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Meet Troy Benjamin, the producer behind Yankees games on YES

YES producer Troy Benjamin spends every night telling the story of Yankees games, but his own tale is a pretty good one. He grew up in Harlem and The Bronx, listening to WFAN, dreaming of working in sports.

“I wanted to be the black Chris Russo,” said Benjamin, 49. “That was the dream.”

That changed around 2000 when Benjamin found out what his good friend and MSG Network teammate at the time, Bill Boland, made as an associate director.

“I said, ‘How much you get paid?’” Benjamin said. “He said, ‘$67 per hour.’ I said, ‘What? I want to be an AD.’ I just wanted to go on that path.

“I was a security guard at night, making $10 an hour [he also had an MSG gig as a game highlight logger]. I see $67 an hour, and I was like, ‘Yo, I want to get in that.’ I saw that money dangling. You know, you’re a black kid from Harlem, I thought $20 per hour was a lot of money. I had the bug from then on.”

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge #99 hits a single against the Tampa Bay Rays on August 15, 2022.
When you’re watching Aaron Judge’s exploits on YES Network, Troy Benjamin is the producer weaving the broadcasts together.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

For the past two decades, Benjamin has been at YES, working his way up, getting noticed and learning from the network’s president of production and programming, John Filippelli, Benjamin’s predecessors in the Yankees producer chair, Kevin Smolen and Boland, as well as big-time directors such as John Moore.

Before last season, Benjamin replaced Boland, his good buddy and a mentor, which made it bittersweet. Benjamin is hoping to have a run as long if not longer than Smolen’s and Boland’s, who each had the prestigious gig for about a decade. Benjamin has been up for the task.

If you watch Yankees games, the production doesn’t overwhelm the broadcast, but instead follows and complements it. One aspect that really stands out is how Benjamin, director Dan Barr, associate director Luke Miller and graphics coordinator Sean Sullivan are able to show tremendous old video and graphics once Michael Kay and Co. mention something from the franchise’s storied history. Benjamin has a feel for the game, which may be the most important trait for a game producer.

“He knows the things you can’t teach,” Filippelli said. “That’s why he’s a great producer. Those are the things we’ve seen in him for a long time.”

Michael Kay stands in the broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium.
Benjamin appreciates the backing of longtime Yankees voice Michael Kay.
AP

There are not many black producers working in sports media There is no official record, but to Benjamin’s knowledge, he is the only one currently doing MLB games.

“There’s not a lot of black producers in a lot of sports, but definitely not baseball,” Benjamin said. “There is a lot of pride. Hopefully it inspires TV executives to hire more people who look like me.”

Filippelli’s career has been an inspiration for Benjamin. Filippelli has taught Benjamin how to prepare and how to make the game about what is going on, not pre-planned packaging.

“You learn from a guy like Flip, a guy who has a resume that we all want to have – World Series, Saturday Game of the Week – he’s big into [making sure you focus on the game,]” Benjamin said.

Benjamin mentioned being accepted by the likes of Marv Albert and Ian Eagle, as well as Kay, as special to him in his career, but the backbone of his success comes from his work ethic, learned from his mother.

YES Network producer Troy Benjamin as a kid (middle) with his mother, Naomi Carr, and his brother, Eugene Gibbs Jr.
Benjamin as a kid with his brother, Eugene Gibbs Jr., and his mother, Naomi Carr, whom he credits for inspiring him with her work ethic.
courtesy of Troy Benjamin
YES Network producer Troy Benjamin (right) with his mother, Naomi Carr, and his brother, Eugene Gibbs Jr.
Benjamin (right) with his mother and brother
courtesy of Troy Benjamin

Benjamin’s father was not in the picture. His mother, Naomi Carr, an immigrant from Antigua, worked two or three jobs at a time, mostly as a nurse’s aide in hospitals and in elderly care.

“She put me through Catholic school [Cardinal Spellman in The Bronx],” said Benjamin, who has a brother in the military. “She made sure I paid for college [at West Virginia]. I saw her work ethic. West Indian parents, they work hard. I know it’s kind of cliché, two, three jobs, but she did it.”

Now Benjamin has one of the most coveted jobs in sports producing.

“I want to do this for the rest of my life,” Benjamin said. “This is the dream. I just want to master this and be great at it.”

Quick Clicks

NBC Sports commentator Jac Collinsworth poses for a photo prior to the 2022 Pro Hall of Fame Game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Las Vegas Raiders.
Jac Collinsworth’s last name helped him land the job as the new play-by-play voice of Notre Dame football on NBC.
Getty Images

In the small print of Fox Sports’ announcement of its new Big Ten deal, the network said it will now be on the road with “Big Noon Kickoff” every week beginning this fall. In other words, the competition with ESPN’s iconic “College GameDay” is on — and moving to another level. You have to wonder in 2024 — when ESPN’s SEC deal and the Big Ten contracts with Fox, CBS and NBC go into full effect — how much time “GameDay” will spend at Big Ten schools. Fox will have no qualms making its show the lead-in to its top game, which many weeks will be the No. 1 Big Ten contest of the week. Will “GameDay” go to Big Ten country when it owns the SEC? Maybe as a one-off to say it’s a journalistic endeavor, but is that in the best interest of its business? Anyway, new generations grow up with new traditions. “GameDay” is going to be “GameDay,” but “Big Noon Kickoff,” which already has made some inroads, may be able to take a bigger piece of the pie. … On Friday, Fox Sports had an old-school “Friday news dump,” announcing that Urban Meyer is back on Big Noon. Meyer, who failed controversially in the NFL, was good on the air his first time around with Fox. … NBC will need announcers for its new Big Ten primetime games. If Fox hadn’t already signed Jason Benetti, NBC would have likely gone after him for the Big Ten. It has loved Benetti on its Sunday morning MLB broadcasts on Peacock. It is still a head scratcher that ESPN didn’t continue to promote Benetti and allowed him to walk out the door. … This brings us to NBC promoting Jac Collinsworth to Notre Dame’s play-by-player. Growing up as a son or daughter of a big-name broadcaster has advantages – some seen, some not. One positive is a child of a broadcaster, as Jac was with Cris, gets to see how the parent worked at the craft and develops a better understanding of what goes into the job than someone whose parent sold insurance. It also can help you get in the door. But this is the line I always use about someone such as Joe Buck, who is having a legendary career. His dad, Jack, was a Hall of Fame broadcaster. That gets you an internship, not the chance to call the World Series for nearly a quarter century. Jac, now 27 years old and the TV voice of Notre Dame football, has to be good. We’ve seen when it has worked out, such as with Buck and Kenny Albert, but it doesn’t always. Is Jac ready for the big-time spot? It is not a sure thing, from what I’ve heard. The flip side to having your career pushed along by a family name and connections is this: You better be good when you are young. Growing up in a broadcasting family can be a springboard for your career or it can sink it. …

Dawn Staley, Sarah Kustok and Michael Grady pose for a photo before the WNBA Commissioner's Cup Game on July 26, 2022.
Michael Grady (right, with Dawn Staley, left, and Sarah Kustok) was hired as the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new play-by-player after working in the YES Network pipeline.
NBAE via Getty Images

Michael Grady is moving from sideline reporter on YES’ Nets broadcasts to be the TV voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves. This continues the absolutely amazing run by YES in populating the NBA with top play-by-players and analysts. Grady was the No. 3 play-by-player at YES behind maybe the active best basketball game caller in Ian Eagle and another top national guy, Ryan Ruocco. YES has Sarah Kustok and Richard Jefferson as game analysts. Kustok has done national stuff, and Jefferson has made an impact at ESPN. In the studio, Frank Isola is a national voice with his ESPN work and his SiriusXM NBA show with Brian Scalabrine. The analysts whom YES has made into nationally worthy include Mark Jackson, who failed at – was failed by? – ESPN, went to YES and then returned to ESPN to become a mainstay on the NBA Finals’ top broadcast team. Greg Anthony made his mark at YES before becoming a lead game analyst on the Final Four. Other former YES voices include Michelle Beadle, Donny Marshall and Jim Spanarkle. Now Grady has earned his promotion. So why has YES had so much success in developing broadcasters? It starts with hiring well, which begins with Filippelli, the president of production and programming. It then gets into development, which is where the great reputation of Nets producer Frank DiGraci is important. Grady has earned this new perch by calling Liberty games during the NBA offseason and then coming off the sidelines to sub in for Eagle and Ruocco. Those two set a high bar, but when you listened to Grady, you could hear an NBA-level play-by-player. … Big week and big spending for CBS. The network not only picked up the Big Ten for around $350 million per year to succeed the SEC 3:30 p.m. Saturday window, but they retained the rights to the Champions League, the biggest club soccer tournament in the world, increasing their outlay from around $100 million per year to $250 million per. Amazon came in second for Champions League. UEFA still plans to sell the Spanish language rights to the event.

Who is the greatest player/analyst ever?

Charles Barkley smokes a cigar during the pro-am round of the Bedminster Invitational LIV Golf tournament in Bedminster, NJ., Thursday, July 28, 2022.
Charles Barkley is unmatched in his combination of playing and broadcasting success.
AP

In light of the recent news of Charles Barkley spurning LIV Golf, I was thinking about who is the best combo of an analyst and player of all time. It could expand into a full piece in the future. This is the unofficial list I came up with:

1. Barkley
2. Michael Strahan
3. Terry Bradshaw
4. Frank Gifford
5. Troy Aikman
6. John McEnroe
7. Tim McCarver
8. Johnny Miller
9. Doug Collins
10. Chris Evert

Others who could be considered: Merlin Olsen, Phil Simms, Bill Walton, Shaquille O’Neal, John Smoltz and Howie Long. If coaches were counted, John Madden would be included, but would lose to Barkley. Barkley is the most entertaining sports studio analyst ever and was named to NBA’s list of the top 75 players of all time.

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