Mr. Imaginary Rain Delay: How Rick Rizzs, voice of the Mariners, called games in the minors he didn’t see
As we wait for the return of baseball – the baseball we are most familiar with and has been a part of our lives almost from the get-go – there has been no shortage of attempted substitutes put forth.
Everything from video games to foreign leagues to different simulations of games has been in abundance through the shutdown, and while some of this has been interesting or falls into the “better than nothing category,” there is no substitute for real, live baseball.
Or is there? How about real, almost live baseball? For years that’s how many games were called on radio with broadcasters not at the park but in a studio recreating games. You may have seen black and white clips of games being called this way as it was common for road games up until the early 1940s, and for some teams even later with the great Harry Caray not traveling with the Cardinals until 1947. The announcers would clap wood blocks together to recreate the sound of bat hitting ball and utilize a full bag of sound effect tricks to make the game come to life. The practice continued well into the ’70s for some minor league teams that wanted to save money on travel.
In 1976 and 1977, longtime Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs was with one of those teams. For two years he called the action he never saw for the Amarillo Gold Sox, mastering the art of recreating games (see a photo of him from his time with Amarillo in this article).
“It was a lot of fun,” he recalled. “Sitting in the studio running the crowd noise tape that put everybody at the ballpark. Then in spring training I recorded on my cassette recorder the bat hitting the ball, then I recorded it over and over again onto a cart so every time I hit the cart I had the bat over the crowd noise. Then there was cheering if the home team did something good. I had to engineer the game and broadcast the game at the same time.”
And of course in order to broadcast the game he needed to know what was happening in the game, and while his method of gathering information wasn’t quite the teletypewriter broadcasters from the earliest days used, it was close.
“I would start a half hour after first pitch to give me time to get the information,” said Rizzs. “The starting pitcher the night before, we paid him $10. He was in the press box and would just give me the basic information – 6-3, flyout to left, single, strikeout. Then I would make up everything else.”
It was on Rizzs to be creative and some situations called for extreme creativity. From time to time he would catch up with the game despite starting a half hour late. At that point he would have to slow things down and fill as he waited for more game information to come in.
“I made it rain one time,” he said. “I had the power to have a little rain delay, ‘We have a little shower coming in from the left field side…’ So I made it rain for five minutes so I could get some information for play by play. One time I had our second baseman Geno Menees set a Texas League record with 14 foul balls in one at bat.”
Then there was the game from El Paso.
“The greatest thing I ever did, I got close to a ballgame and it was Pony Night at Diablo Stadium. They were giving away a pony. I already had it rain and I did the foul balls so I had the pony get loose.”
Ah, the magic of radio.
“Of course I made all this up,” he continued. “The pony got loose from the bullpen and it ran down the right field line and I had our right fielder Rocky Craig chase the pony all over the ballpark. As he would get close to the pony, ‘The pony takes off and runs farther down the line!’ And Rocky stayed true, he was resolute to go try and grab this pony while everyone was laughing. So he chased this pony for about five minutes, finally corralled the pony and by then I had the information to continue with the ballgame.”
After such events, sometimes Rizzs would have some explaining to do.
“In this case the team gets home and some lady comes up to Rocky Craig and said the other night that was the funniest thing I had ever heard on the radio. He goes ‘What?’ ‘You chasing that pony around the field for 10 minutes.’ He knew I was up to something so he played along with it then came back to ask, ‘Rick, what did you have me do in El Paso?'”
Fortunately Craig was pleased that he saved the day corralling the pony.
“We still laugh about it to this day,” said Rick.
Rizzs would love to have the opportunity to recreate another game someday, but first thing is first – we need games. Until then, it’s worth knowing Rizzs has these skills in his back pocket if needed.
More on the Mariners from Shannon
• Mariners’ Dipoto: Reports and discussions on MLB’s return are encouraging
• How the radio broadcast of the Mariners’ first-ever game was lost, then found
• Mariners’ Safeco Field opener in 1999 was a curveball for the team