Bob Costas: 2012 Cronkite Award Winner

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A discussion with Bob Costas, the recipient of the 2012 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism presented by ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Ted Simons: Bob Costas is one of the most familiar voices and faces in broadcasting. He's also the 2012 recipient of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite Award for excellence in journalism. Earlier I spoke with Bob Costas about his career. Thank you so much for joining us on "Arizona Horizon." It's great to have you here. Cronkite award. What are your thoughts?

Bob Costas: Obviously it's both thrilling and humbling. I was lucky enough to know Mr. Cronkite. There cottonwood to be a late night interview program and if the guest was substantial and interesting enough, we would tape two and sometimes three programs. We did a double with Walter Cronkite. That was the first time I met him. Must have been around 1990. For whatever reason, luckily for me, he seemed to take a liking to me. He was very supportive and kind in his comments. Our paths crossed several times subsequent to that. So I think it's something nice for any broadcaster to be able to say that they actually knew Walter Cronkite, there's a Mount Rushmore of broadcast journalism, he's on it.

Ted Simons: When you were younger, go back as far as you want, when you were a kid, did you aspire to be Walter Cronkite?

Bob Costas: No.

Ted Simons: Did you --

Bob Costas: I aspired to be Vince Skully or Marty Glickman. To be a radio announcer, primarily a baseball announcer but I was interested in all sports. Even hosting, let alone doing anything -- I always thought of myself as a play-by-play man. That's how I arrived at NBC in the early 1980s. But then when Bryant Gumbel went to the Today Show they really didn't have anybody who they thought of as a likely successor. They asked me to take a swing at it, and one thing led to another, not just in hosting sports event but doing nonsports type assignments, appeared I'm glad because I was still able to stick with play-by-play. It filled the spectrum out for me.

Ted Simons: Did you want to be play-by-play, was there a point that you decided, well, I want to be Mickey Mantle, was there a point you realized, this is what I'm going to do, and I'm good at this?

Bob Costas: Well, the first part I think that I consciously realized when I was about nine or ten even though I had the same dream every other kid in the neighborhood had to be Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, if I was going to get into a game without buy ago ticket it was to sit where Red Allen was, not to be where Mickey Mantle was. The notion that I was good at it, that takes a while. I knew I was a little bit better than some of the kids at Syracuse University, but I knew there was a big gap between that and the very best people that I aspired to one day join. That took a while.

Ted Simons: So you got to sports casting, Syracuse university, St. Louis, you've done so much. When you get out of sports -- you said the opportunity presented itself. Was that something you were looking for?

Bob Costas: No. I really have never had a master plan except that I wanted to wind up doing big league baseball somewhere. Preferably in a city where they had a team with a history and tradition. The Cardinals, Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs. Something like that. Then one thing just led to another. These positions were offered to me, and in some, in most cases I said I'll take a crack at it and things worked out okay. But I never pushed for it or never had a specific plan.

Ted Simons: Do you still see yourself as a play-by-play guy more than an interview host or have you grown into that role?

Bob Costas: I think most people see me as a host, interviewer, even a commentator. The one area where I still really enjoy it is baseball. I do think that some portion of the audience still thinks of me as a baseball announcer. Maybe not exclusively, but in addition to the other things.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the state of sports in the United States. Start with baseball. First of all, the Giants winning the world series.

Bob Costas: Right.

Ted Simons: The concept of a bunch of guys not -- a bumbling of guys who just play -- I found that encouraging.

Bob Costas: You know, and there were some imperfect body types out there. You had Sandoval and Fielder on the other team. Even Lincecum, whip thin, they didn't look like a prototypical team and they didn't win like one. A group bipartisan and large of contact hitters, good defense, very strong pitching. The way baseball has evolved now, it's just the way it is, the best teams don't necessarily wind up in the World Series. Neither the Giants or the Tigers were the best over the course of the season, but you've now got a ten-team tournament. In baseball especially different from other sports any team good enough to be in that tournament could beat any other team in the best of five or seven.

Ted Simons: Is that a good thing?

Bob Costas: I think on balance it's a good thing. Will you ever have epic pennant races like the giants overtaking the Dodgers in 1951? No. The World Series will only infrequently match the two best teams in all of baseball, but this system gives more teams than ever and fans something to aspire to. You don't have to be the team with the biggest payroll if you can get in the tournament with 87, 88 wins, anything can happen.

Ted Simons: You got a bunch of guys looking like the Giants running around you can sweep a team of arguably more talented players.

Bob Costas: They just swept the Yankees, then they turn around and get swept by the Giants.

Ted Simons: Football undoubtedly is America's passion. How did that happen?

Bob Costas: The game televises extremely well. The way it's set up they play once a week so every game seems important. 16 games seems like the right number. You get into the playoffs, every game in football is the equivalents of a seventh game in baseball, basketball, or hockey. Every game is win or go home in the post-season and their post-season comes in January when people are home watching TV. It just works out perfectly. These games are played for the most part on Sundays. It's a good TV day there are so many baseball games that it's become a regional sport. People still passionately follow their own team, but they don't follow games on a national level the way they used to. Forgive me if this goes on too long, but a couple of us were reminiscing just last night as we looked at the ratings. Lowest ever even though it's two fairly large market teams. We recalled the World Series between Cleveland and Ohio. Don Olmeyer publicly said I hope the World Series is a sweep so we can get back to Seinfeld and E.R., Friends, everything that NBC was the number one network at that time. The ratings, that World Series got a 15. The seventh game got a 25. When it went into extra innings and pushed past 11:00 it was pushing past 30.

Ted Simons: With that in mind is baseball in danger of becoming a niche sport?

Bob Costas: No, because its revenues continue to grow from all the aggregate sources. ML, all the local telecasts and radio broadcasts. They are online. Overseas marketing. Ticket sales are generally strong. When you and I were kids a team would brag about breaking the million Mark in attendance. Now almost every team breaks 2 million, many break three and approach 4 million. It's strong at that level, it's just lost some of its national appeal. If the Dodgers played the Yankees, if the Cubs got in the world series it becomes for that brief period of time a national story.

Ted Simons: Back to football, the issue of concussions in football. Again, is that something that could change the nature of the sport to where it could become like boxing, so violent the public turns away?

Bob Costas: No, that's an important question. Even as popular and profitable as football is they realize they have a major issue on their hands because as a generation of parents becomes better and better informed about the fundamental dangers of the game -- almost every sport has some danger but in football it's so brutal that danger is fundamental and we know the consequences rust just aching joints and broken bones. It's often Dementia, disorientation. You're going to have a generation of parents at least some of whom will say I like football and I'm not going to let my little boy play football.

Ted Simons: Since I was a kid I have been hearing how soccer was going to take over America.

Bob Costas: Not going to happen. As a participant sport it's great. More and more boys and girls are playing soccer, but there are too many other sports entrenched in the United States. It's not going to overtake the big three or the big four. No one ever goes to Brazil and says, what's wrong with you that you don't care about the NBA or baseball as much as you care about soccer but people wag a finger at Americans and say it's the most popular sport in the world, what's wrong with wow? There's nothing wrong with us. We grew up on baseball, football and basketball.

Ted Simons: Quit pointing at us.

Ted Simons: Before we let you go, I don't want to ask your best interview or worst interview. I want to ask you, the broadcasting moment that you remember the most. It may be mundane, it may not be. Is there something that you look back on and just even in the recesses of your mind it sticks with you?

Bob Costas: I walked into Yankee stadium, October 1 or 2, 1980, and I had done two baseball games for NBC. I was not yet part of their regular rotation of baseball announcers. They had this game scheduled between the Yankees and the Tigers as the backup game in case it rained at the other game. And it did. And it turned out that the Yankees, who should have clinched earlier in the week, had gone on a short losing streak and their magic number was still one. It rained all day in Montreal. Suddenly, I, unknown outside St. Louis, was addressing the entire country but more importantly, I walked into Yankee stadium where only a short few years before I would have walked in clutching a ticket. I walked in and stood at the batting cage and acted the role of network announcer, whatever that meant to me then, and I called this game in which the Yankees clinched the American league east. That wasn't necessarily the most important but it was the one that gave me goosebumps.

Ted Simons: Isn't that something. Real quickly, it felt right? Did something feel right about you being there?

Bob Costas: I knew that I loved it. I wasn't as good as I later became. I hope. I was okay. But it was just the tremendous thrill.

Ted Simons: Bob, great to have you here. Congratulations on all your success. Thank you for joining us.

Bob Costas: Thanks a lot

Bob Costas

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