Column: Charley Steiner, Rick Monday still on (radio) call

I wish I had not been startled by the words. Alas, the modern announcer has been trained to be inoffensive above all.

Seldom is heard a discouraging word, at least about the home team. Tell it like it is, unless it might upset team executives or players.

Not that Charley Steiner or Rick Monday, the Dodgers’ radio broadcasters, much care. The Dodgers were getting routed by the Atlanta Braves in the first game of their recent showdown series, with Lance Lynn surrendering a grand slam and then another home run within the span of three batters.

The Dodgers’ pitching coach, Mark Prior, visited the mound.

“I don’t know what he’s going to say,” said Steiner, the play-by-play guy. “Perhaps he’s going to deliver a condolence card.”

Monday, the color guy, suggested what Prior ought to say to Lynn.

“Don’t leave fastballs down the middle any more,” Monday said bluntly.

Dodgers broadcasters Charley Steiner, left, and Rick Monday at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 18, 2023.

Charley Steiner, left, and Rick Monday prepare for their radio broadcast of the Dodgers-Detroit Tigers game on Monday at Dodger Stadium.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

That painted a clearer picture for me, a listener without a television, than the generic “missing his location.” Maybe Steiner tickled your funny bone, maybe not, but “deliver a condolence card” conveyed the gravity of the moment better than the similarly generic “going out to settle him down.”

Baseball is supposed to be fun. Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. wears a bright yellow elbow guard, arm wrap, ankle guard, batting gloves and cleats. Monday said Acuña “looks like a mustard commercial.”

“You could see him from the moon,” Steiner said.

Vin Scully had a nightly conversation with the listener. Steiner and Monday have a nightly conversation with each other, two old friends talking ball and having fun and finishing each other’s sentences.

The Mt. Rushmore of Los Angeles sports broadcasting has long since been chiseled: Scully on the Dodgers, Dick Enberg on the Angels, Chick Hearn on the Lakers, Bob Miller on the Kings.

Steiner and Monday know their place.

“We have become kind of like the soundtrack of summer,” Steiner said, “for folks stuck in traffic.”

The Dodgers fell behind that night, 7-1, in the fifth inning. In the radio booth, Steiner and Monday keep their laptop computers on, even amid printouts of all kinds of statistics. Either man could have clicked a few times to see the Dodgers’ win expectancy.

Who cares? Do you really need a specific percentage to tell you a team losing by six runs halfway through the game does not have a great chance to win, particularly when the Braves have a Cy Young Award candidate on the mound?

Dodgers broadcasters Charley Steiner, left, and Rick Monday at Dodger Stadium.

Charley Steiner, left, grew up listening to Vin Scully call games when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. Rick Monday played eight of his 19 major seasons with the Dodgers.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“The Dodgers have to climb Mt. Everest in a pair of sandals,” Steiner said on the air.

The Dodgers and Braves combined to hit seven home runs that night. Steiner and Monday dutifully reported the distance each home run allegedly traveled. Home run distances, after all, are just estimates.

But theirs is not a broadcast powered by Statcast. Never once were the words “exit velocity” or “launch angle” uttered.

Steiner and Monday were more than happy to explain. I did not interrupt. They interrupted each other.

Steiner: “We’re storytellers. I don’t know how that enhances a story.”

Monday: “It’s a bottomless pit. There’s nothing to match it against. But, if I’m sitting in the stands and I see it, I turn to the guy next to me and say, ‘Oh, that was a rocket!’ Am I going to turn and say the exit velocity on that ball was 104 miles an hour?”

Steiner: “Two miles faster than the last one! So what?”

Monday: “So we are those two guys sitting there and telling you about it.”

Steiner: “It’s irrelevant to what we do on radio.”

Monday: “It’s a graphic to show on television.”

Dodgers broadcasters Rick Monday, left, and Charley Steiner at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 18, 2023.

Charley Steiner, 74, says of working with Rick Monday, 77: “We have an affection for the game, an affection for the franchise, and an affection for one another.”

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They can come off as those two guys sitting there telling you how much better the game used to be, but they insist that is not their intent. They say they can compare and contrast eras since they have lived them — Steiner grew up listening to Scully call games for the Brooklyn Dodgers; Monday played 19 years in the major leagues.

If a team gets a runner to third base with none out and the next three batters strike out, that should be embarrassing in any era. Analytics might dictate bunting usually does not pay off, but players seldom practice for the rare occasions when bunting might pay off — like, say, with a runner at third base and one out.

“You don’t teach bunting,” Monday said. “Bunting is not used as a weapon. It’s more of an inconvenience.

“That doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It’s just a fact.”

In the series that preceded the Braves’ arrival at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers pounded the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“You can only put so much lipstick on the pig,” Steiner said.

So, rather than douse the audience with a flood of statistics to certify how outclassed the Diamondbacks had been in that series, Steiner asked Monday if he remembered Muhammad Ali pounding Cleveland Williams in a 1966 fight.

“It was generally regarded as Ali’s most perfect performance,” Steiner said. “I said, ‘Tonight, the second-place Diamondbacks are Cleveland Williams.’

“Does a 20-something-year-old kid have any understanding of what I am saying? I don’t know. I hope so. And, if not, they invented Google for that kind of thing.”

In the booth, there is a wall to the left of Monday’s seat, another to the right of Steiner’s seat. There are two baseball cards on each wall.

The cards next to Monday are the same as the ones next to Steiner. They do not feature baseball players. The cards instead feature Maria Hartmark and James Mims, press box employees for decades.

Steiner and Monday rarely spend time with players. They see Hartmark and Mims at every home game. Hartmark helps run the dining room inside the press box. Mims greets visitors at the entrance to the press box.

To the extent that Steiner and Monday are part of the Dodgers family, the press box is their family home. Night after night, year after year, Steiner and Monday would join Scully and Billy DeLury — a Dodgers employee who, like Scully, had followed the team from Brooklyn — for a pregame dinner in a small room in the rear of the press box.

DeLury died in 2015. Scully retired in 2016. Everyone wanted a moment with Scully that last year — a picture, a quick chat, just a memory. Steiner and Monday had a nightly dinner reservation.

“As the days drew to an end, each meal became a little more sentimental,” Steiner said. “I’ve been in this racket for 56 years. That year — that time with Vin — was the best year of them all.”

Life is better when the Dodgers win, but Steiner and Monday do not see the game through blue-colored glasses. Scully remains their guiding light.

“Vin set the tone and the bar for us to speak the truth as we see it,” Steiner said.

Scully set such a high bar that any other Dodgers broadcaster can pale in comparison. Over the years, Dodgers fans have taken particular aim at Steiner.

Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, center, waves to the crowd as Charley Steiner, right, looks on before a game on Sept. 20, 2016.

Charley Steiner, right, looks on as Vin Scully, with his wife Sandi, waves to the crowd on Vin Scully appreciation night on Sept. 20, 2016, at Dodger Stadium.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

On that Braves broadcast, Steiner misidentified two players in the first inning. He was a little slow in letting you know whether a deep fly ball had actually cleared the fence. The next night, however, when Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario tried to steal home, Steiner called the rarely seen play cleanly and without hesitation.

Steiner used to rail about critics on social media. He believes he has gotten better over time, in calling a game but also in accepting his reputation.

“After a while, whatever quirks or idiosyncrasies a play-by-play guy has are baked into the cake: That’s just Charley being Charley,” he said. “I stopped worrying about it a long time ago.

“I think, after 19 years, they’re reasonably used to me. Do I have my own idiosyncrasies, like any other play-by-play announcer? Yeah. Either you withstand the test of time or you don’t.”

There is grace in the big picture, for Steiner and for Monday too.

“As a kid, he wanted to play for the Dodgers,” Steiner said. “As a kid, I wanted to announce for the Dodgers. We’re doing what we set out to do. Thankfully, we’re still doing that — and we have been attached to Vin. If you talk about us, you cannot rightfully not mention Vin and what he meant to us, as broadcasters and friends, and as a mentor.

“He is with us every day.”

We have listened to Steiner and Monday call Dodgers games for so long that we sometimes forget they are both nationally famous, for reasons having nothing to do with calling Dodgers games.

Steiner was a prominent face in the glory days of ESPN. Monday is the answer to a classic trivia question: Who was the first player selected in baseball’s first draft, in 1965? (Rick Monday, outfielder, by the Kansas City Athletics, from Santa Monica High and Arizona State.)

And, of course, Monday will forever be celebrated for swooping in and rescuing the American flag from two protesters about it to set it afire in the Dodger Stadium outfield. How many events from 47 years ago are remembered, let alone applauded, to this day?

Monday is 77. Steiner is 74. For all of their great stops, this is their last stop.

Three years ago, Steiner thought his ride might come to an abrupt end. That was baseball’s pandemic year, with fans barred from ballparks. The Dodgers set up a socially distanced radio booth, within an empty stadium, but Steiner declined to work there.

If he caught COVID, he would be at high risk of serious illness, because of his age and his diabetes. “If it means you don’t want me around any more,” he said he told Dodgers executive Lon Rosen, “so be it, and my career is cut short by COVID.”

Instead, Rosen arranged for a makeshift studio to be set up in Steiner’s living room. For the short season, Monday set up a motor home outside the Dodger Stadium offices. Coyotes and raccoons would visit at night. For the games, Monday would walk 200 feet to the stadium, say a high-tech hello to Steiner, and the two would call the action.

As a 7-year-old, Steiner would turn down the sound on the TV, then call Dodgers games off the screen, in the family living room. In 2020, when the Dodgers won the World Series, Steiner called the games off multiple screens, in his living room.

“The damnedest thing,” he said.

Monday lives in Vero Beach, Fla., the Dodgers’ old spring home, where his wife Barbaralee owns a bakery called Frosting and a coffee shop and wine bar called Grind + Grape.

Steiner lives alone, year-round, in his Brentwood home. He never has lived in any one place for so long.

He does not travel as much as he used to — he calls 100 games during the regular season, Monday 156 — but he and Monday sit next to one another whenever they fly on the team plane. When we met for lunch, Steiner and Monday each ordered chicken Caesar salad.

“We have an affection for the game, an affection for the franchise, and an affection for one another,” Steiner said. “It’s fun. It’s natural.

“Next year is going to be our 20th year, which is shocking. I’ve never had a partner in anything in life that’s run 20 years.”