Peter Hyatt - The Psycho-Linguistic Profile of the Professional Athlete As Announcer


There are four basic elements within language that reveal who we are.  When we speak, we reveal:

1.  Our Background--sex, race, intelligence, etc
2.  Our Experiences in life  --work, , professional, private, etc
3.  Our Priorities--what is important to us, and so on...
4.  Our Dominant Personality Traits--how others see us

This is a "psycho-linguistic profile"; that is, getting to know someone by what they say or write.  

How powerful is this?

Accuracy is the test.  

This is so dramatic  within language that when someone writes an anonymous threatening letter, we are most often able to either directly identify the author, or give a succinct description of the author to the point that the recipient recognizes the author and arrests are made.  

One of the most difficult jobs in society is that of the professional sports announcer, perhaps only exceeded by the "stand up comic."

This is because of the successful exploitation within politics where everyone is offended over everything, and each new "identity" is set against all others.  It becomes a contest of  "who is the most offended?" as competition in the "us versus them" that needlessly divides us.

Professional announcers are judged on each and every word and most of what they say is from the "free editing process", rather than scripted, which means they are freely and immediately choosing their own words.  

How can anyone who speaks for 3 hours a night accomplish this without unending offense?

Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling are former professional athletes.  This sets them, linguistically and personality wise, apart from Gary Cohen. They have unique backgrounds that correlate with what we are both viewing and listening to.

My  opinion is that this team of three is one of the finest in all professional sports today.  My reference point is "away" broadcasts from MLB, NHL, and what is regularly heard on Main Stream Media (specifically ESPN and NESN locally).  I cannot help, even upon effort, to compare them to:

"...this is Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy saying 'so long' for now, from Shea Stadium..." from yesteryear.

   Professional Athletes are formed in success after success from childhood to early adult hood. When they reach the height of success, such as the Major Leagues, they have been impacted greatly.

There is an ancient proverb that says,

"With the rich and might, always a little patience."

A modern version  is, "professional athletes are such %&^*(s!"

Consider what you and I would be like under similar developmental circumstances.

Consider what it must be like to be a ten year old boy and having crowds come see you at a Little League game.  The adulation impacts you during critical developmental years, pre adolescence.  You are told that you are "the best." Remember, we are born as little narcissists and must be taught human empathy through sharing, for example, to combat this, for the good of society.  Everyone comes out to see you and not the others.  If the average game has 20 spectators, yours might have 100 or more.  The message is clear:  you are special.

Then, while kids are routinely striking out, you are hitting home runs. 

You are special.

When you pitch, the ball is faster than kids can keep up with as you strike out batter after batter, while instilling fear in them since a baseball is not the easiest thing to control.  

Next, consider that as a ten year old boy, you hear some parents whisper some very nasty things about you in envy.  They complain to the league that you should not be pitching or that you should be with older kids.  They claim you get preferential treatment and even complain about your young personality.  Their sons take this into school, and you, the boy, may even retreat from them as self preservation. You begin to grow a sometimes icy or dismissive demeanor to protect yourself.  

As you get older, crowds grow and you are told how wonderful you are, over and over.  This continues into high school where  girls target you (again, you are "the greatest") and right through college where promiscuity meets beer parties.  Professors give you decent passing grades though you barely show up.  Wherever you go, you are the center of attention because you can play a sport better than others.  

At age 20, you are drafted and suddenly find yourself with more money than your dad has earned in ten years.  A fast talking agent promises you the world, also reminding you, every other sentence,  that you are the best.  You get free sneakers, which are so cool, and promises of being  on TV,  and your face will be everywhere.  The agent says you must pause after a home run and soak up the camera.  "Did you know that research shows that for ever 3 additional seconds on television, you make more than $3500?" Wow!  What could be better than that!  You can't wait to get out there and eat the competition for lunch as you did in high school and early college.  

Minor Leagues.  

You suddenly are filled with fearful doubts. For the first time in your life, you experience anxiety where your stomach physically hurts and your heart races.  You call home.   These are not school boys but young men from parts of the world where it stays hot 12 months of the year and they are really good.  You must fight through the self doubt. 

You're also now staying at a host family's home, in a strange area, where no real restraints are placed upon you.  Being "above" others, rules don't seem to really apply to you.  You are torn between night life and getting the sleep necessary to rebuild tiny microscopic tears in your muscles. 

You work harder and gain more success and promotion. Your brain begins to adjust to the new speeds in each successive league. 

 Your minimum wage in MLB is 10 times higher than your dad's annual salary.  30,000 people yell your name and people want to know you, get your signature, tear you down, build you up, love you, hate you, and women follow you, flashing you as you depart the field.

You are all of 22 years old and it is almost impossible not to have an ego.

The pressure of competition is immense and the concentration, itself, is physically exhausting.  You are never more than a strike out or freak injury away from being "nothing", as you have learned that you have always been "more something" than everyone around you.

Very few athletes maintain the proper grounding.

This is why teams relish the likes of Curtis Granderson type individuals.  They have better memories of where they came from and can help keep young stars somewhat with a sense of reality.

This is why it was so easy for middle class, all around good kid from a decent home, Dwight Gooden, to get lost in substance abuse.  It is easy to condemn him, but put any one of us in his shoes, beginning at age 10 with a hot right arm, and give some honest process time to see what you come up with.  To be 21 years old and feeling the pressure of 50,000 fans screaming your name and just wanting to relax, well...

We'd be no different.

It is not a beer that relaxes him, but the money in his young hands allows for a much finer way of relaxing and the road to perdition is set upon.  

As they watched condemned prisoners march off to execution, the John Bunyanesque men said,

                   "But for the grace of God, there goes I." 

They understood that had they been raised the same way and found to be in the same positions, they might have committed the same crimes or even worse.  It is a powerful sense of one's own frailty and humanity.

Mets Announcers 

Keith Hernandez.

Most older Met fans have read, "The Bad Guys Won" about the '86 Mets.  Keith Hernandez, so marvelously gifted with both the bat and his glove, is not well flattered in the book.  From what I am aware of, there is  accuracy about his history and some of his less endearing habits.  Among some of these less endearing habits that Whitey Herzog did not relish included an occasional lack of hustle.

Listen to him today.

6 decades of life,  a wobbly knee, a middle age gut, lots of personal demons wrestled, and the struggle to cut a new career for himself just to feel relevant in life again, have all issued the tough lessons necessary in life that produce humility.

It comes shining through.  He is an example of lessons heard, embraced and applied.  It is to hear wisdom.  

Did you ever wonder why Keith harps on one who does not hustle?

Ever wonder why he gets so emotional when he sees the lack of "team" from someone?

Like all of us, he projects.  The things he was accused of and the human frailties he has embraced, are part of him.  

Ron Darling

Ron Darling followed the same path but add in a stronger intellect, good looks, and entrance to Yale.  He, too, however, has had some lessons and when he shares them, he reveals the frailty of human nature, and the necessity for humility within team psychology.

You don't think he fights self doubt in this new career?  Listen to how often he uses the word "Yale" over the course of a season.  

It is similar to how Tom Seaver mentions the word "Marine" repeatedly, as he credits it with learning discipline and leadership.  

Both men had short stints at the respective locales, yet they remain powerful influences.  

Recently, Gary Cohen asked Ron a question about a pitcher's psychology after hitting and injuring a batter.  Gary wanted to know, from the perspective of a pitcher, how long it takes to get beyond it.

When my father was a young man, he returned from World War II and met his first born daughter, who, by the time he returned from the Sea of Japan, was already 3 years old as she was conceived on early leave, just prior to embarking for the South Seas.  

He took a job working in Brooklyn, but his love of baseball landed him a semi-professional position as a pitcher.

He told a story about how short lived his pitching career was.

He said that he hit a batter in the head and "in those days, you didn't have to wear a helmet."

Dad never finished telling this story.  All he would say, over and over, was that it was his last game and "the man had a wife and kid."

He never pitched another game.

Ron Darling related that when he was "in amateur baseball" (with deliberate vagueness) he had hit a player unintentionally.  Like my father, a pitch just got away from him.

The player was injured.

As to the question about how long it takes a pitcher to "get over it", Ron said, "I asked for the entire rest of the summer off from pitching."

There was a touch of silence, unusual for the announcers, as Gary commented about human empathy.

Our announcers get ahead of themselves at times, and ego can clash, but having 2 former professional players, both of whom came to love and embrace New York, coupled with a very talented, melodic and deeply committed fan in Gary, we are privileged to have insight into the game that others do not match.

While ESPN and NESN play the endless, juvenile dial a Thesaurus  with scatological references, we get emotional, insightful and, at times, riveting analysis by those who walk a very thin line of truth ad offense.

They cannot "offend" the beta male sensitivities, nor the moral narcissists who are looking to be offended, nor can they, with impunity, even cross their employers, of whom their paychecks come.

Yet, they somehow find a way to honesty and it is refreshing.

When Keith came close to the "offending line" recently, I was concerned that the Daily News or some such, would seek a feminist revolt and demand an apology, which is their norm.  Media devours its own.

What was it that kept them at bay while they, and others, so readily attack?  Please do not think it was their magnanimity.  If you've got a few years under your belt, you need no explanation here.

The only thing that kept them from making a tempest in a teapot is Keith's popularity with fans.


His curmudgeon like pithiness, including pausing the commentary so he can swallow some M & M's,  or gush over ice cream, is all too real and endearing to Met fans to allow media to target him.

The three announcers are to me, overall, as enjoyable as the three of my boyhood announcers are in my memory.

Gary Cohen

The "odd man out", he is a deeply talented, intellectually gifted baseball fan who's love of all things Mets needs no persuasive language; he breathes it.  His ability to dish off questions to Ron Darling, and solicit commentary on life, itself, from Keith Hernandez works as smoothly as his baritone voice.   Though not the subject of this article with professional sports  background, he is a joy to listen to.  If anyone had a right to stretch the ego, it is Cohen, yet his emotional intelligence remains stedfast.

Ralph Kiner was a professional athlete and had dated movie stars, yet he, too, was able to stay balanced in humility.

There are childhood illusions we wish to keep safe.

It was not until I was 40 years old that I learned that Willie Mays' cap flew off deliberately, rather than from extraordinarily speedy legs.  I knew, at age 10, that my own cap would only come off if I placed it just right, but as a short stop, and one who had to wear helmets on the base paths, I did not get many opportunities.  When I read, "Willie was not familiar with the language of humility", as an adult, I understood.  Had I his talent, I would too.

In a season gone wrong, I appreciate the honest criticism of our announcers.  I appreciate their praise of our opponents and their personal perspectives of team and team psychology.  The maturity of years has met riches of experience and we are the better for it.


Thomas Brennan said...

"6 decades of life, a wobbly knee, a middle age gut" - you spying on me again, Peter? :)

Good insights - I love these guys and our radio crew, too.

I actually also like John Sterling - used to hate him because he oozes Yankee superiority, but also can be somewhat objective when the other team is excelling or when a Yankee is sub par - but Susan Waldman gets annoying quickly.

Reese Kaplan said...

I still think the mantle for best announcer goes to Howie Rose.

Peter Hyatt said...

I should not have left out our radio guys; I love them too. It is just that I don't listen to them enough and Howie Rose seems to be almost immune from worry about offending anyone!

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