A Conversation With Mariners Announcer Tom Hutyler: Pronounciation, Acoustics, and the ’95 Season

Tom Hutyler has been the Mariners’ public address announcer since 1987: he’s the man who announces the players at Safeco, and he did the same at the Kingdome when the Mariners played there. I recently talked with him about the 1995 season and some of the technical aspects of announcing for the Mariners. Here’s part one of our conversation (see part two here):

Arne: With the strike having just ended, were the fans a little surly at the start of the 1995 season? Did they boo the players more often? Or maybe there just weren’t as many people at the games?

Tom: The fans were not really surly. There was a little bit of skepticism. Fans who were spending their money on baseball, they felt betrayed. For Joe Average there was that sense of “Why do I need to feel sorry for these millionaires?” There was an attitude against the team, a feeling of betrayal.

Arne: When did the fans first get really involved in the season? Was it when Griffey hit his homer in August against the Yankees?

Tom: Yes, that was the pivot point, when people started to think this could really happen. A lot of players in the background, people like Doug Strange, not your everyday players, they picked up the slack. And they turned to gold, those players who weren’t regulars. Then there were those trades for Coleman, Benes; they were really critical also.

Arne: In your approach to announcing the games, do you try to keep yourself detached from the action, to be more of a professional, and not so much of a fan?

Tom: You’ll notice, if you’ve been to Safeco, there’s a decidedly different way in which I announce the batters for the Mariners and the visitors. But I try to be professional, to respect the sanctity of baseball, and not treat the game as a sideshow. I want to be entertaining and clear. Having said that, when I announced the games in 1995 it was very difficult for us to maintain our decorum as broadcasters. We were very excited during the games. I don’t know if people noticed, but between pitches I’d be pacing around the booth, trying to settle myself down.

Arne: Was the job of announcing harder in the Kingdome because of the acoustics of being indoors; would you hear echoes?

Tom: Oh, there was a tremendous echo in the Kingdome. It was most difficult to get used to, a real distraction. When small crowds were at a game, you’d hear your voice bounce off the walls, and the echoes would be bouncing around as you said the player’s name. I’d say, “Number 24, Ken Griffey, Jr.,” and “four” would come back to me as I said “june-yuhr.” When the Kingdome was a shell and they were preparing to take it down, someone said my voice was still lingering in the corners.

I don’t know if it was because the Kingdome wasn’t acoustically sound, or if that’s just the nature of domes. Maybe there have been technological advances to resolve those things. But there were pockets in the Kingdome where people said they couldn’t hear me at all or it sounded like I was right next to them.

Arne: It seems there were two real sustained, memorable ovations in the ’95 season, and one was Randy Johnson coming into game 5 against the Yankees.

Tom: From the booth, we’d seen Randy warming up down in the bullpen, and as he started heading onto the field, we cued up “Welcome to the Jungle.” The fans were starting to cheer, and it was a question of how to time it, and getting the energy into announcing his name. As he was coming in you had the swelling of the crowd noise, and you try to capture that emotion in your voice.

Arne: And then there was that long ovation at the end of Indians series.

Tom: I just let it go, didn’t say anything, then finally said something quiet, like “It’s been a great ride, hasn’t it?” I remember the applause, it was really emotional. It almost spoke to the innocence of Seattle, not having gone through the playoffs or a championship game before. Everybody-all of the players-were touched by that ovation. It showed how appreciative fans were of the team. It was spontaneous, so you don’t bother it. I normally do a game recap, but there was no way to do that, no need for music or talking. People were celebrating, even grieving almost. When I’m watching a game on tv I sometimes get irritated by the announcers: there’s no need to tell us what we just saw as viewers. The senses get it.

Arne: How much contact do you have with the Mariners players and coaches?

Tom: Not as much as I used to. I have more outside responsibilities now: I work at KOMO. Before, there were some players I just naturally had more of a relationship with: David Valle, Mark Langston, Harold Reynolds, Alvin Davis. Griffey would sign bats for some charity auctions I did. But it hasn’t been as close over the last few years.

Arne: Do you get players asking you to change the way you pronounce their names or just the way you say their names?

Tom: You know, it’s something I’m surprised more announcers don’t do. They’ll assume a name is pronounced a certain way based on how they’ve heard others say it. The more professional way is to just ask the players “How do you pronounce your name?” It can be tricky with the names of Latino players especially. For Raul Ibanez, once I got his name down I’d say “Rauuuuull Ibanez,” stretching out the name.

The Yankees pitcher, Mike Mussina: I’d always heard his name pronounced “Muh-seen-a,” then one day I went in and asked him, and he said he pronounces it with an “e”-”Mess-seen-a.” For Ichiro, of course he has just the first name on his uniform, and people wonder why I say the full name, Ichiro Suzuki. Well, I asked him how he wanted me to do it, and he said “Ichiro Suzuki.” He wants that.

Players don’t tend to notice so much the way I say their names. The bigger thing with them is the music we play. Some will send up cds to the booth and say, “I want this played.”

There was one catcher a few years ago who, well don’t quote me on exactly who it was, but in the year when there were all those bad Mariners catchers. He’d call up to the booth between innings and say, “Why didn’t you play this? Why did you play that?” And you’d wonder, “Shouldn’t you be paying attention to the game and not the music? Isn’t this why you’re hitting .200?”

Different players like country, hip-hop, rock. One player wanted nothing for his at-bats: he didn’t like the distraction of the music.

(continue to part two)

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