The ball was grounded to second with the bases loaded. It picked up water as it skidded across the damp St. Louis infield, causing Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro to double-clutch the ball as he pulled it from his glove. That small delay allowed David Freese, the Cardinals’ lead runner, to score. San Francisco was down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning in game three of the National League Championship Series.
The skies above Busch Stadium in St. Louis opened up in that way that weather services had predicted they would all day. The players came off the field. The grounds crew dragged the tarp over the field, making this an official rain delay.
"Right now Noah would be impressed with what we're seeing in St. Louis,” former Giants’ pitcher Mike Krukow said, describing the torrent to me as I sat there in my cubicle listening to what was once a ballgame through a set of headphones plugged into an old boombox.
The Giants’ broadcasting team on KNBR 680 San Francisco found itself with a lot of airtime to kill. That’s when things got weird.
Using what the situation had given to him, veteran broadcaster Jon Miller regaled his radio audience with tales of the drainage system at Busch Stadium.
"It's sort of a sand-based system, but beneath all of that are these subterranean pumps,” he explained, before the discussion turned to the time that this mechanized tarp in the old St. Louis ballpark tried to eat Cards outfielder Vince Coleman before a playoff game in 1985.
Somebody in the broadcasting booth brought up this mechanical bunny that popped out of the infield in Oakland in the 1970s to deliver balls to the home plate umpire. The first base ump could also step on a switch to allow jets of air to blow the dust off of the base. The Giants broadcasting team all quickly agreed that such conveyances were just Frankenstein’s monsters waiting to harm even the best ballplayers. I think they said that Mickey Mantle was injured by some kind of labor saving device, and of course, there was Vince Coleman again.
“He was the fastest man in the league, but he couldn’t escape this tarp,” Miller added.
After lamenting the terror that Coleman must have felt as he was enveloped by that tarp, former Giants’ second-baseman-turned-sportscaster Duane Kuiper joined in with his account of rats running out from under the tarp in Cleveland and attacking the California Angels dugout. Krukow countered with tales of playing for the Amarillo Giants in the Texas League where the ballpark reeked of a nearby slaughterhouse and they sprayed the field for mosquitos twice during each game.
"I think it was Agent Orange they got cheap," Krukow said.
Kuiper said, “Reno, 1972,” and I just couldn’t process it anymore. Reno, shit, I’m still only in Reno.
This rolling discussion of robot bunnies, rats and killer tarps almost made up for all those stranded Giants baserunners—almost. I wondered why they didn’t have TiVO for radio, and wished that I had a cassette tape handy so I could record this thing the old-fashioned way. The off-brand boom box made from silver plastic could still do that much even 30 years after it was bought at Radio Shack.
It was these weird conversations that cropped up during the slow moments of baseball games that made me think I could make it in sports broadcasting. I majored in Radio and Television at San Francisco State, but never really pursued it beyond announcing for Incredibly Strange Wrestling, a San Francisco mixture of punk rock and lucha libre. That was live entertainment though, and the crowds flung food, cups, beer and even shit at me. I also had to wrestle the Poontangler and Macho Sasquatcho from time-to-time, but at least I was never attacked by rats in Cleveland.
As the rain delay dragged on, the talk inevitably turned to how much better things are now.
“The minor league ballparks of today are nicer than Wrigley Field,” Kuiper said, and he was right. We’ve made everything so comfortable and so state-of-the-art, but there is a shame in that. What will the baseball announcers of the Year 2027 have to talk about? The Wi-Fi going out?
The game resumed several hours. The Giants hung on to lose 3-1. St. Louis leads the NLCS two games to one.
Bob Calhoun is the author of the punk wrestling memoir "Beer, Blood & Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (2008, ECW Press). He is currently working on a book on conventions and tradeshows. You can follow him on twitter at @bob_calhoun.