Sportscaster Chris Berman said he knew he had made it big when former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 visited him in the press booth during the 1995 baseball game in which Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record of most consecutive games played in a career.
“[Clinton] told me, ‘I’m surprised you don’t have a nickname for me,'” said Berman, who is known for assigning creative monikers to athletes.
Berman, who has won seven Emmys for his work as an ESPN sportscaster, discussed his career path and formative experiences on Tuesday at a Morse College Master’s Tea before about 75 students. Berman explained how he climbed the ranks of the sports broadcasting industry after graduating from Brown University, where he had done radio play-by-play for the school’s football, basketball and baseball teams.
“I started out working 60 hours a week as a [disc jockey] in Westerly, Rhode Island, where I’d be the only person in the studio in the middle of the night,” Berman said.
Berman was working as a sports radio talk show host for $23 a show in Waterbury, Conn. in 1979 when Bill Rassmussen founded ESPN — the first 24-hour sports television network — in nearby Bristol and hired Berman to anchor the 2:30 a.m. edition of Sportscenter.
It was during one of these wee-hour filmings that Berman uttered the first of a series of nicknames that would make Sportscenter a household name for millions of Americans.
“I was on the air by myself at three in the morning recapping a baseball game, and ‘Frank Tanana Daiquiri’ just came out,” Berman said, referring to his epithet for the former pitcher Frank Tanana. “My producer shouted into my headpiece, ‘What did you just say?’ But it was nothing offensive, so I just kept making puns with names like ‘Fred Crime Dog McGriff’ and ‘Andre Bad Moon Rison.'”
Yalies should resist the temptation of high-paying jobs and go into fields that they find exciting, Berman said.
“Even when I was working in the middle of the night for next to nothing, I couldn’t have been happier,” Berman said. “Whatever you do, you have to do it because you love it. It can’t be for the money, because someone will call your bluff.”
Berman fielded audience questions on issues ranging from his pre-show preparations to the current doping scandal in baseball, prompting Berman to share his belief that 30-40 percent of players take steroids.
Bill Deitch ’07, who calls Yale football and basketball games for WYBC Radio, said he appreciated Berman’s insights on the changing nature of the sports broadcasting industry.
“I’m glad to hear the godfather of Sportscenter agrees with me when I say that Sportscenter’s gone to crap,” Deitch said, referring to his dislike of some of the show’s new features, such as the Budweiser Hot Seat.
Berman said he is less enthusiastic about Sportscenter’s current format, which he said reduces game recaps to “two-shot highlights.”
Patrick Sedden ’09, a Yale football player, said he appreciated the attention Berman gives to Ivy League sports, which are often neglected by mainstream media.
Berman said he is proud of his Ivy roots. When a student pointed out that Walter Camp — a Yalie — invented football, Berman shot back, “Yeah, but did Yale ever go to the Rose Bowl? Brown did.”