An Appreciation of Baseball Broadcasters
The New York Islanders were eliminated from the NHL playoffs this past weekend. Now, I realize most of you reading this don’t care or may not even know who the Isles are. However, their elimination also marked the end of the hockey season for Howie Rose, their TV play-by-play guy who will now go back full-time to doing play-by-play on the radio for the New York Mets. To me, Rose is one of the best broadcasters in the business and his call of the game winning goal in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils ranks as one of my favorite broadcasting moments of my life. I didn’t listen to it live and even though I am not a Rangers fan at all, there was something about it that will stick with me forever. Perhaps it was the unbridled joy in Rose’s voice or the simplicity of it (“Matteau! Matteau!”) that never allows me to get tired of it.
In the world of baseball, there are many calls where all I need to hear is one word and I can tell you all there is to know about that particular game and what exactly the call was about. For instance, when I hear a high-pitched scream of “Safe!”, I know right away it is Sean McDonough on the last play of the 1992 National League Championship Series. Sid Bream barely beat Barry Bonds‘s throw home as the Atlanta Braves , trailing 2-0 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, rallied to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 and punch their ticket to a second consecutive World Series. The following year, right after the Toronto Blue Jays’ Joe Carter ended the 1993 World Series with a three-run home run , McDonough’s line, “Touch ‘em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life” is another one that stands the test of time for me.
There is the legendary Jack Buck who had so many great moments both in baseball and football over a long and distinguished career. Who could forget his “I don’t believe what I just saw” line after the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run to end Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Then there was the “We’ll see you… tomorrow night” after Kirby Puckett‘s 11th inning home run for the Minnesota Twins sent the 1991 World Series to a 7th game. This line was used by his son Joe as David Freese also sent the 2011 World Series to a 7th game with an 11th inning home run for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, the three words that did it for me were, “Go crazy folks”! as Ozzie Smith ended Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS with a solo home run as the Cards defeated the Dodgers 3-2 in a series St. Louis won in six game.
One that took place slightly before my time was the call made by Russ Hodges on October 3, 1951. If you don’t know what I am referring to, perhaps the shout, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” will ring a bell. It was Bobby Thomson‘s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” as his New York Giants rallied from 13 1/2 games down in the regular season and then a 4-1 deficit in the 9th inning of a sudden death playoff game to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-4 to earn a trip to the World Series. It may possibly be the greatest call in the history of sports broadcasting and over 60 years after the fact, the most recognizable one.
No list of baseball announcers would be complete without the mention of Vin Scully. Now in his 62nd year of calling Dodger games, Scully’s is a true living legend, a connection to the great baseball names of the past and possessing a vast reservoir of story-telling second to none. No hysterics, no “signature call”, just a an easy listen focusing on the game and not himself. He is the best broadcaster in baseball history, followed closely by long time Detroit Tigers man, the late Ernie Harwell. These two gentlemen have called games for a combined 100 years with memories of their greatness lasting another 100 more. More of today’s broadcasters should be like these two men and the others on this list. No rehearsing, no silliness. They should just call a game without becoming a sideshow.
Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com