Saturday, September 25, 2004

They Make The Call by Steve Reynolds

“I think I might like George Bush better.”

– An anonymous Red Sox Fan on Tim McCarver

Baseball fans are not only passionate about their teams, they’re also very passionate about their baseball announcers (as evidenced by the quote above). In this age where players change teams with regularity, announcers usually stay the same. While it’s highly unlikely that now a play-by-play announcer will be with a team as long as Hall of Famers Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tigers) or the late, great Bob Murphy (New York Mets), many current announcers have been with their teams for more than a decade, which is long enough for fans to link the best and worst of their teams with that person’s voice.

Five years ago in the very first issue of Zisk I penned a piece rating the best baseball studio hosts and play by play and color announcers. Unfortunately my attempt at judging the best was flawed—simply by the fact that I couldn’t possibly have heard every TV announcer out there without living in every baseball market for a few weeks in one season. This year all of that changed, as I was finally able to get digital cable in my sleepy little area of Brooklyn (thanks a lot, you overcharging Cablevision bastards) and I decided to take the plunge and subscribe to the MLB Extra Innings package. For 149 bucks spread over four months, I could watch almost ever game (well, at least parts of every game) every day of the week—except Saturdays when FOX had national broadcast rights. The first week of having this package I watched parts of 37 different games. It was heaven. And it also led me to rethink my analysis from five years ago. So with that in mind, here is an updated list of the worst and best announcing teams covering America’s national past time.

The Worst

5) Bill Brown, Jim Deshaies FSN Southwest (Houston Astros)

These two jokers deserve to call a team that has that jackass Roger Clemens. The way these two guys talk, you’d think Jimy Williams or Phil Garner were going to call them in pinch hit (“We gotta score here,” “We need a good pitch here”). The only reason they aren’t higher on the list will become readily apparent to most when you read the next four.

4) Skip Carey, Joe Simpson Turner South, TBS (Atlanta Braves)

Is it possible than two guys could make a ball game sound more boring—and sound so pompous while doing it? (Wait, maybe team # 2 does) They have such a stuck up attitude about their team that I want to punch my TV.

3) Ken Harrelson, Darrin Jackson FSN Chicago (Chicago White Sox)

These two are the worse home rooters in baseball. I heard one of them say the following during a game against the Minnesota Twins (I am not making this up): “It’s 9 to 7 bad guys, but we got two more pops at them.” Holy crap, do these guys even know the term objectivity?

2) Michael Kay, Ken Singleton YES (New York Yankees)

If you’ve heard Kay’s home run call when the Yanks win a game, you know why he’s here. And Singleton’s mumbling will make a coke head fall to sleep in less than 30 seconds

1) Fran Healy, Keith Hernandez FSN New York (New York Mets)

It’s not bad enough that my favorite team has sucked for four consecutive seasons after getting beat by the Yankees in the World Series. We Met fans also have to deal with Healy’s spelling out the obvious inning after inning and Hernandez telling us why he’s better than every hitter on the field. I think it’s no coincidence that when Ted Robinson (the normal play-by-play man) went on leave for the Olympics and the U.S. Open in Tennis and left these two—along with pregame host Matt Laughlin—to do all the Mets games that the team went into their free fall. Thank goodness we have a great radio team (Gary Cohen and Howie Rose) that knows Mets history and knows how to entertain when the team is sucking.

The Best

5) Daron Sutton, Bill Schroeder FSN North (Milwaukee Brewers)

Covering Brewers games for years would probably suck the life out of anyone, but somehow Sutton and Schroeder still have a genuine enthusiasm for every facet from the game. Whether it’s sterling defensive play (which the Brew crew have made with surprising regularity) or a well executed hit and run, it’s readily apparent that these guys appreciate quality baseball, no matter which team is making the great play. The only minus for this duo is how much they act like homers—Sutton has a tendency to sprinkle his play-by-play with “we” a bit too much. But when the Mets played the Brewers in Milwaukee, I wished I could be listening to Sutton root for his team (out of town broadcasts of game against NY teams are blacked out).

4) Greg Papa, Ray Fosse FSN Bay Area (Oakland A’s)

I haven’t gotten the opportunity to watch more than five games Papa and Fosse have called. But even after just one game you can tell these two have worked together for a while and operate like well oiled pitching machine. Their voices are so soothing I feel like I’m in California watching the game. (Except I don’t have to fear someone from the Texas Rangers throwing a chair at me.)

3) Don Orsillo, Jerry Remy NESN (Boston Red Sox)

When you have to call a cursed team, you have to make sure you’ve got a good sense of humor, and these two have a great sense of humor. These two have no problem telling humorous stories that embarrass themselves while they’re waiting for Nomah to do his 86 motions while at bat—I especially loved the time Remy talked about leaving the parking brake on in their rental minivan while driving from San Francisco to Oakland. During one game against the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays Orsillo and Remy were visited by the comedians Dennis Leary and Lenny Clarke, who were at Fenway to promote a charity event. These four riffed on baseball, facial hair and so many different topics I thought they should get their own morning show on a radio station somewhere. And by the way, Orsillo and Remy also have a great eye for detail when calling a game, picking out the small things that make a difference between winning and losing.

2) Thom Brenneman, Joe Garagiola FSN Arizona (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Brenneman and Garagiola don’t work together that often (ex-D-back Mark Grace is usually the color man), and nepotism is definitely behind Garagiola’s position (his son is the D-backs GM). But there’s a reason these two have both been on national baseball telecasts (Joe obviously for a much longer time)—they’re damn good. Brenneman has great knack for capturing the flow of a game and setting up his partners to make good points, while the approaching-80-years-old Garagiola still has the smarts that made him a staple of NBC’s Game of the Week while I was growing up. Too bad FOX didn’t have these two guys work playoff games together.

1) Vin Scully FSN West 2 (Los Angeles Dodgers)

What else can be said about the Hall of Fame voice that moved from Brooklyn with the Dodgers? Scully’s national work for NBC is imprinted in my memories of the Bill Buckner play in the ’86 World Series (“A little roller…behind the bag. It’s through Buckner! Knight comes in and the Mets win it!) and Kirk Gibson’s home run in 1988 (“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”), but I’m sure any Dodger fan would have a list of memories a mile long of that quintessential American voice. It stunned me at first that Scully still works solo all these years after his radio days, but somehow he makes it work. His preparation is still immaculate—he always seems to come up with some odd anecdote about a player from the other team that boggles my mind. I wonder if Dodger fans know how lucky they are to still have a connection to their glorious past.

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