In this edition of Eitan the Intern, I interviewed the Columbus Clippers (the AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians) play-by-play broadcaster Scott Leo. I sat down with Scott at Huntington Park recently, and asked him about his broadcasting career as well as the nature of the sports broadcasting industry.
For a baseball broadcaster you are relatively young, did you start broadcasting right after you graduated college?
SL: I actually started broadcasting baseball when I was 17 years old. When I was growing up, I would listen to a lot of games on the radio or watch them on TV. I would watch the game with my dad, who was a big baseball, basketball, and football fan. As I went from grade school into high school and did not get any bigger, stronger or faster by playing sports, I realized I probably needed to find a different avenue if I wanted to be around sports in a career capacity.
I started up the sports broadcasting department at my high school radio station from ground zero. The high school that I went to had a radio station but didn’t utilize the equipment for sports broadcasting. I went to the athletics booster club at my high school and convinced the club to buy some radio equipment for the station to broadcast games. I also went out amongst the local community to get sponsors to pay for the cost of phone lines so the station could broadcast all of the boy’s basketball and football games. I remember spending a lot of days after school driving around to every mom-and-pop restaurant, Laundromat and where ever else I could to find someone willing to sponsor games on the air.
Eventually, the radio station carried baseball, girl’s basketball, softball and soccer games as well. In my junior year of high school, my friends and I covered over 200 events. Then I went to college and got a job at a local radio station where I worked part time broadcasting baseball, basketball and football for high schools and smaller sized colleges. As I was graduating college, I got my first professional baseball job. For my college graduation, I drove home for the ceremony and then back to Richmond, Indiana where I was broadcasting at the time. My friends and family actually held my graduation party at one of the suites in the ballpark. My friends and family were basically listening to me on the radio while they celebrated the fact that somehow, someway, I made myself out of college.
In addition to the Clippers, you broadcast Wright State University basketball and football. How do you transition from working play by play in baseball, where it is slow-paced needs extra context for the game in contrast to basketball where the pace of the game is very quick?
SL: Baseball’s slow pace and length of season makes a different broadcast compared to football and basketball. When you broadcast baseball games, you are on the air every single day for four hours every night. Sometimes the broadcast becomes less about baseball and more about entertaining listeners by interjecting more of your own personality. You try to keep your audience interested even in a 12-1 game in the 6th Inning with a last place team. I take the same broadcasting approach in the other sports, but there is much more of an emphasis on the action itself for football and basketball broadcasts.
Personally, there is a little bit of a broadcasting adjustment between sports. When I come out of basketball season and go to spring training, I have to slow myself down as a broadcaster to get back into the flow of things. As the baseball season wraps up and I get into football, I have to speed up and become better at identifying players on the field. In baseball, it is so much easier to identify the players on the field since the players are pretty much stationary the entire time. In football, you have 22 players on the field at once. You have to figure out who has the football and who made the tackle. If there is a fumble, you got to find who forced the fumble and who recovered the football. I have to retrain my eyes every fall to be ready to broadcast football.
The Clippers were on Time Warner Cable two games ago, a game which you broadcasted on television. How do the methods of broadcasting on the radio and television differ?
SL: Here in Columbus, we broadcast every game live on the radio. Some live games are carried SportsTime Ohio (STO) or Time Warner Cable. When games are broadcasted on Time Warner Cable, the radio broadcast is simulcast with the television feed. When the games are on STO and even MLB Network, I will call the game on the television side while Ryan Mitchell, my broadcast partner, calls the game on the radio.
When you broadcast a game on television, you are more of a traffic cop than an analyst. As a broadcaster on the radio, you’re calling the action in addition to analyzing what has happened on the field.
On television, the focus is more on the analyst than the play by play guy. The play by play broadcaster gets out of commercial reads and essentially paves the way for the analyst to talk about what has transpired. When you broadcast on radio, you are the eyes and ears of the fan. On the television, the fan can see what is happening and you don’t need to be as descriptive. You can pause more and let the atmosphere of the game take hold. On the radio, you are describing anything from the batters stance to how many clouds are over the ballpark. On television, the viewer can see if it is a right-handed batter, a left-handed pitcher or if it is a rainy day. There is less need for a constant repetition of descriptions on television broadcasts.
As the broadcaster of the Clippers, you are with the team for 142 games and the near majority of the year. How are you able to get the information from players necessary for your broadcasts without intruding on their privacy?
SL: Being around the players is an interesting dynamic for me because I am part of the team in a way. I’m a branch of the organization and the eyes and ears of the fans when they are not in the ballpark. I’m also not in the clubhouse everyday when the players are together and when the players are winning and losing, I’m not with them as part of it. The players at this level have been around radio broadcasters and newspaper beat writers enough and understand broadcasters and journalists have a job to do. I think there is not as much friction at this level compared to other professional levels of baseball. When I was in independent baseball, I ran into more trouble with players. A lot of players had never been around a broadcaster that traveled with the team in independent baseball.
My stance has always been to call it like it is on a broadcast. I wouldn’t say anything on the air about the player as a person in a negative light. I may say “He can’t hit a curveball,” but I’m not going to say he is a bad person. I think most athletes at this level respect that part of my job is to give my opinion. What I try to portray on a broadcast is their on-field performance. If the player is playing well, I’m going to make him sound really well. If the player isn’t playing well, he will sound bad on the radio. But the player’s portrayal is really a product of their performance and has nothing to do with me. I am just the eyes and ears of the fan.
Some broadcasters get criticized for being “homers”, or being a fan of the team with the microphone. How do you provide an objective account of what is occurring during the game while appealing to your audience of majority Clipper fans?
SL: I used to get annoyed when I heard announcers say “we” and “us,” playing the homer card if you will. I changed my stance on “homer” broadcasters over time. I’ve realized as a broadcaster for a specific team, you are essentially a fan of that team with a microphone. You may not be able to say all of the things a fan would say on the air but you can certainly feel the highs and lows of a team just like a fan does. I have probably interjected more “homer-ism” into my broadcasts over the last two years than I had prior. Now I’ll say “we” or “us” every once in a while and clearly when a Clipper hits a home run I will get a little more excited than when an opposing player does.
It helps that the Clippers are with the Cleveland Indians, an Ohio team. I’m an Ohio guy, I grew up as a Reds fan and followed the Indians as well, so I’ve always had ties to Ohio’s teams anyway. There are plenty of fans that love both the Clippers and the Indians so the Clipper-Indian affiliation is a perfect marriage.
In addition to your role as the Clipper’s play by play broadcaster, you are also the Director of Broadcasting. What does that position entail?
SL: As a broadcaster, there is a different role in the minor leagues compared to the majors. In the majors, your focus as an announcer is just on broadcasting the games. In the minor leagues, you wear multiple hats. I not only do the broadcasts but I coordinate everything broadcast related. I have to log radio commercials every night so our sponsors know that their commercials ran when they were supposed to. I’m responsible for selling corporate advertising inside the ballpark and on the broadcasts. I spend time making calls and visiting folks who are sponsors of the Clippers as well. I do a lot of public relations and media relations work. I also organize interviews on the radio and television as well as setting up interviews for various media outlets with our players.
Your have broadcasted for the NFL and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Westwood One. For high-profile sporting events such as the NFL or March Madness, how do you adjust to the additional pressure of being broadcast nationally?
SL: The high profile events are always fun to be involved in because Westwood One does such an elaborate job of covering those events on radio. The NFL and NCAA tournament games are on hundreds of radio stations across the country, so you know that there are lots of ears on the broadcast. I’ve had a chance to be in the booth and watch some great broadcasters work on Monday Night Football like Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason. I would often go down the sidelines at NFL games and gather injury reports with Bonnie Bernstein and other broadcasters who have made a name for themselves in this business on a really high level. Being around broadcasters of that magnitude has been one of the great learning points in my career.
What sites do you work at for Westwood One?
SL: I usually work the opening round games for the NCAA tournament over in Dayton. I have also announced the tournament’s first and second round games in Dayton as well as Columbus. At the games, I sit courtside and keep track of the information that will be used during the broadcasts at some point. Between games of the first and second round tournament, I catch interviews with players and coaches.
For the NFL, I used to do games in Indianapolis but now I work at mostly prime-time games in Cincinnati or Cleveland. In those games, I am the sideline producer. I gather information, line up interviews, tasks of that nature.
You’ve been broadcasting the Clippers since 2006. What are the changes you’ve noticed in broadcasting this team as you have gotten to know them better?
SL: I’ve been fortunate enough to actually be a part of a lot of changes in Columbus. When I came to Columbus in 2006, we were the New York Yankees affiliate. There was an affiliation with the Washington Nationals for two years and currently the Clippers are affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.
The amount of affiliation change has been a good thing for me as a broadcaster because I’ve worked with five different managers in five years. I have gotten to know five different sets of coaches essentially in that five year span. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed in my time in Columbus is to see how things are done in three different organizations. Things such as how each organization handles situations, how the organization goes about promoting their young players and what the front office likes to see from their players at this level before they get called up to the big leagues.
Thanks to Scott for sharing his insights into what has been an impressive start to his career. Also, thank you to the Clippers organization for granting me access to share in the broadcasting experience.
-Eitan the Intern