Q&A with Dewayne Staats as he approaches 5,000th game
Dewayne Staats, the only television announcer in Rays history, will call his 5,000th major-league game Tuesday night. Staats, 57, has called games for the Astros, Cubs, Yankees and Rays, as well as national games. He spoke with Two Cents about his career calling baseball.
Do you remember your first game?
It was August of 1976 and I did sort of a combination fill-in/audition for the Astros at Wrigley Field. I worked with Gene Elston and Bob Prince, a couple of Hall of Fame broadcasters I listened to as a kid, especially Gene, who was my mentor. Gene called games for the old Houston Colt 45s and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world as a 9-year-old from the wild west of Texas to listen to a major-league game coming through my little green plastic radio. I eventually began a correspondence with Gene and he really helped me along the way and got me the opportunity to show what I could do.
Well, he gave me advice over the years and then told me that the Astros were having these sort of on-air auditions and they had already had a couple of other guys fill in and call games and he got them to give me a chance. I was calling minor-league games in Oklahoma City and I got the call to do a game at Wrigley. The Astros won, I think it was 5-2 or 5-3. J.R. Richard and Rick Reuschel were the pitchers and Jose Cruz and J.R. Richard hit home runs. I think the attendance was less than 10,000, like 6,500 or something, but it was a great day. Based on that, I got offered a full-time job with the Astros. But I can always thank Gene for that. And I also owe a big thanks to Jim Marshall, who was the Cubs manager at the time. I had known him from the American Association and he brought me, this 23-year-old kid, in before the game and really helped me. So I had a pretty good scouting report going into that first game. What an act of kindess for him to take time with some kid.
When you were a kid listening to game on the radio, is that when you got the bug to be a broadcaster?
I think so. We, of course, all grow up thinking about playing it. We all have visions of playing in the big leagues. I was a good enough judge of talent to know that no one was going to pay me to play baseball. I had some great teachers growing up and they got me involved in debate clubs and speech classes and they really encouraged me and gave me the tools I needed.
Is there one memorable game?
It's tough to name just one. There are a handful. Recent ones probably are a couple in that incredible 2008 season. Ben Zobrist's grand-slam after the all-star break when the Rays were in a slump. I still think Dan Johnson's home run in Boston may still be the greatest home run and maybe greatest hit in franchise history. It was cool to see Wade Boggs become the only player to hit a home run for his 3,000th hit. I called Nolan Ryan's fifth no-hitter. That was special
And you called the first night game at Wrigley Field, didn't you?
I did. It was on my birthday. I did the first three innings on the radio then went to TV. Somewhere in the bottom of the fourth or fifth, it started to rain. To kill time, I think we interviewed everybody who was in town. We talked to Bill Murray and the mayor and anybody who happened to walk by the booth. We all donned tuxedos that night for the occasion. Well, everyone except Harry Caray. He refused because he didn't think baseball should be played at night at Wrigley. So it protest, he didn't wear a tux. Me and Steve Stone, though, looked like penguins.
Favorite place to call a game?
I loved the Astrodome. It was called the 8th Wonder of the World, but I never thought it got the kind of respect as facility as it deserved outside of Houston. Wrigley Field? It doesn't get better than that. Yankee Stadium, the one before this new one, was hallowed ground. It was always cool to walk around were immortals put their feet. I loved the old ballparks. Fenway is special. Tiger Stadium, you were so close to the field. Some times you would have Jack Morris pitching. Jack was a competitor and had a pretty salty vocabulary. If he had a problem with the umpire, you could hear exactly what he was saying. That was great. Of the new ballparks, my favorites are Minute Maid in Houston and Safeco (in Seattle). And I think the Trop has intimacy. It gets short-changed, too. From the booth, it's a perfect view.
Least favorite place?
I never liked the similarities. When we went through that whole multi-purpose concrete donuts phase, I hated that. Pittsburgh felt like Cincinnati and Cincinnati felt like St. Louis and St. Louis felt like Philadelphia. I'm really glad we got beyond all that.
Who's the biggest guest you ever had in the booth?
Well, we had Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York, but the biggest was Ronald Reagan when he was president. I was doing Cubs games then. I always kept my briefcase by my feet and I usually had candy bars or energy bars in there for during the game. So they send the dogs in there to sniff around and, of course, the dogs smell my briefcase and go crazy.
All-time favorite player to watch?
Probably three guys. In Houston, it was Nolan Ryan. In Chicago, Andre Dawson. In New York, Don Mattingly. The common theme with all three was not their gift, but their willingness to work harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. With this club, it’s difficult because there are so many young guys who haven't finished their careers yet, but certainly (Evan) Longoria and (Carl) Crawford both are great players and have a great work ethic. And speaking of that, another guy who works extremely hard is Dan Wheeler, who happens to be my son-in-law and I probably don't give him the credit he always deserves because I don't want to look I'm showing favortism. I've always been relunctant to do that and I've probably short-changed him over his career.
How many games have you missed because of sickness?
Just a handful. Missed a couple of games for high school graduations and so on. And I had some time off when we lost (my wife) Dee (to cancer in 2005). And, of course, laryngitis cost me a few.
Best remedy for laryngitis?
Shutting up! Maybe a little hot tea and honey and waiting it out seems to do the trick.
Do you have another 5,000 games in you?
(Laughs) I don't know. Harry Caray said never tell anybody how many games you have done because when it gets too high, they try to retire you. But you look around and see a guy like Jerry Coleman (of the Padres). He's in his 80s and is still active.
Do you still love it?
I do. I love sitting down and working a game. There's nothing better that working a really good game. Not every game is going to be perfect, but I love getting into the meat of game, talking about strategy, talking about players. I see every game as a big human interest story. And you get to do it for six or seven months. It's fun. It really is. I just hope I keep having the opportunity to keep doing this.