Friday, October 16, 2015

Famous Speech Friday: Jessica Mendoza calls major league baseball playoff

It's 2015, and a first has just occurred: Olympic softball medalist and sports announcer Jessica Mendoza called a nationally televised Major League Baseball (MLB) playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros.

Calling a game in baseball, particularly in the majors, requires a variety of speaking skills. Not the least of them is a deep knowledge of the game and an understanding of a wide range of situations and tactics that may arise without notice. The ability to speak extemporaneously and with authority requires that knowledge base. A baseball fan myself, I know how nerdy we can get about plays, particularly during a playoff game. And a nationally televised playoff is, of course, broadcast live with a big audience. But the big challenge? Calling a game, at this level or almost any other, has almost exclusively been the province of men.

Mendoza's break really happened back in August, when veteran player and announcer Curt Schilling was taken off the announcer and analyst team for sharing a meme that compared extremist Muslims to Nazis. Already an analyst for ESPN, she was tapped then to take his place. At the time, the New York Times noted:
A woman calling M.L.B. games is a rarity. Suzyn Waldman started calling national and Yankees games on television in the mid-1990s before joining the Yankees’ radio booth in 2005. Gayle Gardner called a Colorado Rockies-Cincinnati Reds game in 1993. Michele Smith, also an Olympic softball champion, was a guest analyst for one game on TBS three years ago. And Jenny Cavnar, host of the Rockies’ pregame and postgame TV shows, will fill in this weekend as an analyst on the team’s radio broadcasts. 
“I want this to be more than a one-off,” Mendoza said. “If you do it just one time, you’ll never see any growth.”
Calling a baseball game doesn't yield a lot of rhetorical wonders. It's a marathon of sorts for the analysts. But the Times, following her calling of the playoff game, noted the quality of her calling content and her speed:
On Tuesday night, she showed her primary expertise in batting analysis, most notably on how the Astros’ George Springer was able to hit a double over Brett Gardner’s head: by standing far back in the batter’s box to react to Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter. But she also did good — and quick — work on pitch selection and outfield positioning.
That critic noted she'd performed so well that ESPN had "no choice" but to offer her the job permanently, despite backlash on Twitter and elsewhere about including a woman to call a playoff game. Some of the offensive tweets have since been deleted, but here's one that grudgingly acknowledges her insights:
We don't have the entire game calling for you to hear, but the video below offers a sample of the pre-game banter in the booth.

Jessica Mendoza the 1st woman to call playoffs

(ESPN photo)

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