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Around the Horn

Tom Hutyler is Bad at His Job

I've got a few pet peeves when it comes to the ballpark experience at Safeco Field. Aside from what the Mariners do on the field, I mean.

One is the "hydro races," of course, one of the idiotic between-innings distractions on the scoreboard that aim to keep us entertained and docile instead of allowing us to converse with our fellow fans; for some ungodly reason, that damn animated boat race always gets a bigger cheer out of the crowd than anything the live human beings playing baseball accomplish. (The only amusing thing about the hydro race is that once, many years ago in the Kingdome, my friends and I spotted Bill Nye the Science Guy and a couple of his Almost Live! co-stars betting on it. Money changed hands.) Another is the ridiculous security protocols we are now required to endure as a condition of entry. (Hey, bag searchers—you're checking for bottled/canned liquids and weapons. That's it. We do not have to open every last little compartment in our backpacks and purses when you can simply brush your hand against the outside to know we don't have a knife there. Quit holding up the line and violating our 4th Amendment rights.) And, of course, The ’Pen on College Nights.

But chief among my peeves is the performance of the public address announcer, Tom Hutyler.

Hutyler has been the regular Mariner PA guy for over 30 years. Since 1987, Hutyler has been responsible for telling us who is playing on a given day, what the details of the game are, and wishing us a "good niiiiiiight, everybody!" He has a fine quality of voice, and when he bothers to put in the effort, does quite well.

But he doesn't bother all that much. 32 years is a long time to do a job, and perhaps he's just tired of it. Either that or he's simply gotten lazy, because at every game I have been to in at least the last five years or so, if not farther back than that, he's basically phoned it in.

Now, it's different during pregame ceremonial stuff. Hutyler seems focused during these times and all can be clearly understood. But during the game, well, that's another thing altogether.

More often that not, either the Mariners or their opponent will make at least one substitution in the game that Hutyler does not tell the crowd about. Today it was Ben Gamel pinch-hitting and then staying in the game for defense. No announcement. My seatmates and I wondered if he was even aware Gamel was in the game and if he'd announce the player Gamel had hit for as the batter the next time that spot in the lineup came around (for the record, he did announce Gamel the second time up). In the previous game I'd attended earlier in the week, the Angels began an inning with a reliever on the mound, but there was no announcement. (Fortunately, the scoreboard operators are more attentive than Hutyler, so when it occurred to me that the pitcher was throwing with his other hand a glance at the big board explained it.) And god forbid there's a double-switch; that's far too complicated to pay attention to.

These oversights are common. For a while, I was even making a game of it, trying to keep track of all Hutyler Omissions on my scorecard, but I could never be sure if I noticed them all. Once upon a time, a substitution wasn't official until it was announced on the PA. Managers would wait for the announcement of a pinch-hitter, for example, before changing pitchers because if it wasn't announced, it could be revoked and the replaced batter could reclaim his spot. I had to look it up to be sure that Hutyler not doing his duty wasn't affecting the official record of who played when. (These days it is only required that the umpire be notified of a change, and that the change is communicated to the press box. Whether the crowd knows about it is now immaterial. I've dubbed this the "Hutyler Rule.")

I've been told by someone in the know that Hutyler tends to consume mass quantities of Diet Pepsi before and during the games, which means he is often away from the booth in the men's room. To deal with this, he has evidently pre-recorded batting announcements for the regular lineup that an assistant can play with the press of a button if he's on a pee break. But if there's a substitution, or it's a visiting player coming up, oh well.

What's worse, in some ways, is when he does bother to announce substitutions or who's coming up to bat, he will do so while the PA is also blaring loud music. Deciphering what he is saying while Billy Idol is screaming "Mony Mony" at exactly the same time is nigh impossible. Just wait until the music is off, Tom, how hard is that? Or ask the sound engineer to lower the volume when you make your announcements. (Or better yet, keep the music volume down all the time, or cut the between-innings music altogether.)

Even when he isn't being drowned out by Billy Idol, Hutyler also has a tendency to mumble. He is so often completely unintelligible that I wonder if he is trying to do an impression of the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons. "Now batting, number fdsdful, whu-waaahuhaawhuhoowha."

Me: "Wait, who did he say?"

Seatmate: "I think he said Julio somebody."

Me: "But the team doesn't have anyone named Julio."

Seatmate [looks through binoculars]: "Oh, it's Andy Romine."

And then there's the attitude. When the Mariners are not doing well, say after an opposing batter has just clubbed an upper-deck homer to tie the game, he adopts a tone that basically invites you to fill in the missing swear word(s). "Now batting, Mike [f***ing] Trout, [goddammit]." This might be amusing to some, but it isn't really professional.

I don't recall these issues back in the Kingdome days (except the attitude), and I can't place when it started to get so annoying. But Tom Hutyler has become bad at his job, and I would like to hear a new voice from the ballpark PA. One that keeps us all properly informed and hasn't been trained by the elementary school teachers of Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt.

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