July 24, 2014

Indians announcer Tom Hamilton has earned the benefit of the doubt

Tom hamiltonI was listening to Les Levine and Ken Carman talking to Richard Skinner, a radio personality from Cincinnati, on the topic of Tom Hamilton and his reaction to Nick Swisher getting buzzed by Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. I also read the post at Cleveland Frowns yesterday as well as most of the comments there. I’m sure most Indians fans have seen the clip by this point, but when Nick Swisher saw a 100 mile-per-hour fastball barely miss the brim of his helmet, Tom Hamilton became about as incensed as I’ve ever heard him. 

It was Hamilton’s opinion that Aroldis Chapman had intentionally thrown at the head of Nick Swisher. He was as understandably energized by the play as anyone who was watching it. Just a guess, but Hamilton would probably re-write exactly what he said if he had the chance. To his credit, Richard Skinner didn’t overreact talking to Levine and Carman and said that he told his Cincy-based audience yesterday afternoon to put themselves in Indians fans’ shoes. What if Chris Perez had thrown those same two pitches at Joey Votto?

It’s so very simple, but it’s also perfect. Try and understand what an otherwise good man was caught up in when he said something that might have you questioning him. But for whatever reason rather than having that response to a situation, some portion of the population would prefer to engage in some kind of witchhunt to try and define everyone by their worst moments and have them extrapolated to the furthest negative degree. After thinking about it and discussing it on Twitter, my conclusion is just to wonder why Tom Hamilton’s enormous, well-documented track record doesn’t count for something.

Make no mistake: I’m not saying that it is the job of Indians fans to support bad behavior. We’ve all played with fire in that realm. I tried to support Albert Belle at various points in my life whether he was running over a second baseman, or attempting to run down some Halloween vandals in his SUV. I also believe I was at the debut game for John Rocker as a Cleveland Indian and stood and applauded as he aggressively sprinted to the mound. I’ve used questionable judgment to try to be protective of people, but Tom Hamilton is far different.

Consider this: If Tom Hamilton talks about baseball on the radio for the average two hours and 45 minutes that it takes to play a baseball game and does so for 162 games, that’s 445.5 hours of play-by-play per season. Yes, I know he sometimes misses games, and I know he doesn’t call every inning of every game. Tom Hamilton joined the Tribe in 1990 so he’s been doing this job for over 20 years. Point being that even if Tom Hamilton has five minutes of somewhat questionable commentary every single season, he’s not doing too bad.1

For the purposes of this conversation let’s all agree that Tom Hamilton might have misstepped slightly when he spoke of Nick Swisher smoking a ball back up the middle—”off the pitcher’s temple”—as some kind of justice for a guy intentionally throwing at a batter’s head. One might defend Hamilton because one act is intentional and the other is not. Also suggesting a ball up the middle would be justice isn’t technically wishing for it either. Still, I think we can all agree the safer bet is leaving that bullet in the chamber rather than firing it out in a heated moment.

Also, for the purposes of this conversation, let’s also agree that it was a mistake to mention that Aroldis Chapman might get away with throwing at people’s heads if he was playing the game in Cuba. Having listened to Tom Hamilton for as long as I have I’m willing to bet that he was referring to a different league of baseball with different cultural values. Similar can be said for Japan, which allows for only a certain number of non-Japanese players, or “gaijin,” on a given roster. I’m willing to bet this is what he meant as opposed to somehow invoking Cubans as being inferior people.

In the end, Hamilton’s mistakes were leaving these negative interpretations open to suggestion when he was emotionally caught up in the moment. As to the suggestion that it would be justice to have a ball come back up the middle and hit Chapman, Hamilton briefly addressed it saying, “I’m not going to go over this. That sure wasn’t the intent to mean it that way.” And as a guy who has listened to hours and hours of Tom Hamilton that’s good enough for me. He’s earned it.

Being caught up in the moment is exactly what everyone wants a broadcaster to do, by the way. So there’s the rub. Knowing what we know about Tom Hamilton and his history, he deserves support and the benefit of the doubt. He has enough of a track record that if this is determined to be his worst moment then he shouldn’t be defined by it. If Cleveland fans who know Hamilton better than anyone else don’t defend him, who will? And if you can’t stand up for the quality of a guy like Tom Hamilton, then who can you support?

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Footnotes:

  1. Of course if the “questionable” commentary is of a certain inflammatory level there is no defense, but I don’t think what Hamilton said was anywhere near the Howard Cosell variety. []
  • Ed Carroll

    Well said, Craig. Hamilton certainly isn’t perfect, as no human is, but as you so succintly say in the article, he’s been doing this for 20 years, and I’m fairly certain this is the most controversial thing he’s ever done as an Indians broadcaster. The good he does for this team far outweights those few minutes.

  • http://www.redright88.com/ Tom_RedRight88

    No problem with Hamilton making a reference to Chapman getting away with his brand of nonsense in Cuba because he was clearly referencing the Cuban baseball league. He was over-the-top with the comments about wishing Swisher would drill Chapman in the head but, as you say, people can misspeak from time-to-time.

    If there is anything that is disappointing is the fact that Hamilton didn’t point out that if Swisher hadn’t over-reacted to Chapman’s first pitch – which was nowhere near Swisher and seemed to clearly just be a wild pitch – then Chapman wouldn’t have felt the need to buzz one at Swisher’s head.

    That’s not to excuse Chapman – he’s a tool for what he did – but Swisher has some culpability in what went on during the at-bat.

  • dimoko

    Why discuss this anti-controversy when there are browns QBs to discuss!?

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    a very under-reported point.

    swisher’s stare down after the first pitch was an overt breaking of one of those silly baseball unwritten rules. chapman’s buzzer on the next pitch was very much old-school.

    (please don’t ask me to explain the ‘whys’ of the unspoken baseball rules.) (but an old-schooler like swish knew he was ‘showing up’ the pitcher.)

  • http://www.redright88.com/ Tom_RedRight88

    We need to collaborate on a post about sports unwritten rules (although I’m sure someone has already beaten us to the punch).

  • Garry_Owen

    The notion/suggestion that Hamilton was being racist and/or jingoistic is comical and absurd. Now, if he had said, “Swisher should go all Bay of Pigs on Chapman,” we would have a different story. What he said was equivalent to calling Chapman’s action “bush league” (which it was), but Chapman didn’t come from bush leagues. He came from Cuban leagues, because (spoiler alert) he came from Cuba and not Topeka or Cheboygan. [New lead story: Garry Owen hates cheeseheads!!!!!!]

    When did we become a nation of such sensitive, easily-offended, jelly-spined wussballs? We need another Bay of Pigs to toughen us up.

  • dwhit110

    Sounds like Skinner had a much more adult take on the incident than local Cincinnati radio host Lance McAllister who is not someone that I’d consider at all a shock jock type, but resorted to the “Swisher is baby for complaining” “Cleveland fans can read and write well enough to use Twitter?” type Twitter posts yesterday.

  • Garry_Owen

    That article must remain unwritten.

  • Garry_Owen

    Honestly, the only thought that made me cringe listening to that call was: “Geez, Hammy. You’re sitting in Herb Score’s chair. Come on.”

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    There is an entire book on baseball’s unwritten rules and yes it’s in ink!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Ah I think you misconstrued Swisher’s “stare” I really believe it was what Swisher said after the game something like, “Man that was fast.” Of course he looked at the guy throwing it kind of hard not to really.

    Anyways where’s Carlos Quentin when ya need him?

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki
  • JNeids

    I may be in the minority, but I interpreted Swisher’s reaction to the first pitch differently – I thought it was more a combination of amazement at how hard/fast Chapman throws and relief that it wasn’t closer to hitting him. Maybe I’m wrong, and while I’m no Swisher apologist, maybe there is a little homerism popping through.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Mmmmm bacon it’s not just for breakfast anymore!!!!

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    ^ +10

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Aroldis needs to be told the story of Ray Chapman me thinks! Of course this assumes he cares.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Btw listen to Hawk Harrelson do some White Sox games you want to talk about over the top x 10!

  • Harv 21

    Agree, Craig. But I will say this: Hamilton is not the same play by play guy he was 20 years ago, in tone. I think his skills have increased – his pre-invented big play calls sound spontaneous, unlike the guys who sound like they’re practicing into a hairbrush while looking in the mirror (“He’s outta room, it’s outta here!).

    But, much like Joe Tait in his last decade, now he’s increasingly accessing a cranky side on the air, way different from his deferential tone when paired with Herb, or the “Boys Playin Poker/Har-Har-Har” he favored with Mike Hegan a couple of years ago. He did a real cranky thing a few weeks ago, ripping an opposing player who had previously been caught using PEDs, and a few days later waxed on about Giambi being one of the best people in the game, “maybe ever,” with a little aside about making some mistakes like everyone else that he owned up to. I don’t mind his evolutions – they all seem organic and age appropriate, and he’s a great announcer at the peak of his skills right now – but he’s not the same guy who called those world series.

  • architrance

    Much ado about nothing.

    Swish’s stare down is perfectly reasonable when a ball is thrown 100MPH over your head. I’m surprised the benches didn’t clear after the second pitch. Really Aroldis 100MPH to the head? Twice? Really??? That was CLEARLY intentional. And Hammy said it would be “justice” for a ball hitting Chapman in the head, he didn’t say it SHOULD happen or that Swisher should try to. One act is intentional, the other karma.

    And do people really think the “this isn’t Cuba” comment is racist??? Give me a break! If people are truly upset about all of this, then they don’t deserve the joy of listening to Hammy on a warm spring evening calling the game.

  • http://www.redright88.com/ Tom_RedRight88

    At one point Swisher was shaking his head and you could see him saying “don’t do that” to Chapman. I can’t remember if it was after the first pitch or the second one, however.

  • Harv 21

    No need. Austin Carr is our Hawk.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The Rock smells what ur cookin’ it should come as no surprise that Hamilton may perhaps be getting worn down by the “Cleveland” factor. Those times in the ’90s were magical nothing short of a championship will live up to them, unfortunately. I got to a point where I’d have the game on TV, if at all, but be listening to the radio.

  • http://www.redright88.com/ Tom_RedRight88

    Good points. Hamilton hasn’t reached John Sterling levels – even though he creeps toward that line more than he used to – but he has definitely adopted an “our guy, their jerk” attitude with this current team.

    We’ll see if that changes as the season wears on and if the Tribe can’t stay in contention through August and September.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It was the second after the first he just looked out. The fact he had on massive sunglasses kind of makes it difficult to assess other then he was facing Chapman.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Whatever Hamilton meant about Cuba, he said what he said, which is as easily interpreted as jingoistic idiocy as anything else. Anytime someone in Hamilton’s position unnecessarily says something that makes it easier for racists and xenophobes to go about being racists and xenophobes, it’s perfectly fair game for comment, at least if only to point out that Cuba might not be the worst place. That’s all. Words matter. Especially when so many people are listening. It doesn’t mean he’s the worst guy in the world, and nobody is saying it does.

    Anyway, as much as it’s beside the point, I’m not sure what exactly Hamilton “was caught up in” here that was so difficult. The guy gets to call baseball games for a living.

  • Hopwin

    Cross posting from Frowns? Time to summon Cleveland Sports Troll in three… two… oh wait there it is.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    “Tom Hamilton is really popular and we’ve listened to him for a long time therefore nobody should criticize a word that he says.”

    Uh.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    say what you will about Sterling… i was searching high and low for his GIAMBINO call when giambi tied up monday’s game.

  • Garry_Owen

    You really showed that straw man who’s boss.

  • Harv 21

    agree with this – it is absolutely fair game. Not just the words, but the tone of superiority he employed about Cuban ball. (For all I or probably Hamilton knows there’s no DH in Cuba and pitcher could expect to be plunked for that, circa MLB 1965). And since Hammy presumably still works on his craft he might use this criticism to remind himself to think before he addresses his wide audience. We can all get better at what we do.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Mmm-hmm. Tell me what the point is, then?

    “Try and understand what an otherwise good man was caught up in when he said something that might have you questioning him. … After thinking about it and discussing it
    on Twitter, my conclusion is just to wonder why Tom Hamilton’s enormous, well-documented track record doesn’t count for something.

    What exactly is the enormous, well-documented track record supposed to count for? The guy unnecessarily said something that makes it easier for racists and xenophobes to go about being racists and xenophobes, and folks are merely calling that what it is.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Yup. That’s all.

  • Garry_Owen

    You really think racists and xenophobes are looking for someone to “make it easier for them?”

    How about this analogy?: “We have all been following [insert appropriate blogger/commenter/human] for years now, and we know that he’s a generally intelligent and rational guy. Just because he jumps off into the deep end and draws an irrational conclusion in one instance doesn’t mean that we should write him off as a self-enlightened and self-righteous jerk. We need to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

    I think that’s the point.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    If you want to talk about straw men, talk about the ones who are writing Hamilton off as a self-enlightened and self-righteous jerk.

  • Garry_Owen

    Wasn’t implying that at all. Was placing myself in those shoes, in reference to someone else. It was an analogy, to demonstrate the point, hoping you would catch it. Fail, I guess.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I linked to you Frowns. I thought about what you said. I think you might have been on to something and went way too far. You took a baseball conversation and started talking about literacy rates.

    It would be just as easy to say that he was talking down to a baseball league and not an entire culture. Why did you go ahead and assume it should be taken that far? What do you know about Tom Hamilton and his track record of talking during Indians games almost exclusively about baseball that would lead you there?

    It’s OK, obviously. As I said in the post, Tom Hamilton left that window open. After thinking about it I just think your conclusion is too far and a bit of a reach.

    With no malice or snark, take this for example…

    What did you mean with your comment about camouflage hats in your post? Should I go ahead and presume you are anti-military or anti-American? Maybe just anti-war? Did you say something that makes it easier for people who hate America with that statement? Is that an acceptable standard to hold the world to?

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt because I think your track record indicates you deserve that from me. Plus, it would be one heck of a leap for me to assume an off-handed comment about camouflage hats has wide-reaching implications on your opinion of the United States and its military.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    How exactly did I go too far? What is it about my conclusion that’s a reach?

    You say yourself: “It’s OK, obviously. As I said in the post, Tom Hamilton left that window open.”

    My point is only that there are certain windows that should not be left open in such a way, especially by men in Hamilton’s position.

  • JRS19

    Hamilton’s comments can serve as a springboard to more vicious and hateful attacks. There are the passively racist folks sitting at home listening to the games that can hear him, nudge their buddies or family members and say: “See, Hammy gets it. These Cuban and Latino ballplayers ain’t worth a damn!” Hamilton may not have had a malicious intent, but he is certainly making it easier for these types of people.

    Hamilton doesn’t need to be driven out of town, but he should hear about it and catch some backlash. That’s how positive change happens and how we move past generations’ worth of flawed thinking.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Absolutely… clowns are funny! I don’t mind grabbing a Sterling audio bite, but God forbid I actually have to listen to that guy for an entire game.

  • Garry_Owen

    I have no problem with this sentiment, but Hamilton did not make a racist or xenophobic statement. He is not responsible for ignorant peoples’ ignorant interpretations if what he says, and I think it’s foolish to punish him, in whatever way, because some halfwit “might” nudge his buddies.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I see people say this about Carr… is this more from a 5 years ago standpoint? I watched all of the Cavs games I could this season as well as many others (thanks NBA package!) and I thought Carr was a bit of a homer, but not any worse than anyone else’s local color commentator. Tommy Heinsohn is much worse and I’d put him on Hawk’s level. Carr often admits faults of his own team and sees foul calls as being appropriate when favoring the other team. Heinsohn is pretty sure that the Celtics haven’t committed a foul in the organization’s existence.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    YOURE ON THE MARK, TEXIERA!

    here classic francesa busting sterling on a false alarm. http://youtu.be/HdW-vrJSCS4?t=5m12s

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Awesome. Pure and simple. I’ve always wanted to know what Sterling’s calls were for Yankees who played before I knew Sterling was a person. Like, what was his tagline for a Scott Brosius home run? Nevermind the internet just told me it was “Brosius the Ferocious”… delightfully awful!

  • Vindictive_Pat

    There’s a bay populated entirely by pigs? This sounds like a delicious idea, but I fail to understand how I would get anything but softer around my waistline.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t think Carr is that bad myself I once liked Heinsohn but not anymore. That being said the only time the Celtics foul is either by accident or on purpose! ;o)

  • Karsten Treu

    Amen to this. Anyone who argues that he has not earned the right to make borderline comments is too ignorant to grant any credibility to. Hammy is one of the greatest radio personalities in baseball, and I’d rather have a guy with some heart and fire than some 100% objective, stiff old curmudgeon.

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • bridgecrosser

    Let me preface this by saying I don’t have cable. My family and I have listened to about 45-125 games on radio the past 8 seasons. In 2007, I estimate the number around 150. I think I’ve heard about 80% of the games this season.

    Tom Hamilton has seem very intense this year. Like he has a personal stake in the team in a way I haven’t heard. On 5/18 when Carlos Santana misplayed a popup in the sun (he left his sunglasses on the bill of his cap), I couldn’t believe the lashing Hamilton (deservedly) gave him. It is really rare for an announcer in 2013 do that to a home player.

    Then, he basically tore Jesus Montero, an opponent, a new hole for the 3-4 games of the SEA series. Relentless. I know Mr. Hamilton may/may not have some baggage from the bereavement (if I have that accurate).

    Nonetheless, I have to say I have been loving his calls. He is dying with every great play and poor effort. I see no way he can keep it up for the rest of his careers but his personal investment seems on a level I cannot compare it to in Cleveland broadcasts. I am about to be 37 and cannot recall anything like it.

    Remember, he’s not paid to be a 100% accurate but to paint a picture of the game to his listeners. If you’ve been listening, the imagery and emotion have been vibrant. Perhaps this will reach a tipping point, or not, but it has been something to hear.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Tom Hamilton could call my mother a dirty name and I’d still respect the hell out of him.