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Bang! Zooooooommmmm! go the tired catchphrases!

I cannot recall if I have revealed this bit of personal, inconsequential trivia in this space, but I've watched a few episodes of The Simpsons. In fact, now that I'm at it, I might as well confess to finding several of the pre-, say, 1999 episodes quite watchable. One of the classic Simpsons episodes is "Dancin' Homer"---which, to get closer to the point of this exercise, was co-written by a gentleman named Ken Levine. If you watch a lot of television, you might have heard of Levine; now, I don't watch a whole lot of network TV but, well, I'm sort of familiar with The Simpsons. Yes, it's true. Based on this foundation, I know Levine has written for shows such as M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frasier, as well as (I hesitate to mention) Becker, and Dharma & Greg. Additionally, Levine has enjoyed a parallel career as a baseball announcer. Thus, it is no surprise one of Levine's two contributions to Our Favorite Family (huh, how did I know about that expression?) is "Dancing Homer," a baseball episode featuring extensive narrative and commentary provided by a baseball announcer.

At his blog, Levine tells the story of his best home run call, which occurred while he was announcing for the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. [Note: For a time, the Chiefs were known as the "SkyChiefs," a ridiculous name. The team will switch back to "Chiefs" for the 2007 season.] According to Levine, the Chiefs for whatever reason insisted on calling its list of affiliates the "Worldwide Syracuse Chiefs Radio Network," and Levine---befitting a comedy writer---made light of this hubristic identifier frequently. Or perhaps the Chiefs were indeed popular in Norway and Bhutan, and Levine's claims were inadvertantly legit.

At any rate, Levine's goofing on Syracuse's worldwide buzz machine gave rise to his favorite home run call. Rather than continuing to paraphrase, I'll let Levine pick up the story from here:

We had a third baseman named Norm Tonucci. Sweet kid from Connecticut who was on a year long slump. He came to bat once and I said we had many listeners from Borneo because Norm was a folk hero over there. I then created some story that his father had parachuted behind enemy lines in World War II and single handedly saved the country. I said the currency of Borneo is "Tonuches", that 90% of male babies and 70% of female babies were named. . . .

One night we’re in Oklahoma City and Norm hits a triple. When he came to bat the next time up I talked about how excited the people of Borneo were over the triple. The next pitch he just crushed. And this was my home run call:

"Tonucci swings and there’s a long drive to deep left field. Steve Kemp goes back…to the track…to the wall….NO SCHOOL TOMORROW IN BORNEO!"

Now that, my friends, is one unique home run call.

* * * *

What are the hallmarks of a good home run call? I'm not sure I know; in fact, I'm not sure the concept (and repetition) of the home run call isn't chock full of schlock. Why call every home run the same way (or at least every homer by the Good Guys), for any other reasons than a marketing gambit or a short-cut to resonance with the home audience? Or are those reasonable interests? After all, an announcer is essentially an entertainer, and the purpose of the broadcast is to entertain (and hopefully inform) the audience. I suppose a good home run call serves those ends.

But that doesn't resolve what a good home run call is. To go the fence-straddling route, I'll say it's entirely subjective. To go the least-invasive route, I'll just say you can know it when you hear it. But to probe the issue a bit further, I'll submit a good home run call is:

  • exciting, yet
  • appropriate;
  • popular, yet
  • malleable;
  • definitive, yet
  • not obnoxious; and even
  • folksy, yet
  • not ridiculous.
In other words---yeah, you pretty much know it when you hear it.

* * * *

Charlie Slowes has at least two home run calls. One of those is pretty good. And no, it's not "Bang! Zoom!"

Instead, it's "Going, going . . . and gone! Goodbye!" I really like that one. It's simple and when he lays the foundation beforehand---where the ball is hit, its trajectory, the pursuit or lack thereof from the outfielder(s)---it's appropriately descriptive. It's a malleable call: When a Washington player inspires the call, Slowes can turn on the juice; when an opposing player slams the homer, Slowes can turn bland, matter-of-fact, or disappointed.

"Going/going/gone/goodbye" is what you might call a "traditional" home run call. It fits Slowes because, for all the bluster he's capable of, Slowes is essentially a traditional radio announcer: nasal, conversational, the slightest hint of force trying to sound a bit deeper than normal. Slowes isn't Mike Shannon (non-traditional, folksy, perhaps drunk), and he isn't a transcendent, classic announcer (such as Vin Scully). In fact, perhaps "traditional" isn't the word for it; I guess "professional" is better---in the sense a guy like B.J. Surhoff, who wasn't really all that great, was a "professional hitter," because "competent yet not exemplary" didn't sound too nice. That's Chuck Slowes, in my view.

If Slowes stays within himself, he sounds like a professional announcer, no matter how loud he might get. "Going/going/gone/goodbye" enables him to achieve this. On the other hand, I regard "Bang! Zoom!" as, more often than not, an unmitigated disaster, something bordering on hackery. Since this last statement borders on the heretical in some circles, perhaps I should explain it some more. Or perhaps I should quit while I'm ahead.

Nah, I'll type some more. Dig that grave, baby!

As far as I know, I heard the original "Bang! Zoom!" I can't recall exactly the date it occurred, or the week or even perhaps the month when Slowes first uttered the expression, but I'm almost certain I had its first utterance. I listened to almost all of the broadcasts back then. I had no hope of tuning into the TV broadcast (ha!), either on TV itself (ha!) or the internets (ha!), so Chuck and Dave1.0 were my evening companions. (And I tuned in for most games because the Nats were new and looked pretty good.)

When I first heard the expression, I knew it was a revelation. As I recall, Slowes first used it when the Chief pulled out a particularly harrowing save. It was exciting! It fit! It was rather like when Harry Caray would exhort Randy Myers back in 1993 to "end the game with a flourish." Slowes' expression put the topping on that flourish. "Bang! Zoom! There go the fireworks!" As we all know, Slowes began using it more and more in this context, and whadyaknow, the wins kept on piling up. "Bang! Zoom! Ten in a row!" The Nats were hot, and people most definitely noticed Slowes' signature expression. It was something in between a mantra and a verbal good-luck charm. It was associated with all those Curly Ws.

Ultimately, I think it was too much of a good thing---because it really did become Slowes' signature phrase, and because signature phrases are frequently repeated, and "Bang! Zoom! There go the fireworks!" is a ridiculous phrase to repeat frequently.

My reasoning here is simple: When you are in the habit of frequently repeating an expression, it begins to lose its meaning. The Nats, as we recall with lament, stopped winning so frequently by mid-July 2005. "Bang! Zoom!" endgame opportunities became exceedingly rare, and along the way, "Bang! Zoom!" broadened its portfolio, becoming a home run call. When that happened, it jumped the shark, so to speak.

I contend Slowes went for too much of a good thing and, as a result, diluted his good thing. When I was in college, some of us tried mixing sherry with Pepsi. That was stupid. And so---in my (not so) humble opinion on this matter---was converting "Bang! Zoom!" into a home run call. In both concept and execution, it is only slightly less obnoxious than Dave Neihaus' ridiculous "Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it's 'grand salami time'!" call.

* * * *

Allow me to conclude this on a not-so-negative note: Charlie Slowes, if you're out there reading this (and we all know you aren't), stick with "Going/going/gone/goodbye." It's a good call. Check out this (incomplete) list of homer calls. Outside of the timeless and truly inventive ones, it's one of the better home run calls out there. Save "Bang! Zoom!" for truly special occasions. Don't use it more than a dozen times per season---two dozen, tops.

And, by all means, add Borneo to the radio network.