Last week’s conclusion of the 2019 baseball season also marked the end of live sports broadcasts as we know it on WGN-TV Ch. 9. Being a geek for broadcasting while also having watched many games on WGN, I couldn’t help feel nostalgic by the time last weekend came around.
I first made efforts to watch baseball in spring of 1992 while playing in little league. Despite being excruciating awful on the field, I still felt compelled to start watching the game on television. We didn’t have cable in our house at that time, so my only option was WGN, which had the Cubs on each day in addition to one or two White Sox games a week.
Though I was interested in watching both teams, I inevitably grew more of an attachment to the Cubs due to the higher frequency of their games being available to watch. While my father wasn’t much of a baseball fan, I do remember him watching with me on occasion and specifically calling out both Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg as being good players.
As I became familiar with that ’92 Cubs lineup, I also developed an admiration for the broadcast team of Harry Caray and Steve Stone. While most kids watching baseball dream of eventually playing in the big leagues, I would imagine myself in the broadcast booth calling games, even going out of my way to find a toy microphone and to pretend call the games as I watched them from my room. These memories, I attribute to being the spark that ignited my life-long fascination with broadcasting and media.
As I got older and grew to dislike the Cubs (culminating with Stone’s ugly departure from the team after the 2004 season), I took a break from watching sports as I focused my time towards other interests. By the summer of 2009, then out of college and now working full-time, I was looking for something to watch one evening when it occurred to me that I should turn on a ball game. The White Sox happened to be on and by then, Stone had become a member of their television broadcast. As I slowly gravitated to the Sox, there is no doubt that the presence of Stone’s voice helped make me feel right at home while watching those games – some of which would have been on WGN.
While I do have feelings of nostalgia for WGN Sports, I would be remissed if I neglected to acknowledge how much I have disliked the graphics packaged they have used in recent years. Not only is the package ugly, it is poorly designed, especially the score bug where I have often confused the inning marker for the score of the game. It’s not just me. Jeff Agrest identifies his reasons for disliking the WGN Sports graphics package in his Chicago Sun-Times column.
For anyone else feeling WGN nostalgia, yesterday’s Laurence Holmes interview with Dan Roan on WSCR-AM/670 The Score is a must-listen. There, they discuss the heritage of WGN Sports and the significance of its pending end (in addition to some cool Chicago sports stories).
I did watch the final WGN sign offs for both respective Cubs and White Sox broadcasts (both embedded further below). Considering the Cubs’ strong affiliation with the station, I expected more from their closing, but it was the White Sox broadcast that I thought did a far better job at capturing the station’s iconic association with the game of baseball, thanks to the set up by Jason Benetti. It was especially fitting that Stone closed out the broadcast considering he had been such a prominent voice on that station with both teams.
And with that, an iconic reign of Chicago television came to an end.