JABO correspondent Steve Hofstetter tries to answer how good Babe Ruth would be if he were playing today
When I was 17 years old, I was the worst Anvil Salesman in the long and voluminous history of high-school productions of The Music Man. Probably junior-high productions, too. I got the part only because my voice is naturally booming, and also because the kid playing Harold Hill got suspended from school, and his understudy was the original Anvil Salesman. I was next in line, and blew it.
So that’s why I didn’t act again until a few weeks ago. For a program that’s going to be on national cable television next Monday night, exactly 24 hours before the first game of the 2015 World Series.
I didn’t know, anyway. Which is why I checked in with JABO’s (and America’s!) own Steve Hofstetter, the star of Finding Babe Ruth, and MLB’s Gary Waksman, its producer and director.
Our story begins last winter, when Waksman and others started kicking around ideas for programming this season, programming that would mesh with MLB’s partnership with FOX Sports and FS1.
"The what-if factor is always a great argument," Waksman told me. "That meeting alone, when we started talking about Babe Ruth, there were so many great opinions and perspectives."
So they had an idea for the show, and later they had a list of people with different perspectives on what sort of player Babe Ruth might be in 2015.
What they didn’t have was someone to hold everything together.
"We wanted a host with real personality," Waksman says, "much like Anthony Bourdain explores restaurants, geography, locations around the world. Collectively, we agreed that we needed a little humor, a little sarcasm, and a lot of intelligence."
MLB checked with FOX, where someone recommended Hofstetter, who "got the concept right away."
"We met at the network’s offices in Secaucus," Steve says. "I started telling Gary how I would do the show, but before I could get very far he said, ‘You don’t have to pitch me; you already have the job.’ "
In short order, Hofstetter was improvising with Scott Boras and Gerrit Cole in Los Angeles, flying to New York by way of Indianapolis – where he had a gig; Steve’s a hard-working comedian when he’s not working for me – where he talked to (among others) Pedro Martinez, Chris Russo, and Mets hitting coach Kevin Long.
Long, who’s worked wonders with (among others) Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy, taught Steve how to hit like the Babe. Or he taught him the Babe’s swing, anyway. "After he showed me," Steve says, "first swing, I drilled one off the tee. Probably the hardest ball I ever hit in my life."
It all happened real fast. Hofstetter signed on toward the end of August, was filming with Boras and Cole less than a month later, and the last bits were shot at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood.
Enter one erstwhile Anvil Salesman.
The storyline for the show, in case I haven’t really mentioned this yet, has Steve traveling around the country and speaking to experts in various baseball-related fields, and trying to answer an Unanswerable Question: How good would Babe Ruth be, if Babe Ruth were playing baseball today?
As Steve says, the objective when talking to everybody was "70 percent information, 30 percent silliness." Which, considering the subject, seems just about right.
Steve came up with the idea of beginning his quest after telling a Babe Ruth joke in a comedy club, and Waksman came up with the idea of Rob Neyer, acting as Steve’s editor and boss, sending him on this exciting adventure.
Which is how I came be sitting at a table with Steve at the Laugh Factory just a few weeks ago, cameras and lights a few feet away, "acting" for the first time since I was 17, and "improvising" for the first time ever. And yes, at one point I did question my motivation in the scene. Then I got over it, and went back to doing what the director said.
So how’d it go? Well, you can decide for yourself. But here is Steve’s scouting report: Has one very reliable pitch. Trouble changing speeds. Which seems just about right.
Meanwhile, we couldn’t ask for a better time slot.
"The show I’ve been doing, it’s on Saturdays at midnight," Steve says. "Most people are asleep, or they’re out. This show, they told me it would be on Monday. I said, ‘Which Monday?’ And then I said, ‘You gotta be kidding.’ "
It’s next Monday night, 24 hours before the World Series begins. Which will include the team Steve grew up loving, and still loves.
Should be one hell of a week for Steve, and also for my mom. If the Royals are still playing, anyway. She got enough of my acting in The Music Man.