FEATURE

Outta Here!

How Mets announcer Gary Cohen ’81CC went from the kid in the stands to the man at the mic.

by Paul Hond Published Fall 2017
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Photograph by Seth Wenig / AP Photo

Murphy retired in 2003, and in 2006 Cohen joined SNY. After seventeen years on the radio for the Mets, Cohen was moving to television.

“When Keith and Ronnie and I started on SNY, none of us really had any idea what we were doing,” Cohen says. “For me, I was a radio guy. In radio you’re working with one other person and the engineer, and you’re really your own show. You create your own reality, and you can go in any direction you want. In television, you’re trying to marry words to pictures, and you’re getting ideas from producers, and your partners are experts. It’s completely different.”

As Cohen sees it, the shared lack of TV experience was a blessing. “We all knew we were dependent on each other,” he says, “and that helped make it a real collaborative enterprise.”

The trio became known for its droll banter, discursive digressions, bracing candor, superior preparation, and intricate wisdom of the game; and above it all, atop the tower, blinking in the night, was the beacon of Cohen’s voice, rising, as Cohen might say, to the apex of its range . . .

 

The home-run call never used to have a name. It was just how an announcer expressed the climax of the ascending drama of a swatted ball arcing over the field and clearing the fences. “Going, going, gone!” (Mel Allen.) “Kiss it goodbye!” (Bob Prince.) Today, homerun calls can feel contrived, test-marketed. Not Cohen’s. And while he would “rather be judged by the totality of what I do for five hundred hours a season” than by a catch phrase, he’s happy to have delivered a hit.

“In the minors I tried every manner of hokey, ridiculous home-run call, and when I got to the majors I realized how hokey and ridiculous they were,” Cohen says. “So I started just describing what was happening, and by luck or happenstance, I started calling home runs in a particular way that people seem to enjoy.”

“That’s what people want to know about: the human beings behind the game. They want to feel a connection.”

Cohen’s call typically begins something like, “A drive in the air, deep left field” — his voice climbs with the trajectory of the ball — “that ball is headed toward the wall — that ball is” — and now the ripping, primal yell — “outta here!

And time stops. For fans, this cry, so phonetically and rhythmically natural, so genuine (in moments of extreme transport he’ll repeat it: outta here! outta here!), has a physical power, like a Stratocaster power chord, electric, hair-raising, complete.

 

Gary Cohen is not sentimental about baseball. He does not see baseball as a grand metaphor. Baseball is baseball. It’s part of life, not a reflection of it. Life is much more. Life is his wife, Lynn, and their five children. Life is books, movies, music. Life is what happens between games, between seasons.

Life is the road. After twenty-nine years of traveling with the Mets, Cohen spends most of his downtime in his hotel room, or in the gym, or at the ballpark. And when the season ends in October, he will switch gears and return to another passion: basketball. The Mets TV talker also does radio for the NCAA Division I Seton Hall Pirates of South Orange, New Jersey. Basketball is instinctual for Cohen, a first language, and a way to maintain his chops: the free-jazz guy going back to his bebop, to the joyous precision of rapid-fire play-by-play.

“The games last two hours, the action carries the entire broadcast, and it’s just describe, describe, describe, whereas baseball is the complete opposite,” Cohen says. “I find basketball to be tremendous fun.”

 

Cohen walks through the wide, curving corridors of Citi Field (the ballpark opened in 2009 right next to Shea, which was demolished) to Mets manager Terry Collins’s pregame press conference. On the way, he sees someone: a Met, in uniform, with reporters around him. Cohen goes over. It’s a rookie pitcher who’s just been called up to the big leagues. He’s in the classic mold: tall and rawboned and fresh-faced and polite. Cohen introduces himself. The pitcher appears excited to meet Cohen, who’s been calling Mets games since before the kid was born. Cohen wishes him well and continues on his way. “That’s the best,” Cohen says, his voice warmed by the glow of every rookie who’s made it to the majors. “Once they get here you never know what’s going to happen. Just being able to get here is incredibly special.”

In the pressroom, Cohen sits in a folding chair in the back row. Terry Collins steps to the lectern, Mets cap pulled over bristly white hair, so that a grim shadow falls over his brow. Cohen listens and takes notes as Collins talks about the bullpen.

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