On football’s day, Schwartz genuflects to baseball - The Buffalo News
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On football’s day, Schwartz genuflects to baseball

There are only so many hours of Super Bowl pregame shows that a human should be subjected to on television or radio. After watching your third feature story of the week about “Cooper: The Forgotten Manning,” how does one cleanse the palate before the big game?

One suggestion is the online broadcast of Jonathan Schwartz’s 44th annual Tribute to Baseball, which will stream from noon to 4 p.m. today on TheJonathanChannel.org. Schwartz is a longtime New York City radio personality whose Jonathan Channel, from WNYC Radio, specializes in music from the Great American Songbook era, from the 1920s to the ’60s. Every year, on Super Bowl Sunday, Schwartz – in his urbane and eloquent way – sort of makes an impolite gesture to the NFL by proclaiming his passion for America’s pastime.

“It’s a natural day to do it, with everyone celebrating the Super Bowl and football in the land, someone ought to speak up for the greatest game ever conceived,” Schwartz said last week by phone. “Where there’s no clock on it, you can see the faces of the players, and no one is going to dreadfully get hurt, one assumes.”

Schwartz, who is a published fiction writer, essayist and memoirist as well as a jazz vocalist, calls baseball “a novel rather than a short story. It takes place every day, so to speak, for more than half of the years. Whereas professional football is more like a sleazy short story and there are 16 of these stories in the so-called book.”

It’s not that football reviles Schwartz. He admits to following the games from week to week, being “interested in certain players, but in a very mild way. And I am part of Betting America, in a very small dose. And then there’s this Super Bowl business that certainly I pay attention to with some friends and some whiskey.”

Schwartz says he was hoping for a blizzard this week in New York and New Jersey, to force the NFL to struggle a bit with its Cold Weather Super Bowl.

“Baseball is generally played in weather that is reasonable for outdoor sport,” he said. “It’s also a very cerebral sport. Football involves some good deal of intelligence, I know that. It’s also a ferocious animalization of the human race.”

Schwartz said no one from the NFL has ever acknowledged his anti-football tribute to baseball.

Schwartz is a longtime Red Sox fan, a condition he acquired when his father, the composer Arthur Schwartz, was putting on a show in Boston and young Jonathan was taken to a 1946 World Series game between the Cardinals and Red Sox. at Fenway Park.

“When I walked into Fenway Park, I thought I had walked into heaven,” Schwartz said in a 2011 interview.

Today’s four-hour broadcast will include both Schwartz’s baseball tribute and his regular music programming.

“I read about baseball, I have the sounds of baseball, the songs of baseball. I play an ordinary game between, say, Kansas City and the Red Sox, or the White Sox and Tigers, it comes in and out as I go. Just an ordinary game from years ago, in the ’60s and ’70s, where we hear names like Siebern and Skowron, if the Yankees are involved, or Bobby Shantz might be pitching, the old Philadelphia A’s left-hander who wound up with the Yankees, as everyone does. It’s scattered through the program.

“And Vin Scully is inevitably present. This Sunday he will call a perfect game pitched by Sandy Koufax. We’ll hear the ninth inning.”

Schwartz wrote an essay for Sports Illustrated in 1979 about the pain of the Red Sox’s 1978 playoff loss to the Yankees, thanks to Bucky Dent’s home run. His account of Dent’s big moment was spare in its language:

“I studied Torrez. He stood behind the mound rubbing up the new ball. He did not pace, he did not turn to examine the outfield. He just rubbed up the new ball and stared in at Dent, who was bent over to the left of the plate, his shin being cared for.

“I watched, hanging over the railing. I had seen too many fly balls from the roof seats on the first-base side to be fooled now. This fly ball by a Yankee shortstop with an aching shin was clearly a home run. I had no doubt from the start.

“When the ball struck the net, Yastrzemski’s whole body trembled for an instant. Then he froze, every muscle drawn tight in excruciating frustration.

I said out loud, “God, no! God, no!”

A pregame buffet

Fox Sports’ pregame show begins today at 2 p.m., about four hours before kickoff in MetLife Stadium.

Here is a rundown of some of the highlights:

• Weather stories: “Many of the NFL’s most memorable games have been played in inclement weather,” Fox says. “Stories of these unique and unforgettable games are packaged and told as never before.”

• John Elway, who as a player took the Broncos to five Super Bowls and won two, is profiled as Denver’s executive vice president of football operations.

• Terry Bradshaw and Joe Namath swap Super Bowl memories. Bradshaw says that Namath was one of the players he always looked up to.

• The 1958 NFL Championship Game. The clash between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants has been called The Greatest Game Ever Played. Fox revisits that day in a segment about New York-based football title games.

• Michael Strahan interviews the pop singer Bruno Mars, who is the featured performer at halftime.

• Pat Summerall tribute: Summerall, who died last April, was a beloved analyst and play-by-play man for NFC games, as well as a player for the New York Giants in the 1950s. Summerall’s work with John Madden at both CBS and Fox and Tom Brookshier at CBS is recalled in depth.

Short takes

Some notable quotations from NFL personalities who were on the Fox family of networks this past week:

• Jay Glazer on Peyton Manning’s game preparation: Manning called Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, “remember they are the last team, the Cardinals, to beat the Seattle Seahawks. He got on the phone with him for about an hour and a half, and he picked Bruce Arians’ brain on every little thing he possibly could about every guy, both sides of the ball, everything that they do, the route trees, what they do in their secondary. It was Peyton Manning 101.”

• Jerry Rice on Richard Sherman: “I always faced defensive backs that would talk a lot, but I would shut them up by scoring a touchdown. That is all I had to do. If you score touchdowns, then all of a sudden, you’ve got them exactly where you want them towards the fourth quarter … If I had to play Richard Sherman, I would come to the line and I wouldn’t initiate; I wouldn’t try to react off him. I would always come to the line with a way of getting away from him, having two or three moves in my head.”

• Dave Krieg, ex-Seahawks QB, on Russell Wilson: “I used to scramble around, mostly out of fear; he does it because he has the athletic ability to do it. He doesn’t look to run first – he looks to throw it. … He’s such a strong kid, he’s athletic, smart, his personality is very mature, he’s got so much poise under pressure like Chuck Knox used to say, and I am looking for him to have a real breakout game.”

email: gconnors@buffnews.com

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