Voices of the Game: A tribute to baseball’s greatest broadcasters (Part I) | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Voices of the Game: A tribute to baseball’s greatest broadcasters (Part I)

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a die-hard fan of the Colorado Rockies. And at times, being a fan of a team in the NL West is tough.  After all, I live in DC, so most Rockies home games don’t start until around 9PM.  And when they’re on the road, sometimes I won’t see the first pitch until as late as 10:15PM, which means the game ends well after midnight.  More often than I would care to remember, I have walked into work the morning after a Rockies-Giants thriller at AT&T Park muttering, “These West Coast road trips are killing me.”  Add this to the fact that the NL West receives almost no national media attention, coupled with the fact that my Rockies have never taken home a division title in the franchise’s seventeen-year history, and one can see why I might wish my team played in the weaker, more time-zone friendly NL Central.

But I don’t.  And there are three very good reasons every year why I’m glad my team plays in baseball’s forgotten division. Those reasons are named Jon Miller, Dick Enberg and Vin Scully.

An average broadcaster or broadcasting team accurately describes the events of the game as they unfold.  A good one provides interesting analysis into parts of the game about which average fans may know little, be it a manager’s decision, a pitcher’s selection of a location for his next delivery, or the positioning of the defense.  But the greatest ones bring even more than that to the game.  They are able to make the game somehow seem bigger and more important than it really is, while still understanding that not one fan (not even Justin Abramson, veteran play-by-play announcer of five Midwest Conference Tournament baseball games) is tuning in simply to hear them talk.

Too often it seems that whenever people discuss announcers, it is to rip them for a poor description of the action (see Chip Caray’s horrendous call of a terrific double play in the Twins-Tigers tiebreaker last year), being a shameless homer (Dick Vitale) or simply acting like a cartoon character (Chris Berman or John Madden).  But unlike with umpires, the best announcers should be noticed and appreciated.  The above three are among my favorite in any sport, and all three fall into that category.  Here is a closer look at each one:

Jon Miller, though best known as the play-by-play man for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, also does play-by-play for the Giants.  Miller’s easygoing style in the booth, peppered with humorous hyperbole, is always enjoyable to listen to, even when he’s describing another Rockies loss at the hands of the hated San Francisco Baseball Giants.  His smooth, calm, measured voice can almost make one think he’s getting ready to read Shakespeare, until he abruptly snaps out of it with a sharp, enthusiastic cry of, “Two!” after a well-executed double play.

In 1996, after fourteen years behind the microphone for the Orioles, Miller was dismissed by owner Peter Angelos (certainly not the only mistake Angelos has made with his team over the past fifteen years) because of Miller’s candid commentary of games, which often included very frank descriptions of poor play by the Orioles.  However, Miller’s willingness to criticize his own team was made most famous seven years later.  During a 2003 game between the Giants and the Diamondbacks, Miller famously declared “That was the worst baserunning in the history of the game!” after the Giants’ Ruben Rivera made three separate baserunning mistakes on a single play in the bottom of the ninth inning, when he should have easily scored the winning run.  And although Angelos may not have liked it, Miller’s willingness to both compliment and criticize any player on the field is just another reason to spend the extra $20 on MLB.TV Premium so fans have their choice between the broadcast from the opponent and that of their teams’ own announcers, in my case the acceptable-but-forgettable Drew Goodman, George Frazier and Jeff Huson on FSN-Rocky Mountain.

Dick Enberg left CBS to become the play-by-play announcer for the San Diego Padres this season.  In an interview with KFMB Radio, Dick Enberg stated that the pace of a baseball game “allows the announcer to be a storyteller, and to bring facets of not only baseball, but of San Diego culture.”  Enberg went on to say that although some people call the time between pitches “dead time,” he often calls it “live time” because it allows for creativity on the part of the announcer.  Indeed, the soft-spoken Enberg is a great storyteller, as he’s called football and tennis at its highest levels, not to mention his time as the announcer for UCLA basketball during the late John Wooden’s run of championships.

Enberg recounts many of these stories in his autobiography, entitled Oh My! after his signature phrase.  Unlike Miller, Enberg is more soft-spoken and prefers to avoid controversy in his comments (especially evident in his book), but still has a great passion for the game, as he gave up what was undoubtedly a higher-paying job that offered many more listeners in order to call baseball games for the Padres, a small-market team with little history and no national following.  Though you won’t hear Enberg enthusiastically bellow “Back, back, back, back” during a home run or rip into a manager after a poor decision, he still brings a great deal of entertainment and baseball insight to any game he announces.

However, while these two announcers are among the all-time greats, in my view there is no commentator in any sport better than the Dodgers’ Vin Scully.  The 82-year-old Scully has been calling games for the Los Angeles Dodgers ever since there was a team called the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Nicknamed “The Transistor Kid” by Robert Creamer in a 1964 Sports Illustrated article, Scully’s broadcasts popularized the then-uncommon phenomenon of fans bringing their radios to the ballpark for a game.  Surely Scully is a kid no more, but his pleasantly nasal voice continues to fill bars, restaurants and of course, cars stuck on the freeway during rush hour as Los Angeles commuters head home from work.  Very neutral in his broadcasts, Scully can appeal to all fans who happen to be tuning in, be they die-hards who have followed the Dodgers since before they moved from Brooklyn or casual baseball fans who take in a only a few games a year.

Listening to a Dodger game, one can never tell by the tone of Scully’s voice whether the Dodgers are ahead or behind, and he has the very uncommon ability to keep listeners engaged even in the late innings of a blowout (readers who tuned in to listen to myself and Jake Thompson ’10 call Grinnell College women’s basketball on MWCTV know how difficult this is) by telling stories from his long career in baseball.  Often, even in close games, he will speak between innings of events that happened thirty years ago or more.  The most recent I heard was an account of his frustration with an umpire who would raise his right hand after every single pitch, ball or strike, to click his counter.  Because of this, Scully had a very difficult time keeping track of the count, so he approached the umpire after the game and asked why he didn’t keep his counter in his left hand.  The umpire replied “I wish I could,” before holding up his left arm and revealing that he had no left hand.  A broadcasting veteran of sixty-plus years, Scully has many more stories like this one, but never makes the mistake of assuming anything he says is bigger than the game itself, always wrapping up his story at just the right time by simply saying “And now, let’s go back to this one.”

These three broadcasters have the almost-unique ability to make the game bigger, more important and more fun without making themselves bigger than the game.  So the next time Chip Caray bungles a call of a critical moment in baseball history, or the next time you roll your eyes after Chris Berman screams “Back-back-back-back-back” for the 50th time in an hour at the Home Run Derby, take a moment to remember some of the game’s all-time greats.  Because announcing a baseball game is a tough job.  And I’m just glad these guys do it.

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