By Leonard Shapiro
Special to Washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 7, 2008 3:45 PM
After nearly a quarter century in the broadcasting business, Washington Nationals television play-by-play man Bob Carpenter doesn't get particularly nervous when he's on the air. Still, last Friday night, he was just a bit on edge up in the booth even as the Nats were ending a nine-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
It was Aug. 1, the day he would learn whether the option year on his one-year contract with MASN would be renewed for the 2009 season.
While Carpenter technically is an employee of MASN, the decision ultimately would be made by the same baseball team that had treated him so shabbily a year ago. He was told late last season he'd be wise to start looking for other work because the club had its eye on several other broadcasters for a job he's held since the Nats came to town two years earlier.
Fortunately for Carpenter and the many fans who were outraged when they learned about a possible switch for the 2008 season, his potential replacements were not in the least bit interested. The club finally came to its senses and offered him a new one-year deal with an option for a second, and Carpenter decided to stay, even if the far better move would have been for the team to offer him a much longer deal.
In any case, shortly after last Friday night's victory over the Reds had been secured, Carpenter got the call from station executive Chris Glass that his option to continue as the first and only television play-by-play voice of the Nationals had been renewed for next season.
"Friday night was a very good night," Carpenter said in telephone interview Monday before leaving for the ballpark in Denver to call the team's fourth straight win, a 9-4 decision over the Colorado Rockies. "We broke a long losing streak, and I got some security."
Carpenter has been in the business long enough to know there are hardly any guarantees in his chosen profession. He said the longest contract he's ever had was four years at ESPN from 1997 to 2001, when he handled a variety of assignments for the worldwide leader.
But the relatively lengthy deal only came about because CBS made a run at him, at least giving him some bargaining power he's never really had in Washington, until many Nationals fans let MASN and the team know how unhappy they were last year when he nearly lost his job.
Why did it come down to that in the first place?
Carpenter prefers not to talk about it, but clearly there were so-called "chemistry issues" with Hall of Famer Don Sutton, the former pitcher who joined him as a color analyst in the booth in 2007. Sources back then and now have said Sutton was not entirely comfortable working with Carpenter last year and essentially told team management he thought Carpenter talked too much during the broadcasts.
You could have knocked Carpenter over with a dust-off pitch when he first heard about it from Nats management last year. But once he signed the new deal last fall, the two men spoke at length in several offseason telephone conversations about how to resolve their issues, and after making what he described as a "few adjustments, " Carpenter said there have been no problems this season.
"It's all water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned," he said. "This year we've had smooth sailing. The fact that they picked up the option for next season would indicate they were satisfied with what we've been doing.
"Someone asked me why doing it for a fourth year (in 2009) would be so important to me. Well, you go to high school for four years and you graduate and you go to college for four years and you graduate. I'd like to be back for my senior year, because I think the Nationals are going to be a better team next year, a much better team, and I'm excited about having the chance to see it and call those games."
And even as the Nats face the prospect of finishing with the worst record in baseball, despite their current mini-spurt, Carpenter also remains excited about going to the park every night to do the games, as depressing as many of them eventually turn out.
Both on and off the air, he remains an eternal optimist. Some of his critics might also say he's an unabashed homer, and both he and Sutton clearly would be wise to stop referring to the team as "we," a frequent occurrence during the game telecasts. But Carpenter makes no excuses for what he would prefer to describe as his upbeat philosophy of play-by-play broadcasting.
"There's no doubt that this season has reminded me how easy I had it in St. Louis," said Carpenter, who handled Cardinals game for a number of years. "We were in the (pennant) race virtually every year, we were contending more often than not, and if we weren't, then (Mark) McGwire was hitting home runs, we had thousands of fans in the park and watching the games.
"The feedback I'm getting this year is that we've done a good job of staying positive despite all the losing. The easiest thing to do would be to kill these guys every night. I had the manager of one team with a better record than we have come up to me before a game and say 'we've got broadcasters working for us who are just destroying us every night, and it's really hurting the ball club.' I'm not interested in doing that."
Carpenter said he comes to the park trying to look at every game as a "new experience, when you might even see something you've never seen before. We hope something good happens, and last weekend (a three-game sweep of the reeling Reds) it finally did.
"Back in 1997, I was working with Ozzie Smith (the Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop), and after one of our first games, he pulled off the headset and said to me 'Partner, the game sure looks easy from up here.' That's something I've tried to never forget. When things are going bad, it's definitely a lot harder being down on the field.
"I hear some of these talk show guys around the country being so critical of the players, but really, they have no idea what it's like down there. So Don and I choose not to do that, and I think that's a good philosophy to broadcast by."
For the time being, Nationals management apparently feels the same way, at least for another year anyway. Good move on their part, though longer would be even better.E-Mail of the Week
Lt. Col. Bill Reyes (U.S. Marine Corps) -- Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Like many native Washingtonians, I have grown up with Phil Wood going back to the days of his sports call-in show on WTOP Radio. He is a local treasure. Baseball is woefully under-reported/represented on the various local media and the cancellation of his show just exacerbates the situation, even if it is so predictable. (As a die-hard Redskins fan, Dan Snyder is making it tough to love our team, but as Seinfeld says, you root for the jerseys!) I hated to hear that he bought WTEM, although if he just allows the irrepressible drive-time "The Sports Reporters" to stay intact, I will be happy. Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin are our superior version of WFAN's "Mike and the Mad Dog" show. I write to you because I know you will express the vox populi most accurately.