November 13, 2002
"Circle Me Bert!" (Guest Column)
Today you get a break from me (don't get too excited, I'll be back tomorrow).
In my place is Scott Halgrim.
Scott is a Minnesota resident and a big Twins fan who contacted me last week about an important Twins-related issue that was on his mind and in the news.
I asked him if he would consider writing a guest entry for this website on the issue and he graciously accepted my offer.
So, without further adieu, I am honored to present to you Scott Halgrim's guest column...
By Scott Halgrim
“Thanks for nothing.” – Bert Blyleven.
That quote from the middle of the 2001 baseball season will forever be able to coax a chuckle from me. Since launching in Midwest Sports Channel’s place to start the baseball season that year, Fox Sports Net had been pushing it’s “Fox attitude”® into my relaxing, familiar Twins coverage. In this instance, Fox had started to add a third person to the broadcast. In contrast to Blyleven, the color analyst, and Dick Bremer, the play-by-play man, this new guy looked like somebody from Fox HQ sent to do its bidding. When the game returned from the commercial break, we had to listen to this guy talk about something I remember as complete inanity. He caused us to miss three pitches while he babbled about nothing in particular. When he sent it back to the booth, Dick said, “Thanks, Anthony.” (To be fair, I honestly can’t remember his name.) Blyleven replied, “Yeah, thanks for nothing.” Now, Blyleven may have meant a number of things here, but to me it was him delivering some not-so-subtle pushback to Fox for injecting their “attitude” where it wasn’t welcome.
[Aside: Whenever you read the word “attitude” in this column, you should hear the Fox Voice saying it like he’s really tough and outrageous. Try it. Ready? “Attitude!” Very good. You might consider re-reading the preceding paragraph.]
Blyleven isn’t your average color analyst. He won’t tell you what you want to hear and he won’t play it safe. He’s a homer and a card to Bremer’s (also fantastic) straight man. While Bremer tries to be as journalistic as possible, Blyleven will unabashedly pull for the home team, to the point of entering a quick “Good [harrumph]” when Bremer mentions a misfortune that has befallen an opponent. Blyleven will let you know that he doesn’t agree with the way pitch counts are used in baseball organizations today. And he doesn’t talk about it during the games, but you know that he knows his exclusion from Cooperstown is criminal. Heck, I don’t agree with everything he says, but I don’t agree with everything my other baseball buddies say, either. (I’m writing this immediately after a heated AL MVP debate).
Blyleven makes a Twins win that much sweeter, with his easy back-and-forth with Bremer. A Twins home run is infinitely more enjoyable when he’s either declaring victory with one of his “calls” or chastising Bremer for not making one himself. I can’t tell you why, but Blyelven’s post-game (thanks for shortening that, too, Fox) also makes a Twins loss easier to take. He feels what you feel: I remember a two-week stretch this summer where the Twins offense was having trouble getting going, and after the Twins had put up a big number by the fourth inning, Blyleven became giddy with excitement. I swear that if you listened closely, you could hear the pressure escaping the booth as if a tire were deflating. In short, I really enjoy having Bert with me on summer evenings and weekends.
That’s why I was sad to hear that Fox was working without a net this summer: they didn’t have Blyleven under contract for beyond the 2002 season and didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to get him signed. I’m unable to find the article so I’m working on memory, but I remember reading in the Star Tribune on June 28 that Blyleven was hoping to get a contract beyond the 2002 season. I seem to remember that he was working for cheaper than most color analysts since this was his first contract and was hoping to be paid more in line with industry standards.
I e-mailed Blyleven to ask if there was somebody at Fox to whom I could voice my opinion that I felt he was not only worthy of “industry standard” pay, but that I felt he was an exceptional addition to the booth. I got a reply saying that he thought they were too busy at Fox on “other things.” However, I later got a reply from a Mr. Steve Woelfel indicating he was hopeful they could “work something out…at the end of the season.”
Fast-forward to Friday’s Star Tribune notes article, which discouraged me further. I immediately sent off an e-mail to Mr. Woelfel indicating that I would be very upset if I couldn’t listen to Blyleven on a daily basis next summer. I copied Blyleven on the e-mail and then encouraged about a dozen of my friends to let Mr. Woelfel know how they felt. I was a bit worried I’d overstepped my bounds, but Blyleven wrote to me to thank me for my actions. He said, “My heart is to do Twins baseball again but it's not in my hands as of now.”
Mr. Woelfel indicated that he had talked to Blyleven’s agent that morning, though whether or not that conversation included a counter-proposal is unknown.
There aren’t a lot of hard facts here, but those that exist are:
1. Blyleven says he wants to continue doing Twins baseball.
2. Blyleven says he has had to wait for a slow-moving Fox Sports Network and needs to line up a job next year.
3. Fox Sports says they are talking to Blyleven’s agent.
4. Blyleven says he wants to be paid more than he has been over the past two years.
I don’t claim to know what kind of decision factors or negotiating tactics lie in the minds of either party, but what I do know is that as a consumer of Twins broadcasts, I want Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer working together in that booth.
[Aside: If you were to contend that I am a consumer of Twins baseball who pays nothing, I would argue that my cost, along with my cable bill, is sitting through the 18,000th promo for Tom Arnold’s show and the Waltrip Beyond the Glory. Aside-within-an-aside: Incidentally, am I the only one who senses Bremer sigh before he has to read the latest Beyond the Glory promo?]
If you would like to at least have a voice in this process, I encourage you to write a quick, respectful note to Mr. Woelfel at email@example.com and let him know that you, too, would like to see Bert Blyleven back in the Twins booth.
And if your voice goes unheard and Blyleven ends up on ESPN, please help me come up with some silver linings. So far I’ve got two:
1. Wouldn’t it be cool to see “Circle me, Bert” become a national phenomenon?
2. His increased national exposure may help him in the Hall of Fame voting.
Scott Halgrim welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org