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Judge Watch: Broadcasters hope to hit a home run with call of historic moment

Toronto Blue Jays announcer Ben Wagner sits in the broadcast booth in Toronto, Sunday, April 10, 2022. When Toronto shortstop Bo Bichette snagged a liner in the ninth inning of Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers, Blue Jays broadcaster Ben Wagner called the play with the energy of an observer who was clearly on the scene. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — Yankees slugger Aaron Judge isn't the only one who wants to hit a home run during New York's three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The broadcasters want to knock it out of the park, too. 

With Judge on the verge of tying one of baseball's grand old records, the radio and television play-by-play crews hope to nail the call if history is made.

"You have to live in the moment and you have to deliver it as well as you can," said Ben Wagner, the Blue Jays' radio voice on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. 

Judge has been stuck at 60 home runs for a week, one short of the American League mark set by Yankees great Roger Maris in 1961. He lined out, walked four times and scored twice in New York's 5-2 victory over Toronto on Tuesday night.

There has been a distinct buzz throughout Rogers Centre whenever the six-foot-seven slugger has stepped to the plate in the series, which wraps up Wednesday night. 

That energy is also felt in the broadcast booth.

Sportsnet television commentator Dan Shulman said he uses a "say-what-you-see" approach without scripting his calls. For a potential Judge homer, he'd try to work in three things to serve as building blocks.

"One is the number, one is (that) it ties the American League record, and one is Roger Maris," Shulman said Tuesday afternoon. "Those are the three bits of information. What order they come out in and how I say them, I don't know. But I want to make sure I get all that in."

Judge also has a good shot at winning the American League Triple Crown. He entered play Tuesday with a slight edge in the batting average race and healthy leads in the home run and RBI categories.

Longtime Blue Jays radio voice Jerry Howarth, who retired after the 2017 season, said spontaneity is key for broadcasters in big sporting moments. 

He noted the famous "Touch 'em all, Joe!" call by the late Tom Cheek in 1993, when Joe Carter hit a walkoff homer that gave the Blue Jays a World Series win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

"When he saw Joe jumping up and down going down to first base, he thought in the back of his mind as he was calling the home run, 'Joe! Don't miss first base!'" Howarth recalled. "That iconic call became one that really represents (goals) in our profession: be spontaneous (and) be yourself. 

"Anything that's prepared, you can hear that, too. It just becomes too static and too rehearsed."

Judge, who started the game in centre field before moving to right, batted in the leadoff spot again Tuesday. 

"I want to give it the respect it deserves," Shulman said of a potential Judge home run call. "It's a once-a-decade kind of season that he's having."

The veteran broadcaster, who also calls college basketball games and select MLB games for ESPN, said he might have a slightly different call if he were broadcasting primarily for an American audience.

"I understand where a lot of Blue Jay fans just hate the Yankees and hate all this stuff," he said. "I'm sensitive to that and I understand it. But this is a big sporting moment.

"It's undeniable that 60 and 61 are big numbers, just like 500 and 600 and 700 (career homers) and that sort of thing. So I want to make sure I give it the respect it deserves."

Barry Bonds set the major-league record with 73 homers in 2001.

Longtime broadcaster Rod Black, who left TSN last fall after a long run at the network, said the greatest moments for a commentator are "also the most organic."

"You're a soundtrack and you're a frame of reference," he said. "You give that picture in time to describe the moment and if you can enhance the moment, that's (ideal)."

The Yankees will have an off-day Thursday before kicking off a three-game series at home to Baltimore on Friday. New York closes out the season with a four-game series at Texas next week.

Judge, who's averaging a homer every 2 1/2 games this season, is on pace to hit 64 homers this year.

"It's about framing the moment," Black said. "It's a moment in time and it's going to last forever. You don't want to be eating popcorn in that inning."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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