Of the many rituals of Cardinals baseball that start anew in the spring, there is probably none that warms my heart more than the familiar voice of Mike Shannon on the radio.
In an often-homogenous broadcast landscape, his is a singular voice. Nobody has ever turned on the radio and had to ask, “is that Mike Shannon?” His cadence, his familiar Shannonisms, his little preoccupations - I love them all. Is Fast Eddie’s even a real place? Or is it a magical wonderland that exists only in his mind? Or perhaps one that appears only once every 100 years, like Brigadoon?
Don’t tell me. I really don’t want to know.
And then of course, there’s the ongoing dance between Mike Shannon and player’s names. I’d call it a “battle,” but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s not a struggle and when the consonants tumble out in the wrong order, and the vowels are freely substituted one for another, it’s not a failure. Shannon always sounds like he’s having a good time.
Mike Shannon is like a jazz musician when it comes to pronouncing names, constantly riffing and finding variations nobody has thought of before. Here’s some of my personal favorites from so far this spring:
What makes this one so amazing is that “Dylan” and “Carlson” are both fairly common American names. You wouldn’t see this name on paper and think it’s one the Moon Man would find much variation with. You would be wrong, my friend.
Initial reports were that he was going for a long “i” sound in Dylan, so it would rhyme with “stylin’”. It’s not the first time he’s opted for that pronunciation of the name Dylan, which also belongs to one of the most famous American songwriters of all-time, and winner of a Nobel Prize.
But as I was driving in my car the other day, I caught an even more gonzo variation, which I could best relate to you as “Die LeeAnn.”
Before uncorking that one, Shannon did one of my favorite things: The long pause. Anytime you hear the long pause, you know he’s got a real gem in the works. It’s like he’s taking his foot off the gas for just a moment, before gunning the engine and flooring it through the jumble of letters before him.
Shannon: Now coming to the plate... (long pause)
Me: Oh yeah, this is gonna be good.
But I’ve got to be honest, it sounded like the Dylan pronunciation had become a bit of a game between he and John Rooney. There was a little off-mic chatter between the two, and Shannon chuckled as soon as he uncorked “Die LeeAnn.”
As opposed to Dylan Carlson, this one has trouble written all over it. And let’s give Mike some credit: He faces a long list of names every day. Especially in spring, he’s seeing many for the first time and the pronunciation is often far from obvious.
I was watching the first spring training game at a local watering hole with some associates when we admitted we actually did not know how to pronounce the Cardinals catching prospect’s last name. One of my buddies noticed that his Instagram account is “andrewkiz,” so that pretty much settled the matter.
For Mike Shannon, however, “Knizner” is a blank canvas ripe for exploration. One listener estimated he’d heard 10 variations, including both “Niz-nerr” and “Kin-zer.” I’ve heard rumors of the polysyllabic masterpiece “Kah-NIZ-uh-ner,” though I cannot provide documentation or first-hand knowledge to corroborate that. But if anyone can fit that many syllables into “Kin-zer,” I believe Mike Shannon can do it.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t listening when Kruczynski was pitching. But can you even imagine?
The easy slip that could be made here is to say “Max Schreck,” which is the name of the actor who played the vampire in the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu, or if you’re a true cinephile, the name of Christopher Walken’s character in Batman Returns.
Phonetically, “Shrek” is also the name of a popular animated ogre character who maintains a love/hate relationship with a donkey.
But swapping out Schrock for Schreck would be much too pedestrian for Mr. Shannon. Instead, he’s gone with “Shi-rock,” which one fan has noted seems to be a variation on former French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. Slip of the tongue or subtle political commentary? Only the Moon Man knows.
Those are my favorites so far this spring. I’m sure there are many others I’m forgetting or missed altogether. And of course, I’m only focusing on the Cardinal players. Shannon works his magic on the opposing players as well, with Greatest Hits like “Kyle Swabber” and the infinite possibilities afforded by: Mike Moustakas.
What are your favorites? Let’s give the Moon Man some love in the comments.