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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Denny Trease.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak 

One thing that every interview we’ve done for WSI has had in common is the fact that every subject has a direct connection with the White Sox. Either they played for the organization or they reported on it in Chicago. This month we’re going to do something very different. This month we’re going to talk about the White Sox with an individual who saw them up close, had access to just about everyone in the organization but did so from a totally unbiased standpoint, at least where the Sox were concerned.

Denny Trease has been a friend of mine since the late 70's. When I first started in television at WTVQ in Lexington, Kentucky, Denny was already well established at WKYT doing the sports as well as the television play by play of University Of Kentucky basketball.

Just because we worked at different stations didn’t prevent Denny from showing the same courtesy towards me as he would any member of the profession. However Denny also was the type of person who would offer advice, listen to you and even help if the situation required it.

We’ve kept in touch over the years and nobody was happier for him then I was, when he got the chance for his dream job, television play by play man for a professional baseball team, in this case the Kansas City Royals.

Denny was the lead announcer from 1980 through 1992. He owns a World Series ring from the 1985 season. He covered the Sox from a Royals point of view, basically from the time the Reinsdorf organization took over through the construction of the "new" Comiskey Park.

After leaving the Royals TV booth, when the club switched television affiliates, Denny moved into the PR and marketing department. After that he went back to television working in Kansas City, Knoxville and once again in Lexington where he covers the sports on weekends as well as hosts a local radio sports talk show and is the play by play voice for the Lexington Legends, the Astros Class A team in the South Atlantic League. He’s also written a best selling book in Kentucky called "Tales From The Kentucky Hardwood.."

I hooked up with Denny at his home on a rare night when he actually had some time off and we talked about a number of areas. Among the ones I think you’ll find interesting are his thoughts on the blurring of the line between "broadcast journalist" and "house shrill," the persistent rumor that "Hawk" Harrelson calls pitches from the booth, who Denny used to get the best scouting reports on the White Sox from (hint: she’s still with the organization!), how a former partner of his on the Royals games is responsible for one of the funniest lines in the movie "Bull Durham" after a mistake he made pitching to the Sox Dick Allen years earlier, why the Sox have never been able to become a truly "great team," and what it was like to work with a certain rotund guy who was the Director Of Group Sales for the Royals.

This guy would later return to his radio roots starting a ground breaking political talk show in Sacramento. He’d move to New York, catch a break and become a multi millionaire. Yes I’m talking about Rush Limbaugh!

ML: How did you get the job as Royals announcer? I know you had built up a good reputation in Lexington and with UK.

DT: "It came completely out of the blue. In the summer of 1979 I saw an ad in Broadcasting Magazine that the Royals had just signed a deal with a different station and were looking for announcers. On a lark I sent in some material and then forgot about it. We had just bought a new house and had lived in it for about two weeks when I got a call from the Royals saying I was one of twelve finalist out of about 112 applicants. I was flown out to Kansas City around Thanksgiving and had an interview with John Schuerholz and "Herk" Robinson. I thought that I’d be shown an inning or two of a game on tape and asked to do some play by play as a live interview but that never happened. We talked and had lunch and I was immediately offered the job."

ML: Do you remember your first game?

DT: "I never forgot it. We were on WDAF-TV the NBC affiliate in Kansas City. We did about 55 games a season with only one of those a home game. So it’s early April, we are in Baltimore and it’s 39 degrees at the first pitch! The press box at old Memorial Stadium wasn’t enclosed, they just had a tarp that they’d pull down when the game was over. In other words there was no way to heat it. I couldn’t feel my toes all through the broadcast. I was nervous during the game and it took awhile before I got comfortable with everything. I guess as a broadcaster you never stop really being nervous, at least a little bit. I always said that day I stopped getting nervous is the day it’s time to go. If you are not nervous, you get complacent and that can lead to a poor job."

ML: I think many fans don’t know the type of work that’s involved in doing a game either on TV or radio. It’s definitely NOT just showing up a half hour before first pitch and winging it. Can you take us through a typical day for you. Say the Royals were opening up a weekend series in Chicago. The game Friday is at seven. What do you do?

DT: "I was a fanatic about preparation. Perhaps too much. I’d carry around with me a big valise filled with scouting reports, team notes, books whatever I could find. I’d usually get to the park about 4:30 or five. I’d watch batting practice and speak a little with the coaches or players but what I’d really try to do would be to find one source who knew what was going on with the team and would talk about it. Every team had one every year. It could be another broadcaster, a trainer or in the Sox case it was Nancy Faust. (Author’s Note: Nancy has been the house organist since 1971). I mean think about it, Nancy saw every pitch of every game. She knew what was going on and she knew baseball. She was always a very pleasant lady. After the game if the situation warranted it, I’d go down to the locker room to get information but usually I’d immediately leave and go right back to the hotel where we were staying."

"That’s the beauty of play by play...when the game’s over there are no loose ends. It’s over. You forget about it and start getting ready for tomorrow. I’d usually look over the stats for a few hours and start getting questions ready for the next day. I was never big on going out or staying at the hotel bar."

ML: Players make adjustments during the season, do announcers? For example did you change your style if the Royals were having an awful year like 1983 compared to say 1985 when they won the World Series?

DT: "We didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments because we only televised about 50 - 55 games. It’s not like Chicago or New York where basically every game was on TV. Because we did so few games, I didn’t have to change. The Royals in 1983 for example lost as much at home as they did on the road. We only did road games so basically nothing was different."

"I think the only time sub consciously, that I changed my style was in 1992. It was the last year of the contract on WDAF. Everyone knew that if the station lost the rights to the games it was possible another station would want new announcers. The Royals started the year losing something like sixteen of their first seventeen games. The were basically out of the race by mid May. I tried to make every play more exciting in an attempt to keep fan interest high which would keep the ratings up which might want to make WDAF and the organization keep the rights on the same station. That would mean I could keep my job. Again I didn’t say I’m going to do this, it just happened."

ML: Speaking of 1983 how did you handle the drug trials involving four members of the Royals? Was that discussed at all?

DT: "I didn’t talk much about it although I do remember it came up on the air one time and when it did we talked about it openly. Willie Wilson was still with the team the next season but that situation basically ended the careers of Vide Blue, Willie Mays Aikens and Jerry Martin."

ML: While we’re on the subject of "journalistic integrity", how did you walk the fine line between having your job dependent on the Royals organization liking you and having to tell the truth about what was going on to the fans?

DT: "The entire Royals operation was very conservative in nature. They didn’t want any flamboyancy out of any part of the franchise including the announcers. I think in the back of your mind you understand that and make the adjustments as needed. That being said, on the occasions where I may have gone ‘over the top’ they always backed me up."

"One time we were in Detroit and the Tigers were just hammering away at the Royals. It had gone on the entire series. That night Kevin Appier started and didn’t have it. After another Tigers home run I sang on the air ‘where oh where has the pitching staff gone?’ to the kids tune of ‘where oh where has my doggie gone?’ When I got on the bus after the game the players let me have it. To this day I don’t think the pitching coach Frank Funk, ever forgave me."

"Joe Burke, one of the senior members of the organization was on the same bus and when thing started to get bad he stood up and said that I didn’t say anything different from what Royals fans everywhere were saying. I never liked to criticize unless it was obvious and when those times came up I said what had to be said about it."

ML: Has the line been blurred even more today? Sox fans like to talk about Hawk Harrelson who used to be known for his honesty as a color commentator when he worked with Don Drysdale, yet today seems to be just a mouthpiece for the organization.

DT: "I think the line has blurred even more. In Hawk’s case it’s been a gradual change. I thought he was very good when he worked with Don Drysdale... today some of the things he says just makes you wonder. Hawk is supposedly very close to the owner and it stands to reason that the closer you are to the guy who runs the team, the less you are going to criticize his product."

"Here’s an example. When Walt Hriniak was the Sox hitting coach, his style, like the Royals Charlie Lau, was to have everybody hit the exact same way. I know Hawk wouldn’t have stood for that when he was playing. To have a coach demand that he change his style, Hawk wouldn’t have accepted that. Hawk should have said something about that, especially when the Sox had some guys who were home run hitters like Sammy Sosa and Cory Snyder. I’d see these guys who could hit the ball a long way, trying to hit singles up the middle. I was always amused at the influence that Hriniak had on the Sox. Also there was a rumor going around for many years and I heard this from different announcers on different teams, that Hawk actually called pitches from up in the broadcast booth. He had a little switch in the TV booth and he’d turn it on or off activating a light in the dugout or the scoreboard that would tip off the hitter. I’m not trying to impugn his reputation, I’m just saying this is what I was told."

ML: Now tell me about the "Bull Durham" story.

DT: "The Summer that movie came out, I think it was 1987, and I think we were in Chicago

Fred White who was the radio guy, myself and Paul Splittorf my color man on TV, decided we’d go see the movie during the afternoon since the game that day was in the evening. So we’re watching the movie and do you remember the part where Kevin Costner comes out to the mound after the pitcher gives up a home run and says ‘anything going that far needs a stewardess on it.’? We look over at Paul and his mouth is hanging open! He says ‘they stole my line!’ We said what are you talking about and he explained that was almost exactly the line that he said to Fran Healy after Dick Allen of the White Sox crushed one of the longest home runs anybody ever saw off him. Paul said he told Healy ‘man anything hit that hard, that far, needs a stewardess on it.’"

ML: Before I ask you your opinions of the Sox organization itself how about any memories or stories of the times you spent in Chicago.

DT: "When I was announcing, one of the reporters in Chicago was blind and he’d come around after the game to get his stories. One time the Sox beat the Royals and George Brett sat there and patiently answered every question this reporter asked and he asked a lot of them. Anyway apparently George had just about had enough and ended the interview. So we get to Texas, the next stop on the road trip and I’m on the bus. I see George and Jamie Quirk sitting together and Jamie asks him ‘you didn’t take that guy’s cane did you?’ George had it on the bus with him!"

"Another time there was this reporter, I don’t remember who he was but he requested an interview with George the next time we came to play the Sox. At that time George’s brother Ken Brett, was also on the team and they were almost identical twins. Before the interview they switched uniforms and it was Ken who went out to do the interview! The reporter never noticed it!"

ML: You saw first hand most of Jerry Reinsdorf’s years as Sox owner. Compare the way he runs the franchise as opposed to the other clubs that you saw. What has he done right and wrong?

DT: "To me it seems that the Sox always take a step forward, then two steps back. I had the feeling a number of times that the Sox were very close to being a great team but they always were missing something. Jerry is simply not willing to spend the money needed to win. I also was never convinced that upper management knew how to supplement the talent that they had. Great organizations always have one or two young impact players who step in and make real contributions to help the club. The 85 Royals team had young guys like Brett Saberhagen and Danny Jackson who stepped up. They always seemed to have those type of kids, the Sox never seemed to have that. When we played the Sox in the mid 80's they had guys like Wayne Tolleson, Tim Hulett and Reid Nichols in the lineup."

"I think that naming Hawk and Ron Schueler general managers were overall failures and you wonder what might have happened to the Sox had they just kept Tony LaRussa as field manager. To his credit Reinsdorf has admitted that was a big mistake."

ML: The Sox really started to become a second class citizen in Chicago about the time of the strike, just a few years after you left the TV booth. How can a club that generally plays better baseball then the Cubs allow that to happen?

DT: "They made mistakes when they moved into the new park. So many other stadiums around the country opened up about the same time and were enjoyed more. Had the new stadium been built along those lines they could have marketed the team through the new stadium."

ML: When the new TV deal with another station forced you out of the booth, you went to work as the marketing director of the Royals. Talk to me about baseball from that standpoint and did you enjoy it.

DT: "Kansas City always loved baseball throughout their history so the Royals then weren’t a tough sell. We’d get fans from all the surrounding states who’d come to the park especially on weekends, from places like Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa. In fact the reason Royals Stadium originally had Astroturf is because the organization wanted to make as sure as possible that when fans drove that distance to see a game, the game would be played. I guess there were a few things about marketing and promotions that I didn’t like. In that position nobody ever asks you to lie, but you are asked to "manage the truth." The organization always wants you to put the best spin possible on any situation. The other thing was that unlike being in the broadcasting end, you always had 25 or 30 things going on. It would drive me crazy having all of these loose ends. It’s funny but I’d get letters everyday from people who wanted to break into this end of the business and I couldn’t wait to get out."

ML: Just wondering....what is Rush Limbaugh really like? (Cue the EIB theme music.....)

DT: "When I first got to the Royals, Rush was the Director Of Group Sales. It seemed to me that his only job was to set up the mic at home plate before games and announce who’d be singing the National Anthem or throwing out the first pitch (laughing). I always enjoyed him. We’d go around to the different states in the Winter with something we called the "Royals Caravan." It was some players, broadcasters and front office members who met with the fans and groups to promote the upcoming season. Rush would be the guy to drive the van. You know we’d be in that van for hours and never once can I recall him ever talking about politics. You’d never know that he had that deep of an interest in it!"

"Rush started his career as a DJ in Pittsburgh named "Jeff Christy..." that didn’t work out and he came to Kansas City where he worked for three or four of the different radio and TV stations. After he got fired in K.C., he went out to Sacramento where he started doing his political radio show. When the Royals came out to Oakland one year I got a call from him and we went out to dinner. Over dinner he told me how things just weren’t working out for him and that he thought it was time to give up radio and try to find another niche where he could succeed. Well just a few weeks later the general manager of his station was transferred to New York. The guy felt that Rush’s show would play out better before an audience of that nature as opposed to a smaller city in California and took Rush with him. The rest is history. The last time I saw Rush was at George Brett’s wedding. Rush got the Brett’s round trip tickets to Australia as a honeymoon present."

ML: Chicago unfortunately has been in the news five times since 1995 because of fan violence, three times at Wrigley Field. You’ve seen baseball up close since the early 80's, have the fans changed? and can you explain how?

DT: "We are a more violent society now. When I was doing the Royals games we’d see streakers and I remember the fan who fell out of the stands in Toronto during the 1985 ALCS but it was an innocent type of stunt. In those days fans were looking for 15 seconds of fame, today it’s more like 15 minutes. I think there is something to the fact that we are now raising a generation on violence."

ML: What can be done to stop this garbage?

DT: "That’s a very good question. You’ve got to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, you’ve got to institute severe penalties towards anybody who does things like this. It’s not just Chicago either, I recall seeing incidences in Detroit, Boston and Cleveland as well."

ML: As somebody who saw the Royals win a World Series what does a team have to do to get to that level? and can the White Sox reach it?

DT: "To win a World Series you’ve got to have pitching and defense. Look at that Royals team...they had guys like Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, Jackson, Bud Black, Charlie Liebrandt, Dan Quisenberry and Larry Gura. Defensively they were very solid up the middle with Jim Sundberg, Frank White and Willie Wilson. When you’ve got that type of pitching and defense you don’t need a lot else. Hitting wise, the Royals had George Brett and that’s about it but George was strong enough to say in the playoffs that he’d carry them and he did. I thought the Sox getting Bartolo Colon was a coup, there’s no reason why they can’t challenge in that division. They have to improve the defense however because they aren’t executing enough to win on a consistent basis. They also have got to start doing the little things. You simply can’t understand why the Sox can’t seem to hit the cut off man or move runners along. Again this team is close to being very, very good."

Hey Sox Fans!
Hear Denny Trease's call of Carlton Fisk's home run off KC's Brett Saberhagen from June 1, 1985.  Sox win 8-7!  Courtesy WDAF-TV.
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Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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