Follow Charley Steiner to Freedom!
The along. And welcome to another episode of the giants splash on Henry showman. The giants beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and today, I talked to Charlie Steiner, the radio voice of the dodgers. And one of the original anchors of ESPN. Sportscenter Charlie talks about his early days ESPN, his famous follow me to freed an ad how we almost became a giants broadcaster and much much more. We'll get to it. Right. After this. Hi, I'm Susan lesser Oakland A's beat writer for the chronicle. And I'd love it. If you've listened to my podcast as plus attack. The players coaches executives and others around the team every week. You'll get on field analysis and off the field insight. Do you know, which as player lost twenty pounds on a diet of donuts? You would if you've been listening to as plus join me every week wherever you get your podcasts as plus. Henry show and back here at oracle park. And I'm talking to Charlie Steiner who I've known for a long time. And I I did some research with some of my secret, you know, I have some secret sources, and I found out through that secret source called Wikipedia, Charley Steiner, you're turning seventy years old this year. I can't believe that. Sadly, I can it's weird. I don't feel it. It just looks really crappy print outside of that. It's fine. I keep being reminded that. Been around for a long time now, but I've been really fortunate to have lived when I've lived and essentially how I've lived. So I got no kicks. Well, when you think back to how long ago, it was that you started. It's sportscenter started doing sportscenter and you really start doing the math. It was a long time ago. Wasn't it? I got to ESPN and Eighty-eight it had not really taken off as yet. It was the sports station on cable it went on the air and seventy nine. So now that's going on forty years. They're having a big celebration in September. And at that point sportscenter happened to be the news show on the sports station on cable in a little town of Bristol, Connecticut, and I was offered a job to go up there. And that was a weird story getting there in and of itself. Now, I'd never done television before and. I was one of about a half a dozen people. They brought in very quickly and then within about a year year and a half. That's when the talent surge really took off. They brought in Keith. And Dan and Robin. They were so big and so good, no last names required. Gary Miller came in to Rico came in. So within the space of about eighteen months. The sportscenter thing was kind of teetering and then then all of us kind of showed up and then took off, and we were the last ones to realize it was becoming a big deal. I mean, which I mean it got to the point where you had to watch sports center. I mean, I was on the road. And I I wanted to hotels sometimes where they didn't quite have ESPN yet. And I would check out to go to a hotel. I mean, you you really became a Charley Steiner became a household name. Which is. Yeah. And not necessarily in the Steiner house. But that was okay to get when I started at ESPN and beyond the road, and you drive into these college towns or wherever it was and they had the motels and they had the billboard out front. We have HBO, and we have ESPN, and I'm thinking, maybe this is going to be a big deal. They can't we had we had no idea, and I never done television before. And so they just kind of thrust man front of a camera and said it was like in the deep end of the pool now swim kid, and so I had to learn how to do TV really on the fly. But again part of the thing again with the first question now, I'm pushing seventy I was almost forty when when I got to SPN, and I was I was the new kid, and I was all the oldest guy at the same time. But you know, it certainly worked out far better than expected when when they came to me. My agent. So you really sure you wanna go to Bristol, Connecticut work on a cable station again at that point. I'm pushing forty at done very well in radio. I said, well, why not if it doesn't work out? I'll go back to radio. And I remember that when I remember when Olbermann started the first night on ESPN two when the deuce came out. I remember his opening line was welcome to the end of my career. I mean, did you did you feel a little bit like that back? Then when the when the first ESPN started, no. No. Keith at that point was a far bigger television presence than I was. I just wanted to. I wanted to see where my career was going to go. I had a wonderful for two. It is run to that point and done. Well in New York did the jets I the generals, and there was a certain future. President who owned that team? And I had really good running. So here's this opportunity out of the blue to give a shot at television. If it didn't work pack up and leave and fourteen years air it worked out pretty well. Yeah. You know, the New Jersey generals USFL and Donald Trump. He wasn't one of the original investors in the generals, but he did end up buying it. And you know, I don't wanna get too political because you know, they've called me in and we've had quote unquote meetings about my comments on on politics. But I mean, what was it like working for him, did you interact with them a lot. I know him before he owned the team. And I was there the very first year when oil man from Oklahoma named J Walter Dunkin bought the team. And brought in Hershel Walker and j Walter Dunkin God love may have been the only guy over made money out of the USFL. He sold the team to Trump in the second year. Trump is a couple of years older than I am. So I knew him ten generally around the city and. It was a schmuck van not much changed. But having said that he. He was. Who was a firecracker when he arrived, you know, he gave the league some attention. And then within two years he killed the league. You saw just living through all of that was really tough Donald again before he was. I knew Donald when he was the headline in the New York Post used to call him, the boy builder. And so I I knew him when he was a Donald long before he was the Donald and. I had no idea. Where his career was gone, much less. Mine. But looking back on it. You know, it was another comfy and experience for me along the way Gump in experience. Yes, that was that was a good movie, by the way, friend of mine. Jeff Pearlman who was a freelance writer has written a book about the US fell. And it was it's called football for a buck. You ought to pick it up if you if you can see it, and, you know, just going back to sportscenter Olbermann is a bit of a loon, isn't he? I mean that in a nice way, we're friends are look I gave Keith the second job of his broadcast career when he was twenty one years old. I know he's always a great talent. He he's unique. He's he's a smart guy as I've ever been around. He has his idiocy in Christie's. So I've known him since nineteen eighty eighty one. So do the math. And you know, I I have nothing but admiration for his talent and skill. I just wish she could hold a job. Longer than he generally has always remind him. Keith, you have more made more money being fired than you have being hired that is a gift that that is actually liked. The commentaries you used to do when he had his own political show were just amazing. And it was interesting about that. Again. I knew when it was twenty one years old, and I was much more politically oriented inactive. At that point. Then I thought he was I I had no idea hid political interest in the early eighties when we first cross past. But he's brilliant. There's no question. He's brilliant. And I wish he was on television doing that more than he's doing. I guess he's doing some stuff with sportscenter again. But he's he's a gifted broadcaster. Also, all of you became gifted actors because ESPN ended up building its marketing campaign around some of the athletes who purportedly work inside the building. And then all of you guys. And I I know that if anyone here is probably twenty six years old or younger, they probably have no idea. What Y two K was. And it really was nuts in nineteen ninety nine. There was just this huge fear that the computers would not figure out how to handle the move into the next century. And that the all the computers were going to explode all the infrastructure of the country was going to blow up we would be back in the dark ages and ESPN came up with a hilarious commercial. And it probably wasn't entitled follow me to freedom. But everybody remembers it as the follow me to freedom ad, and you probably known for that as much as anything, but sadly, right hood. What was fascinating not only about that spot. But the whole campaign when I first got there in eighty eight they did everything they could to diminish the personality of the people on the air. We had a president who said in a perfect world. We would have monkeys and clowns do the do the on air work and just have the ESPN logo behind you. And then one night in a drunken rage certain president. We we'd all had a few. And he said, you know, a perfect world. I'd have monkeys and doing all this. And then he looks that particular night was me Chris Berman in the late John Saunders. And he said, but you you and you missed up the plan. So fast forward about a year later, again, never attempting to thrust the personality of the folks on the air one day. There were called into a meeting and folks from Wieden Kennedy advertising agency from from Portland, it's done the Nike spots. All these years and chick stick the long ball that stuff they came in. And they said we have this idea. We're going to do a sports set of this is sportscenter campaign. And they were enormously successful. They're still running them to some degree these days with the the current crop of folks on the air and. At the beloved him. Thankfully, the computers. Didn't go haywire. And this spot and follow me to freedom is now twenty years old. The time magazine. Did you know they everybody did the the top this top that before the the decade the millennium and in advertising? The this is sportscenter campaign was ranked number six or seven all time. And it was like. Plus and. They gave me a lot of good punch lines. I was really lucky about that. Because you know, I was just a. Don't be little bearded guy. Read sports news. But they gave me this this weird stuff that does seem to work out. Okay. Follow me to freedom. You can find it on on YouTube. It's it's really funny actually all the commercials. Are you know, we've talked for all this time. We haven't really talked about your second life as a major league baseball radio announcer. And you went to the Yankees first of all and then ended up in Los Angeles briefly had it all that happen. Well, when I was seven years old growing up in New York Brooklyn dodger fan because every kid in my neighborhood on Long Island. The Brooklyn Dodgers. I game. I ever went to Ebbets field. First time. I turned the baseball game on the radio in my mom's kitchen listening on a scene. It's radio which seemingly was half the size of the kitchen. I heard this voice that I heard the crowd had heard the crack of the bat, and they this is really cool. And I just press my ear against the radio and one day. My mom said, well, you know, that's what he does for a living. I said well, who's he's Vince gully? Okay. So from the time I was seven years old all I ever wanted to be was the dodger announcer when I was eight they moved which would put a hurdle into the path. So that's all I ever wanted to be as a kid and again now I'm in this business since I was eighteen fifty two years. I just wanted to be the dodger naturally I didn't want to replace VIN. Scully? I wouldn't do want to be the next. I just wanted to announce for the dodgers and on this, you know, again guppy and trip that I've enjoyed fifteen years later, I'm doing it. And you know, again, my path here started really through ESPN. They got the baseball contract around ninety one ninety two started doing the very early editions of baseball tonight. And then I started doing some Wednesday games on television with the call the be games. Not the big network games. The ones that were played into a market where the main game was blacked out. And then they signed the Sunday night baseball contract for radio. They gave me that man. I after fourteen years at ESPN. Had. Actually, it was at the end of the two thousand one and I had two offers one to go to the Yankees, which I took the other ones to come to the giants. And my dad was an ill health, and this is again after nine eleven and and he was a ill health, and I thought well, gee, if be a native he could listen to me, you know, in his last few years, which it worked out, and it was there with the Yankees for three years. And and then the dodgers decided they wanted to make a move in their booth, and they invited me out and been here ever since. Well, are you just made some news here? I don't know that we knew that the giants wanted you to come here who do you? Remember who it was you were going to replace. I don't know who has going to replace. But as in work with John. You know, I had the exact same offer in terms of years and dollars the Yankees and head. My dad not been in nil health. I was actually thinking about coming here seriously because I was loved the city. And so it came down to my dad, and it was it was really wonderful that he was able to listen to me in his in his last couple of years, and you obviously ended up getting to work with VIN. Sometimes when you end up getting to know one of your idols, it ends up being a really bad experience. Because you see what they are. I take it wasn't the case with VIN. The VIN is one of the most extraordinarily people have been around and. Again. This is the guy that I wanted to be like knowing full, well, I could never replace just to work in a parallel universe. And I was I played pepper with Babe Ruth every day is how I looked at it. You know, he's the best to ever did what he's done what any of us have ever done, and then be alongside of for twelve years. And you know, there's so many memorable experiences. I had with then and it was right here. His final game in. Two years ago three years ago now, right? And just spending that last year with before every game at home, and he wasn't traveling at all anymore. Just came for that last trip here me and VIN and Rick Monday, my partner for fifteen years. The three of us would have dinner every night and figured out. I met Molin I had over a thousand dinners with VIN before every game. And you know, what it's like being in the press room and spending time with your your buddies. And and and you talk about everything and sometimes has nothing to do with baseball's just life, and and to have spent that final year with VIN was extraordinarily and then spending his very last day. Here was was something. So yeah, again, when I was seven I wanted to be like him and all these years later, I was able to work. Alongside him. And to this day. We still talk a lot on the phone when that's wonderful on the I just before we we leave. You know, I would be remiss fight it Nasc about this dodger team that you've been broadcasting six straight division titles. Two straight pennants. There's always a little shot in Freud here in in San Francisco. A lot of the fans here had rooted for the outcomes in the World Series that actually happen. But what I mean, how hard is it been in Los Angeles to get that close twice and to see this team, especially the first year when they went to Houston and play the Astros lost game seven at home. And then to get rolled like they did last year in against the Red Sox. I mean, I would imagine that that has just created a lot of chalkboard scratching angst in LA. I look at it differently. And maybe it's because of what I do for a living is a little more, clinical and a little less cynical. And winning the division six years in a row big deal getting to the World Series two years. Running is a big deal. You know, what we do for a living? What fans do what players? Do you wanna play in games at count in August and September when you come to the ballpark, and there's energy in every game counts. Every inning councilman as season gets closer and closer to the finish line. Every pitch counts. And that's all you can do. And then once you get there. It's the luck of the draws much as anything else, I think two years ago. Legitimate disappointment. Because they had the Astros on the roads last year. The Red Sox were just the better team. So I I marvel at the consistency of this team. The fact that the dodgers are more than likely going to win the division again this year unless something unforeseen happens not only testament to their strength with the relative weakness of the division. They're really good. And again, all you can do is hope to be relevant in September and October and let the chips fall where they may. I I guess I don't get as crazy about it as fans because some around to so closely. Okay. You don't call into the talk shows, then I don't listen to that. There you go. Well, listen, Charlie. This was a real pleasure. And for being on this podcast. You'll get the same gift certificates that I got when I was on your brigade show, which was bumpkins. Well, I'm hoping for twice as much twice as much twice times. Bupkus is still bupkus. Thanks a lot. And then you have a great rest of your season. Charlie. Thank you. Thanks again. For listening to this episode of giant splash. We'll have much more as the month of may in the season continue. Giants. Double plays part of the San Francisco Chronicle podcast network. Audrey Cooper is editor in chief. If you like this show, please subscribe Tele friend or give us a review, you can support giants double play in a lot of great journalism with subscription to the chronicle. There are print and digital editions. You can find out more at SF chronicle dot com slash subscribe. If you wanna find me on Twitter, I am at Hank Schulman or you can Email me at h Shulman at SAF chronicle dot com.