When word first hit last year about “Brockmire,” a show on IFC starring Hank Azaria as a weathered baseball broadcaster, it struck me the same way it would if, say, Derek Jeter decided to run a football team.
After all, Azaria has played so many memorable roles in his career, many of them on “The Simpsons.” Yet “The Simpsons” writers clearly love baseball, featuring the sport in too many episodes to mention, and whenever they have needed a baseball broadcaster, they turn first to Azaria’s castmate Harry Shearer, who does a killer Vin Scully. In the Season 2 episode “Dancin’ Homer,” moreover, the episode’s co-writer, Ken Levine, who worked as an actual baseball broadcaster for many years, played the Capital City Capitals’ broadcaster.
Hence my surprise, which I voiced to Azaria last week in a telephone interview, that he too had a baseball announcer in his arsenal. The character, he said, formed from his childhood as a Mets fan — and it gained momentum from his work on “The Simpsons” with Shearer.
“Every once in a while, the Brockmire voice would occur as an incidental sports announcer guy with Harry,” Azaria said. “We would talk about how baseball announcers would say whatever they wanted as long as they said the count afterwards. That’s one of the comedic premises of ‘Brockmire.’”
Azaria’s sports-announcer appearances were incidental enough that I couldn’t recall one, and I have the first 17 seasons on DVD. Kudos to The Ringer for digging up one from Season 8.
The Brockmire character has of course come a long way from there, and if you’ve seen the show, you know it’s both funny and coarse, not unlike many actual baseball broadcasters. Azaria, who grew up in Queens, has only met the modern voices; he has done a few innings with Mets radio guys Howie Rose and Josh Lewin as half-Brockmire, half-Azaria. But with Brockmire, Azaria manages to channel the men he knew only from watching and listening.
Brockmire’s outrageous blazers, Azaria acknowledged, are a tribute to beloved original Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson. His voice and his character are a blend, although I think he sounds like a less Southern version of Nelson’s Mets partner Bob Murphy.
“I watched a lot of Yankees as well, with Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer,” Azaria said. “And the national guys: Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek, Joe Garagiola. Bob Murphy was the most announcer-y of those guys.”
The hard-living Brockmire for sure evokes at least some of the lifestyles these men led. Most of them hid their dark sides from the public better than Brockmire does, although Azaria noted how the late Pat Summerall battled alcoholism and got help from his broadcast partner Tom Brookshier.
“Brockmire” is finishing up the airing of its second season, and IFC has committed to two more. For a guy known for his incredible acting versatility (he also dealt impressively with the controversy surrounding his “Simpsons” character Apu), Azaria feels like he might have found his defining role.
“To me personally, it already is,” said Azaria, who credited the show’s creator Joel Church-Cooper for designing the world in which to place Brockmire. “It’s someone I’ve lived with for many years. It’s the only character I had an idea about and put to fruition all on my own.
“…I’ve spent 35 years working in TV, even up until about 10 years ago, I felt so constrained creatively that I was really frustrated. If I had the Brockmire idea 15 years ago, I’d be lucky to get it onto the air.”
Now, however, “This is the golden age of cable,” Azaria said. “There are a lot of places to do it. It’s really gratifying to watch it evolve into something that’s very exciting from a creative standpoint. It’s great to be part of it.”
— This week’s Pop Quiz question comes from John Santello of Boynton Beach, Fla.: In the 1956 film “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” an Earthling quizzes his alien captors about baseball. What team is the answer to the Earthling’s question?
— In other baseball/film news, keep your eyes open for “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” a documentary on the success of Team Israel in last year’s World Baseball Classic. While I admittedly haven’t seen it yet, it sounds pretty cool.
— The Pop Quiz answer is the Yankees. If you have a tidbit that connects popular culture with baseball, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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