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The sportscaster San Diegans love to hate

The score on Ted Leitner

Ted Leitner.  "It took people a while to realize that Ted doesn’t take himself seriously."
  • Ted Leitner. "It took people a while to realize that Ted doesn’t take himself seriously."
  • Image by Jim Coit

It’s almost showtime. Ten till five on a Friday afternoon in the windowless studio of Channel 8. Ted Leitner, the town’s predominant TV sports announcer, is sputtering a line of obscenities at the CBS news-gathering network. Of all the feature stories transmitted to Channel 8 during the day, not one pertains to the newscast Leitner is about to give. The black-and-white titles of various features skip across a TV monitor: “BATTERED WOMEN”. . .“NEW FAA REGULATIONS.” Nothing usable.

"The only analogy I accept between me and Cosell is that I will say what I think is right."

"The only analogy I accept between me and Cosell is that I will say what I think is right."

He turns his back on the storage machine and stalks back to his messy office, down the corridor of tutti-frutti wallpaper and into the bright newsroom, which begins to take on the feeling of a playing field. His language improves as more people come within earshot. “Stupid!" he announces. “Totally dumb!”

Nobody looks up. It’s only Ted (“Bucks”) Leitner (six-two. 240) delivering an opinion, and opinion is as common in a newsroom as telephones and gossip. Reporters are like SWAT policemen who train off-duty with high-powered weapons. The better we know our guns, they say, the less we’ll have to use them.

From the Padres clubhouse, pitcher Bob Shirley: “Not too many players like Ted, but it’s not as bad as it was last year."

From the Padres clubhouse, pitcher Bob Shirley: “Not too many players like Ted, but it’s not as bad as it was last year."

Among themselves, reporters discuss what they "really think” about the events and personalities they have to cover, and worse, they sometimes open up at parties; they think that other people can’t distinguish their opinions in features and even news reports, and so they jive about their impressions as if all the world cared.

"I don't talk like other sports guys."

"I don't talk like other sports guys."

What makes Leitner different is that he carries the party into the broadcast studio. He doesn’t deliver opinion, he breathes it. When Leitner explains that boxing promoters put money before the safety of their boys, you get the feeling that you’ve seen this broadcaster’s face before — at a picnic, above a can of Hamm’s. On TV, his opinions may not be original, but they’re striking by default.

Leitner doesn’t try to act natural. He just is.

Leitner doesn’t try to act natural. He just is.

Other sportscasters read the Teleprompter as though the Gospel were unfurling before their eyes, and their idea of acting natural is to wink. Leitner, with his moon face and aviator glasses, doesn’t try to act natural. He just is. It isn’t his fault that other sports announcers are as spirited as tap water. After struggling to drop his Yonkers accent, Leitner’s problem was to tone himself down for television — to make his delivery less “punchy,” he says. All cheeks and | smiles, Leitner looks the same on television as he does when he talks on the radio, where he got his training.

And because the radio announcer is invisible to his audience. he has to project his personality the way an actor does — all the way to the parking lot. Leitner likes to call himself I controversial, when his specialty, really, is frankness, and frankness on TV has so much impact that it looks like honesty.

“Why did you leave Philadelphia to come to San Diego?” a visitor asked Leitner in the newsroom.

“I got fired.”

“How come?”

“They didn’t like me. Which happens to everyone in this business at least once. The station was losing money — and still is, from what I hear — and the New York management said, ‘Let’s make some changes. . . .’ And the audience consisted of your basic blue-collar morons who didn’t like anything controversial.”

“And how did you take getting fired?”

“Well, I was semi-devastated. But it had its up moments. For months I’d been commuting every other weekend to see my kid, who was with his mother in Dallas and then in Irvine, and that got very old. And so it was probably a good thing to be dislodged from a comfortable financial situation and come out here, even though my salary was half what I made back in Philly.”

The salary has improved since then. “When I first came to the station, I was ahead of Ted in terms of salary,” said News 8 anchorman Michael Tuck, who, at thirty-four, is one year older than Leitner. “My base salary is still considerably ahead of his, but he derives income from other jobs, and now I’d say we’re about even. He calls me ‘Bags. ’ He stops by my office and says, ‘Hey, Bags, how’s it going?’ But lately I’ve been calling him ‘Bucks.’ We don’t have to call each other by our names anymore — it’s either ‘Bags’ or ‘Bucks.’

Tuck was the anchorman at WCAU in Philadelphia when Leitner was fired. (He was offered Leitner's job to boot, but declined it.) “When Ted left, he had an offer in Detroit for a lot more money than he was going to make in San Diego,” said Tuck, “but he turned it down . . . mostly because he wanted to be close to his son.” Tuck said that later, when the anchor position opened at Channel 8, “Ted called me and said, ‘Why not come out to paradise?’ and told the management about me.” Though Leitner had nothing else to do with Tuck’s selection (which was based on audience-response tests), the gesture indicates who in Leitncr’s career is both the banker and the giver of loyalty.

“The news director, Jim Holtzman, really stuck by Ted during his first year here,” said Tuck. “A lot of people didn’t know how to take Ted. . . . They didn’t realize that while Ted is poking fun at everybody else, he’s always poking fun at himself. I mean — how can I put this delicately? — it took people a while to realize that Ted doesn’t take himself seriously, because he doesn’t take sports seriously. He thinks it should be fun.”

From the Padres clubhouse, pitcher Bob Shirley said, “Not too many players like Ted, but it’s not as bad as it was last year when he first started doing the play-by-play for TV. When he comes into the clubhouse, you may hear some remarks made. It’s all in fun — but then it isn’t. Ted takes it with a grain of salt. He says, ‘Hey, I’m just doing my job, ’ except most of the players don’t feel his job is to criticize their performance. For me, I say he’s fair. He gives everybody, me included, a shot when they deserve it. Plus, the pressure’s on him to know what’s going on. He has to produce under pressure just like an athlete does.”

When Leitner came to Channel 8, in January of 1978, the station’s rating was only nine points, compared to nineteen for the head-on competitor, Channel 10. (The points translate into percentage shares of the audience. Channel 8 had nineteen percent, compared to forty-one percent for Channel 10.) The latest ratings showed the channels in a dead tie. (Channel 39’s rating doesn’t compare exactly because its news show is broadcast at a different time.) The pressure for top ratings falls directly on the “talent” — the newscasters — whose consolation, naturally, is money. “I remember the first significant jump that showed we were catching up to Channel 10,” said Tuck. “It was the spring of 1979, and the [ratings] book showed us eighteen-to-twelve . . . that is, Channel 10 had dropped one point and we had gone up three. I remember I was with Ted in the newsroom and he turned to me and said, ‘We’re going to get rich,’ though I wouldn’t say it’s really happened yet.”

Money — “the coin,” as Leitner calls it — is one thing he often comes back to in describing his past. His father was a wine wholesaler and his mother commuted from Yonkers to midtown Manhattan, where she clerked in a millinery shop. For entertainment, Teddy and his two older brothers listened to sports programs on a GE radio that took the place of a couple of books in the living room, where his parents slept.

In those days only two games were broadcast on the weekend: a college game on Saturday, and a pro game on Sunday. The broadcasts were so infrequent that every one seemed a special event. He was a junior in high school before he attended his first pro football game. His seat was low above the end zone in Yankee Stadium, and when the teams moved to the other end of the field, there was nothing to do but squint and guess at the action. He could have used field glasses and a portable radio, but didn’t have the coin. And anyway, he’d heard enough games by then to enjoy the spectacle at a distance. “The thing I remember best,” he said, “was looking at the Giants before the game and knowing every player by his number.”

He especially noticed Jim Katcavage, the Giants’ defensive end. Leitner himself was playing defensive end for Roosevelt High, and worked at his position methodically, earnestly. (He started as an offensive tight end as well, but was moved to center when his coaches discovered that he couldn’t see the ball without his glasses.)

Though his teammates elected him co-captain, and he made the all-city team in Yonkers, he never thought of going for the pros. He’d already settled on a career in broadcasting. When he was a junior, the basketball team needed someone to announce the players during the games. Leitner, who cut speech class when his turn came to talk, thought it might be fun to work the P.A. — play like Marty Glickman, the voice of the Giants. He enjoyed it so much he bought a tape recorder with his banked allowance and passed his evenings hearing tapes of his own games. (Not a popular pastime with his father.)

There was never a question of his going to college in New York, since his family lived outside the city and didn’t qualify for free tuition. So he enrolled in broadcasting at the University of Denver and got as far as registering for his dorm room when he learned that the school had no football team. He promptly checked out. Attending Oklahoma State, he broadcast live reports of football, basketball, baseball, and wrestling, then went to the University of Oklahoma for a master’s degree and more radio time.

“When I started doing play-by-play, I had zero experience, ” he said, ‘ ‘and so the only thing I could do was try to sound like Glickman. I’d listened to him so much I could close my eyes and hear him. I still use some of his expressions. I’ll say, ‘The quarterback drops straight back and angles a pass to the right.’ But then I developed my own style, which means I became more comfortable with the way I talk. ...” “Have you ever met Glickman?” a visitor asked.

“Yeah, I met him a couple of years ago while I was doing a game.”

“And?”

“And he was your typical New York standoffish egomaniac. Still, a good announcer.”

At night in bed, trying to sleep, Leitner works up his opinions. This is a practical routine, as he has to have opinions ready for his radio broadcasts at 7:15 and 8:15 a.m. Rising at 6:45, he takes no shower or coffee to prepare himself for work. He reads the Union sports page (leaving the Times in the driveway till later in the morning), and sometimes makes notes in the margin of the script he’s used the night before on television.

He broadcasts from his home in Tierrasanta, a neighborhood of canyons, new landscaping, and campers. One recent morning, around 8:10, he got down to work, ambling into a little room on the backyard side of his house, stepping over the toys of his six-year-old son, Mark, and seating himself at a desk that faced the closed and luminous curtains. He switched on the amplifier and plugged in his earphone. He listened to the station, waiting for his cue. The microphone, his wallet, some gum, and two neat rows of pennies were on the desk before him. A visitor asked why the closet shelf was stacked with TV Guides, and Leitner said he stores the issues that he finds no time to read. Then he got his cue and started talking to the curtains. He leaned forward, smiling, his forearms on his bare legs, and his sweatshirt riding up his back to reveal the top of his broad jock strap. He was through in five minutes.

“I’m working myself to death,” he said later, while resting on the living room couch. He broadcasts four times on an ordinary day (twice for radio and twice for TV), and expects to spend more and more time on the road, doing the play-by-play that he likes best. While he talked, his second wife. News 8 reporter Judy Elfenbein, came downstairs dressed for work. Eight months pregnant, she would have two stories to file that day (a bank robbery and a Bobbysox embezzlement), and after offering a cup of coffee, she left for the station. Leitner remained to answer Greg Kahn’s questions about himself and his work.

Reader: Are there any local players you absolutely do not get along with?

Leitner: No, but I’m sure that the majority of them don’t like me because of what I say on the air. They just haven’t told me to my face. I had a feud with Swen Nater once, when I said on the news that the Clippers stunk after a game and Swen later said in the Union that a certain sportscaster wasn’t giving the team a fair chance because he was evaluating one performance rather than the whole season. Many players think that I should be supporting the team and selling tickets and so forth.

R: And most other sportscasters do that?

Leitner: The players are conditioned to it and the viewers are conditioned to it. That’s why, when I came on the air the first year, it was like culture shock. “Who the hell is this guy that’s telling us this and what an outrageous pain in the ass.” But that wears down when, whether they like me or not, they finally get used to someone saying something besides, ‘‘The Padres are playing tonight, there are plenty of good seats available. Why don’t you come on down to the park?” They’ve had nothing but that in this market, from all those guys. So obviously it was hell for me the first year. Nobody is supposed to come in and say so-and-so is a lousy athlete and a bum. You’re just supposed to give the scores and interview the football coach who says how great Saturday's opponent is going to be whether they are great or not.

R: Recently an article appeared in the Times in which you were quoted as saying that all of the other local sportscasters just read the wire services and you’re the only one who really talks about sports.

Leitner: I was referring to Mike Smith [Channel 39] and Bill Orwig [Channel 10]. But they all are basically straight-type sportscasters, and that doesn’t make them wrong.

R: How would you rate the local TV sportscasters, such as Steve Day at Channel 10, Hal Clement at Channel 8, Orwig, Smith?

leitner: [Hysterical laughter.] You’ve got to be kidding! I don’t rate ’em. Now, this may sound egomaniacal, whatever. I don’t care. I don’t have any competition, because nobody does what I do. I don’t tune in Orwig or Smith or Day and say, “Oh gee, that was really funny, that was really creative. I wish I’d have thought of that .’’They don't do anything that would make me say that. They go and present the same basic stories that everybody else does that day and they may have a feature on a race car driver at South Bay Speedway or an interview with Don Coryell with some action shots at their preseason camp. There’s no way that I can watch that and say that I wish I’d done that. So I don’t have competition. If I was them and watching me. I’d say “That was really different and kind of funny. ” So I honestly don’t watch them because they don’t tell me anything that 1 haven’t seen on the wire that day. There’s nothing else they’re doing. I haven't seen a commentary on any other station during the times that I’ve watched. So there’s no way to rate them except on how pleasant they are, their delivery, and so forth. And I don’t think anybody cares about that.

R: Do you think the local media pampered Bill Walton with his foot injury when he wouldn’t play, and that Lloyd Free was correct in saying that all athletes play injured?

Leitner: I don’t think so, no. It’s much different to have a pulled rib-cage muscle, as Free did. but your foot is it if you’re an athlete. If the wheels don’t carry you, you're useless. How can you play on a broken foot?

R: It just seems that some players do get easier treatment from the media because they’re nice guys.

Leitner: Oh. no question about it!

R: The Padres' Barry Evans comes to mind. When he suffered his psychological trauma last year and went AWOL to “think about his life,’’ the local media showed great sympathy for a young athlete who was under stress. But someone like Free or Dave Kingman takes a couple of days off to think about their lives, they are branded as malcontents.

Leitner: That’s San Diego. That’s the San Diego nice-boy journalism. Overall, the media pampers the athletes here. [Laughter.] Did you read one negative word about the Chargers last year? Steve Bisheff [of the Tribune] wrote a column before the Houston playoff game that they were overconfident or something, and he was like a communist to them.

I never read an analysis of what they're lacking or how they could become better. All there was were these hype articles on how great this guy is and profiles on the seventh draft choice that has no chance of making the team — and they write a glowing article that makes him sound like Chuck Bednarik reincarnated. That’s why it was tougher for me here. In Philadelphia the writers are tough. For the most part, you take away Wayne Lockwood [Union] and Steve Bisheff and who says anything critical? What’s Joe Stein done at the Trib? puts in stuff from press releases. ‘ The celebrity tournament in Las Vegas is this weekend and so-and-so is competing.’’ He prints crap like that. So what kind of journalism is that? Obviously it makes it tough for me to be honest when the rest of them are a bunch of shills.

R: But it’s easy to criticize the bad teams.

Leitner: Oh, I've said it all the time. It’s sooo easy to knock the Padres. But don’t say anything about the Chargers. Like in Philadelphia — they knock the Phillies, they knock the Eagles. Nobody says a word against the Flyers. It’s sacrosanct. And the same thing about the Chargers. Just because they win it doesn’t make them any less open to criticism and analysis.

R: Leitner on Cosell.

Leitner: He has done more for sports journalism, broadcast-wise, than anybody ever. No matter what anybody thinks, this is the guy who is the reason I can get on the air and say, “They stunk,” without being fired. He finally showed that somebody who looked lousy and sounded worse could say something honest on the air about sports, that it was not a religion. He is not a religion. It does not deserve to be deified. He blazed the path. He is obnoxious; he is an egomaniac; he is a pain in the neck; and he is reviled by a great majority of his viewers. But they are interested in what he has to say because they know he won’t bullshit them, and that’s important. But he has become a Hollywood character himself. His radio commentary that I used to listen to in New York — none finer. He does several things well and several things lousy. But at least he was the first to get on and do something besides sell tickets and be a shill, which most of them still are.

R: Many people feel that you are controversial in a similar way, but it seems that in fact you merely reflect the frustration of local fans.

Leitner: I think so. And I resent the Cosell thing. The only analogy I accept between me and Cosell is that I will say what I think is right and I won’t let anybody say, “You really shouldn't say that or someone will get mad and you might lose your play-by-play job. “ I care in that I want the money, but I will not compromise that. But Cosell doesn’t do what I do. I try to treat it as a game. He says it’s a game and makes the broadcast sound like World War III. I treat it lightly. It’s not a mortgage payment. It’s not murder. It’s not rape. It’s not high taxes. It’s just a game. So I don’t think my act is at all like Cosell’s. I don’t take myself seriously when I do that. A crusader for sports journalism? What the hell is sports?

R: Who are your toughest interviews on the local sports teams?

Leitner: I haven't really had a tough one. You know why? [Laughing.] ’Cause I stay away from the tough ones. On the road games I have to fill twenty minutes sometimes and I don’t want to get stuck with an asparagus with no brains for twenty minutes. So, since I shy away from the dum-dums. I've not really had too tough of an interview. However, Nick Weatherspoon [of the Clippers] is so into religion that no matter what you asked him it would be, “Praise the Lord” and “Well. I don't know how I missed that basket but the Lord willed it.” and all that stuff. Well, that’s fine, but I believe my audience don't want to hear it. so we kind of stayed clear of him. [Laughter.]

R: Do you avoid players who continually give pat responses such as, “I’m just doing my best for the team?”

Leitner: I try to keep it as light as possible to where they won't dare give me one of those straight b.s. answers. I’ll try and make fun of those answers. That is deadly stuff. Now, I stay away from TV interviews. I don't do twenty of those a year. The last thing I want on my TV show is talking heads. I'd rather show highlights of a cricket match in Westminster Abbey than some athlete saying, “Well, this team is tough and they’re going to be hard to beat on Saturday.”

R: What about the attitudes of Kingman, Steve Carlton, and George Hendrick? They refuse to talk to the media.

Leitner: Disgusting! God, that pisses me off. And now Rod Carew’s joined the club. They honestly don’t think they owe the public anything. And I think that’s really bullshit. I don't think it’s asking that much to sit down and do an interview. I mean, if there’s certain things you absolutely don’t want to talk about, say, “Ask me anything about baseball, but not about my family or girls or my favorite ice cream.” They have the right to do that.

R: So you feel they have an obligation to talk to the media?

Leitner: No question. ’Cause it’s not just me they’re talking to; they are talking to who I'm passing it on to. I mean, I’m not asking {pause / want to know. I don't give a damn what they think. Most of them are blockheads anyway. I don't care. It’s just my job to get it and pass it on to the audience. So by saying no to me, they are not saying no to me. they’re saying no to the audience. And I think that’s crap. It’s not asking that much.

R: Yet you do tend to talk about personal things in their lives during your sportscasts — for instance, salaries. And that puts off someone like Kingman. Do you feel it’s okay to talk about their personal lives because they are public figures?

Leitner: No question. The only reason they make that salary is because of the people [fans]. So there’s no way they can shun the people who, in essence, pay that salary. I get accused a lot of talking too much about money, and I know I do, but I really think that it's something that’s a common denominator that all of us can relate to. We work, they work. We get paid, they get paid. We have bosses, they have bosses. Same with myself. I make jokes on the air about my salary, how I’m not paid enough, make fun of my bosses, and they can see that I’m just one of the working guys like them with the same kind of problems.

R: You say that it’s okay to talk about players’ salaries because they are public figures and the common man can relate to dollars and cents. Well, you’re a public figure, so is it okay to ask how much you make?

Leitner: No. [Laughter.]

R: Why not?

Leitner: Because it’s none of anybody’s business. [Laughter. |

R: Yet it’s fine to talk about an athlete's salary even if they think it’s no one’s business?

Leitner: I’m sure it's okay to talk about mine, but I’m not gonna do it. I won’t go out and say what I make because it's of no interest except to the IRS and my ex-wife. But if somebody else thinks it’s interesting or of news value, they will go out and find out what I make.

R: Have you been taking lessons from Dave Kingman?

Leitner: [Laughter.]

R: But look, Ted, you publicly criticize players' salaries all the time because you think people care. It’s safe to assume that people care what you make.

Leitner: I am interested in what somebody makes but I don't care what they make.

R: Okay, people are interested to know what you make.

Leitner: He’s hangin' in there, isn’t he? Okay, I make three times as much as any other TV sports guy in the local market. And I earn every bit of it. [Laughing and pointing to tape recorder.] Put that in there, too.

R: So with your radio shows, TV sportscasts, Padre and Clipper road games, Aztec football, and so on, that must put you at about $125,000 a year, right?

Leitner: [Silence, with a smile.]

R: On the air you like to refer to yourself as the average Joe when you rib athletes for their huge salaries. Yet don’t you think there’s a marked difference between the average Joe’s salary and your own?

Leitner: I can identify and empathize with them without being in the same exact boat. I am more of the average Joe. I’ve never been rich. I had no money as a kid; I came from humble origins, as it were. I do identify with them because I am one of them. What I make now has nothing to do with the fact that I still care about them. I care if Gene Klein screws them for nineteen dollars a ticket for Charger games, and I’ve said it on the air. I mean, he did that and I didn’t see a thing in the paper for three days, except a little news box that he had raised ticket prices. Not one comment or a word. I thought, “Am I going nuts? What’s going on here?” So I do care. That’s a lot of money to pay for a Charger game. I can afford it, most definitely.

R: You like to get on the air and make fun of the boxer who gets in the ring for forty-five minutes and comes out with a million dollars. Yet can’t you see someone looking at you and thinking, “Hey, here’s a guy who gets on the tube twice daily for three minutes at a time and is bringing home big, big bucks.”

Leitner: Yeah, sure, with no preparation, no travel. C’mon! We’re talking about 7:00 a.m. to midnight, traveling all over the country. We’re talkin’ about twenty radio shows a week, ten television shows a week, speeches, baseball, football — I’m on the road from September to September. So it’s not just base salary for doing the news.

R: That’s the point. You know it’s the same with the boxer and other athletes. The good ones bringing in top dollar are always in training and have been preparing all of their lives.

Leitner: Well, I think I’m one of the few spokesmen they have who will get on the air and be honest and say the same things they’re thinking— “Eight hundred grand, Jesus Christ!” — I’m talking to them as one of them even though I may not be a factory worker or a moron. And what bothers me more than the money is that the athletes don’t appreciate it. I mean, they’re playing a little boys’ game for a living. They won’t even stop to sign an autograph or give an interview. That’s what I get on more than the money itself.

R: The Padres pay you for broadcasting their road games. Don’t you feel there’s a conflict of interest in reporting on the Padres while being in their employ?

Leitner: Only if I gave into it. But I think everybody knows, no matter what they think about me, that if the Padres tell me, “Gee, don’t pick on Winfield” or “Don’t do this,” everybody knows I’m not going to listen to that stuff. Every club is going to demand that you not be negative. And to his everlasting credit, Ballard Smith has never said this. He insists you be honest. Even to the point that if you say, “These guys are lousy,” it could hurt ticket sales. He has never said to me, “You shouldn’t have said such-and-such.”

R: The reason for raising this question is that many people believe the Padres are a very poorly run team. And this is substantiated by coaches such as Whitey Wietelmann and Billy Herman, who suggest that the Padres are the most disorganized ball club they have ever seen. Yet you haven’t taken Ballard Smith to task for that.

Leitner: It’s not his fault. Last year I did a commentary tearing Ray Kroc apart because it is his fault. He’s the one who wanted to get rid of Kingman; he wanted to get rid of Mike Ivie; he wanted to get rid of Hendrick; and he wanted to get rid of others that Bavasi wouldn’t even listen to. Bavasi said that Kroc would have a couple of drinks and say, “Get rid of this guy. get rid of that guy. ’’ And Buzzie said, “If I did that I'd have the moving van outside the stadium every night after a game. So I didn't do it.” All Ballard has done is just sign a couple of free agents [Rick Wise and John Curtis], the best of the lot, he thought. There was nothing else he could do but sign who he could sign, and trade for Dave Cash, which on the face of it was a good trade, I thought, despite how it has turned out. I don't think he [Smith] is the problem at all. He’s trying to overcome years of mismanagement. They let Kingman get away for nothing. Gave him away because Kroc didn’t like the way he dressed, ran in from the outfield, his demeanor, et cetera. The same with Hendrick, because he wouldn’t sign autographs and was a general pain in the ass. They got very little for him. The Ivie thing was unfortunate; it cost them a ballplayer.

When they drafted Mike Ivie they didn’t know he was going to be cuckoo and not adjust. But I don’t worry about conflict of interest because / know there is none. My detractors might say there is one, but just watch the show. I get down on the players all the time and the players hate my guts for it.

R: How is it working with Dave Campbell and Eddie Doucette on the road telecasts?

Leitner: Well, I don’t work with Doucette at all, because when he’s on radio I’m on TV, and then we switch and only pass each other in the hall.

R: So you’re going to leave that one alone.

Leitner: [Laughing.] Dave and I enjoy working with each other as much as we enjoy working on the games. It’s fun. We get accused of getting carried away too much and reacting to each other and laughing and having too much of a good time, which we try not to do now that we are aware of it. I know people are tuning in to watch the game and not listen to us tell stories of what we did last night.

R: But what do you think of Eddie Doucette’s performance as a baseball broadcaster?

Leitner: You want to know the honest truth? You know how many games I’ve listened to for nine innings? None. I’m at the stadium ninety-eight percent of the home games so I can analyze it myself. So I have not listened to Eddie do three innings all year. Now, I realize there’s a lot of negative reaction in the media. And I have to be honest with you, I get lots of questions and grilling when I go out and speak to Kiwanis, Rotary, and Optimist clubs. I.spoke with the Madres, a season-ticket-holder group of women and big Padre supporters, and Bob Shirley and I were the guest speakers, and to be honest with you, and you can ask Shirley, one-third of the questions dealt with who’s Eddie Doucette and other negative things about him. But I can’t be a judge of that because I never listen to the games and I don’t work with the guy.

R: At that particular Madre luncheon, when someone questioned Doucette’s ability as a play-by-play man, Shirley brought down the house with an unflattering impression of Doucette referring to home plate as “the dish. ” So you must be aware of the anti-Doucette sentiment in this city and must have formed an opinion regarding it.

Leitner: Most to all of the controversy regarding the broadcast team has been created by the Union. Instead of blaming the Padres for lousy play, they’re getting on the broadcast team. If the Padres were winning, they’d leave us alone.

R: When Sport magazine published their preseason baseball issue this year, they picked the Padres to finish in the cellar, said the team was composed of airheads, and stated that the team was in such a state of low morale that three unnamed black players were not talking to the white players. Who do you think they were referring to?

Leitner: I really don’t know. I do know that the black players pretty well stay together. To give you an example, when I was covering the eve of the strike, and I was up in Randy Jones's room, I wanted to shoot some footage of the players holding vigil, waiting for the phone call from New York at three in the morning, and I walk into the room next to Randy’s, and in there is Jerry Turner, Gene Richards, Jerry Mumphrey, Dave Winfield, Von Joshua — all the black players. And the other guys in their other rooms. They would not let me shoot film of this, by the way. They threw me out. But look, they eat together, run sprints together, ride the bus together. Yes, they do hang around with each other a lot more than they do with the whites.

R: Well, couldn’t you say the converse, too? That the whites stick with each other?

Leitner: And the whites, too. And that’s not just the Padres. That’s every team in every sport. It’s that way in sports because that’s the way it is in society. We can’t expect the teams to be anything less than a reflection of the overall society. If there’s ten percent homosexuals in society, there’ll be ten percent on each team. If there’s five percent drug addicts, there'll be five percent on each team-. Two years ago, who was the most valuable player on the Chargers? Obviously it was Dan Fouls? They gave it to John Jefferson. How in the hell can you make a wide receiver the most valuable player? Who in the hell is throwing him the ball? How can you be a most valuable wide receiver unless you have a hell of a quarterback?

Now, they could have won games without John Jefferson, but they couldn’t have won without Dan Fouts. But Jefferson won the MVP, and why? Because there are so many black players on the team and they voted for Jefferson. Last year they just couldn’t give it to anybody but Fouls — it was just too ridiculous. Fouts did not get the MVP two years ago because the blacks voted for Jefferson and the whites voted for Fouts. Anybody who tells you differently is a liar and dishonest. Now, I'm sure the Padres and Chargers are just like any other team — the blacks go with the blacks and the whites with the whites — they don't mix socially, they don't go to each other’s houses. And we’re probably the same with the people we work with. But getting back to your question, the point about the airheads was more important . Ask Jerry [Coleman] how many signs everybody misses. Color has nothing to do with that. Dumb is dumb. That transcends racial lines.

R: Speaking of Coleman, what do you think of the Padres hiring him when there were many other experienced managers available?

Leitner: I disagree with the old established nonsense of hiring the same old tired guys. I was never against the Coleman hiring because I thought, “Here was a guy I know knows baseball and has seen the National League quite a bit as a broadcaster over the last eight years.” It never shocked me at all.

R: Didn't you think it unusual that they hired him during the last week of the season rather than wait the traditional month or two to see who else was available? And Ballard Smith gave him a three-year contract after saying that he'd never give a manager another multiyear contract.

Leitner: I thought they were going to hire Billy Martin myself, because Kroc and Ballard like him. Jerry was an unspectacular choice and it was more derisive publicity, whereas Billy Martin would have gotten them more exciting publicity. But this was done because they thought it would really work more than they thought it would sell tickets or get good publicity. Which makes me respect them even more. It was not a good public relations move, which makes it more honest.

R: What about the Clippers? What’s in store for them?

Leitner: They blew it. They signed a one-legged center for $7 million. They played a good, strong first year and were a draft or two away from being a contending team. They had a power forward [Kermit Washington), they lacked a small forward. They had good guard play and they had Nater and [Kevin) Kunnert. They were playing good team ball and you could eventually win it with those kind of players. Seattle won it without a dominant center. They gambled and lost. Simple as that. Look at the ads with Paul Silas’s picture on it. When you got to promote and sell tickets on a new coach, you’re in trouble.

R: It did seem like they went with a recognized personality like Silas rather than hire someone like their own Bobby Weiss.

Leitner: Isn’t that incredible! When you gotta hire a coach based on that, you arc in trouble. I’d hire the most experienced, best guy I knew.

R: During many of your Clipper telecasts this past season there were technical problems — blackouts — at crucial parts of the games. What happened? You would jokingly say that Channel 8 must be using a Russian satellite.

Leitner: One time there was a problem with the satellite. Another time the ground dish that bounces the satellite moved and we lost the signal. Other times we patched through KNXT [CBS) in Los Angeles and the patch there was screwed up, whether intentional or unintentional.

R: Why would it have been intentional?

Leitner: You see, Channel 8 broke the union several years ago and a lot of people still believe that every time we go through KNXT, the union people up there make sure they fuck up the broadcast.

R: Is this a widely held opinion?

Leitner: Yes, by a lot of people at the station that I've talked to.

R: You don’t read from a prepared text, and you sometimes make picayune mistakes when reporting scores and recalling sequences within games. For instance, during the NBA playoffs, you reported on the eleven o’clock show that Jack Sikma sent the game into overtime by sinking two free throws for Seattle. However, anyone who watched the game knew that he hit only one free throw. Are you aware of these errors?

Leitner: Oh sure. Because I ad-lib the show. I’m much more prone to errors than a guy who’s reading it. But I like talking to people rather than reading to them. You know, conversation style rather than that staccato radio crap on television. A lot of times I’ll hear the mistake and correct myself. Other times I won’t hear it because I’m thinking of the next thing I’m going to say. That’s the price I pay.

R: Having this ad-lib style, do you have to prepare beforehand by going over notes in your mind, or does it just come naturally when you sit down before the cameras?

Leitner: It comes naturally. I can just put down on a piece of paper, “Padres, Sockers, Ali, Deby LaPlante,’’ and it will all just come to me.

R: You often take jabs at phone callers and letter writers on the eleven o’clock show, especially the one or two who call in and want you to report hockey scores. Do you think it is wise to tailor the sportscast to these few people?

Leitner: In this business you get an angle and you use it. You know how this all started? 1 was rolling along for ten or eleven months and I did that half-time for charity at the Clipper game and suddenly was booed when 1 was introduced, and I played to it. I said to the crowd, “Ahhhh, you don’t really feel that way about me, do you?’’ And they started booing again. Soundly. It was the first identity that I had. And people started to say, “Why do they boo you?” and they started to watch me on Channel 8. A lot of TV people are conscious of this and they tell me, “Oh, never mention you got a bad letter and never correct yourself or admit you made a mistake.” I don’t buy any of that and I show on the air that I’m human and I make mistakes. I don’t give a damn if some schmuck in La Mesa writes a letter to a newspaper and says he doesn’t like me — and the paper agrees with him, obviously, because they put it in. I don’t care.

R: Yet you mention it on the air.

Leitner: Right. I’ll mention it for people to go look at the letter and see who I am and get involved in it. If they’re going to publicize me — and that’s what they’re doing — I’m going to take advantage of it and further it and stir the flame. I'm not going to be so sensitive about it and think I’m so important and take myself so seriously and say, “I’m really crushed that Joe Schmuck in El Cajon doesn’t like me.”

R: You enjoy kidding about your meager salary in relation to Tuck’s big salary.

Leitner: True. Not made up. A fact. As of a few weeks ago, he was making three times what I make. I do it because I like to tease him, he’s a friend, and I honestly think people can relate to that. They hear about these big-buck anchor salaries. Tuck and I are not happy talk. Anybody who’s seen Channel 7 in L.A. or New York knows that their format is scripted quips and the crew breaking up when someone says something totally inane. And I don’t want our “tosses” to seem like we’re trying to be cute for ten seconds. We tease each other because we really like each other. It’s natural with us from having worked together and being friends and socializing and so forth. He doesn’t want to get into a thirty-second conversation with me because that’s not going to hold the pacing of the show. And it’s the news, and not what Ted did today. Sports should have a minimum on a news show and it does on our show.

R: On the eleven o’clock show you’ll often say, “We showed this tape at five for those of you who were tuned in then.” Does anyone really watch both telecasts?

Leitner: Yes, fifteen percent. I do it because I care what the audience thinks. Even the fifteen percent who say, “He said the same thing at five. ” It’s a disclaimer to me. And I know I got some jocks in the audience and I’m saying something fairly elementary like, “The White Sox have been hot.” So I’ll say, “And if you follow baseball you know this.” It's a news audience and not all of them follow sports.

R: At times you feel compelled to apologize to the viewers after a commentary, for instance when you say, “That’s it, end of harangue, sermon finished.” as you raise your hands in mock surrender.

Leitner: A lot of times that's a transition. I don't talk like other sports guys. It’s easy to make a transition when you say crap like, “Meanwhile, on the national scene. ” I don’t have those segues or transitional material because I’m conversing.

So I’ve got to say things like, “Enough of that. Let’s get on to something else.”

R: Okay, let’s. What about the Olympic boycott? You organized a letter-writing campaign, via your sportscast on Channel 8, which encouraged San Diegans to send letters supporting the boycott to the station, which would then be sent to Washington. What was the origin of this campaign and was it your idea?

Leitner: Yeah, it was my idea. It was frustration. It was outrage on my part that athletes would think that high hurdles and hundred-yard dashes were more important than people dying. And they would go to another country and be a part of their propaganda machine when Moscow had tanks rumbling over people’s bodies in Afghanistan. And I am not some right-wing fanatic by any stretch of the imagination, or any militarist.

R: Did Channel 8 support you?

Leitner: They never said one way or the other, which was the best thing in the world. They never called me in the office and said, “Let’s change this or that.” They just let me do my thing, which is the best thing you could have.

R: Your boycott campaign seemed to disappear suddenly.

Leitner: Because the U.S. Olympic Committee voted to support the boycott and the letters were sent to them. In France and Great Britain, the governments said “Boycott,” and their Olympic committees said, “No, we’re going.” If they would have done that here, I would have flown to Washington and started beating on people’s doors.

R: So you think it’s legitimate to use sports as a political tool?

Leitner: Yeah, because sports is not important. It’s a minor price to pay in the interest of world peace and saving lives. Freedom is much more important and any tool is justified to reach that end.

R: What was your opinion of the two black American track medalists who raised gloved fists at the Olympics in Mexico?

Leitner: I thought it was a perfect forum for it. It worked. It got a hell of a reaction.

R: Virtually all the media came out against it. They all cried that we have to keep politics out of the Olympics. But now they support the boycott.

Leitner: Well, of course. They’re old-guard, establishment, ying-yang writers. Sports is God to them. They take their jobs very seriously; thdy take themselves very seriously. And they don’t care if a family lives in a ghetto and it's cold as hell with rats biting the kids, with no hot water, and paint peeling off the walls. That doesn’t bother them. “How dare you correct social evils by disrupting games.” Are you kidding?

R: Is an Olympic boycott really a deterrent?

Leitner Not at all. It’s just that we had to do something. This was the least we could do — let’s at least stick it to those urkeys. It’s effective from the standpoint that you can’t tell me the Olympics would be the same without us.

R. But are the Soviets really going to change their foreign policy because we don’t send Brian Oldfield and Dwight Stones over there?

Leitner: No, it’s not going to change their policy. And when you get mad and smash somebody in the face it’s not going to change that person, but you’ll feel better having done it . . . probably.

R: But can’t sending athletes be a viable political tool, like Jesse Owens showing the world that Aryan supremacy was a myth?

Leitner: But what if we don’t win! Anyway, Nazi Germany censored the films and the German people thought that Jesse Owens lost. The same in Russia. The Iron Curtain countries would not see Houston McTear kicking ass. The video would be selectively edited.

R: Well, in fact, most Germans did know that Jesse Owens won. Don’t you think people would find out these things by word of mouth?

Leitner: The general mass public here is dumb shits and it’s no different over there.

R: Can’t sports be used to resolve problems and ease hostility? In San Francisco, for example, the gays and cops have an annual softball game.

Never has been. But like Dwight Stones says. “You don’t go to a party at a guy’s house on the front lawn when he’s kicking the neighbor’s ass in the backyard.” You have to say right and wrong does exist and how can we do this when they’re doing that. You have to draw the line somewhere.

R: During other Olympic games, the U.S. has been in other peoples’ backyards and the Soviet Union didn’t initiate a world boycott.

Leitner: Good point. It’s because they needed the Olympics as a vehicle and their presence in it as propaganda. We don’t need propaganda.

R: When the U.S. was participating in overthrowing governments in Chile, Guatemala, Iran, and Vietnam, do you think other countries should have boycotted the Olympics because of our presence?

Leitner: I think they should have because of the atrocities.

R: So the Olympics would never be fully realized because there has always been some major power invading another country?

Leitner: Exactly right.

It is two minutes till five, again in the newsroom of Channel 8, and to Leitner’s surprise, CBS came through with some footage of Wimbledon. He has to make an appearance before the camera at five o’clock, when the news team is introduced, then rushes to view the tape and prepare the highlight remarks he will make at 5:15.

The best place for viewing the show is not from the studio but from the “sub-room” — the subcontrol room — where the technical director, the producer, and the chief director sit at a long table before a bank of twenty or more televisions. At the center of this great display window are the two largest screens. The one on the left is marked SELECT, and the right one is ON LINE. You can watch an image skip its way from a marginal screen, to the select screen, then to the screen seen by the audience at home, then back to a marginal screen; and during this progression you can almost feel the muscles contracting around the visuals, then releasing them. In the spirit of control, the director has two stopwatches in front of him, and the producer has a red telephone at his right hand (a radio to reporters in the field). The cameramen keep sharp by knowing when to relax. The marginal images zoom forward and back; they contract into focus and bloom in a haze. Then they harden in focus again, and the camerawork freezes, and the images approach ON LINE.

Already it’s 5:10, and here comes Leitner. You see him on one of the lower screens, taking his seat and reaching for his tie-bar microphone. There he goes to a long shot; now he’s in close-up. “Can’t get this thing on,” he says as he fiddles with the microphone. His voice sounds no different than it does on the air. He even looks the same — intensely happy. “Ted is the kind of guy,” says Tuck, “who can go out there in total control, and act like he’s had thirty martinis.”

“What’s the matter with this fucking thing?” he says, trying to pinch the microphone on to his wide tie. He looks up in mock panic. “Somebody help me.”

Nobody moves.

“There, I got it,” he says.

The producer groans, bowing his head over the red telephone, and says to no one in particular, “I wish someone would tell him not to say things like that into a live mike.”

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