It was hate at first sight. The first time I laid eyes on Charlie Steiner he was one of those ESPN Sportscenter Hosts, and like the rest of them seemed full of himself, too hip for the room, a glib remark or pithy pun more important than the substance of what was being covered.
I was one of the few who wasn’t happy with Ross Porter being let go as the Dodgers’ radio announcer after the 2004 season. Yes, Porter was primarily a stats geek, often filling the space between pitches with more numbers than an Indian Casino bingo caller. Listening to Porter my eyes would sometimes glaze over like I was back in Algebra 1 (a class I failed five times), but he had a folksy, down to earth style and seemed to have a true appreciation of the game. He also was one of the rare Dodger radio personalities at the time who was honest enough to admit on the air that the team sucked when it sucked. When a team stinks – as it did often during Porter’s tenure – that can be a breath of fresh air.
So when Porter got let go I thought he got a raw deal, and hearing that Charlie Steiner would be taking his place didn’t make it any easier to swallow. I spend far too many of the dwindling hours I have left on this planet watching or listening to Dodger baseball. And now I was going to spend a good portion of them with Charlie Steiner?
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Four years later, I say without hesitation that Charlie Steiner is a great baseball play by play guy. In fact I enjoy listening to him as much as Vin Scully.
That last sentence will probably be taken as sacrilege by the vast majority of Dodger fans, to whom Scully is a god. Scully is Dodgers baseball, and rightfully so. If you gave a word association test to Dodgers fans, I’ll bet most of them would answer “Dodgers” with “Vin Scully”. He is the last remaining bridge back to the team’s history in Brooklyn, having started with the team in 1950 and then moving west with them to Los Angeles in 1958. He has as much knowledge about baseball as anyone who has every played or managed, and there is seemingly no Dodgers tidbit or anecdote of which he does not know or have instant recall.
With his distinct voice, melodic delivery, and master pacing, as he expertly intertwines the on field action with the nuances and ironies of the game and infinitely entertaining stories, there are few pleasures in life more enjoyable than a couple hours of baseball with Vin Scully. It’s like turning back the clock – you’re a youngster again in a magical place with your kindly old father or uncle as your guide (only one who doesn’t take up half your seat, fart his way through a bag of peanuts and make every other inning trips to the restroom because of an enlarged prostrate).
Recently the Dodger faithful were sent into a panic when Scully hinted next year may be his last behind the mike. How could he possibly be replaced? As far as baseball announcers go, there is Vin Scully and then there is everyone else, and everyone else couldn’t carry his jock as they say in the lingo of sports.
Well don’t stroke out Dodgers fans, but I think Charlie Steiner can.
Steiner, it seems to me, is the next best thing to Vin. Growing up in New York, the Brooklyn Dodgers were his favorite team. The Dodgers aren’t just a job, they’re part of the fabric of his life. Like Scully, he is very literate, seemingly never without a reference when needed, able to cull from an endless supply of baseball or life stories to illustrate a point. Like Scully he has great perspective. There is always more going on then just the game being described. Always an awareness that this game is part of something larger. Part of a series, part of a season, part of a career, part of the history of the sport, part of something that has been a significant part of your life.
As does Scully, he calls a game with the neutrality of an umpire. He’s not a homer, rooting for his guys. He appreciates the game, and that includes both teams. A good play is a good play no matter what the colors of the player making it, a bad play is a bad play, and he says so. If anything, Steiner may be slightly less diplomatic than Scully in protecting his employer. When Mannywood was recently revealed to be drug infested, Scully had little to say about it, and what he did say seemed to be couched in the vaguest of terms. Steiner seemed to be more direct in acknowledging it is what it is.
Like Scully, he has a pleasant voice, which – unlike many of the current breed of baseball announcers – he is able to use in more than just a stoic monotone. He understands what voice inflection is for, and uses it masterfully to sell the point of what he has to say. He can pause for effect with the best of them.
He has the quick wit of an improvisational comedian. Recently, just before the deadline for play-off eligibility, the Dodgers made several trades. They acquired Ronnie Belliard from the Nationals, then announced during the 7th inning of the next night’s game that they had just acquired Jim Thome from the White Sox and John Garland from the Diamondbacks. Steiner quickly quipped on the air when the trade for Thome and Garland was announced:
“So yesterday the Dodgers acquired Ronnie Belliard, he’s been with the team less than 24 hours, and with the addition tonight of Thome and Garland, he’s already a grizzled veteran of the team.”
Quick thinking. Concise. Funny. Ironic. Entertaining. Typical Charlie Steiner.
I hope Vin never goes, but if he does the Dodgers already have the next best thing.
All photographs copyright Steve Neimand