© 2024
NPR News, Colorado Voices
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

James Vincent Michael O'Brien built a following reading the lips of our favorite athletes


Baseball players spit, swear and shout. Don't you wish you could hear what they were saying? This past Father's Day, Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds was thrown out of the game after a checked swing strikeout against San Diego Padres, and he began to argue with the umpire, Ryan Additon.


JOMBOY: Wrong. Don't [expletive] tell me how to play the [expletive] game. [Expletive] kidding [expletive] [expletive].

SIMON: The translation is by Jomboy, James Vincent Michael O'Brien, the founder of Jomboy Media, an enterprise built by the founder to break down video of crucial plays and read the lips of ballplayers, managers and umps. Mr. O'Brien, Jomboy, joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOMBOY: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How did you start posting videos?

JOMBOY: I got my first camera when I was in seventh grade. And if me and my buddies did anything around the house, we - I filmed it. And then I spent hours editing it just to show it to that same group of five buddies, you know? So when I pivoted to, really, baseball was when it really started growing and an audience started coming with these videos instead of making it for just the five buddies that were in them.

SIMON: The beauty part for many fans, I don't have to tell you, probably is the lip reading. Now, I realize, like in the section we just played, it's the same epithet over and over (laughter). But how did you learn how to read lips?

JOMBOY: Obviously, like you're saying, it's a lot of the same words and the same concept in these arguments over and over again. But I've always been able to do it slightly. When I was in high school, my dad would always rewind on TiVo. And he'd rewind as the pitcher comes off the mound screaming and say, Jim, what's he saying? And there's just always something I had a knack for, kind of, and I could do it easier than most people. I didn't realize it was like an actual skill set.

SIMON: Yeah. I saw all over again the videos you posted - I guess 2019 - of the Houston Astros. And you helped figure out the cheating scandal, hearing, which was difficult - but picking up on the sound of trash can lids being banged. My gosh, how did you do that?

JOMBOY: The information was out there. Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal did a great job reporting it for The Athletic. And they had two players on record confirming that this is what happened. And one of those players was a relief pitcher. And he said it happened in Houston. And so you could go find every time that he pitched. There was only two games. And then you watch both those innings.

And so once I saw that, it was, oh, there it is. OK, let's see if I can hear the bang. And you just raise the volume a little bit, and there it is, and you can hear it. But what I was able to do is once I found out is, you know, put the word bang on the screen when the bang happened.


JOMBOY: Geared up for the fastball, fouls it off. Next pitch - change-up.


JOMBOY: Bang, bang.

People are watching, and they're using multiple senses to understand it. And it just hits a lot easier when you see it and hear it and make it really easy to understand this is what's happening.

SIMON: We're recording this interview before we know who's going to be in the World Series. Anything baseball should do to refresh the game?

JOMBOY: I love baseball. I've dedicated my, you know, whole career and built a company on talking about the sport and trying to get others to enjoy the sport. I do think that the casual fan - not me. I'm going to watch no matter what. But the casual fan wants starting pitchers to pitch deeper in the games.

SIMON: Not just jerk a pitcher when he approaches a hundred pitches.

JOMBOY: Yeah, or go use nine pitchers a game by design. I think we've seen more playoff games this season that used six or more pitchers than less than six. And I think that is really bad for building new fans and turning casual fans into diehard fans.

SIMON: Jomboy, James Vincent Michael O'Brien, thank you so much for being with us.

JOMBOY: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.