Few people in sports media have as diverse a résumé as Dave Sims. Currently the play-by-play broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners, Sims has worked as a newspaper beat reporter, talk-radio host, sports anchor and broadcaster on both television and radio. He's covered baseball, basketball and football dating back to the 1970s.
Prior to a game between the Mariners and Red Sox at Safeco Field last week, we sat down with Sims to discuss his experience in the world of sports media—how he rose to where he is now, why baseball has become his sport and how Steve Carlton taught him his first big lesson covering baseball.
Tim Britton: You've done seemingly everything in sports media. When you were getting into it, was there a set career path you wanted in your mind or was it just sports?
Dave Sims: I wanted to be a play-by-play guy from Day One. Newspapers were sort of like getting a master's. I did two years interning at the Philadelphia Inquirer and seven years at the Daily News in New York, and it was like getting a post-graduate degree. I learned so much. I got my butt kicked and thrown into the deep end and I swam out.
Broadcasting came about right as the cable explosion happened. CNN took to the air, and competitors started coming in. ABC and Westinghouse created Satellite News Channel, which is now Headline News. They wanted to recruit journalists who were photogenic and could be on camera. That's how I got into it. I practiced with a lawyer/agent and sent a tape out to them. I was a runner-up at Satellite News Channel, but then the guy who beat me out went to WCBS in New York after six months, and they called me out and I got the job. I've been in TV and radio ever since.
TB: What was it that drew you to broadcasting?
DS: I've been a jock all my life. My father used to run the Philadelphia post office softball and basketball leagues. So I've been going to games as long as I can remember. As a youngster, I was going to Phillies games, Eagles games, Warriors games. I got to see all the great players in the late 50s and early 60s. This is what I know and like. It's my environment.
TB: Were you the kid talking into a recorder while watching a game?
DS: You know, I was playing a lot. I had the old electronic football game, there was a company called Tudor that had a baseball game we played. Dice games, card games. This is before Strat-o-matic. My brothers did that. It's been my life.
TB: Did you have broadcasters you looked up to?
DS: Growing up in Philly, Bill Campbell was the voice of the Eagles when they won the '60 championship and went on to the Phillies and the Sixers. He was locally probably the biggest influence on me.
Of course the national guys speak for themselves—Vin, Curt Gowdy, Charlie Jones who I got to work with in the Olympics in 1988 and I always admired his work. We became friendly. The usual subjects.
I used to hate and love Mel Allen because when I'd hear his voice, being a Philly guy, we always have that complex about New York. You'd hear Mel Allen and know the Yankees were in the World Series. 'Son of a —!' I can remember that when I was four and five years old.
I was a pretty good athlete. I played CYO ball, I was a four-year letterman in baseball, I played football three years. So football and baseball were my sports. I got recruited by Temple late in the year and thought I didn't know if I wanted to be playing Penn State and West Virginia and those guys.
So I wanted to stay in sports. Somebody had told me maybe it could work in sports media. It's not like there were a whole bunch of black guys in sports media mainstream at that time. It's a lot better now—not that it's great now, but it's better than it was 40 years ago. I said, 'Screw it, let's go for that.'
TB: You said sportswriting was like a master's degree. What did you learn in that time?
DS: How to attack a story, to make sure you're balanced and just be persistent. The other thing, too, is you can't be afraid. One story I remember, and I didn't know there was this baseball ritual at the time, this is in '74 and it's the first time I'm covering a Phillies game. This is Steve Carlton and those guys. I go in to Steve Carlton and say, 'Steve, Dave Sims of the Philadelphia Inquirer,' and he turns and gives me a look that could melt iron. Some guy tells me, 'Kid, you never talk to the starting pitcher on the day he's pitching.' Who knew?
TB: They never tell you those things.
DS: They never tell you that stuff. I'll never forget that.
Later I got the chance to bust his chops. I was doing Phillies Weekly in 1999 or 2000, they came back for a reunion. Harry Kalas throws it to me, 'Thanks Harry, I'm here with lefty Steve Carlton, a guy who gave me a hard time when I was an intern back in 1974. Steve, good to see YOU again.'
He looked at me like, 'What the hell are you talking about?'
TB: How did you make the transition from that to talk radio and WFAN?
DS: I was at WNBC in '86 first, and their competition was Art Rust, Jr. [at WABC]. Art was a friend of mine, and Art was the king at that time, and I did a lot of appearances on his show. NBC tried to fight up to his show, 'Here's Billy Joel and when we come back we'll talk about the Mets.' That didn't work.
So they went hard-core sports. I applied for the job, couldn't get a response. I had known Marv Albert from when I was covering the Knicks as a beat writer. We became friendly. I asked Marv to do me a favor, 'This job is made for me.' The next day I get a call from NBC asking me to come in tomorrow for an interview. February 3 I did an on-air audition and a month later I started. I'll never forget it.
TB: What's it like doing that in the New York market?
DS: It's the best. It's unbelievable. It's ridiculous—the entry that it gives you being a New York talk-show host. I wound up filling in on Channel 4 [as a sports anchor]. It's a major market. It's the No. 1 market. It's a monster, the Big Apple. It's a thrill. When the season's over here, I still live there. I love it.
TB: How different is it to go from the beat writer where you're not supposed to have that opinionated take to a talk-radio host where that's basically the job?
DS: You know, I thought you were going to ask what it was like being a home-team announcer. I'm from the Phil Rizzuto school; I'm a flat-out homer. I want these guys to win every game.
Doing a talk show, going from a beat writer, you had to be more of a generalist. You had to pay attention. I like hockey. As a matter of fact, I love hockey. I just don't have time for it now. And in those days, I had to watch as many hockey games, try to get to a few games, watch the NBA, go to college games, watch stuff on TV. Thankfully, at that time VCRs were big, so that was huge. That was a life-saver. I wound up stacking two TVs so I could try to watch two games at once. 'We can't go out because the Giants are playing the Eagles!' I don't have to worry as much about that now.
TB: You said you were in the Phil Rizzuto school. Is that a conscious choice you make or is that just how it evolved?
DS: You sort of morph into it. For so many years, I did Big East football, I did the NFL, and you've got to play it down the middle. I'd get excited for both teams. When I first came here, somebody would do something and I'm used to getting excited. People would give me crap all the time on Twitter, 'Why's he getting so excited?' First of all, if a guy hits a ball 400 feet, that's something to get excited about.
But if you listen to me, you can tell by the pitch and tenor of my voice who's winning, whether I'm on radio or TV. That's just the way it is.
TB: You're not a Seattle guy originally. What's it like to come out to this market?
DS: I've enjoyed it. This time of year, it's the best weather in the lower 48.
This city, this region needs a winner so badly. They had the taste in '95, they had another taste in '01. It's been a lot of frustration since I've been here. 2014 was a near-miss. It would be nice to be in a situation where you could win. These people know what it's like to win. The Sonics won years ago, the Hawks have had their share of success. As a baseball fan, you want to see this ballclub and this franchise have success and reap the rewards for it—to have this kind of following on the road [that the Red Sox do].
TB: How different are the seasons for you? Is it tougher when they're out of it early?
DS: You've got to be a pro. I've had a couple 100-loss seasons, a couple 90-loss seasons. There's always another story. If it's not happening over here [on the home side], there's something happening over there [with the road team]. That's the beauty of baseball—the stories you tell.
This club still has a chance, and it's fun going in there and talking to guys. You've got to do it. That's one of the things I learned as a newspaper guy: You've got to do your job. You've got to talk to people, win or lose. Anyone can do a winner. Covering a loser? That's work. I covered the Nets when they were lousy. I've done, 'Third quarter here at West Virginia, and it's the Mountaineers 66, Rutgers 0.' I've done all that kind of stuff.
TB: You've been calling games for more than 25 years. How much has that essential experience changed? What would 1990 Dave Sims walking into a booth think was different now than it used to be?
DS: Well I'm on one team now. I remember Gary Cohen of the Mets telling me, 'Now you've got your team and you're not helicoptering in.' You know all the backstories for your ballclub. And I've been doing it 10 years in the league now. So when I go to see a manager, he knows who I am. I can go into most of these clubhouses, if I need a piece of information, I can go to David Price or Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz. I have relationships with a lot of guys in the American League like that.
TB: I heard your call on Cano's home run last night; it had the "Giddy up" in there. That's one of your trademark calls. Does that happen organically or do you sit down and think those through?
DS: Most of it's organic, though there's a few times I've run it by my sons. Like early last year, I'm on social media and I see Boomstick [for Nelson Cruz]. I remember when I was in the NBA, Slick Leonard was the color announcer on radio for the Indiana Pacers, and when Reggie Miller would hit a three, all you'd hear was, 'Boom, baby!' So I called my kids, 'What do you think of this: "Boomstick, baby!" when he hits a home run?' They liked it, so I went to Nellie, and he liked it. So I ride it. I take a little from John Sterling on that.
You want to have something and have fun with it, too. It's memorable. I used to watch a lot of Westerns as a kid so 'Giddy up' with horses just fits me perfectly. Some moments, it just happens. You're in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden, boom, but you sort of anticipate a moment like last night's. You can sort of have a feel: This is a big moment. If you've got something, if you're going to use it, put it somewhere back here.
Sometimes it just comes out. One time Cruz hit a home run and I just said, 'Let it fly, big guy!' That was from my days as an intern, the Eagles had a wide receiver named Don Zimmerman, and he used to always tell the quarterback, Roman Gabriel, 'Let it fly, big guy.' That's how that happens.
If you try too hard, it can be painful. I try to pick my spots.
TB: Of all the games you've covered, is there a game that stands out to you?
DS: The Felix perfecto. I was hyperventilating and everything. I was trying to calm it down between innings as it got later on. That was the best.
Prior to that, it was George Mason beating UConn. I've called some AFC and NFC championship games that have been unbelievable. When Lee Evans dropped the ball for Baltimore in the near right-corner—my youngest son went to Wisconsin and I'm a Badger fan, and I was really pissed when he dropped it. If he catches that there, the game's over and they win. That one sticks out.
I'm telling you, I've been blessed. I've called a lot of great college-hoop games. Lamar Odom hit a shot sideline left at the buzzer at the Spectrum to beat a great John Chaney Tempe team with Rhody. I mean, it was deep.
TB: How different is the experience calling baseball day-to-day than coming in and doing football or basketball?
DS: It's part of my life. I love it. I'm usually glad when the season's over because I'm tired, but then I get withdrawal symptoms right around Thanksgiving. It's such a routine sport, and that's why it's hard for guys to give it up.
I'm in my 10th year, and I'm probably on the low end in terms of experience. Joe Castiglione's been doing it for 30, Hawk for 40, Vin for 66, Marty Brennaman for 50. It's a good life.