Steve Stone has been the White Sox’ TV analyst since 2009. | Sun-Times
The longtime Chicago baseball observer talks about broadcasting during the pandemic, working with Jason Benetti and the Sox’ postseason prospects.
“Hold on one second, Jeff,” Steve Stone said.
His speech was obstructed by what had to be a cigar, knowing his affinity for stogies and hearing that discernable flick of a lighter.
“Are you lighting up?” I asked.
Sure enough, Stone was sitting on his patio Tuesday afternoon smoking the last of his Trinidad Fundadores. He had saved it for his last day in town before leaving for Arizona on Wednesday. It was an honor to share in that moment.
Stone, the White Sox’ TV analyst since 2009 after a year on radio, hopes he has a reason to return to Chicago soon. If the Sox, who begin their American League Division Series against the Astros on Thursday, play in the World Series, Stone promised himself he would come back for it.
“I would find some way to get to the ballpark, maybe have to sneak in,” he said. “I don’t know if they have knotholes anymore. It would be really exciting.”
The Sox’ rise to stardom the last two years has been just that. But it also has been equally challenging for the broadcast crew because of the coronavirus pandemic. The last road trip of this season marked the first time Stone and play-by-play voice Jason Benetti traveled since 2019.
But Stone said calling games off monitors didn’t bother him. He knows it’s better to be at the ballpark, but he said as an analyst, he’s chiming in after the play, not in real time like Benetti. He expressed gratitude for the production crew, which faced its own challenges while working remotely.
“We were able to see how our camera people, engineers, sound guys worked in comparison to what they called the world feed at various places,” Stone said of the video teams shared. “I’m not gonna indict anybody else. I’m just gonna tell you that our guys are the best that we see all year long.”
And he believes the broadcast as a whole falls in line.
“One of the things that I told a few of the powers that be, with the advantage of doing this for a long time,” Stone said, “I said you should be proud of our broadcast because in an era of homogenization, nobody sounds like us. We have a unique broadcast.”
That’s for sure. Take a spin through local MLB broadcasts, and you’ll find many sound and look the same. But the Sox’ broadcast stands out. It even has national appeal. The website Fangraphs polled fans last December for their favorite team broadcasts, and the Sox ranked second (the Mets were first).
Such popularity isn’t new to Stone, who worked with Hall of Famer Harry Caray on Cubs TV from 1983 to ’97. Caray died before the next season, but he and Stone helped give the Cubs a national following on superstation WGN. They often were more entertaining than the team.
Stone said he’s trying to do for Benetti, who joined him in 2016, what Caray did for him.
“Harry taught me a little bit about what sells, what doesn’t sell. How to treat certain situations,” Stone said. “Harry taught me about being a local broadcaster, being able to criticize but being able to understand that this is the team you want to win.
“When Jason strays into areas that I think he might wanna do a different way, I’ll say it. Sometimes he buys it, and sometimes he doesn’t. He’s a very strong-willed guy. He is a marvelous broadcaster. I just don’t want him to lose sight of the fact that there’s a lot of ways to do this. There’s a certain amount of finesse that goes into certain calls.”
Stone feels fortunate to work with Benetti and for Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who he said gets a bad rap. Stone said when the 2020 season was paused in spring training and a number of entities either didn’t pay their broadcasters or significantly cut their salary during the hiatus, Reinsdorf made sure his broadcasters never missed a check.
“That type of loyalty is something that you don’t see very much,” Stone said. “Those are things that you have to repay with that kind of loyalty. At least that’s my way of thinking. People just don’t understand. They look at him, and they criticize him. But he is one of the most wonderful people to work for. If you do your job, if you’re loyal to the organization, he will be phenomenally loyal to you.”
As for the Sox, Stone said they could lose in the division series or win the World Series. He said they have the talent to beat anybody, but they must play good defense, limit the opposition’s running game and have their starting pitchers go a bit deeper into games. He still believes the Sox haven’t played their best yet.
But if they fall short, Stone is confident they’ll rise again.
“I don’t think they have to beat [the Astros] to make this season a success. The season is already a success,” he said. “They would love to be able to go deep into it. Don’t forget, this team is much better than the team last year, but it’s not as good as the team’s gonna be next year.”