Many baseball fans will agree that Scott Carson has one of the best jobs in the world. He gets a terrific view of all the Blue Jays games while making an important contribution to the broadcasts. While the team is on the current road trip, the TV statistician will be visiting this thread to answer questions from Batter’s Box readers. We thought you might like to get to know him a little better first.
Scott was kind enough to invite Robert Dudek and me up into the booth last weekend, a couple of hours before the start of an Expos game. We wondered if he ever imagined, growing up in West Hill, that he’d be working in baseball.
“Well, yes and no. When I was in high school, my football coach was the original stats man on TV, Doug Kelcher. In my last year, he was doing a game (I believe) for NBC Game of the Week. It was June of ’82. He asked me if I wanted to come down and just watch. That day I knew — I said, 'Wow, that would be a great way to make a living.'”
Three years later, a graduate of the radio and television course at Centennial College in Scarborough, Carson got that all-important foot in the door.
“In 1985, I began my internship at a brand new TSN,” he recalls, “but always had my eye on this job. I began working on the Jays broadcast in ’91 and ’92 as a Stillstore operator. On the night of the ’92 World Series win, the stats man at that time, Doug Walton, was at my party. Right after they won, he took me aside and said: 'That’s it — I’m taking a producer’s job for the Buffalo Sabres. So the job’s wide open.' First thing Monday morning I was on that phone. In spring training 1993, there I was walking around Grant Field thinking, 'oh yeah, this is where I belong.' Here we are, twelve seasons later, still plugging away.”
Working for Sportsnet, TSN and CBC, Scott's research has helped all the announcers so familiar to Jays fans. He’s not likely to be as critical of his colleagues as some of us around here, but he singles out one as the best.
“I’ve been very blessed to have worked with some top-notch broadcasters down through the years — Jim Hughson, Brian Williams, and of course, my favourite of all time (don’t say anything to Rob Faulds) — Dan Shulman. He came into the business before the ’96 season and I can still recall our first spring training game — he went into some real baseball spiel. I leaned back and looked at Buck, he looked at me and we went, 'this is gonna be good.' We often fly home after the game on a Sunday night and I love when I can crank up the radio and there’s Dan… he’s so good.”
Viewers may think of Sportsnet and TSN as competitors, but Carson is an integral part of the crew no matter who is broadcasting. He explains how that came about.
“When I first took the job in ’93, TSN had the bulk of the games, there were also games on CFTO and of course the CBC. The reason that they have one guy to do the job is mostly to pay for travel. Luckily I’ve always been a contract employee, so I’m not really on staff at Sportsnet, although I have to do three columns a week. Over these years I’ve made a lot of friends on all three networks. I’ve been lucky that I’ve done three Olympic Games for three different networks. I did ’88 in Calgary for TSN, ’94 in Lillehammer for CTV and then ’02 in Salt Lake for CBC.”
We wanted to know how working on Olympic telecasts differs from what he does for the Jays.
“The last Olympic Winter Games I was in studio, working on Ron MacLean’s morning show, in charge of graphics. It’s much like here, except you’re not actually watching one event, you're watching all events, with three different computers on. It is like this job, but it’s not really as hands-on.”
The TV crew had already completed a production meeting down on the field, and we were the only people in the booth. It was obviously the calm before the storm for Carson, who reflected on a typical game day.
“I’ll do about two hours’ prep in the morning on the computer, updating stats from the night before, building graphics for that day’s game. It’s a lot easier to do this job when you’re on the road than it is at home, for the simple reason that when you’re at home — I have to go to the bank, I have to do some shopping — thanks to my wife, there’s always a list. Whereas, when you’re on the road — hotel, wake up, have breakfast, do a little prep, have a workout, have some lunch, a little more prep, off to the ballpark. That’s all you really have to worry about. I usually leave about two to get down at about three o’clock because I live north of Newmarket — I have a little drive to get here.
“The new technology has made my job easy in that I can do loads of work at home and e-mail all kinds of things to the two commentators, our producer and our Chyron operator. So by the time I get down here, everyone has what I have. They have time to look at it, see how they’re going to use it.”
As you might expect, emotions in the TV booth change as game time approaches.
“Once I get the actual lineups, then I’ll have to load them into my computer, transfer them onto a floppy, go down to the truck and plug them into the Chyron, and away we go. Usually about a half hour before we go to air, that’s when you can feel the energy slowly start to rise up. When Rob and John do the on-camera, we know it’s show time; that’s when we have the lights on in here. Once you see the red light go on, it’s go time.”
We asked the former football player if he runs set plays or calls audibles during a broadcast.
“Always calling audibles. That is the one thing about baseball which I have always loved, especially working in TV. Every game is like a snowflake — no two are ever the same. I’ve done over 1,700 games now and I can’t remember two exactly the same. After all of these years, that's what has kept it fresh for me. You never get into a rut, unlike a lot of people who get on the hamster wheel every day. We’re very blessed that way — that’s what I really love about the job. I can honestly say that I’ve never had to drag my ass into work. Ever.”
How does Carson decide which stats are suitable for the TV audience?
“We have all kind of numbers we could throw out there,” he admits. “Unfortunately, they’re what I call a little bit highbrow; it would go over a lot of people’s heads. Not that I think I have to play down to the audience, but I have to remember that most of the people that watch these games are not quite as stats savvy as we are. But that’s because we have a true passion for the game. And without the numbers there might not be baseball, actually. I really believe that — because as great as it is, what really makes the game is that we are able to yank out numbers and sit and talk about them constantly.”
We added that from a historical perspective, you can compare stats from this era to past eras, and Carson nodded in agreement. Even if this wasn’t his job, he’d be like many Bauxites, trying to analyze the game by the numbers.
“No doubt about it. I remember when I really started to find a passion for this game was when I was eight years old and we used to get only one game a week. I used to look forward to Saturday afternoons; I would take a piece of graph paper, make my own scorecard and score the game. If anybody had told me that 33 years later, I would be here doing what I did then and getting paid for it, I would have said 'sign me up.' Remember the NBC Game of the Week? Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola?”
Of course we did. Robert pointed out it was the only time you could find out what was happening in the rest of the baseball. It just made me feel old; when I was a kid, Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean were still calling the Saturday games.
“I remember the first five or six years when the Jays were a brand new team,” Scott continued, “and we were thrilled when they were on This Week in Baseball. It was a big deal. Once they got better and we got into the mid ‘80s, the roll towards the World Series years, we tended to take it all for granted.”
In addition to his on-air duties, Carson keeps a watchful eye on the Jays to gather material for his Sportsnet.ca column, which is more challenging than he expected.
“I have to admit, three columns a week turned out to be quite a daunting task. But that’s the way it goes; that's what I said I could handle. During the off-season this year, I asked the guys who run the webpage, 'How about if I do a preview each day on every team?' I thought, that’ll be no problem — well, I got halfway into it and thought, 'oh my God, I’ve got 15 more teams to do here.' But it’s a labour of love; nobody has asked me to lift anything heavy, so I’ve been pretty blessed.”
Scott does read Batter’s Box, sometimes even checking us out during games, and relies on a number of other Web sites to stay informed.
“I read all the main ones like ESPN.com, Sportsline.com, MLB.com — mostly on the Jays, though. I really enjoy reading what Spencer Fordin writes because he’s in there. I’m not quite in there, but that’s because I have other responsibilities up here. When it comes to pure stats, I will go to a website called Stats Pass, which is run by Stats Inc. — when you need to really go inside the numbers; it’s unbelievable. The commentators say, 'Can you get me this?' and usually within a minute I can get that number for them.
So if anything unusual comes up during the broadcast, Carson is all over it.
“That’s right. I love when they’re in the middle of whatever and I’ll slide a little note to Rob and he’ll work it into the conversation. That, more than the TV side of what I do, is where I’m most valuable here, because not only do I know TV but I also know the game of baseball. That makes me a good utility player. I have to listen to these guys, which is why I use a one-sided head set.”
Surely there must be a few frustrating things about even a "dream" job.
“Nothing will drive me crazier than when I throw up a font and there is even the slightest thing wrong with it. That’s when I get mad because I have to make sure that it’s right.”
Does he have any input in how the graphics are designed?
“The way we lay it out is how we’ve been doing it since I started to do the job. Over the last four or five years, when on-base percentage became big, nobody had that before. Then we started putting it on. Same thing when we do the pitchers, nobody used WHIP before.”
Robert, who sees almost every other TV crew at some point on Extra Innings, suggested that the Jays telecasts are more progressive than most.
“The majority of the broadcasts still present the game as it has been for as long as I’ve been around. We try; through STATS we get a lot of splits. You got a hitter and they bring in Trever Miller to pitch to him — well, let’s have a look at how he’s done. I’m sorry folks, but the numbers don’t lie on this one.”
We wondered if he considered including career splits versus lefthanders and righthanders — the kind of stuff that’s often discussed at Batter’s Box — in terms of managerial decisions: should he pinch hit, or who should he bring in to pitch to a particular player?
“No, because we only get our hands on the splits from that year. I can research those things, and we are always looking for trends. If, say, over the last three years, Delgado only hit .220 versus lefties and this year he’s hitting .290 against them, then we will try to point that out.”
Carson’s work station is high-tech. His laptop is surrounded by four monitors. How does anyone watch the game on the field and look at four video feeds while simultaneously researching stats?
“As you can see in between my monitors I have a slight space so I can see home plate and the pitcher. I call it mental multi-tasking — the ability to see only what you need to see and totally discard what you really don’t need. For example, I have two Chyron monitors. One is on preview, where we are able to build during the game; then it gets flipped over to the air monitor. The producer and director down in the truck know that when it’s on the air monitor, it’s ready for air.”
Moving from left to right, Scott pointed and explained.
“This one is the actual feed leaving the truck and the one we have here is the off-air feed or the network feed, which you get to see at home. I think it’s about a five second delay. We always have this, just in case we’re in break and say a brawl has just started.”
It was a pleasure to get a glimpse of his environment. We even watched over his shoulder for an inning during the game. There’s much more to a TV broadcast than meets the eye in your living room, and these guys make it look easy.
Carson is the first person who has agreed to an "interactive" interview in Da Box. Before we throw the floor open to reader questions, we tried to establish if any topics are off limits, or if there should be any other ground rules.
“The one thing that I’ll never do is get personal,” he insists. “I’m sure if you’ve read my column, you’ll know that I can be quite critical of the management, the manager or players, but it’s never personal. That’s not what we’re about. Not that I’m trying to turn it into a popularity contest; I’m also a season ticket holder, paying good money to come down here to watch.”
So despite being an insider, he’s maintained a fan’s perspective. But some people want more.
“Everywhere I go, to a party or to a friend’s cottage for the weekend, once everybody finds out what I do they want to talk baseball. And they always want some inside dirt, but that’s something I’m not going to dish out because that is not my mandate. Nothing good ever comes out of making any personal comments. All that could possibly happen is that you’ll end up with some kind of confrontation. That’s not why I come to work.”
In other words, though everything’s fair game, don’t expect an answer to rude or insensitive questions, and as always, we'll delete comments that are inappropriate. Robert and I could have talked to Scott for hours, but now it's your turn. Fire away!