Howie Rose is ready to head back into the WCBS 880 radio booth. It’s a few months later than expected, but that doesn’t mean the broadcast legend isn’t ready to do what he does best.
The voice of the New York Mets is entering his 25th year calling the play-by-play action from the Big Apple. But never before has he entered a season with so many unknowns. It is unclear what baseball will truly look like in 2020, and Rose is ready for the challenge.
Rose, 66, brings a local flair to the Mets broadcasts. He grew up in Queens, graduated from Queens College and now lives in Woodbury, which prepared him for the journey to Flushing. Now, he takes a look at what the 2020 season will be like for the Mets, his personal challenges, playing on 9/11 against the Yankees in 2021 and the one thing he wants to do before he eventually puts down the microphone for the final time, which is hopefully not anytime soon.
Q. How different of a vibe do you have going into the season?
A. It’s a much different vibe than ever before because it’s tinged with trepidation. It’s absolutely loaded with apprehension. It becomes very difficult to look at the season through the normal lenses that we do. I hope, when I get to the ballpark for Opening Day, it’ll feel right without people in the stands and all of the social distancing measures that will make it a different experience than ever before.
Q. How do you approach play-by-play duties differently than you have in the past?
A. I don’t know if I approach getting ready for the game any differently. The timeline might change with how early we get the lineups, when the manager speaks via Zoom, which will make it far more impersonal than ever before. The ability to ask follow-up questions or delve into an individual player’s personal life or deeper into his career will be severely compromised. In terms of getting the nuts and bolts down on my scorecard and being prepared based on importation that’s available to deliver an accurate call of the game, that’s how it’ll go.
Q. What will it be like not having the ability to schmooze with players in the clubhouse?
A. It makes a big difference. It’s not just the information that we get, but it’s the rapport that you develop. When you have conversations—however occasional that they are—I don’t like to bother these guys for the sake of bothering them. I want to go up to them and develop a working relationship with them, and that’s where I don’t pry into areas that I won’t talk about on the air.
Q. What are you most looking forward to watching during the season?
A. Baseball. I’m so starved for it. There’s a cone of confusion relative to coronavirus of what we can do and can’t do. What’s normal now might not be normal in six months from now. What we lack is the kind of entertainment that live sports can present. They can call reality television just that all they want, but that’s nonsense. Anytime there’s a camera, producer and microphone around, that ain’t reality and that’s produced. Baseball is not produced. There’s no script. There’s nothing that happens at a baseball game that is the product of being geared to happen unless it’s players performing to their expectations. I just miss that. I miss the spontaneity of baseball. I miss the excitement that sports brings.
Q. How much more important is your role to paint a picture in fans’ heads of what’s happening at the ballpark since you can’t be there?
A. It’s no more important. It’s 2020 and people have a lot of ways material is delivered to them. I don’t think our audience will be much different than it usually is, which is people riding in their cars or on an app. I understand there are a significant number of people who just want to listen to a game on the radio, even if it means watching a game on television, but turning the volume down. I don’t see how our jobs, even with the challenges presented, will be different.
Q. Next year, the Mets and Yankees will play on 9/11 at Citi Field. How special will that be 20 years after the attacks?
A. It certainly has the makings of a very emotional night. In all likelihood, it will be. Life in 2020, in a COVID-dominated world, I don’t know what things will look like in a year and two months from now. I hope fans will be in the stands.
Q. What would it mean for one of the New York baseball teams to win the World Series this year?
A. It would be wonderful. You can have a variety of opinions about the regular season. The other thing you can’t predict is which players will lose weeks or months or even the entire season to the coronavirus. If we get to October and the opportunity is there to play a full, normally scheduled playoffs, there will be legitimacy to that. If someone feels that is illegitimate due to the shortened season, then have at it because there is no proclamation and the commissioner doesn’t get up on a soapbox to say this season is legitimate or illegitimate. He would say it’s legitimate, but there will be a lot of people who feel otherwise.
Q. What do you think of Twitter so far?
A. It’s fun. It was motivated by boredom and, at the same time, the disconnect when all sports went dark on the 12th of March. Life was a crater. It created an opportunity to reconnect with the audience that’s normally there during the games. It was meant for me to go on Twitter when the time was right. I didn’t plan on it happening and we didn’t realize it until a day or two later, but the day I opened my account was April 11. April 11, 1962 was the first day the Mets played their first game in the National League. I didn’t mean to start my Twitter life on the same day the Mets started their baseball life, but it’s kind of cool how that happened. Purely serendipitous.
Q. You were inducted in the New York Sports Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. How much do those accolades mean to you as you look back?
A. I guess it means I’m getting older. By and large, it’s a validation of my life’s work. Who doesn’t want to be received warmly and positively? That means I’ve somehow been able to connect with people. If you are at depth in communicating, you will make that connection. If these honors mean I’ve been able to do that, then I’m extremely proud of that.
Q. Who is your biggest inspiration in the broadcast world?
A. Marv Albert. When I was 13 years old, I started a fan club for Marv. It was just after his first year of doing the Rangers on radio. Through his passion and energy, this was in the 1966-67 season, I paid more attention to hockey than I had to at that point. Some friends and I were hanging out before school started, and I started a fan club for Marv. I called up the radio station and actually got to speak with him. I went to see him at the station, and as I got more serious about pursuing a career in broadcasting, he became a mentor in every sense.
Q. What techniques did you learn from him that you use to this day?
A. Everything about how to set the geography of an ice surface, a court or field on the air when you’re doing radio. The importance of being honest and truthful of what you’re seeing. Be truthful about it. Don’t make your listener wonder if you’re giving an accurate portrayal. Do it with some personality and be funny, but in a tasteful way.
Q. Is there anything you want to do in your broadcasting career that you haven’t done yet?
A. I want to call the final out of a Mets World Series win. That’s the only thing left for me. It would mean everything. It would mean that a kid who went into his parents’ room on the morning of April 12, 1962, the morning after the Mets played their first game, found out the Mets lost, felt disappointed, adopted them as my own, have the great fortune of calling games for the team I grew up rooting for, was part of the broadcast team when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and to make that call for the Mets World Series winner would tie it all together.
Q. What makes the return of baseball so special for you right now?
A. It’s exactly that. A point in our nation’s history—even with a pandemic happening 100 years ago, the options than were so limited—that we’re a society of immediacy. We satisfy our informational id as quickly as we care to. The void that their temporary loss has created is a huge one. To fill that void is very exciting.
Q. What players on the Mets do you have your eyes on entering the season?
A. They’re pretty much a group that is a known commodity. I’ve gotten away from forecasting anything about this year because of the myriad of uncertainties. What the Mets have going for them is there isn’t a lot of mystery about who they are and how they should perform. Will Rick Porcello be able to bounce back from last year? Will Michael Wacha be able to make a contribution in the rotation and, at the same time, stay healthy? The only real wild card right now is Yoenis Céspedes. If he contributes as a designated hitter, that’s a big help. The Mets are a team that will benefit from the advent of the designated hitter more than most. The Mets don’t approach this season with great curiosity other than the bullpen. The three most important guys in that pen are Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances for a variety of reasons. They’re wild cards to me and the storyline remains the same. If two or three of them can bounce back, the Mets will be in good shape.