Voices of the Game Part II: The Best Outside the NL West | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Voices of the Game Part II: The Best Outside the NL West

Recently, first-team all-Midwest Conference South Division pitcher Ryan Harris wrote his second Golden Sombrero article, where he rightfully rips into beleaguered FOX Sports color commentator Tim McCarver. While I could not agree more with his candid (and rather harsh) account of Joe Buck’s right hand man, I believe that calling baseball games is a difficult job. And while those who have been given the privilege of calling the World Series and still perform poorly deserve every bit of the criticism the heralded Pioneer hurler dishes out, it is equally important to salute those who do the job well game after game, year after year.

There are a select few announcers out there who, by their very presence, make the experience of watching a baseball game on TV or listening to it on the radio more enjoyable. In my June article on this topic, I tipped my cap to Jon Miller, Dick Enberg and Vin Scully, three of baseball’s greatest voices, all of whom I am privileged to hear nearly eighteen games every season while watching my Rockies take on the hated Giants, Padres and Dodgers. In this edition, I look outside the NL West for two other announcers who do more than their fair share to make our game the greatest in the world.

Though perhaps an unconventional choice, the Cardinals’ Mike Shannon is one of my favorite radio commentators. While I unfortunately never had the privilege of listening to his legendary longtime partner Jack Buck, Shannon brings an energy and enthusiasm to the game not seen in many other announcers. Unlike broadcasting greats Vin Scully and Red Barber, Shannon is admittedly a bit of a homer, but not nearly to the extreme of someone like Ken Harrelson. Rather than serving to annoy opposing fans as Harrelson often does, Shannon’s exuberant pleas of “Get up, ball, get up!” during the majestic flight of yet another Albert Pujols big fly serve only to further endear me to the former Cardinal third baseman and his team.

Shannon isn’t in the same class of broadcasters as Vin Scully, but he doesn’t spend one moment of his time on the air trying to be. Instead, he does his best to keep his fans entertained during a ballgame. Late in a game with runners in scoring position, Shannon once proclaimed, “A hit up the middle right now would be like a nice ham sandwich and a cold, frosty one.” After a warning track fly ball, Shannon bemoaned the hitter’s dietary habits, telling his viewers “A couple strips of bacon at breakfast, and he’d have busted that baby out of here!” However, this is not to say that strong hitting was the only thing Shannon appreciated from his ballclub—after a stolen base, Shannon crowed that the base stealer had run to second “faster than a cat in Chinatown.”

Shannon is not universally admired as some of the other great broadcasters are, but I find him an absolute joy to listen to, and I’d trade the Rockies’ Jack Corrigan for him any day of the week (I’d even throw in Clint Barmes). But while Shannon’s personality can add much to an otherwise dull game, he clearly understands that nothing he says, no matter how witty, is bigger than the game itself. The Cardinals named him their Media Person of the Year in 2010, and rightfully so, as he gives the impression to all of his listeners that he loves every second of what he’s being paid to do and he’s going to give it his best effort every day he comes to the ballpark.

Finally, as with Scully, no account of great broadcasting would be complete without a mention of the late Harry Kalas. Though Kalas called football games nationally for Westwood One radio and served as a narrator for NFL Films, he is best known as the longtime play-by-play man for the Phillies. As a casual NFL fan, I could recognized his signature calm, leathery voice long before I had any idea what Kalas looked like. In fact, the first time I ever saw Kalas was when he introduced his Phillies lineup prior to Game 1 of the 2008 World Series. Immediately afterward, announcer Joe Buck remarked that he was glad not to have a voice like Kalas’s, because if he did, he would never accomplish anything because he would spend all his time sitting at home and talking to himself.
Throughout his career, Kalas was always loved by Phillies faithful. He was named Master of Ceremonies for the 2008 World Championship parade, and during games, his normally-calm voice would often rise with excitement at great plays or crucial hits for his hometown team. Unlike other announcing greats like Dick Enberg, Kalas never won over his fans with stories of his past, and he wasn’t nearly as well-equipped with one-liners as Mike Shannon. But his unique voice was unmistakable, and his on-air personality made him one of the legends of the broadcast booth.

Kalas tragically passed away from heart disease here in the nation’s capital on April 13, 2009. And although I was rooting for the upstart Rays all the way in the prior year’s World Series, I was certainly comforted that Kalas, after 27 years at the microphone for his beloved Fightins, was finally able to proclaim that “The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Champions of baseball!” His final call came on April 12, 2009, less than 24 hours before his death, when he called a 7-5 comeback Phillies win over the Rockies at Coors Field. Later that year, I went to Game 1 of the 2009 NLDS at Citizens Bank Park and saw Cliff Lee steamroll a powerful Rockies lineup in a 5-1 victory. After the game, a video was played of Kalas singing his favorite song, Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes”, as the crowd stood up and sang along with him. Even for this disappointed Rockies fan, it was a very moving baseball moment.

Tim McCarver at times acts like a clown masquerading as a color commentator. I can name several others off the top of my head who are no better. But while it is certainly worthwhile to call out poor announcers with “Dream Jobs” like calling World Series games, it is just as important to take notice of the men in the business who do their jobs exceptionally well, and often with much less fanfare. So here’s to you, Jon, Dick, Vin, Mike and Harry. Thanks for your unmistakable, distinctive voices. Thanks for your insight into the finer points of the game. Thanks for your witty one-liners and your stories of baseball’s colorful past. And thanks most of all for everything you do to make baseball the greatest game there is.

1 Comment

  1. Ryan Harris says:

    Good article, Towel. I’m a fan of the love you show Mike Shannon (he’s a hero of mine).