Dick Stockton Talks Sports and Distraction

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Ned Hallowell and Dick Stockton discuss what we can learn from sports, distraction and trusting in yourself.

Episode 6: Dick Stockton Talks Sports and Distraction

Dick Stockton

Dick Stockton: “There is goes! A long drive! If it stays fair… Home run!”

DR. HALLOWELL: That was one of the most famous play-by-play calls in all of sports. Why are we leading into a show about distraction with this? Stay tuned and you’ll find out.

Hello and welcome to Distraction. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell, your host of the show that explores our super-busy, super-distracted modern world.

It was 1975, bottom of the twelfth inning in the sixth game of the World Series. The Red Sox against the Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine. When the Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk collided with the words of a young sportscaster, Dick Stockton, making his CBS debut with the now-immortal “If it stays fair… Home run!” call. The Red Sox pushed the series into a 7th game with a 7-to-6 walk-off win.

It’s my distinct honor to welcome Dick Stockton to our Distraction podcast. I was in college listening to Dick when he was doing sports in Boston, I was in medical school when I heard that amazing call. Now I’m sitting with him here in 2016 and I really feel like I’m in the company of royalty. He’s an amazing man, a mensch in the world of sports broadcasting, and he’s done what so few people do: he’s lasted. He continues to be one of my heroes, honestly, and really a chronicler of the world of sports, which some people think is unimportant or a distraction – which is why we’re having him on the show – but on the other hand it’s profoundly important to millions of us like me. Every distraction is also an attraction.

We’re going to bat around this whole notion of where does sports fit into life. Where it’s fit into my life is a central engagement that I’ve been enthralled with since I was 6 years old. To have a man who’s been chronicling it for so many years join us is, for me, a real thrill. Welcome Dick.

Dick Stockton: Thank you Ned. I’m flattered but you know someone of your ilk saying these things about me but as I told you when I first met you, that what I do is the toy department of life, you do the real things that really help people. It’s great and you mentioned that the sports- what an escape it is for a lot of people who are dealing with serious things, and even people that work 9-to-5 and then on the weekend they can sit at home and watch a game unscripted, blank screen canvas and see what happens in an event. I guess that’s what sports does for people.

DR. HALLOWELL: Every escape is an entry. They leave the world of trouble and distress and they enter into this amazing fantasy-land but it’s not fantasy, it’s real, but they’re not laying their own lives on the line. It’s always interested me why do we care so much about these teams? Why indeed do we get so caught up in it? I get depressed after the Red Sox lose, I get depressed after the Patriots lose. They don’t know me, they don’t care about little Ned Hallowell sitting in his home. Why do we get so caught up in it, do you think?

Dick Stockton: I think it’s healthy. It’s a healthy thing, I think. Because it allows you to be aligned with something, to have a passion in something that is really not going to affect your life, your economy, all of those things. Start in high school, start with your college team. Those who went to college, their football team loses on Saturday; they don’t feel as good as when they win. You live in a metropolitan area and you want the teams to win. Like we said, it’s an escape from your normal everyday. It’s not connected to your everyday job, your everyday worries and passion. You can now say “Hey, the Patriots, we got a big game today against the Ravens and we won. I feel good now, I’ll feel good tomorrow when I go to work.”

When Sports Escapism is Harmful


DR. HALLOWELL: Exactly. Now some people criticize the sporting world and they say it is a distraction in a bad way. We waste time, productivity declines during March Madness because people are off filling in their brackets or people go bankrupt gambling on sports, marriages break up because one of the spouses feels like she’s held hostage by the husband’s devotion to sports. What would you say to those people who say this is not good influence in modern life, that it’s too much of a distraction?

Dick Stockton: I don’t know if it is. Look, if you say to your wife “Look, I’m not coming to bed tonight because I’m going to be watching all-night sports,” and do it 7 days a week, that may be a problem. But I think sports escapism is a healthy thing. I think what it does is it makes you not take life seriously. You don’t take yourself seriously. You care about something. I don’t see anything negative.

When we talk about some of those people in sports that do bad things, when they talk about illegal activities of teams, it happens all the time. Actually, it seems last year we had something every day going wrong. Some athlete in the off-season at 4 in the morning is doing something wrong. What’s he doing up at 4 in the morning anyway? That’s just microcosm of society. I mean, it’s just what’s happening everywhere, but it’s magnified in sports because these are the people we watch. I don’t know if their role, you know people use the term “role model,” I don’t know if they’re role models. Role model for what? They’re guys. “Hey, I like Gronk man. I love the way he acts. I like him catching,” there’s nothing wrong with that. To me it’s healthy and it makes people joke and laugh and everything.

DR. HALLOWELL: Exactly, exactly. Wasn’t it Charles Barkley who said years ago “I’m no role model… don’t ask me to be a role model”?

Dick Stockton: He’s right about that.

Life Lessons We Can Learn from Sports

lessons we can learn from sports

DR. HALLOWELL: As you say, what matters is being in the arena, being in the game. But what about trying too hard? My brother-in-law’s a gold pro and he tells me “Ned, the key to putting is not caring if the ball goes in the hole”. I say to him, “Chris, how can you not care? I pray over my putts!” Then he says “That’s why they don’t go in the hole!”

Dick Stockton: Yes. Tension. Tension is the killer of so many things in life. It’s so hard to rid yourself of that, whether you’re taking a golf swing and you have a 50-yard shot to get on the green, having to clear a bunker, whether it’s a job interview, whether it’s having to drive and get someone somewhere fast. If people can be aware of, I always thought, relaxing, and I know it’s urgent, but try to eliminate some of the tension, you won’t commit the faults that people who have tension.

DR. HALLOWELL: And the distraction. Because you get distracted by these negative outcomes, your fantasies of, missing the mark.

Dick Stockton: Tension is to me, is distraction. It is a distraction. Because you get distracted by the pressures of doing certain things.

DR. HALLOWELL: That’s a good way of putting it. Distraction is tension, tension is distraction. You’re over-thinking it. You’re thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

Dick Stockton: The mind is a terrible thing.

DR. HALLOWELL: Yes, it is! Our imaginations can betray us. Our imaginations can become diseased. We conjure up all these negative outcomes, all these worries.

Dick Stockton: We build up problems. We build up problems instead of saying “Okay, I’m going to take care of it. It’s not bigger than anything, and this too shall pass. I’m going to handle it, but now I got all these things happening. I just got so much on my plate!” Well, take it one at a time. What happens if you take it one at a time?

DR. HALLOWELL: Yeah. One at a time. Another one of my favorite antidotes to worry is, never worry alone. Because when you’re alone, you lose perspective, you awful-ize, you catastrophize. You talk to someone and they say “Hey, slow down, one at a time” or “Do your best,” you know. It’s not the insight you need, it’s the connection.

Dick Stockton: Yeah. It becomes an alter-ego of somebody that is behind you saying “You’ll handle it”. Even whether you will or not, just hearing those words.

DR. HALLOWELL: Absolutely. What’s weird is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The old line whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. That’s been proven to be true. Carol Dweck did a lot of research, it’s basically if you believe you can do something, your chances of actually doing it go way up.

Dick Stockton Talks About His First Break

DR. HALLOWELL: Were you confident from the beginning? You told me, ever since you were a little boy you wanted to get into this. What were the key moments along the way? Did you get a big break? Did you…?

Dick Stockton: I’ll get to it quickly, but I had somebody who you know, said, “I want this kid that was filling in for a weatherman for the television thing” who gave me a break, to get onto television in the first place.

A fellow named Gene Kirby who used to produce the Game of the Week baseball radio broadcast with Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean had me do a tape for the Red Sox play-by-play job. This was in ’74. He said “You’re horrendous. Go back and do it again,” and he made me go back 7 times during the ’74 season before he said “I can now recommend you to do this job.” And a year later I’m doing the World Series. If it weren’t for somebody who believed in you and gave you the chance, so you need people to do that.

DR. HALLOWELL: You were willing to go back and do it 7 times.

Dick Stockton: Yeah, and I lost some confidence in that. By the mid-summer I said to my father, “Man, I just don’t think I can do baseball” he says “Really? Go back and do it again”.

DR. HALLOWELL: And a year later you were making this call.

Dick Stockton: I’m making the call, yeah, a year later.

DR. HALLOWELL: That’s just, that gives me chills. You’re forced to go back and do it 7 times, you say to your dad “I don’t think I have what it takes”, he says “Keep at it”, you keep at it, and a year later you’re making one of the most iconic calls in the history of sports.

Dick Stockton: It’s unimaginable.

DR. HALLOWELL: People who say it only happens in the movies, this is real life.

Dick Stockton: Yeah. If you would have said to me, in August of ’74, when I’m taking a tape recorder to Shea Stadium because they were refurbishing Yankee Stadium, and I was doing a Yankee game and they said “You’re going to be doing a World Series, and you’re going to be making a call that’s going to go down in history,” I’d have said, “You’re dreaming. You kidding?” I’m hoping someday we’ll do baseball, sometime, somewhere, and that’s what happened.

DR. HALLOWELL: I love this. For our listeners, a dream may seem like a distraction, but then it comes true, and you didn’t give up on your dream even though you were very tempted to.

So Many Things to Keep Track of

Dick Stockton: Yes, of doing baseball. I had done other sports and the thing is you just do the best you can. You talk about distractions. When you’re doing play-by-play, there are so many things. I mean you have a producer talking in your ear. People think that he’s talking to you and telling you what to say, which is absurd. You’re seeing the game; they don’t see the game. They see it on a monitor. You’re there doing it. The point is that they’re telling you “We’re going to do a promo after this play” or “Dick, we’re going to count down to commercials so you have to be aware of that”, how many time-outs left, there are so many things.

The first time I ever did play-by-play in my life was in Pittsburgh. I was doing a Steeler pre-season game in St. Louis, the Cardinals. I was doing a game for the first time. It was the first play of the game and I had all these notes and there was a hand-off to Sid Edwards running back, and I said, “Now the next play”, and who made the tackle, and I wanted to get up and yell “Stop! Can you guys stop for a minute, let me catch up?”

Then later on, and I’ll say what you know distractions later on in the year, I’m in Green Bay filling in, and Ray Scott the great Green Bay Packers announcer says to me, “Dick, when star goes back, I see in the corner of my eye boy dollar and I know that that’s who…” and I’m saying “What is he talking about? I’m following the ball and I can barely keep up with it”, but you know what, that’s how I do it. It’s experience. To me, every sporting event I do is in slow motion. The game is in slow motion.

DR. HALLOWELL: How do you make it that way?

Dick Stockton: Experience of having seen it. NBA basketball. Fast break, slow motion. I see this and I see that, only because I’ve done it 1,000 times.

DR. HALLOWELL: So you know where to look.

Dick Stockton: Well, I’m looking peripherally. I’m looking there and I’m seeing. You know, I see Kevin McHale beating everyone down at the court and I see, you know, Dennis Johnson. I just see it. I see it in football, I see it right away. I see if a blitz is coming before it happens. It’s a peripheral based on having done it so many times.

I have great respect for coaches and managers. Pat Riley, hockey coach named Red Kelly, who was a great player with the Toronto Maple Leaf’s and the Detroit Red Wings. There were some of those people. Tony La Russa is a friend of mine. Gregg Popovich. Now I’m not saying that close, but seeing how these guys get it done and how they manage to win. The interesting thing is, when I see how Popovich, La Russa, and Bill Belichick work, do you know what? Nobody really has the real idea in why they win. There’s a mystery over it. It’s not like “Well here’s how I do it.” There’s a mystery. There’s a certain unwritten, you can’t find it, mystery. That fascinates me about sports.

Sports Can Teach Focus

children soccer

DR. HALLOWELL: A lot of people say it’s focus, which is the opposite of distraction, but what do you think those three share?

Dick Stockton: I think you hit the nail on the head. I think those are three men that are never, never distracted. I’m sure there are other coaches and managers who are never distracted. I think players now, you talk about distractions in sports, I think sometimes when you’re in the heat of the action you don’t have time to be distracted. There are a lot of distractions that you could have. The media could distract you coming onto a court. I think that what happens with athletes first is that they are doing what they did when they were 5 years old. It’s just on a different level.

DR. HALLOWELL: Just like you.

Dick Stockton: Perhaps. They are doing what they love. That’s why I never talk about people and how much money they make. They’re not thinking of that. You think a player ever takes the field saying “Well I’m making 3 million dollars” No. He’s playing the game. He’s a kid playing a game. That’s what they’re doing. I guess there are built-in distractions that affect teams, perhaps. But, those coaches are not distracted at all. At all, at all.

DR. HALLOWELL: I think what you described is, I tell people that a career should be where you want to spend your time in your sweet spot, which is the overlap of three circles. What you love to do, what you’re really good at doing, and what someone will pay you to do. In the case of athletes, it just happens that people are willing to pay them a whole lot, but like you said it’s really that they love to do it, and they’re really good at doing it. The money keeps them there, but the focus comes from those first two elements because when you’re engaged in something you love, that you’re really good at, focus naturally follows. Let me ask you, you’ve been doing this a long time, how do you still get up for the game and retain your focus?

Dick Stockton: Easiest thing in the world for me.

DR. HALLOWELL: That’s great to hear.

Dick Stockton: Now I will say this. The stuff before and after is…


Dick Stockton: Is tedious. I don’t mean that if I go to just watch a game. We go to practice on Friday, and I have no idea what I’m looking at. I mean they’re running plays. So what? They’re going to run plays. I like it when you’re working with someone and they ran a play. We saw that in practice Friday. Very good, you know? What does that do to the audience? You didn’t predict that it was going to happen, so I like talking to maybe the quarterback and maybe the coach.

In getting a little insight, not asking the mundane question. I’m done with mundane by the way, about “Is this the greatest team of all time?”. I want to know what’s the inner workings. Steve Kerr, who I broke into the business as coach of the Golden State Warriors, I know he picked up things from Popovich when he was in San Antonio. I want to know the inner workings. Why? How come? You won’t always find the answer.

DR. HALLOWELL: Most of the more interesting questions you won’t find the answer, but it’s fun wondering.

Dick Stockton: You can try. You can try to ask.

DR. HALLOWELL: It’s fun wondering. Like, how do you create focus? I have a lot of things to say about that but I don’t have the answer.

Dick Stockton: I enjoy it. My energy and enthusiasm is natural. The day that it isn’t, doing games, I’ll just not do it anymore.

DR. HALLOWELL: So when you come to broadcast a game, you walk into the booth or wherever you happen to be, and you just come alive? What happens?

Dick Stockton: The worst time for me, especially in football, is getting to the stadium because they want you there two and a half hours before the game.

DR. HALLOWELL: And you know it’s going to be boring.

Dick Stockton: I mean, the ushers haven’t even arrived yet. Much less the concessions, you know.

DR. HALLOWELL: What are you supposed to do?

Dick Stockton: What are you supposed to do? I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. I haven’t figured it out. I’ve been in this business for over four decades. I’m hanging around. I don’t eat, I’ve already had a little breakfast at the hotel. I don’t want to be eating then. So I’m hanging around. I’m making small talk. I’m looking at my clock. It’s the worst, Ned, the worst! That’s the lowest point. Getting there two hours before a game. I’ve done basketball, you know, this year. Big East, you know, for Fox FS1. I get there an hour before them. Man, I’m ready! I’m ready to go to work. Give me five minutes with the coach and I’m all set to go.

Then you build up and you get ready for the game and you do the game. I’ve told people, they say, “Well, you need the preparation, you want the preparation”. Let me tell you about the preparation. Nobody goes in unprepared. You want to know who’s playing? You want to know who’s there? What they mean by preparation? I’m going to do a lot of work, and I’m going to say it on the air and I’m going to talk your ear off, you’re not even going to listen to what I’m going to say. You know what counts? Reaction. It’s reaction and you can’t prepare for reaction. You can’t prepare for that. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

DR. HALLOWELL: Well that famous moment, the call you made.

Dick Stockton: Yeah, instincts. It was strictly instinct.

DR. HALLOWELL: You had no way of knowing he was going to hit that home run.

Dick Stockton: And also how it was going to be hit. If I were home watching, and a fan at home by the way knows a lot, because he doesn’t have all that stuff. He doesn’t have promos to read. He doesn’t have to deal with what did he do there, and he doesn’t have replays. He’s just watching the game. I’ve always said that sometimes the fan at home may know more about what’s really going on in the game. How come they’re not calling a time-out? Why isn’t the announcer saying they have two time-outs left?

Because he’s distracted from focusing on what counts at the moment, which you are watching and you are aware of. You’re saying “What’s the matter with this guy? He’s giving me minutia about someone. I don’t care! Tell me about this moment.” That’s what counts. Reaction is what counts, and you can’t prepare for it. On the home run, is a ball that was the first thing. If it stays fair. Is there anything else that I could have said? No.

DR. HALLOWELL: That just came to you.

Dick Stockton: Came to me. No. Came to me.

DR. HALLOWELL: No planning, just…

Dick Stockton: If you plan. If I knew what you were going to ask me and plan, this would be a bomb.

DR. HALLOWELL: It would be wooden, yeah yeah yeah. Is that just God-given? Somebody else would’ve made a different call. It wouldn’t have been as good. I mean, do you think Al Michaels prepared to say “Do you believe”?

Dick Stockton: Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, you know that he didn’t. His timing now when people talk about it, in the Fisk home run, after I said “If it stays fair, home run.” I kept quiet because what’s better than the pictures and the sounds? John Kylie playing Hallelujah chorus on the organ, and the fans trying to get to Fisk as he goes around the bases and he’s mobbed at home plate. What am I going to say that’s going to get the audience.

There are announcers that will talk over that and they totally muck it up and that’s why we have a mute button. I think it all comes from wanting to be spontaneous in your life in how you handle everything. Maybe that takes away tension too, as opposed to saying “I’ve got a framework here. I want to do the framework. I’ve got to make sure I got this in.” You’re dead. I think you just go with it. Hey, I can be talking about something and miss a lot of things, but at least it’s from the heart.

Trust Yourself

DR. HALLOWELL: See, as a writer and a doctor, I say it’s a matter of trusting your unconscious.

Dick Stockton: That’s a good term.

DR. HALLOWELL: You’re trusting your unconscious; you’re trusting that it will come out of you. That’s a big leap of faith when you’re in front of millions of people listening over the airways, to say, “Oh director, I’m trusting the unconscious.” No, he wants you to be scripted because he has control. What you give up when you gain control is spontaneity. You give up that electricity.

Dick Stockton: You connect with people when you do that. The reason why directors and people like that do it, because they’re not doing it. You are.

DR. HALLOWELL: Right. They want control.

Dick Stockton: Because they hope, they don’t know. I’m not knocking them because we wouldn’t be anywhere without them, but if you’re in that arena as we were in an arena right now, it’s spontaneity. It’s connecting. I’m drawn to it when it’s spontaneous and I know it.

You know what’s a distraction? This is not a distraction. This is a podcast. This is someone choosing to listen and wanting to listen and not being distracted because they’ve chosen to do this. Television is a distraction because you’re listening, you’re looking at graphics, I mean, how many times are you watching the news channel, and they’re talking and then they’ve got a split-screen. Am I supposed to look at some other person? The graphics here, and what did he say, and I’ve got to read the numbers. Television is a distraction for people as far as the nature of the medium.

DR. HALLOWELL: What do you give up when you get distracted?

Dick Stockton: You give up getting out of it what you want to get out of it.

DR. HALLOWELL: Exactly. Maybe that’s a good place for us to stop.

Dick Stockton: Great. It was fun.

DR. HALLOWELL: It’s a real honor. You are an icon in the business and not only that, you’re a mensch. You’re a famous man who is a good person.

Dick Stockton: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I’m flattered by it. I accept it. I’ve never looked upon myself that way, but I appreciate it, especially coming from you.

DR. HALLOWELL: Well, thank you so much.

Dick Stockton: Thank you, Ned.

Closing Statements

DR. HALLOWELL: That’s it. If you have a question or a suggestion, call us toll-free at 844-55-CONNECT, email us at [email protected], or go to our website at distractionpodcast.com. Please remember to subscribe to Distraction on iTunes and leave us a review. It helps the show and it helps us to keep going. Distraction is produced by Collisions, the podcast division of CRN International. Collisions: podcasts for curious people.

That’s our show, but before we go, we’ll leave you with a touch more of that wonderful play-by-play we opened with today. Thanks for listening.

Dick Stockton: “We will have a seventh game in this 1975 World Series. Carlton Fisk becomes the 1st player in the series to hit one over the wall into the net. Red Sox win at 7-to-6 in 12 innings.”

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “Dick Stockton Talks Sports and Distraction”. Distraction is available on iTunes.


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