Slate’s “Hang Up and Listen”: Live Podcast with Bob Costas
For over a year I’ve been a regular, if not devoted, listener to Slate’s weekly sports podcast, “Hang Up and Listen“. Hang Up is not your ordinary sports podcast/radio show. None of the hosts are former athletes (this notwithstanding), actual games and sporting event outcomes are not often discussed, and the sports covered on any given episode are as likely to include professional team handball as they are baseball or football. Topics are often chosen based on a mix of their ability to be discussed intellectually as well as their irreverence; the September 30th episode is a quintessential example:
In this week’s episode of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen, Stefan Fatsis, Josh Levin, and Mike Pesca are joined by Baseball Prospectus’ Sam Miller to discuss Major League Baseball’s sudden-death playoff games and other matters both statistical and philosophical. They also ponder whether the read-option is on the ascendance or the decline in the NFL. Finally, they look at the Cuban government’s decision to let its athletes play for pay abroad.
Josh Levin is the primary host, introducing topics with wit and charm while reacting to the more emotionally charged comments of his two co-hosts, Stefan Fatsis and Mike Pesca. Fatsis is the slightly nerdy yet deeply passionate sports fan, who has written a book about competitive scrabble and is fascinated by oddities such as interesting sports nicknames, obscure world records, and other such far-flung minutiae. Pesca is the most traditionally jocular and jock-ular of the three, though even he is a correspondent for NPR, which is a far cry from, say, being a talking head on ESPN’s “Around the Horn“.
This week’s episode was taped live at City Winery in New York City and featured the legendary Bob Coasts as a guest. As always, three topics were covered, each for about 15 minutes, followed by “afterballs”, where each host is given the microphone for about five minutes to speak about any topic they like. The three topics were (1) the latest developments in the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito imbroglio and whether the culture of hyper-masculine macho tough-guy warrior bullshit is to blame, (2) New York’s sports radio 66 (“The Fan!”), WFAN, and (3) the Costas segment, which went into his broadcasting career, his role as NBC’s Olympics host, and his recent Sunday Night Football commentaries on gun control and the not-so-awesome nickname of the Washington football team. Costas stuck around after afterballs to answer some questions from the audience (he was gracious enough to answer at least ten, all in typical Costas thoughtful fashion – you can listen to it all here), which included his honest response to the question, “What advice would you give a parent who asked you if he should allow his son to play football?” (The short answer: An unequivocal “No.”) Costas was his usual well-spoken articulate self; the opportunity to hear him speak about topics near and dear to him – and to all sports fans – was a treat.
The cherry on the treat though, as it often is with Hang Up, was afterballs. Pesca went first with an afterball that – from a pure humor standpoint – I think will never be topped, while Fatsis followed up with one of the most amusing afterballs ever from a can-you-believe-this-is-real standpoint.
Pesca’s afterball was so funny that it was featured separately on Deadspin. Buried deep in a CD handed out by anpre-school trying to woo Pesca into spending his tens of thousands of dollars on his child’s tuition at their fine institution is song #14, “Who Do You Like Better, The Knicks or the Nets?” The song’s answer is the Knicks, but not for the reasons you’d think. As Deadspin puts it, “the lyrics prepare today’s youth for the existential agony that is being a Knicks fan.” It’s ultimate message is that the Knicks will try hard but in the end will lose, but that’s OK, you should like them anyway. Obviously I cannot do it justice in my own words – please please go ahead and listen for yourself. I promise this will be six minutes well-spent:
Fatsis’s afterball used Costas and author Scott Raab, as he had them perform a dramatic reading from The Tragedy of King James the First. Lest you be confused, that is not one of Shakespeare’s plays. It is by playwright Michael Solomon, who describes himself as equal parts Shakespeare aficionado and rabid NBA fan, and it is a retelling of LeBron’s James’ infamous television special, “The Decision“, in the style of a Shakespearean play. (This explains the presence of Raab, author of The Whore of Akron: One Man’s Search for the Soul of LeBron James.) It’s a parody that is probably worth a few chuckles and not much better than a high school production of Romeo and Juliet, but the idea that over three years later fans are still angry about The Decision – to the point of writing plays like this – is kind of hilarious.
Here is a link to hear the entire podcast, which I thoroughly enjoyed:
Finally, there was one moment from the evening that occurred after the taping but is the memory that will last the longest. I’d been reading Loose Balls, Terry Pluto’s oral history of the ABA, and highly coincidentally, on the same day that I attended the Hang Up event I read the chapter about the ABA’s St. Louis franchise, for which Bob Costas was the play-by-play man. Costas shares a story in the book about his second game – the second game he ever announced professionally – where in the waning seconds he said to the world (or actually the handful of people listening to an ABA gam), “It would seem that the Spirits have this one well in hand, but you can bet that the last thing coach Bob MacKinnon wants to see is a repeat of Friday night’s blow job.” Well, on Monday night I had a chance to mention all of this to Costas – how I’m enjoying the book, just read the Spirits chapter – and mention “that funny story about your second game where you accidentally let something slip.” Costas says back to me, “Ah yes, the blow job.”
Years, maybe even months from now, I won’t remember the conversation about WFAN, gun control, or the Washington Redskins. I won’t remember “Who Do You Like Better, The Knicks or the Nets?” or The Tragedy of King James the First. You can be sure though that for the rest of my life I will remember the time Bob Costas – arguably the voice of our sports generation – said those words to me, “Ah yes, the blow job.”