZKE: Oh, I’ve never thought about it.
DAVIES: It’s probably thousands.
FRANZKE: I would guess.
DAVIES: You grew up in the Dallas area…
DAVIES: …And studied, like, broadcasting and journalism at SMU. And I know that you did a lot of sports stuff, and you spent some time in talk radio before you got into play-by-play. I spent four years as a reporter for the all-news station here. And just that experience of doing a lot of live reports, you just get comfortable…
DAVIES: …And understand, it’s not always going to go well (laughter)…
DAVIES: …But it won’t kill you. You – as I understand the story, you wanted to get into play-by-play and so you went to – you took a minor league job at the Kane County, Ill., Cougars…
DAVIES: …Which is kind of a little ways out of Chicago. I guess you spent a lot of years honing your craft there. How did you get better?
FRANZKE: I think a lot of it is just – in that case, you spend a lot of hours basically talking to nobody, in a minor league setting. There – this was in 1999, when we first – when I first went to the minors. We had a over-the-air radio station, and it was a lot of trial and error. It was a lot of listening back to your tapes. It was a lot of sharing your tapes with other announcers to get their thoughts, and they would have, you know, various tricks and different things you could try. And it was a lot of playing with the language. And, you know, as you said, you’re on the air for a lot of hours, and you’re going to see a lot of ground balls to the shortstop over a lot of games. You know, minor league season – our season was 140-some-odd games. And so obviously, you want to try to spice it up. You want to try to change it up. You want to try to vary your language and your cadence and different things like that.
So it’s a lot of just doing it and – I liken it – I talk to minor league announcers all the time that share their tapes with me, and a lot of what I have to say is, it just takes repetition. It’s – I believe a lot of people could do this job. I don’t think it’s any – there’s any special – I mean, I guess you get blessed with a certain kind of voice that people are comfortable with. But I think from the mechanical standpoint of doing sports announcing or play-by-play, almost anybody could learn that if they have enough repetitions. It’s like, I don’t know, swinging a baseball bat or swinging a golf club. You got to practice.
DAVIES: When you shared your broadcast tapes with experienced hosts, what was some of the feedback that you got that you thought was helpful?
FRANZKE: I think it was mostly about descriptions. You know, today, most people sort of angle to be a TV announcer, you know what I mean? I think being a radio announcer is very specific. It’s very different. And you learn things, like the – how important the descriptions are. I mean, there’s so much to describe. We probably under-describe it more than anything, to be honest with you. In today’s environment, if you over-describe everything, people say, well, he talks too much, right?
FRANZKE: He doesn’t shut up.
DAVIES: You have to put…
FRANZKE: But there’s a lot to describe here. And I think – somebody once said to me that you have to remember a few things about doing baseball on the radio. One of them is, people are in their cars. You may be watching the game, you might even have the game on a monitor next to you. So you’re kind of seeing it on TV at the same time. But people are in their cars, by and large. They don’t have that option. So everything you tell them is important. You have to tell them the score over and over again. You can never give the score too much. And you have to realize that everything that you tell them helps them draw that picture in their head. Most of them have been to a baseball game or a football game or whatever. And you can help complete that picture that they might already be building up in their mind with a small detail here and there that might connect with somebody.
DAVIES: And I guess pacing matters, too. I mean, there’s a tendency to get excited and talk too fast. The nice thing about radio is they don’t see the play unfolding. So you can take a beat if you need it…
DAVIES: …To craft the right phrase.
FRANZKE: Sure. You know, you don’t want to be behind the play too much, right? The crowd’s already reacting, and you’ve not even told them what’s happening yet. So you want to make sure the audience is sort of in-pace with the game action. And a lot of that is the trick of making sure you’ve – that you’re talking with your partner about some arcane stat or an old story or something, and then the ball is put in play. Well, you need to be ready before the ball is put in play, to say what’s going to happen.
DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We’re speaking with Scott Franzke. He’s the play-by-play radio announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies on local radio station WIP. He’ll be back to talk more after this break. I’m Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. My guest is Scott Franzke, the radio voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, which has just completed an improbable playoff run and will face the Houston Astros in the World Series starting tomorrow night. We invited Scott to come in and talk about the teams, the series, the new trends in baseball and the life of a play-by-play baseball announcer.
You know, radio is intimate in a way, right? I mean, it’s a different experience. And we kind of skipped a part of your career. You went – after you did three years in the minors, you went back to the Dallas area and worked with the Texas Rangers and then found your way to Philadelphia. And, you know, I was driving a cab in the 1970s when the Phillies had a really good team. And Philadelphia is a row house city. And I remember driving through, and at night, particularly in the summer when it’s hot, people with – that live in row houses and don’t have air conditioners will come out on the sidewalk, on the stoop, on their porch, and they’ll have the ballgame on. And they would hear this legendary voice, Harry Kalas, a guy…
DAVIES: …Who died, actually, a day that you were on – part of the broadcast team a few years ago. But you become the sound of summer to a lot of people. That’s kind of a cool feeling, isn’t it?
FRANZKE: It’s incredibly humbling. I don’t know if people still experience it the same way. It’s a very romantic notion, the idea that the city – you know, you could walk down a block, and from porch to porch, you can hear the same thing, and that’s our voices coming out over the airwaves. But yes, it’s – you know, it’s so many hours, as we talked about earlier in the show, that they’re bringing you into their living room or onto their front porch, in the case of what you describe, and we become a part of their everyday.
I remember when I grew up, and I listened to two guys in Texas on radio a lot. Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel were their names. And Eric is still there, still doing Rangers baseball. And he’s been a great friend and a mentor to me over the years. And I remember that the guys who worked in the booth with them that weren’t on the air – engineer, producer, stats, whatever – they were characters, in a way, of the story of the summer. And I always felt a part of the club in a way. You know, the story of the summer is the story of the team, right? Each night might be its own little chapter or each month or each week or hot streak, winning streak, losing streak, whatever. There’re different points in a season that it goes up and down. It ebbs and flows. But I always felt like I was part of their club. They were talking to me.
And I wanted to find out what happened in the next chapter, so I would tune in again to listen. And don’t get me wrong – they weren’t very good a lot of years, the team. You know, they would fade, and things wouldn’t work out. And I was a devoted fan. But as much as anything, I was a really devoted fan to what they did on the radio.
DAVIES: Well, you know, I wanted to talk about the pace of a radio broadcast. And, you know, we earlier heard this dramatic home run call that you made from this big playoff game, this home run by Bryce Harper. I also think that the quieter moments in a broadcast are really interesting, and I found one that I want to share with the audience here.
I mean, you sometimes tell stories when you’re in a broadcast, and I found this example from a game. This is this past August. The Phillies and Reds are playing. And we’re going to hear you call a play where the Phillies hit a ground ball to the second baseman, and then he gets it, lunges at a runner coming from first, misses him. Everybody’s safe. But as it happens, when that play happens, you’re in the middle of a story about the fact that the Reds pitcher, T.J. Zeuch, had pitched a no-hitter when he was in the minor leagues. You’re in the middle of that story when the play happens. And what we’ll hear is how you move between the story and play-by-play kind of seamlessly in a nice, relaxed way. So let’s listen. It starts with the play.
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FRANZKE: As Segura swings and bounces one over out of the reach of Zeuch and bounces it towards India, who gloves it and tried to tag Stott, who somehow avoided the tag. And everyone is safe. India gloved it, went diving forward, but by then, Stott was by him. So here’s Nick Maton with a pitch. It is inside for ball one. Zeuch said that night when he threw the no-hitter, he actually, for a second or two, forgot or didn’t realize that he had completed the no-hitter. He thought it was the second out, and then he looked back and saw his catcher throw the hands in the air, and he realized, oh, right, that was out No. 3 – 1-0. And a swing and a high fly ball, shallow center. Senzel, coming in and to his left, he’s ahead of it. He’ll make the catch. There’s the second out.
ANDERSEN: You can’t make something like that up.
FRANZKE: He’s just – that’s being locked in on one pitch at a time, right?
DAVIES: That’s our guest, Scott Franzke, telling a story and doing play-by-play for the Philadelphia Phillies. You don’t hear that kind of thing in a lot of other sports, do you?
FRANZKE: There’s no time for it in other sports.
FRANZKE: You know, in basketball, the ball is always on the move, right? The ball is always moving. In baseball, there’s a lot of time where the ball is just tucked in the glove of the pitcher, and he’s messing around on the mound and kicking at the dirt and figuring out what he wants to throw next.
FRANZKE: So there’s a lot of freedom for that in baseball.
DAVIES: You always work with a partner, a color man, often a former athlete – pretty much, mostly, I think, former athletes.
DAVIES: Larry Andersen, the former relief pitcher, is your partner on a lot of, certainly, home games in Philly. And he’s – I think you and he have a special chemistry. Do you have a say in who this is? I mean, I don’t know. Do you – are there ways to develop a relationship with a partner? You’ve done this over a lot of…
FRANZKE: Yeah, I don’t know.
FRANZKE: I mean, I – when I did minor league baseball, I did it – did the games by myself. I didn’t have a partner. And so when I got to Philadelphia and really had to work with a partner each and every day, I was really fortunate that it just happened to be a guy who was funny, who saw the game in a lot of the same ways that I do and was a great guy to be around. We got to be fast friends, and that certainly has helped.
I know there are plenty of stories in sports broadcasting where two announcers shared a booth, and they didn’t like each other at all, and fans never had any idea because they were professional, and they got on the air, and they put together a good product, and they sounded like they were having fun together. But for Larry and I, the idea that, hey, we’re just two guys, we’re sitting at a baseball game, we’re having fun and – you know, if the game is a good one, then we’ll let the game be the game. If the game is a bad one, we’ll try to have some fun.
I heard an interview with Ira Glass. And I’m a big fan of, you know, “This American Life” and Ira’s work. And I remember hearing him say that, well, when we put together a show, it starts with the idea that we’re going to entertain each other. We’re going to amuse ourselves. We’re going to start from that premise. And I feel like that’s a little bit of what Larry and I do. We’re going to start from that premise, and we’re not excluding anybody. We’re going to try to bring everybody into the party, but it’s going to start there because we’re the ones talking to one another. And I always thought that was an interesting way to look at it. And I felt like that applied in some way to what we were doing.
DAVIES: One thing I’ve always wondered listening to radio broadcasts is when I hear the – the broadcaster will describe a pitch as a cutter or a four-seam fastball or a two-seam fastball or a slider. And I think, can you really tell what kind of pitch it is?
FRANZKE: Yeah, it’s a little bit learned, right? It helps to know what a pitcher is going to throw. Nowadays, every stadium you go to, they throw it up on the scoreboard because of the technology they have that’s tracking every pitch. You know, when I first started, it was more of a case of, OK, you walk up to Cole Hamels, and you say, what do you throw? And you know what he throws, and you look for it. And every pitcher might have a little bit different shape on their slider or particular breaking ball or whatever the case might be. But you get – I always felt like some pitchers were easier than others for me to tell the difference. But, yeah, I think a lot of it is just knowing ahead of time what a pitcher’s going to throw or what he can throw, what he normally throws. But again, nowadays, that’s all up on the board, so we might be cheating a little bit there.
DAVIES: Ballplayers are famous for superstitions. Do broadcasters have superstitions?
FRANZKE: Some do, yes.
DAVIES: Do you?
FRANZKE: I do not. The biggest one for a broadcaster is discussing a no-hitter in progress. That’s an old superstition from the bench of a baseball game. You never mention it when there’s a no-hitter in progress. But if you just got into your car, Dave Davies, and you turned on the Phillies game and Roy Halladay’s pitching, I need to tell you that there is a no-hitter in progress. Otherwise you might just, you know, get to your house and turn off the car and never tune back in again. If I don’t tell you, you have no way of knowing. So from a radio standpoint, that’s a big notion that, you know, you can’t say it’s a no-hitter. You can’t say it’s a perfect game. Well, I think I’ve done seven or eight no-hitters and perfect games when you consider the minor leagues. And not once have I shied away from saying that it’s a no-hitter or a perfect game.
DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Scott Franzke. He is the play-by-play radio announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies. We’ll talk more in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we’re speaking with Scott Franzke. He is the play-by-play radio announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies, who will be playing the Astros in the World Series starting tomorrow night.
I want to talk a little bit about how the game is changing – a lot of new rules this year and next year. You know, it’s easy to forget that we almost didn’t have a season, right? That was a lockout for a while. The collective bargaining agreement reached has some changes. One of them is that there’s now a designated hitter in both leagues. You don’t have to – the pitchers don’t have to bat. Good change in your view?
FRANZKE: Well, it was an inevitable change. It was coming whether I wanted it to or not. I always liked the strategy involved with…
DAVIES: Me too.
FRANZKE: …The pitcher in the ninth spot and moving them around or, you know, making a double switch and utilizing your bench and having to make managerial decisions in-game that could truly affect the outcome of it. I don’t know that it’s taken – I mean, it’s definitely taken some of the strategy in that regard out of the game. But from the Phillies’ perspective, if there wasn’t a DH, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs because Bryce Harper can’t play the field right now because of his elbow. And that’s been the case since early April. And if there wasn’t a DH, I mean, he might be – well, I’m pretty sure all the Phillies would be home right now so – if there wasn’t a DH this year in the National League.
DAVIES: Next year, there’s going to be a pitch clock. The pitcher will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty, 20 seconds with a runner on. How’s that going to work?
FRANZKE: Well, I think it’s going to be interesting, in particular in spring training because they’re going to enforce it right away in spring training. And I think it’s going to give players a few weeks to really understand it. Now, minor league pitchers have been dealing with this for a number of years. They’ve already been through this. They’re geared to this. They’ve been under these rules for a couple of years. And the folks who have watched games – and I don’t see minor league games, but those who have have said, boy, it really speeds things up. It just really eliminates a lot of that downtime that the pitcher is standing there waiting to figure out what he’s going to do next. And they said it’s been really good for the game.
So there are a lot of pitchers in today’s game at the major league level that are going to struggle. And I think it will be wildly fascinating to find out how many of them are able to adapt and still make their pitches where they want to.
DAVIES: Right. Because there are some pitchers that love to get the ball, get the sign, throw it right away.
DAVIES: And the ones who don’t, who want to sit back and think it over and pick up the rosin bag, they’re going to have to adjust. Sports psychologists will probably make some extra money here.
FRANZKE: I would think. And there are also going to be limits on how many times you can throw to first, which is designed to enhance the baserunning involved in the game. So if you have a runner at first, you’re only going to be able to throw over one time with no repercussions. The second time you throw over, you’re either going to need to pick him off or he’s going to get second base. So you’ve got to be sure about it. And I think that’s going to lead to more stolen bases overall, which is something that baseball wants. They want to see more action in the game.
DAVIES: And hitters will need to be in the batter’s box with eight seconds left on the pitch clock. There are a lot of batters that like to step out…
DAVIES: …You know, stretch, readjust the batting gloves, complain a little bit about the last call.
FRANZKE: Absolutely. It’s going to be different for a lot of players. And again, there’s no grandfather clause for those who have played under the old rules. It’s going to be the same for everybody next year. So it’s going to be a rude awakening for some.
DAVIES: Overall, a good thing, you think? I mean, the game is slow.
FRANZKE: I think it will be a good thing overall. I think it will – there will be an adjustment period, but I do think that speeding up the pace of the action is going to be important, and I think that will lead to more – all the fan surveys that anybody has ever done says they want – people want to see more stuff happening – right? – more stuff, more people on the bases, more action on the bases, if you will, and this is going to lead to that.
DAVIES: So a little less time for you to tell stories.
FRANZKE: I’ll just have to be a little more concise.
DAVIES: Also coming – bigger bases…
DAVIES: …Bigger bags. Why is that?
FRANZKE: The idea is the stolen base. You know, there’s also a slight injury element.
DAVIES: Wait, the stolen base – they want more stolen bases…
FRANZKE: They want more stolen bases.
DAVIES: …And it’s slightly less than 90 feet if you have a bigger bag?
DAVIES: Is that the idea? Wow.
FRANZKE: It shortens the distance between bases. Correct. There’s also a little more room for, say, a fielder and a runner to occupy the base or arrive at the base at the same time, which they hope would help diminish injuries…
DAVIES: Yeah, that makes some sense.
FRANZKE: …Collisions, things of that nature.
DAVIES: Yeah, particularly on first base and a…
DAVIES: …Ball in the infield. All right. Here’s the other big one, is the infield shift. I mean, people who watch the game know that a lot of batters – they will move three infielders on one side of second base so that if somebody likes to hit it to right or left, they’re going have a hard time driving a ball through the infield. That’s going to be banned. Is this right?
FRANZKE: Correct. You will have to have two infielders on either side of second base, and they will both have to be on the dirt. There can’t be a fourth outfielder, for instance. So that is, to me, going to be as big a sea change as any of these other ones, because in terms of the actual outcome, I think that’s going to lead to a lot more hits. And there’s a lot of hitters that are going to really benefit from it, and they’re going to pick up extra base hits along the way. Their averages will climb, and again, that will lead to more people on base, lead to more stolen bases, more runs in general, which, by the way, could lead to longer games. But their hope is it’s not so much about the time of game as about the action within that time.
DAVIES: Do you like banning the infield shift?
FRANZKE: Well, baseball has prided itself on how their analytics departments have mastered defense, and that is, we know, based on what the guy – what pitcher the guy is facing, what pitch that guy is going to throw and how he’s going to hit it and where he’s going to hit it. We know where to put the people on the field. And sometimes they lose out. You know, things happen, but it has dramatically – I mean, just look at the batting averages over the last few years in Major League Baseball. They go down every year, and it’s not just because – you can’t simply say, well, guys just don’t know how to hit anymore. That’s not really it. I think it’s very much – the science of it all, the data of it all tells them where he’s going to hit the ball and where he does it predominantly. And so they put a man there, and they’re not going to be able to do that anymore.
DAVIES: Well, Scott Franzke, congratulations on getting work in October, and wish you luck in the Series. Thanks for being with us.
FRANZKE: Yeah, it’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
DAVIES: Scott Franzke is the play-by-play radio announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies, who will face the Houston Astros in the World Series starting tomorrow night. Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews “Midnights,” the latest studio album from Taylor Swift. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRIAN ENO AND JOHN CALE’S “SPINNING AWAY”)
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Phillies radio announcer Scott Franzke on Bryce Harper and some big MLB changes – NPR
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