On Feb. 24, 2022, Tetiana Hranchak awoke to the sound of explosions near her home in Kyiv, Ukraine. She expected Russia’s invasion and knew once it happened that she would leave her home country for the United States. Given her…
Hall of Fame Sportscaster Bob Costas ’74 Reflects on Career, Baseball and His Love of Syracuse University on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
Bob Costas ’74 grew up idolizing New York Yankees’ Hall of Fame outfielder Mickey Mantle during the Golden Age of Major League Baseball, when New York City, with Mantle’s Yankees, Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers and Willie Mays’ New York Giants, was at the epicenter of the sport.
Costas loved listening to baseball on the radio, and he became enamored with the melodic voices and creative storytellers of the day. Hall of Famers like Mel Allen, Red Barber and Vin Scully.
When he arrived at Syracuse University in the fall of 1970 as an aspiring broadcast journalist, Costas just wanted to one day land a radio play-by-play job in baseball. Little did Costas know he would one day wind up in Cooperstown as a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer alongside Mantle and his childhood heroes.
“If I was throwing the rubber ball off a wall and imagining a game in my head as all kids did, I heard Mel Allen or Red Barber or Vin Scully. If I was shooting baskets, I heard Marty Glickman and then his protege, Marv Albert. And part of the reason why, a big part why I went to Syracuse University, is because Marty Glickman and Marv Albert had gone to Syracuse. And so, too by then had Dick Stockton and Len Berman and others,” says Costas, the only person in television history to have won Emmys for sports, news and entertainment.
“Since then, it’s become a list too long to count. It’s Sportscaster U. To me, a game wasn’t a game without those great and often melodic voices that gave the game lyrics and melody almost that quintessential example of that is Vin Scully with the great lyrics and this melodic and rhythmic case and delivery that he had that was perfectly suited to baseball. That wasn’t a partial influence. It was a major influence in my wanting to become a sports broadcaster,” Costas adds.
Costas’ broadcasting career has included winning 28 Emmy Awards, calling 12 Olympics, and covering multiple World Series, Super Bowls and NBA Finals. The WAER Hall of Famer still calls baseball games and makes appearances on MLB Network and CNN, and hosts “Back On the Record with Bob Costas” on HBO.
On this “’Cuse Conversation,” Costas discusses his love for baseball and the new rule changes meant to speed up the pace of play, reveals which broadcasters inspired him, remembers thinking his career was doomed to fail after hearing his first sportscast, shares how WAER and the Newhouse School helped him develop his voice and his style, and relives his most memorable sportscasting moments.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
Check out episode 134 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Bob Costas ’74. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
Helping celebrate the best of Syracuse University, Costas will be among the many participants in Thursday’s Boost the ’Cuse broadcast schedule—a day to come together to support Syracuse and show what it means to be Forever Orange.
01One of the best rites of spring is the start of the baseball season. How excited are you for the start of the baseball season?
I’ve always been excited since I was a kid, always excited for spring training and the start of the real season. But this year more so than in recent seasons, more so than any recent season I can recall because of the rule changes, which were overdue.
02What are your thoughts on the new rules for this year, which include a pitch clock, outlawing defensive shifts and making the bases bigger?
Baseball really went about this in a methodical and diligent way. They tested it out in the minor leagues and they also did something that I thought was very smart. They superimposed the pitch clock over classic games of the past, not games from the very distant past, but from the ’80s and ’90s. And they found that almost always the great pitchers of that era and the hitters that they pitched to beat the clock.
In spring training, just as was the case in the minor leagues, it’s cutting about 25 minutes off the average time of a game. So, it isn’t just the length of the game, it’s the pace of the game. And by outlawing shifts, not only does the game look the way it always has looked, the kind of symmetry that you have with the outfielders more or less being where they’re supposed to be, and the infield, there’s two of them on either side of second base. But the most important thing is that through spring training, ground ball hits are up significantly. So, that’s going to increase offense. It puts more runners on base.
What surveys of fans reveal is that, yeah, they like home runs, but they want the ball in play. They want exciting plays like the stolen base or the ball hit in the gap, or a guy trying to go from first to third, or score from first on a double. All those things are going to be more part of baseball.
03How did you go from someone who loved listening to those Hall of Fame broadcasters to a Hall of Fame broadcaster? How did you develop and cultivate your own voice and your own style?
I never really did any broadcasting at all until I got to Syracuse as an 18-year-old freshman. And my first thought, after I did a sportscast on WAER and heard the tape back, my honest first thought was, I am doomed. I’ve got to rethink my whole plan. There’s no way in the world that I can be anywhere near as good as the people that I grew up listening to and wanting to emulate. My voice was very thin. There were still vestiges of a New York accent. The pace and the rhythm weren’t anything like what I imagined a good broadcast should be. But I guess I learned pretty quickly and I got significantly better with all the repetitions that I had at WAER.
And then by the time I was a senior, I landed a job at WSYR in Syracuse calling minor league hockey games on the radio. Being a hockey announcer was not my ultimate ambition, but I was smart enough to know that you take any job early on that gives you experience and gives you a notch on your resume. By that time, I certainly wasn’t as good as I hoped that I’d become at some point, but I was good enough that some professors at Syracuse told me that I had a chance if I worked at it. I had the potential to be good. And so, at that point I had enough confidence to pursue it.
04You went from being a kid who adored Mickey Mantle to giving his eulogy when Mantle passed away. You were enshrined in Cooperstown as an MLB Hall of Famer in 2018. Do you ever pinch yourself when you think about how successful you've been?
I’ve often had to reflect how fortunate I’ve been. My objective was to become good enough to maybe one day be the radio voice of a Major League Baseball team. And then maybe in the offseason, call basketball games or something. I thought about radio, but television wasn’t really my objective. And my first job when I left Syracuse was on one of the great radio stations, 50,000-watt KMOX in St. Louis. And radio broadcasters then were among the most prominent people in the industry. … But all those things that I wound up doing, hosting football, hosting the NBA on NBC and especially hosting the Olympics, I never thought about that. I admired Jim McKay, but I never saw him as someone I would emulate. And I never thought that someone would ask me to do things outside of sports, like the late night show I used to do on NBC in the ’80s and ’90s following David Letterman. I found out that what I was able to do, at least reasonably well, was greater than my own sense of myself or larger than what my initial ambitions were. Maybe I had a little bit of ability, but I just found myself in fortunate circumstances and I was able to make the most of them.
05What does it mean to be an alumnus of Syracuse University?
We established a Bob Costas scholarship for Newhouse students in the mid-1980s, and the very first recipient in 1987 was Mike Tirico. And I knew then that he was a precociously talented kid. I had no way of knowing how much that talent would develop and he’d become one of the premier sports broadcasters in the country. But that’s a cool thing. And to know Ian Eagle and then his mini-me, Noah Eagle, who looks exactly like him, this wunderkind himself, he’s already the radio voice of the Los Angeles Clippers. I look around [the broadcasting world] and I see all these Syracuse people. If I or Sean McDonough or Mike Tirico or Ian Eagle, if we’ve been a bit of an inspiration to them the way Marv Albert and Marty Glickman were to me, then it’s kind of a cool thing. It’s a generational forever orange thing that’s an important part of my life.