SIMPSONS Hank Azaria brings passion for baseball to new series ‘Brockmire’

Written by: Bill Francis

Baseball fan Hank Azaria not only stars in a hit television show, Brockmire, as a baseball broadcaster, but also voiced a number of recurring characters in an episode of the animated series THE SIMPSONS that the National Baseball Hall of Fame will celebrate this weekend.

A child of the 1970s, and born and raised in Queens, New York, Azaria’s love of the National Pastime at an early age began with the New York Mets.

“I loved all sports, but really, as long as I can remember, I’ve been a huge Mets fan. I’m a Mets fan, not a baseball fan. There’s a difference,” said Azaria, with a laugh, during a recent telephone interview. “The Mets are going through a tough season and we Mets fans are actually more comfortable with this. The last few years have been an anomaly – we don’t know what to do with that. This we know.

“I guess there are a few people who adopt the Mets but I don’t understand why anybody would do this unless you’re born into it. And I certainly was. I grew up in Forest Hills, maybe 15 minutes from Shea Stadium. And my dad was not a huge sports guy but he still kind of dutifully saw that I liked it and took me to the games. I really will never forget the first time you walked through that breezeway and you see the field in front of you.”

With a career in movies, television and the theater dating back three decades, the versatile actor’s most recent success is Brockmire, which recently wrapped up its first season on the IFC channel. In the comedy, he portrays Jim Brockmire, a big league announcer whose public breakdown forces him to the outskirts of the broadcasting world. The series takes place a decade later, as he attempts to recover his life and career.

“It’s an idea I had for a long time, a smooth, golden throated broadcaster like this having a meltdown in the booth but still continuing to call the game and give the count was something I thought might be really funny, which eventually we did as a short sketch on Funny Or Die,” Azaria said. “And then it was popular. So we then started developing it into a series, kind of with the premise of what would happen to that guy after he fell from grace like that. That kind of got married to the broad comedic premise of, something as a vocal guy that I’ve always wondered about, is the guys that talk like that do they always sound like that when they’re at home, when they’re having dinner, do they talk to their wives like that. It seemed funny if they did. And we just kind of went from there.”

Brockmire star and writer Hank Azaria has been a baseball fan since childhood, when he grew up only 15 minutes away from Shea Stadium. (Erika Doss / IFC)

A critical favorite and a hit with viewers, it was recently announced that Brockmire, the highest-rated new series in IFC history, has been renewed for a second season.

“I’ve had success but anytime I’ve tried to develop a show that I was the center of it has not worked out to well,” Azaria said. “I’ve had three or four misfires over the years. And so it’s really nice to have a hit, especially when it’s so close to my heart.

“When we made them - and they air about six months after they’re finished – I knew I loved the shows, which is a fairly good indicator because I don’t always love stuff I’ve made,” he added with a laugh.

“But even with that said, I am a little surprised by how much people seem to love it. It’s really gratifying.”

Azaria does admit, though, that convincing any network to air a “baseball” series can be a tough sell.

“Because it can be quite literally ‘inside baseball’ for some people. And I think it was a little harder to sell because networks are a little wary of what seemingly was a sports comedy,” he said. “We tried to tell them beforehand that it really isn’t just a sports comedy. In fact, it arguably is not even mostly that. But IFC took a chance on us. And in the end you see certainly a lot about baseball but it’s a lot about other things too. And mostly it’s just real funny, whether you like baseball or not.”

Hank Azaria (right) stands alongside his co-star Amanda Peet while filming the first season of Brockmire. (Erika Doss / IFC)

As the voice of numerous characters on the longstanding FOX hit THE SIMPSONS, Azaria also shared his thoughts on the Baseball Hall of Fame paying tribute to Homer Simpson and the “Homer at the Bat” episode of the show on Saturday, May 27 during Hall of Fame Classic Weekend. Characters he voiced on “Homer at the Bat” include Carl, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Officer Lou and Moe Szyslak.

“It was a long time ago, but I remember being very excited that all those players were going to participate, especially as a Mets fan, Darryl Strawberry,” Azaria said. “And I remember getting a kick out of the way he was portrayed in the episode as being this kind of goody-two-shoes. I thought it was really funny.

“I remember one of my characters, Lou the cop, harassing Steve Sax. That I got a big kick out of. I called him, “Hey, Saxxy boy.” I don’t remember lines I’ve recorded over the years too much, but that one really stayed with me.

“I’m really a mimic. It’s really just acting with your voice. Many movie stars have come on The Simpsons over the years and they’re not used to vocal recording and they feel a little uncomfortable. But after 15-20 minutes they really get the hang of it and realize it’s just acting.”

Hank Azaria has voiced a number of characters on THE SIMPSONS, including Officer Lou (pictured in the first row, second from the left), who makes an appearance in 'Homer at the Bat.' (Photo Courtesy of FOX)

Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Ozzie Smith, along with Sax and other major leaguers, were part of the episode that featured Homer Simpson winning the championship softball game for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant with a walk-off hit-by-pitch. Boggs, Smith and Sax will take part in a roundtable discussion on May 27 starting at 9:30 a.m. outside the Library entrance to the Hall of Fame in Cooper Park. The discussion, which is free and open to the public, will also feature executive producer Al Jean, producer Mike Reiss, director Jim Reardon, executive story editor Jeff Martin and casting director Bonnie Pietila.

The first 4,500 fans in attendance at the Classic that afternoon will receive a rally towel featuring original artwork of Homer Simpson wearing a Hall of Fame baseball uniform.

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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