Where were you when Albert Pujols became only the fourth big-leaguer to hit 700 home runs? In the dark?
Because of a Major League Baseball decision, many now-grumbling Cardinals fans missed out on seeing live coverage of the milestone being reached on Friday night.
The contest, an 11-0 Redbirds rout, was in a package of games sold by MLB to Apple TV+, a streaming-only outlet that has televised games on Friday nights throughout the season. It’s a controversial move, as there are many people who don’t have — or don’t know how to access — the technology. Some games are also streamed exclusively on Peacock.
There was no telecast on Bally Sports Midwest, the team’s TV home that fans are used to tuning into on an almost daily basis, or on a familiar network such as Fox, FS1 or ESPN. It was one of only five Redbirds games all season that will end up not being shown on a conventional television channel and could not have come at a worse time. One of the biggest milestone events in Cardinals history, one for which there has been a season-long buildup, was a no-show for many of the team’s fans.
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A similar situation existed Friday in New York, where the Yankees’ Aaron Judge was one homer behind Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 for a season. Apple had that one exclusively, too, a game in which Judge did not homer.
While some viewers who have Apple and not Bally Sports Midwest benefited, the majority of hardcore Cards rooters in the market watch on BSM.
Whose fault is this blackout for those forsaken fans?
Apple is paying a reported $85 million annually for Friday doubleheaders and understandably does not want to give up any games as it tries to build its audience. The blame is clearly on MLB, which in the contract failed to include a clause allowing for local telecasts of possible historical events — if only in the market(s) of the teams affected. It even could be an Apple simulcast, not a competing local version. After all, the NFL requires not only streaming games but ones on cable to be shown on a local over-the-air station in the cities of the clubs that are competing.
Terry Hanson, a longtime sports broadcasting executive from East St. Louis, who among his many positions was the first head of Turner Sports, is now retired and living in Eureka. He offered his perspective on the situation.
“As a lifelong (Cardinals) fan, my first thoughts were in order: glee, fortunate to have witnessed it and sorrow for those St. Louis fans who never, ever, miss a TV game and were deprived. … The Apple deal has stunk since Day One. (I’ve) been on the inside of this deal-making, and not having an exception for two teams playing in local markets is infuriating at best.
“… The moment was a bit tainted for me because of those old, great Cards fans who didn’t have the wherewithal to figure out the complicated process of getting Apple. MLB should be ashamed of this injustice.”
The bumping of the game from Bally Sports Midwest led to some interesting jockeying among Cards broadcasters Dan McLaughlin, John Rooney and Ricky Horton.
McLaughlin, BSM’s Cardinals play-by-play announcer, joined the radio crew for the contest — as he has done several other times when BSM was without a game and will do so in the postseason. As the luck of the draw had it, he was on the call in the fourth inning. That’s when Pujols, who had homered in his first at-bat to reach 699, came to the plate with a chance for the landmark homer.
But he turned the microphone over to Rooney, the team’s lead radio announcer — as McLaughlin previously said he would do if that situation arose. In another twist, Horton would have had the fourth-inning call had McLaughlin not been on hand. Horton also said he would have deferred to Rooney whenever Pujols was batting while at 699.
Rooney followed with a stellar call of Pujols’ second homer of the night.
“Pujols with the widespread stance,” he said as the historic pitch was about to be delivered. “Arms out over the plate. Bickford from the stretch, the 1-1 pitch. A swing and THERE IT GOES! LEFT FIELD! WAY BACK! THAT’S HOME RUN NO. 700!”
Rooney said he had a blast calling the blast. He said it was special to him that he shared the booth not only with Horton and McLaughlin but also with Mike Claiborne, who is a key part of the pre and postgame coverage and fills in on game broadcasts when a regular is absent, and engineer Jim Jackson.
“We all had a great time,” Rooney said. “I feel very blessed that Dan turned it over to me and (the homer) happened the way it did.”
By that he meant that it was belted near Hollywood because it has been a showmanship-like season for Pujols and the team, as Horton noted on the broadcast.
McLaughlin said he was glad to hand off to Rooney.
“He nailed it,” McLaughlin said. “I’m thrilled for John. It’s history and I couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a great call.
“Also, I thought it was very important that Ricky had time to describe the scene and aftermath right after he hit. I thought he did an amazing job with that. They both captured the moment perfectly.”
Rooney punctuated his call by paying homage to legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who after describing Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965 in the same ballpark noted the date and time the hurler completed the feat. Scully died in August, at 94.
Rooney followed suit as he continued the call: “Pujols hits a three-run homer!” And he hit 699 and 700 at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 23, 2022, 8:23 pm Pacific time!”
“That was exactly the way Vin did it,” Rooney said, adding that McLaughlin assisted by holding up his phone to display the time of the homer.
On the air Rooney thanked McLaughlin “for allowing me to make the call.”
“You nailed both!” McLaughlin said of Pujols’ two homers in the game.
Rooney said he was nervous calling 699, but not 700.
“It was almost like an out-of-body experience,” he said. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever covered.”
Rooney was asked what it meant to him to call the milestone.
“It means I’m so happy for Albert Pujols that he got to 700,” he said. “I had so much fun with it.”
Rooney was the only St. Louis announcer to call the shot, what with no local telecast and the club not sending its Spanish broadcasters (Polo Ascencio on play-by-play) on the trip.
New York Mets announcer Wayne Randazzo had the spotlight on Apple, and while Cards fans can be disappointed that it wasn’t McLaughlin at the mic there is no reasonable dispute that Randazzo’s description was scintillating.
“Pujols sends one in the air. It’s deep to left. Taylor is back at the wall. IT’S 700. ALBERT PUJOLS HAS JOINED THE 700 HOME-RUN CLUB!”
Randazzo, writing on Twitter, sounded humbled by the situation.
“An absolute privilege to be on the call for this historic moment tonight,” he said. “Shoutout to (McLaughlin), who deserved the moment and would have done a marvelous job with it.”
McLaughlin responded on Twitter to that post:
“Hey Wayne, great call! I’m so happy for you to be able to call a historic moment. Great call and keep up the great work! You nailed it and I am thrilled for you! So well done!”
On Saturday, McLaughlin reflected on the situation.
“Would I have loved to have the game on local TV to call it? Sure,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “However, this isn’t about me. This is about Albert Pujols. This is about his moment and a tremendous accomplishment. I’m thrilled for the fans that he did it in a Cardinals uniform.”
It’s just a shame a lot of folks missed out on seeing that feat.