Episode 1 (January 13, 2017):
Episode 1 (January 13, 2017):
By now, you might have seen the tweet from one Brooks Marlow, of whom probably very few of us had ever been aware ( I know I wasn’t), but with whom we are quite familiar this morning:
Now, it’s one thing to criticize a broadcaster for their style, delivery, diction, explicit homerism, knowledge of baseball, or any number of legitimate attributes. And I think practically all reasonable, intelligent people would agree that not every criticism of a woman is due to misogyny on the part of the critic. But, I mean, come on: Marlow explicitly and categorically stated that “no lady needs to be on espn talking during a baseball game”. It doesn’t matter that he followed up with “specially Mendoza”, or even tossing off a “sorry” for, I guess, impact reduction purposes—Marlow is categorically rejecting the idea that any woman should work on any ESPN baseball broadcast, ever. He is disparaging and dismissing an entire sex for reasons he does not explain, but explanation or no, this tweet is a practically textbook example of misogyny on the part of Brooks Marlow.
The Astros organization, to their everlasting credit, jumped all over this tweet, following up with one of their own within five minutes of the Marlow original:
Good for them. They acted quickly and decisively to stanch a problem that could have potentially grown to who knows what proportions.
And then, a little more than an hour later, the follow-up tweet from Marlow that leaves a lot to be desired:
Wow. There is a lot to unpack here:
Why is it important that Brooks Marlow learn quickly from his many mistakes here? Because he’s a guy who was drafted out of college in the 29th round by the Astros in 2015, and who “hit” .205/.302/.329 in 300 plate appearances as a 23 year old in High A this season. In other words, Brooks Marlow is, to all appearances, not going to be a professional baseball player for very much longer, which means he will be working in the real world very soon, a world in which he is going to have to learn to treat female work associates as beings equal to him in their humanity, and not as objects.
I’ll be rooting for Brooks Marlow to learn quickly.
The 2016 baseball season is now officially in the books, and in broadcasting terms, it was one of the most momentous in history. Two Ford Frick Award-winning broadcasters, Vin Scully (1982) and Dick Enberg (2015), have stepped away from their baseball mics for good and now head off to their next adventure. (Not for nothing, but Bill Brown, radio play-by-play man for the Astros for the past three decades, is also hanging up the mic, although he has not yet received the Ford Frick Award himself.)
Enberg had a great career, no doubt, but It is universally acknowledged that Scully had been, for a span of at least a decade and a half, the unchallenged, unquestioned dean of baseball broadcasters, mantles previously held by such luminaries as Red Barber, Bob Elson, Byrum Saam, Jack Brickhouse, Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Chuck Thompson, and Ernie Harwell.
Now that Scully is gone, and that Enberg and Brown have headed off into the sunset with him, we now need to contemplate who among the current mikemen should now be considered the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters. That’s what I am asking you, the reader, to do here today: vote for who you believe should take on that exalted title.
The Game is currently blessed with dozens of great, long-time baseball play by play and color commentators. In fact, no fewer than thirty current broadcasters have 30 or more years in the business, an unprecedentedly high number. Not all of them, of course, can qualify for Dean status. But in our opinion, the eight broadcasters who have 40 or more years of experience can qualify, so those are who we would like you to vote on today.
The eight on this ballot include:
And now is the time for you to vote for who you believe the Dean of broadcasters should be, below. You may vote for one, two or three broadcasters you believe deserve this august title. Teams and first year broadcasting are shown next to the nominees’ names.
Much has been said about José Fernández during the past 30 or so hours. I can only repeat, rather than add anything new to, the things that have been said about him. He was most assuredly on the Hall of Fame track, a two-time All-Star in four seasons before he turned 24 and author of one of the highest K/9 career totals in history. He also had a compelling personal story surrounding his childhood in and escape from Cuba, extending to his actually saving a life in the process. As I say, all this has been well covered during the past couple of days and there’s nothing new or important I could possibly add to the eulogy of José Fernández.
I can, however, share with you a couple of stints José did on baseball broadcasts. One occurred on August 13, 2014 during a Marlins home tilt against the Cardinals, while he was rehabbing from his Tommy John surgery, and during which he actually spent time in the booth:
The other was during a broadcast on September 9, 2015 during a game against the brewers, while he was finishing up another DL stint for a right biceps strain:
The thing that strikes me in these clips is how poised José is. These are videos of, respectively, a 22- and 23-year old kid, speaking a second language he did not pick up until he teens, and doing so using educated-adult-level vocabulary and grammar in a voice that barely hints at an accent. I would venture to say that between these and his 150-watt smile, José Fernández had a broadcasting career assured upon his retirement far into the future.
Our deprivation of seeing that occur wanly pales in comparison to the deprivation José’s family feels today, and we want to add our condolences to the tens of millions that have already been offered up to his family.
It’s pretty well accepted that Vin Scully is, at this moment, baseball’s master storyteller. His 67 years in the booth have bequeathed upon him a wealth of experiences from which to draw anecdotes. It would be totally understandable if you were to believe that Vin has a steel-trap memory that loses nothing over time.
Well, that might be true, but that also doesn’t mean that Vin comes up with his stories all on his little lonesome. There is a team of two helping him with every broadcast, stage manager Boyd Robertson and camera operator Rob Menschel, who have been working with him since 1989 and who not only do their nominal jobs, but also do some of the research that helps Vin develop the stories he will share on a given night’s broadcast.
Take the time the Beatles played Dodger Stadium on the 1966 farewell tour. There is a really great story about how they had trouble eluding fans while trying to leave after having given a concert. What are the chances Vin Scully is knowledgeable enough about Beatles lore to have any idea about the Dodger Stadium incident? Given that Vin was already 38 years old at the time, you would have to conclude the chances are darn slim, at best.
That’s where Rob Menschel, on this case anyway, comes in. He’s an actual music fan, so when Vin drops any kind of reference to rock n’ roll, it usually comes from him. Between himself, Rob and Boyd, Vin can develop a full plate of stories from a wide buffet of topics any one of them may not be expert enough to develop all on his own. The trick for Boyd and Rob, of course, is to find stories that will work in Vin’s voice, including stories about such hip, edgy, current topics as the Beatles.
I won’t relay the Beatles story here. Instead, I encourage you to read the VICE Sports article written by Eric Nusbaum about the process of bringing together all the stories that Vin Scully tells during the course of a typical broadcast.
Committee Member Dr. James Walker, a prolific author of several baseball broadcasting books such as Crack of the Bat and Center Field Shot, penned an article over at the Conversation about this year’s Ford C. Frick Award, Graham McNamee.
McNamee could be considered a somewhat controversial selection for the Frick award. Even though he was the first-ever popular national baseball announcer, there were several holes in what we would consider his professional veneer—meaning that, by today’s standards, he would likely be considered a poor baseball announcer. But McNamee had a strong and pleasant voice that was cut for the stage, and that was exactly the thing that the earliest fans of baseball on the radio wanted from their announcer. In the early and mid-1920s, McNamee was baseball on the radio.
Dr. Walker has generously consented to allow us to reproduce the article in full here.
When the National Baseball Hall of Fame held its 2016 induction ceremony on July 24, the names of the two player inductees – Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza – were recognized by even the most casual baseball fan. Serious fans (and most New Englanders) celebrated the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writers.
But the fourth name on this year’s list, Graham McNamee, winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters, resonated only with devoted historians of the national pastime. In “Crack of the Bat,” my history of baseball on the radio, I reviewed McNamee’s seminal contribution to the popularization of World Series broadcasts.
Most other Frick winners have been honored during their lifetimes. (Vin Scully won in 1982 and is still broadcasting today.) But McNamee hasn’t broadcast a game in 75 years; he died at 53 in 1942, when television was only an experiment and radio was just over two decades old.
McNamee’s long wait for recognition raises two questions: Who was Graham McNamee? And why did it take 74 years for the Hall of Fame to honor his contribution to baseball broadcasting?
McNamee came to New York in the early 1920s to study singing, only to join the chorus of Gotham’s thousands of struggling vocalists. However, the city was also the center of a nascent network radio industry that had only just begun to generate substantial advertising revenues.
McNamee was in the right place at the right time, with the right voice. In 1923, he joined RCA-owned WEAF (later WNBC) as a staff announcer. WEAF was the nation’s most popular station and ran the first-ever radio commercial, a 10-minute ad for apartments in Jackson Heights paid for by the Queensboro Corporation.
Like all first-generation radio announcers, McNamee did every kind of programming: music, news events and sports. His first significant sportscast was a middleweight championship fight in 1923. While boxing had been broadcast before, stations usually used a ringside reporter who relayed the action by phone to an announcer at the station, who then broadcast the play-by-play to listeners.
McNamee, however, broadcast live from ringside. His breathtaking firsthand account of the contest as it unfolded before his eyes captivated listeners. Big-time, live, emotional sportscasts – just like McNamee’s – were beginning to sell a skeptical public on the new medium of radio.
Boxing was a start, but McNamee’s big break in sports came at the 1923 World Series. The previous year’s World Series had been called by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, but Rice loathed the assignment and refused to broadcast baseball again.
So in 1923, Rice’s colleague at the New York Tribune, W.O. McGeehan, took the mic on WEAF. But after two games he’d had enough. Like Rice, McGeehan found radio’s demand for a steady stream of words very challenging; the medium provided little time for composition and none for editing. So the newspaperman left his post in the fourth inning of Game 3, leaving the mic to his assistant, Graham McNamee.
A radio star was born.
For the next eight years, McNamee became RCA’s voice of the World Series. As the Series’ broadcast reach expanded from the Eastern Seaboard to the Midwest and, finally, to the entire nation, McNamee’s fame grew exponentially. After the 1925 World Series, McNamee received 50,000 letters from fans of his broadcasts. Listeners loved his strong, pleasant voice and detailed, enthusiastic descriptions of the action, which allowed them to better visualize a game they could only see in their minds.
But not every baseball fan was a McNamee fan. From time to time, his attention would stray from the game and to the celebrities in the stands or a letter he had received. He’d be prone to forget the count and even the batter’s name. According to baseball broadcast historian Curt Smith, McNamee freely admitted to being “an entertainer first and broadcaster second.”
So as the novelty of World Series broadcasts faded, some baseball writers became less impressed with broadcasting’s first superstar.
After one game of the 1927 Series, columnist Ring Lardner famously observed, “I attended a double-header, the game [McNamee] was describing and the game I was watching”; a New York Sun headline read “M’Namee’s Eye not on the Ball: Radio Announcer Mixes Up World Series Fans”; and in a scathing criticism, the Boston Globe identified eight problems with McNamee’s call of the opening game, including forgetting to report balls and strikes and leaving the mic for several minutes to get a soft drink.
But most fans still loved McNamee’s style; plus they had few baseball broadcasts to compare with it. In the 1920s, not many teams – and none in New York, Philadelphia or Washington – regularly broadcast games. For most Americans, McNamee’s World Series calls were all they knew.
McNamee also added a number of other high-profile broadcasts to his resume: the inauguration of Calvin Coolidge, the 1927 Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney “long count” heavyweight fight, the 1927 Rose Bowl game and Charles Lindbergh’s return to New York after his solo transatlantic flight.
But by the end of the Roaring Twenties, many announcers began to specialize in covering the national pastime. They included Hal Totten, Quin Ryan and Pat Flanagan in Chicago; Ty Tyson in Detroit; Fred Hoey in Boston; France Laux in St. Louis; Tom Manning in Cleveland; and Harry Hartman in Cincinnati. Each developed his own unique style and vast, local followings.
Meanwhile, though he covered the World Series from 1923 to 1931, McNamee was only working a handful of baseball contests per year because New York teams rarely broadcast regular-season games.
Baseball broadcasting was passing him by. Major League Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis valued seasoned professional announcers and pushed NBC (RCA’s network) to move McNamee to pregame coverage for the 1932 World Series. Though McNamee continued to be involved in coverage of the Fall Classic – including narrating a newsreel of Game 3 of the 1935 World Series – he’d been marginalized.
Given his initial fame and role in pioneering the coverage of baseball on radio, why has McNamee been overlooked for so long by the Baseball Hall of Fame?
All previous Frick winners have had long careers, usually with one team. Although some eventually had national profiles, most cut their teeth on the day broadcasts, slowly winning the adulation of a team’s fans. But McNamee was baseball’s broadcast primal star, famous for being the first but not necessarily the best. Longtime Braves and Astros announcer Milo Hamilton, himself a Frick winner, gave a succinct explanation for why McNamee wasn’t in the Hall of Fame: “He didn’t broadcast baseball long enough.”
But in 2013 the Hall of Fame launched a new system for selecting winners that alternates consideration of announcers from three eras. The era for this batch of inductees – the one ending in the mid-1950s – gave McNamee a second chance.
It’s taken the Hall of Fame some time, and many would call it long overdue. In his 1970 book “The Broadcasters,” famous broadcaster Red Barber celebrated the medium’s pioneers, including Graham McNamee.
As Barber explained, what made them so great was “that nobody had ever been called upon before to do such work. They had to go out and do it from scratch. If ever a man did pure, original work, it was Graham McNamee.”
Many knowledgeable baseball fans are already aware of the website MLB Trade Rumors, started by Tim Dierkes in 2005 as a catch-all clearinghouse for … well, major league baseball trade rumors. Since its launch, Dierkes has become pickier about which scoops he runs with, as he has become more savvy about how the rumor market works in baseball, with players, agents, teams and reporters all pariticpating with interest in some way in order to increase their chances of being signed or traded, or to gain a competitive advantage versus another team, or to reward allies and punish rivals.
There is a really good article about the site over at VICE Sports—Leaks, Agendas, and Old-Fashioned Gossip: Inside Baseball’s Internet Trade Rumor Economy, written by Rick Paulas—that lays this all out very well. This article highlights how baseball media digital-style have changed things about how an important aspect of the baseball business conducts itself. I recommend you go over and read it when you have about six minutes to spare.
To me, the most interesting part of the article is how certain members of the the traditional baseball media further their own agenda as power-brokers of the game. Here’s an interesting snippet to consider:
If a player’s reportedly gaining interest from a very specific number of teams—say: “12 teams interested in Yasiel Puig”—that’s information being planted by the agents. “Either the reporter called 12-plus teams, or more likely, the agent told the reporter and they went with it,” says Dierkes. Which highlights the other, more insidious way through which rumors proliferate, which in turn makes it even more difficult to read the hidden messages.
“You see the favor exchange between journalists and agents, and that’s kind of slimy,” says Dierkes. Notice a national reporter mentioning a player who wouldn’t generate interest in a 19-team NL-only fantasy league? That’s a favor to an agent. See a reporter bashing a free agent signing? That reporter didn’t get the information he wanted. “You’d think if that agent was a good buddy of the reporter, he wouldn’t have written that same article,” says Dierkes. “Quid pro quo can be pretty dangerous.”
Now, it’s understandable that when you’re confronted by a fire hose of information every day as the modern print or web reporter is, it seems defensible to sometimes make the decision to go with the tip from an associate in the biz without exhaustively checking it out. But the “favor exchange” seems to be walking the fine line between acceptable and slimy, and we know where Dierkes comes out on it.
Dierkes notes, too, that it’s not only agents reaching out to reporters with a thin statement they hope might blossom into a full-blown reportable rumor. Players, too, participate in this charade, and baseball bloggers operating just off the beaten path of baseball journalism can develop relationships with various players to help them get a leg up on their richer corporate media rivals:
“The [new] wild card is players,” Dierkes says. “They’re becoming sources more than they were pre-Twitter. Young reporters have made names for themselves by messaging some of these players directly, forming relationships that way.”
One such reporter is Dave Williams, a blogger for Barstool Chicago since 2012. While he didn’t get into baseball writing to break rumors, his access has grown alongside his readership. This past year, Williams has seen both the highs and lows of dipping into the rumor mill.
Over the winter, Williams announced that the White Sox had signed Yoenis Cespedes. They did not. “I got burned,” Williams says. Since, he’s been more careful about what he runs, and has been rewarded. On June 10, he announced the team was calling up shortstop prospect Tim Anderson. “I got a text from a minor league teammate of his,” he says. This came a week after his biggest scoop of the year, when he broke the story that the White Sox had traded for James Shields. How’d he get the scoop? “A guy I bought tickets off of followed me on Twitter because he thought I was funny,” he says. “He heard from his mother’s sister’s father’s girlfriend type of deals.”
One quick email to a San Diego beat writer later, and there was enough for Williams to post. With the news soon proven legit by the official announcement of the trade, national reporters had no choice but to admit they’d been scooped by a new breed of trade-rumor reporter—an inadvertent master of Internet discourse, mostly just doing it for fun. “It’s a rush,” Williams says.
I recommend you read the entire article here:
Committee member Norm King has shared a link to something any sports media acolyte should relish: a History Channel documentary called “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”, a 1999-2000 effort that was narrated by Joe Mantegna and that features interview pieces with luminaries such as Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, Bob Costas, Jack Whitaker, Jim McKay, author Curt Smith, a young David Halberstam, and more.
The tone of the documentary is rather heroic and superficial, with the kind of dramatic martial type musical bed frequently associated with televised sports in general. But that is, of course, perfectly fine, because the point of the doc is to feature historical clips of TV and radio calls of yore, as well as to give us some topline backgrounding on the history of sports broadcasting and its most famous practitioners.
This is a VCR recording converted to digital to be uploaded to YouTube, so it includes commercials from its broadcast. I am assuming this was the broadcast premier of the doc, since one of the commercials is for Ameritrade, and during the spot they have an offer to rebate half your trade commissions if you open an account “between 1/1/00 and 2/29/00.” This was back during the go-go stock trading atmosphere of the Dot-com Bubble which came crashing down later that year, and I apologize for dredging up flashbacks if your own portfolio got creamed in the melee. (My 401(k) certainly took a hit). But as a snapshot in time, not only does this video capture vintage broadcasters in their relative youth (or even alive), but it reflects a unique moment in American history.
This doc also contemplates more than just baseball, giving a significant amount of time over to the history of the broadcasting of football as it, too, was emerging to prominence.
The doc wraps up around the 49:00 mark but runs another fifteen minutes of commercials and the intro to the next program, the NBA All-Star Game Slam Dunk contest on TSN. Not relevant to the doc, of course, but again, if you’re an amateur anthropologist, you might have an amateur’s interest in how a person viewed TV in the year 2000.
Back in the olden days, it was very common for a city’s BBWAA chapter to have a banquet—or perhaps, more accurately, a bacchanalia—at which they present various awards and recognition of the mighty deeds of bat, ball and pen that took place during the regular season.
Some chapters had highly theatrical affairs. Leonard Koppett provided a detailed description of the New York chapters’ affairs in his terrific book, The Rise and Fall of the Press Box. But research from Media Committee member Lou Boyd contends that the banquets held by the Cleveland writers’ chapter were at least the equal of that of New York’s.
The Cleveland Baseball Writers Association of America’s Annual ‘Ribs and Roasts’ Shows
‘The Forgotten Cleveland Indian MVP’s’
by Lou Boyd
“Our Dinners Are Terrible”, screamed the headline in a February 1, 1949 article in the Boston Herald, written by Bill Cunningham[i]. This pronouncement was related to the midwinter baseball awards dinner season that was held annually in major baseball cities across the United States to celebrate and skewer their baseball heroes, managers, owners and anyone else who dared to have an impact on the previous year’s baseball season.
Invariably, these presentations were the responsibility of the local baseball writers from the various big league cities. The events ranged from a host of speakers and awards being presented to the winners of select categories up to massive productions of theatrical skits. These so-called skits could take the form of gentle taps on the wrist of their target all the way up to outright embarrassment for the subject.
The article went on to indicate that different cities were producing considerably different shows. New York, as expected, was considered the ‘most stylish of the lot’, yet, there was another city that seemed to be taking the crown away from the Big Apple. It was Cleveland.
The article goes on to say, “To put on a show such as the Clevelanders staged, you need some newspaper men who can really be funny. You need some, or somebody, who can write clever parodies and, if you’re going to lampoon the leading baseball characters of your immediate locality, you need scribes who bear, or who can manufacture, reasonable resemblances to the gentlemen being given the business. That type of affair takes a real talent and a lot of hard work. Maybe it’s worth it. The customers generally think so. Sometimes the organizers have their doubts. Such shenanigans, however, have to be good. Nothing can fall flatter than a string of these firecrackers that fall to explode. All of us have seen some that were utterly awful. It’s hard to foresee what’s going to be done about Cleveland. The place is taking all the honors that exist. It has the world championship in baseball. Its professional football team is the pace-setter and crowd collector of its particular division. Now its literary section is challenging for top honors in the field of Hammerstein, Booth and Barrymore.”
While the 1948 Cleveland baseball season was monumental, the baseball writers exploits during this off-season celebration in early 1949 was not their first. The Cleveland Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) had been conducting these dinners for the local American League representative Indians beginning in 1938, and each year they selected a ‘Most Valuable Player’ of the Cleveland Indians.
1938 – 1944 Ribs & Roasts Shows
On November 9, 1937, the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America met at the sports offices of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to hold their annual elections for officers.[ii] It is very probable that the genesis of the Cleveland version of a sportswriter’s dinner awards show began at that meeting. The following day, it was announced that Stuart Bell, Sports Editor of the Cleveland Press was elected chairman of the chapter. Eugene Whitney was re-elected secretary and Herm Goldstein was chosen as treasurer.
According to ‘The Sporting News’ on December 30, 1937, “The Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association will hold its annual dinner on January 4 with Steve O’Neill as the guest of honor. In addition to this affair, the chapter has decided to have monthly dinner meetings and to investigate the possibility of a major party along the lines already popular in several other cities.”[iii]
The Cleveland Chapter did decide to hold a major party and award the honor of “Most Valuable Player” for the 1937 season. The award was presented on February 23, 1938 to Johnny Allen at the first annual banquet referred to as the ‘Ribs and Roasts of 1938’. The awards and banquets continued uninterrupted through the 1943 season. It is assumed that due to the war, no shows or awards were given for the 1944 and 1945 seasons.
Throughout the early years, the formal event to honor these individuals was more often than not known as the annual “Ribs and Roasts” show, with the intent behind the name to present an enjoyable evening of poking fun at the members of the Cleveland sporting community, including the writers, players and management of not only the Cleveland Indians, but also on occasion, the Browns, Barons and any other organization rooted in local Cleveland sports.
Beginning in 1946, the Cleveland writers renamed the award as the “Man of the Year” and presented the honor to Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians. The name of the award was changed in order to include “non-players such as owners and other more sedentary personnel”.[iv] In addition to Bill Veeck, the only other non-players awarded the honor were Mel Harder for the 1961 season when he was the pitching coach and Dave Garcia in 1979 when he was manager of the team. The award was officially changed to the “Bob Feller Man of the Year” award beginning in 2010.
For some reason, the MVPs recognized by the sportswriters beginning with the 1937 season through 1943 were forgotten by the local record books and publications. An article by long time Cleveland writer Howard Preston was published in 1969 that said “Late last month the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented another ‘Ribs and Roasts Show’ which it dubbed the 23rd annual affair, designed to put the spotlight on the previous year’s sports activities in Cleveland. Somebody can’t count. I have in my possession the program from the first annual Ribs and Roasts show and the date is 31 years ago last night, Feb. 23, 1938.”[v]
Even the Cleveland Indians publicity department somehow forgot about these player awards. Beginning with the 1968 Cleveland Indians Pressbook, the organization started to expand the historical information included in the booklet given to sportswriters covering major league baseball. Included was a list of members of the organization chosen as the Cleveland ‘Man of the Year’ award beginning in 1946. It can be surmised that Marshall Samuel, long time Indians publicist joined the Tribe with Bill Veeck in 1946 from Chicago and was not aware of the previous awards and shows since there had been a lapse of two years.
The Forgotten MVP’s
In addition to Johnny Allen, the 1937 MVP, another six Indians have been lost to the record books for their accomplishments in the annals of Cleveland Indian history. Here is a list of those Tribesmen who should be recognized for their achievements recognized by the Cleveland BBWAA.[vi]
Indians Season Date of Ribs & Roast Show “MVP”
1937 February 23, 1938 Johnny Allen
1938 February 8, 1939 Mel Harder
1939 February 6, 1940 Bob Feller
1940 January 14, 1941 Lou Boudreau
1941 January 20, 1942 Jeff Heath
1942 January 26, 1943 Ken Keltner
1943 May 23, 1944 Al Smith
Hopefully, this information will someday be recognized by the historians for the outstanding contributions these men made on the field for the Cleveland Indians.
[i] Cunningham, Bill. “Our Dinners Are Terrible,” The Boston Herald, February 1, 1949.
[ii] Unknown, “Writers Elect Bell”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 10, 1937.
[iii] Unknown, “In the Press Box”, The Sporting News, December 30, 1937.
[iv] Preston, Howard, “Who’s Where, 31 Years Later”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 24, 1969.
[vi] Unknown, “Honor Bearden at Banquet Here”, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 19, 1948.
Further confirmation of MVP awardees and Ribs & Roasts shows for the years 1938 – 1944 were compiled primarily from articles written in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and other various Cleveland newspapers during the timeframe of the awards shows.
Many baseball fans have their favorite and least favorite broadcasters. This preference is often correlated with what team follows (or hates). This was especially true long ago, when you could only hear the local clubs or those you’d pick up at night over a transistor radio. But the Internet age—thanks, MLB.com—has made it possible to hear and see every club’s broadcasts, both on radio and television.
As a student of baseball broadcasting history, I thought it might be appropriate to “rate” the current MLB radio and TV broadcast teams. This involves listening to and watching a lot of baseball (not a terrible thing, right?) not only for the result but also for the way the games are delivered.
I rated these men and women—well, woman, anyway—on voice quality, knowledge of the game, analytical skills, and interaction with their partners. (And does anyone really think that Jenny Cavnar, Jessica Mendoza, or Jeanne Zelasko wouldn’t be qualified to work games? I can think of some current play-by-play men that I’d replace in a minute.)
Overall, I’m a pretty tough sell; while no individual or club rated below C-, there also aren’t a lot of A’s. Most clubs have at least an average broadcast, with few announcers, analysts, or overall game packages rating below B-. The narrowing of the types of broadcasters hired—most emerge from broadcasting schools with similar “professional” voices and pedigrees—has raised the floor for broadcast quality but also lowered the ceiling.
These ratings are sorted by American and National League franchises, partially because I’m a cranky traditionalist but primarily because it makes these lists easier to read.
In addition to rating the broadcast teams, I’ll also offer my top ten play-by-play voices and ten favorite analysts. (Note that radio has fewer high-rated “analysts”; this is because there are fewer analysts in general. Many clubs go with a pair of professional voices on radio rather than a play-by-play and a color announcer, as is usually done on television.)
Please also note that there are more broadcasters that I rate B+ and B than fit on these top 10 lists.
While I would love to rank the Spanish-language broadcasts—and all teams now have it except the Orioles, Indians, Tigers, Blue Jays, Braves, Reds, Pirates, Cardinals, and Nats—my skills en Español are not really up to par. (And that’s to say nothing of the Korean broadcasts the Dodgers offer.) So I’m challenging you bi- or tri-linguals out there: which Spanish MLB broadcasts and broadcasters are the best?
Below are the rankings. Thanks for reading!
THE RADIO BROADCASTS
Baltimore Orioles: On a good day, the play-by-play men are inoffensive. Jim Hunter can and has risen above the others. C
Boston Red Sox: Ex-Pittsburgher Tim Neverett is the new second man to Joe Castiglione. Using two capable play-by-play men with different styles works here. B
Chicago White Sox: Apparently, you either love Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson or you don’t get them at all. C
Cleveland Indians: Tom Hamilton is among the best, and minor league vet Jim Rosenhaus helps. But this solid two-man duo begs for some analytic component. B
Detroit Tigers: Lead voice Dan Dickerson is fine, but Jim Price—who carried Ernie Harwell in his final few seasons—is slowing. B-
Houston Astros: Robert Ford has projectable skills. B-
Kansas City Royals: Denny Mathews, with the team since its inception, is in his victory lap. Ryan Lefebvre deserves the #1 job if he wants it. B-
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Serviceable announcers, serviceable broadcast. B-
Minnesota Twins: Twins voice Cory Provus is a pro (vus), but he needs more help than he’s getting. B-
New York Yankees: John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are entertaining, I’ll give ‘em that! B-
Oakland Athletics: Longtime play-by-play man Ken Korach is solid. B
Seattle Mariners: While neither Rick Rizzs nor Aaron Goldsmith will light you on fire, they’re enough. B
Tampa Bay Rays: Pretty marginal, but congrats to Andy Freed and Dave Wills for working their ways up. C+
Texas Rangers: Eric Nadel remains a quality voice and Matt Hicks is getting there. B
Toronto Blue Jays: They really need to turn down the PA feed during home broadcasts. It’s beyond irritating. B-
Arizona Diamondbacks: Greg Schulte has a hearty timbre uncommon among modern baseball announcers. B-
Atlanta Braves: There’s not much excitement here, but it goes down easy. B-
Chicago Cubs: Pat Hughes is entirely in his milieu. B
Cincinnati Reds: The overall show is weak, but at least Marty Brennaman offers the possibility of a non-P.C. eruption. C+
Colorado Rockies: Thrills are not on offer here. C+
Los Angeles Dodgers: This franchise deserves better. A few years ago, they tried internet broadcasts with Jeanne Zelasko and Mark Sweeney. Why not them? C
Miami Marlins: Thrills are definitely not on offer here. C
Milwaukee Brewers: Not sure if either of the new guys are fit to replace Bob Uecker, but the franchise may elect to find out anyway. B-
New York Mets: Among the top listens in the game despite a lack of ex-player analysis. B+
Philadelphia Phillies: There’s no A-level talent here, but many teams do far worse. B
Pittsburgh Pirates: Five reasonably solid guys, good play-by-play and some decent analysis. The rotating between TV and radio is a bit disorienting. B+
St. Louis Cardinals: Mike Shannon is an institution, but he’s no longer adept at play-by-play—if he ever was. John Rooney sounds … comfortable. B-
San Diego Padres: Ted Leitner, like poutine, stuffed pizza, and the runza, appears to be a dish that you have to be a local to enjoy. C+
San Francisco Giants: Jon Miller and Dave Flemming are the top MLB duo on radio. A-
Washington Nationals: Their radio voices are trained, experienced, and unexciting. B-
THE TELEVISION AND CABLE BROADCASTS
Baltimore Orioles: For one thing, Gary Thorne and his “three-RBI homer” have to go. C+
Boston Red Sox: Dave O’Brien is a stable replacement for Don Orsillo. This is one of the better telecasts in the game. B
Chicago White Sox: Jason Benetti? A comer. Steve Stone? One of the very best analysts. And then there’s the Hawk. B-
Cleveland Indians: These guys are capable, if a bit dry. B-
Detroit Tigers: Mario Impemba is a student of the craft, but these telecasts lack quality analysis and imagination. B-
Houston Astros: While TV does not mandate an overly busy delivery, it does call for some excitement. B-
Kansas City Royals: Ryan Lefebvre is awfully good, a distinction that his Royals TV cohorts cannot claim. B-
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Almost annoyingly average. How is “Drive…home…safely!” anyone’s idea of a thrilling walk-off call? B-
Minnesota Twins: Dick Bremer is still well above par. B
New York Yankees: Ken Singleton is that rare bird—an ex-player excellent at analysis and quite good at play-by-play. B
Oakland Athletics: Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse have rapport. B
Seattle Mariners: One of the more enthusiastic broadcasts you’ll see; Dave Sims is quite the spicy enchilada. B
Tampa Bay Rays: DeWayne Staats isn’t really any worse than he ever was. Brian Anderson is helpful. B-
Texas Rangers: Fill-in Dave Raymond has injected some much-needed professionalism into this telecast. C
Toronto Blue Jays: Hiring Dan Shulman to do play-by-play for 30 telecasts this year only makes Buck Martinez look worse. B-
Arizona Diamondbacks: Zing-less presentation of a dull team. C
Atlanta Braves: This franchise used to be a model of how to do a baseball telecast. That was a long time ago. C+
Chicago Cubs: Jim Deshaies can blend humor and analysis, but an endless stream of in-game ads and promotions limits him. B
Cincinnati Reds: Even Chris Welsh has slipped a little. C+
Colorado Rockies: Drew Goodman & Co. deliver a quality view with good chemistry and analysis. B
Los Angeles Dodgers: Nobody could fill Vin Scully’s shoes, but better Joe Davis tries to than Charley Steiner. B
Miami Marlins: The decision to release Tommy Hutton from his color duties has harmed the product. B-
Milwaukee Brewers: This telecast really suffers when Brian Anderson is covering the NBA. B
New York Mets: The best baseball broadcast around: fine play-by-play, flow, humor, and incisive commentary. A
Philadelphia Phillies: The parts are reliable enough and they mesh okay. Matt Stairs is a rich man’s John Kruk. B-
Pittsburgh Pirates: More than decent all the way around. B+
St. Louis Cardinals: The play-by-play men talk far too much and the analysts are only average. C+
San Diego Padres: While Dick Enberg, in his last season, retains some charm, the broadcast will be better with Don Orsillo. B-
San Francisco Giants: Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow are in the top echelon, but as ex-players, they could provide more analysis. A-
Washington Nationals: At least nobody has to listen to Rob Dibble any longer. C
TOP TEN AT PLAY-BY-PLAY (sorted alphabetically within grades)
A Gary Cohen, Mets TV
A- Brian Anderson, Brewers TV
A- Duane Kuiper, Giants TV/radio
A- Jon Miller, Giants radio/TV
A- Vin Scully, Dodgers TV/radio
B+ Dick Bremer, Twins TV
B+ Tom Hamilton, Indians radio
B+ Pat Hughes, Cubs, radio
B+ Ryan Lefebvre, Royals TV/radio
B+ Howie Rose, Mets radio
TOP TEN COLOR ANALYSTS (sorted alphabetically within grades)
A- Ron Darling, Mets TV
A- Ken Singleton, Yankees TV
B+ Jim Deshaies, Cubs TV
B+ Steve Stone, White Sox TV
B Mike Blowers, Mariners TV
B Ray Fosse, Athletics TV/radio
B Jeff Huson, Rockies TV
B Mike Krukow, Giants TV/radio
B Jose Mota, Angels radio
B Jerry Remy, Red Sox TV
Stuart Shea wrote Calling the Game: Baseball Broadcasting from 1920 to the Present, published by SABR in 2015.