Talking up The Ticket

Or: Why The Fake Johnny Oates is better than the real thing

Until today, the weather had been warm in Port Charlotte, Florida, temperatures reaching into the lower 80s, the wind barely existent, humidity thick during the wee small hours. But this morning, especially through press-box windows that open to reveal a neatly trimmed baseball diamond below, the air is dry, crisp, and brisk at Charlotte County Stadium.

George Dunham--one-half of Dunham and Miller, KTCK-AM (1310)'s morning show--refers to it as the "ill wind" blowing through the Texas Rangers' spring training. "Can you feel the ill wind?" he asks repeatedly, even addressing the question to Rangers pitcher Rick Helling, who responds: "Uh, not really."

It is 6 a.m. Central Standard Time on March 8, and Dunham and partner Craig Miller are only 30 minutes into their first broadcast of spring training. Miller is in the middle of a story about hotel accommodations and sleeping arrangements when he and Dunham get word over their headphones that the inevitable has happened. They are told that Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankees great and the man who always insisted on being called the "greatest living ballplayer," has died at the age of 84.

The news does not come as a great surprise; it's more of a relief than anything else, DiMaggio's long battle with cancer finally over.

So, for all of 43 seconds, the hosts of The Ticket's morning show talk about DiMaggio's death.

Then it's back to stories about snoring and how the sound of the television makes it hard for "Junior" Miller to fall asleep. It's a transition so jarring that even one of their own can't help but notice.

"That's what's wrong with The Ticket right there," mutters Gordon Keith, the voice behind such impressions as The Fake Johnny Oates and The Fake Randy Galloway. Keith, who doesn't even like sports, is only joking--his comments go out over the air. But he knows the station will get some grief over the lack of proper respect paid DiMaggio's death. It wouldn't be the first time in the station's five years of existence that someone accused the sports talk station of paying short shrift to...well, sports.

Miller tries a few minutes later to engage his partner in a conversation about DiMaggio, and for a few moments, they half-heartedly argue about whether DiMaggio was the greatest living American sports hero. But no one seems terribly interested. Instead, the two would rather talk about how Dunham forgot to pack underwear for his trip to spring training.

DiMaggio's death is relegated to Keith's regular "Muse in the News" segment, lumped in with director Stanley Kubrick's demise one day earlier. And then, Keith suggests that DiMaggio, who "used to be a baseball player of some sort," died as the result of a "murder-suicide pact" with Kubrick. It is rather funny--and the very reason Dunham and Miller still get e-mails lambasting them for being nothing more than Howard Stern knockoffs.

A few minutes after this broadcast ends, Craig Miller sits in the press box and wonders if maybe he and Dunham didn't make a mistake by spending more time talking about underpants than about DiMaggio. Indeed, that's all Dunham and Miller think about for the rest of the day: How did we let that get by us?

"I think we really dropped the ball there," Dunham says with a shrug. "I went back to the hotel and watched all the retrospective pieces on DiMaggio and thought, 'We didn't do that with the proper respect, especially for the all-sports station.' Sometimes we do get too caught up in what we're doing as much as what's going on around us."

If nothing else, he figures, Greg Williams and Mike Rhyner, hosts of The Hardline, will talk about it during their 3-7 p.m. show. Williams and Rhyner are both baseball fanatics--that, and they have to figure out where DiMaggio's death fits into their regular "trifecta watch," a feature built around the fact that celebrity deaths come in threes.

It's little wonder that even now, some Ticket staffers wonder if they're perceived as "nonprofessional" (in Miller's words) by their peers.

"It's not like we're seen as complete jokes," Miller says. "I don't think people see us as complete jack-offs. I think on our show a lot of times we do come across that way, and a lot of times we are that way. But I think everybody's done a good job of maintaining that balance, not getting so ridiculous you can't be credible. I mean, we get accused of not talking a lot of sports, but it's pretty much what we're thinking about all of the time when we're away from the job."

The Ticket, at its best, lies somewhere between SportsCenter and The Howard Stern Show. At its worst, the station is filled with vacuous talk-talk-talk that kills the time between Dunham and Miller and The Hardline.

It's shrewd enough to talk sports insightfully--especially with regular guests such as Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, Dallas Mavericks point guard Steve Nash, or Texas Ranger Rusty Greer--but smarter still to admit that at the end of the day, there's only so much ball-and-strikes talk a grown man can stand. That's why former Dallas Cowboy Harvey Martin proclaims himself an enormous fan; so, too, do Channel 4's Mike Doocy and other local media folk.

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