Sunday, May 13, 2012

It's Been A Real Ball- A book review

Click here for a review of the same book, written by blogging friend and fellow media geek, Tim Lones.

The past week has been great for a radio geek, such as myself. On Friday, I received in the mail, It's Been A Real Ball, a book written by Joe Tait and Terry Pluto. Like the other book I read this week, I consumed this within 24 hours. But then Terry Pluto is a great writer as well as an all around good guy.

Cliff Note: As I write this review, I will interject some of my thoughts as well. 

Joe Tait is one of the best sportscasters to hone his craft in a market that knew a lot alot of defeat and disappointment His voice was one of the last, some of us who were sports fans in the 1970's, would hear before retiring at night. And for the most of 39 seasons, he was the voice of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball. Joe is a transplant to northeast Ohio who firmly took root.

Growing up, Joe had two areas of interest, sports and the railroad. Like so many of us, Joe Tait was an avid sports fan who had very little athletic ability. But he knew very well how to describe a game.  Starting with college, he gave some excitement to many woebegone teams. Bill Fitch, then a college basketball coach, took note of this when he was scouting for his college football team. This paid off for Joe Tait when Fitch was named first head coach for the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers. Fitch recommended Joe for the job of play by play announcer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I can remember listening to WERE the first time the Cavs beat the New York Knicks. I recall Joe saying things like, "the crowd is going bananas" and "the only way these refs were going to call a foul on New York is  if  they pulled out a gun." this remains one of my favorite Joe Tait memories. 

And for all of you who think a job in radio is all glamour, this book is an eye opener. Joe describes the jobs he took with little or no pay, the times he got fired from small town stations, and having to take on many other jobs at WERE to supplement the $7200 salary he received from the Cavaliers for the first season. The extra jobs also lead to his becoming Herb Score's partner on Cleveland Indians broadcasts for seven seasons.

Cliff Note: One evening in 1975, I found myself at the Richfield Coliseum after being stood up for a date. The Cavs won that night and since I was by myself, I made my down to the broadcast table after the game was over. Being one who wanted to get into radio at the time, I approached Joe Tait and asked him for some pointers for getting into the industry. In the next couple of minutes, he told me about small towns, long hours, and little pay. Pretty much like everyone else connected to radio has told me over the years. 

Much of the book is dedicated to an era in sports when the main attraction to going to a game was the game itself. Joe was a blue collar announcer in a blue collar market. He was there, describing to us the Miracle in Richfield, Ten Cent Beer Night, and Len Barker's perfect game, among others.

Cliff Note: One of my instructors at the WIXY School of Broadcast Technique in 1974, was a young sportscaster named Les Levine. He had criticism for Joe Tait, pretty much along the lines of most sportswriters in town at that time. Les did admit that he was jealous since Joe announced the Indians and Cavaliers, and all he (Les Levine) had was the Cleveland State Vikings basketball games to announce. Les has done well for himself over the years, being a sports talk show host. 

A year ago I wrote a post about about Len Barker's perfect game. Announcing that evening was Joe Tait and Bruce Drennan. The broadcast is another of my favorite Joe Tait memories. I was watching the game that evening with my brother, Ricky. Those who are long time readers of this blog know that Ricky had neurofibromatosis, and was developmentally disabled. Ricky, who passed away in 2008, had a great love for sports. Voices of people like Joe Tait, Pete Franklin, Herb Score, and Nev Chandler comprised a large part of the soundtrack of his life. Gordon Gund hired Joe back as the voice of the Cavs after Tait was away for two seasons. Gund was blind and appreciated the picture Joe painted during his telecasts. Joe brought the game alive for many that could not be there. I couldn't help but wish Ricky was still around to pass the book onto after I was done reading it. He would have loved it.

It's Been a Real Ball does touch on the Gund ownership, as well as the Dan Gilbert years of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise. Joe does touch upon players such as Larry Nance, Craig Ehlo, Shawn Kemp, and World B. Free. In Tait's opinion the acquisition of Free saved the franchise and that his number, 21, should be retired by the Cavs. The book also devotes a chapter to Lebron James.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, I was able to read the whole book in a 24 hour period. I don't do this with many books. The book is an easy read and I felt I was living many of my sports memories all over through the eyes of one of the greatest sportscasters of my lifetime. And I'm going to finish this post with a limerick.

Listening at night to Joe Tait
I think his announcing was great
Pluto there at his side
To share this great ride
A great read again I must state

So...What are you waiting for??? Get the book! Click here to order it from Amazon.


Tim Lones said...

Hi Cliff:
I am just totally amazed at how our lives appear to be so similar..I also listened to that same Knick game (February 1972) and It was like the Cavs won the NBA title..Here is my own review of the book from last November..

Ben said...

Joe has one of those super-distinctive voices. Just reading this, I can hear Joe Tait in the back of my head. Just as I can still hear the voice of Chuck Thompson, who did the radio play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles when I was growing up.