It’s 10 minutes until the first pitch, and Mike Shannon, bespectacled, hunched over a copy of the Miami Marlins’ spring roster in the broadcast booth, is working on the name of today’s opposing pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen.
“How do you pronounce this guy’s name?” Shannon says in his gravelly timbre.
“Way-in. Chen,” says fellow broadcaster Mike Claiborne, seated to Shannon’s left. “Like way in on the infield.”
“Just want to make sure we’re on the same page,” says Shannon.
When Shannon first started broadcasting, 44 years ago, a mispronunciation, a malaprop, or a colorful quip was acceptable, even endearing, to a like-minded regional audience. Shannonisms such as It’s raining like a Chinese fire drill! and I just want to wish everybody a Happy Easter or Happy Hanukkah are popular, if not necessarily PC, cocktail shorthand in St. Louis. But today, when the play-by-play can be streamed digitally to Chen’s native Taiwan and every sentence can be replayed, dissected, and decried on social media, global listeners expect the spot-on elocution of a Joe Buck or Dan McLaughlin. A slip of the tongue or cultural insensitivity here or there could get a young broadcaster in trouble. “Now whatever you say has to jump over six different hurdles and go through five different filters,” says Buck. “It’s taken some of that personality away.”
At 76, Shannon’s personality is more outsized than ever—hurdles and filters be damned. This morning, he showed up at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, before 9 a.m. for an afternoon spring game, the seat of his black corduroys covered in dust that couldn’t quite be swept away with his hand. He carried a paper cup of coffee and a red plastic shopping bag containing his black-rimmed reading glasses; copies of the The New York Post, The Palm Beach Post, and the Daily Racing Form; and four warm bottles of water. (Despite frequently slurring into the late innings about “cold frosty ones,” Shannon never drinks while broadcasting.) He huffed up four flights of stairs to the press box—both a moment of quiet from an elevator full of Cardinal fans whom he loves but who all think they know him and a quick workout for an ex-jock who underwent heart surgery three years ago: “Two birds,” he says, “with that stone. Heh-heh-heh.”
Once in the booth, he cracks wise to Claiborne about the “decimal” level of the PA rock music rattling the windows. (“This guy works at a disco, somewhere.”) He laments the absence of the Pilates ball he’s sat on for almost a decade to keep him in motion and allow him to exercise between innings. And when he learns thatSt. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold tweeted at 9:03 a.m. that today’s starting first baseman, Matt Holliday, has been scratched from the lineup because of tightness in his lower back, Shannon waits about an hour for confirmation by way of more traditional means—a call from a team gofer from the clubhouse to Shannon’s flip phone—before adjusting his lineup card. (“The whole f—ing thing has changed. Oh man, what a mess.”) Then he dutifully walks down the hall to inform his Spanish-language broadcast counterparts. “Que paso?” he says, in a hard Midwestern accent. “I only want two cervezas,” he says, joking. “Heh-heh-heh.”
By the time first pitch rolls around, even though it’s only an early spring training exhibition, Shannon is at the edge of his uncomfortable chair, almost sticking his head out the press-box window, feeding off the energy of the fans in red packing the stands below. “History could be made every time I go to that ballpark,” he had said previously. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Now on the air, Claiborne introduces Chen and the first three Cardinal batters: “Brought to you by Sapaugh Motors…where everyone leaves happy.”
“Happy, happy, happy,” says Shannon. “You know who sang that song?”
“You’re right on,” says Shannon, “and right on it today, too, is this weather. It is really…magnificent down here, today. We have some cloud cover. It’s gonna be up near 80, and the wind is blowing in from right field as Chen fires the first pitch of the day, and it’s a steeerike called.”
Read the rest at stlmag.com.