Azaria has been doing some version of the Jim Brockmire voice pretty much his whole life. For the show, Brockmire is a disgraced former big league announcer who finds himself doing public-address announcing for a Minor League team called the Morristown Frackers. But the voice goes way back. Everybody knows Azaria from "The Simpsons," of course, where he does pretty much every supporting character voice. He's Moe the bartender. He's Apu the convenience store owner. He's Chief Wiggum, Professor Frink, Snake, the Sea Captain, Superintendent Chalmers, Disco Stu, Comic Book Guy and the Duffman, a voice he says tears him up inside so he records it at the end.
These voices are all impressions or distorted impressions of people Azaria has heard. It's fascinating to hear him talk about how different voices have always shaped the way he sees the world.
"Most human beings are primarily visual creatures," he said, "and I suppose I am, too. But I really seemed to take in mostly what I heard. And I found at a young age that I could mimic it pretty well, and that's how I sort of started out -- before I thought about being an actor or a comedian or anything like that. I just used to imitate what I heard as precisely as I could and so, yes, these voices are what I start with."
The "Brockmire" voice is more than a baseball announcer voice to Azaria -- it is the quintessential American broadcaster voice. It is the voice of college basketball announcers on Saturday afternoons. It is the voice of infomercial hosts trying to sell the Pocket Fisherman.
But there's a lot of baseball in it, because there's a lot of baseball in Hank Azaria's life. If you listen carefully, you can hear the voices of Azaria's childhood, particularly legendary New York Mets announcer Bob Murphy. There's a little Phil Rizzuto in there. There's a little bit of Jon Miller, the wonderful announcer for the San Francisco Giants. There's a touch of Ernie Harwell, the great Detroit announcer. You might even catch a little bit of Vin Scully.
The thing I like about it is that you can even hear a little Southern twang in there -- an homage to Red Barber. Tom Wolfe, in his classic "The Right Stuff," talks about how all airline pilots, when talking about how there is a little turbulence up ahead or some such thing, have a little West Virginia drawl in their voice. "It was the drawl," he wrote, "of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager."
Well, every baseball announcer, whether they grew up in Washington Heights like Scully or Hayward, Calif., like Miller, has a bit of the Mississippi twang of Barber. And so does Jim Brockmire, even though it was not something that Azaria thought about.
"Red Barber is the grandfather -- or the great grandfather, or the great, great grandfather -- of these guys," Azaria said. "And he perhaps did set some of the standards, some of the template. … But this is part of what fascinates me. Who decided that they should sound like this, that this is how it is supposed to sound?
None of this, of course, has much to do with "Brockmire," a hilarious show about a guy whose life has fallen apart, a show about a woman (the delightful Amanda Peet) trying to keep a Minor League baseball team going, a show that my friend and TV critic extraordinaire Alan Sepinwall called, "A filthy love letter to baseball."
"That is accurate, that is accurate," Azaria said in the Brockmire voice. "It's an alcohol-fueled, dirty, dirty, whatever word you want to throw at it, love letter to baseball, among other things."
But it seems to me that the show does begin with that voice, the one that Azaria began imitating as a young baseball fan. In the opening show of the series, we see Azaria break down on the air while broadcasting a game in Kansas City. The scene shifts to 10 years later, when a broken-down Azaria gets off the bus in Morristown. He looks around at the sad scene.
He begins calling the action all around him, just for himself.
"Well, today might say spring on the calendar," Brockmire said, "but old man winter is still reaching his hand inside your coat …"
And even though it has nothing to do with baseball, it still sounds like baseball.