Late Night Sports Radio

Los Tiempos Van Cambiando

Los Tiempos Van Cambiando
Credit: Nathan Walls

For the past 14 years, I’ve been studying the nocturnal goings-on in a dilapidated loft building at 6th Avenue and 28th Street, Manhattan’s wholesale flower district from 1954 to 1965.

Ten years before that, I began listening to wee-hour sports talk radio from New York’s WFAN while under the covers in North Carolina.

The two obsessions merged in my head around midnight, on day 162 of the baseball season. I actually wasn’t in bed, but sitting at my desk listening to Steve Somers hosting on WFAN while switching the TV back and forth between the Tampa Bay Rays pulling a miracle comeback over the Yankees, and the Red Sox losing to the Baltimore Orioles.

Somers was irate. Gone was his casual, glancing, subtle humor. In more than two decades of listening to him I can’t remember him ever being this declarative, this bitter, this rambling. He was provoked, as many callers were, by the Mets’ shortstop Jose Reyes taking himself out of the last game of the season in order to preserve his batting title.

Somers said:

It’s a different time we live in now. It’s Me, Me, Me, and Me. It’s all about Me. And it’s not just athletes. It’s the whole culture of today. In the old days there was chivalry and integrity and human values. Today, none of it is good. Today, you get athletes tapping their chests and pointing at the sky when they get a base hit in the fourth inning, or when they make a tackle in the second quarter, or when they hit a jump shot in the 3rd quarter. But, ultimately, I don’t care about Jose Reyes’ batting title. Reyes said the batting title was for the fans.  What about the team? What about the New York Metropolitans? I care about the state of the union of the New York Metropolitans. We can rant and rave about Reyes, but the real problem is the sorry state of the New York Metropolitans.

His tone of voice was the kind normally found on daytime sports radio, not late night.

Fifty years ago this week, Sept. 25 to be precise, the brilliant, tragic pianist Sonny Clark overdosed on heroin in the Sixth Avenue loft.  His plight was documented on reel-to-reel tape by photographer W. Eugene Smith, who cranked vinyl records of spoken-word poetry by Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay while the pianist almost died in the hallway. The same week Bob Dylan got his first notice, from Robert Shelton in the Times. Fifty years later, one of the most-viewed pieces on the Times website this week concerns claims of plagiarism by Dylan in his paintings currently on view at Gagosian.

I wonder if anybody out there recorded Somers’ rant, for somebody to find and hear 50 years from now.

He goes to a break. It’s 71 degrees in Central Park. That seems high for midnight in late September.

The first ad is predictable. The Boston Medical Group. A woman’s voice says:  “Do you find yourself not lasting into overtime? Well, now you can get off the bench. We’ve drawn up a plan to get you more playing time. We are your sexual help specialists.”

The spot goes on. At the end a male voice says, “Results may vary.”

The Rays, with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, overcome a 7-run deficit to beat the Yankees and beat out the Red Sox for the American League Wild Card playoff berth.

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