Dynamic Duos II: “Game of the Week” Dominates Frequent Pairings

Earlier this week, we started looking at the 20 most frequent two-man announcer combinations in the SABR national-telecast database by sharing combos 20 through 11. Jim Simpson appeared three times, between 11th and 18th, but with legends like Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola not showing up on that list, there’s clearly more star power to come.

The Game of the Week, in its various iterations and networks, appears nine times in the top 10. Among those nine pairs are two pairs who worked together simultaneously for the same network and two sets of dueling duos who worked games that competed against each other for Game of the Week status.

BC stalwarts Tony Kubek, left, and Joe Garagiola each appear on several of the most common broadcast pairings in baseball history.
NBC stalwarts Tony Kubek, left, and Joe Garagiola each appear on several of the most common broadcast pairings in baseball history. 

But before we get to the top 10, three crews and an individual who didn’t make the top 20 deserve honorable mention. (Here, as always in this series, numbers are complete through July 19.)

Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz form the most common active pairing with 50 broadcasts together, a total affected by ESPN’s recent move to three-man booths for regular Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday night games. That’s tied for 29th all-time, and 21 games short of the Monte Moore/Wes Parker crew that sits in 20th.

Bob Carpenter, who worked at ESPN before moving on to the Cardinals, Nationals, and marketing his scorebook, and who has called the most games (437) of anyone who doesn’t appear on this list.

Finally, Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser (142 games together) and Al Michaels and Jim Palmer (117) each would have cracked the top 15 if this list included announcers who worked together as part of three-man booths. I guess they can blame Steve Phillips, John Kruk and Tim McCarver for their omissions here.

With the honorable mentions complete, strike up the “Think” music and see if you can come up with the top ten. The answers are below, of course, but you don’t actually learn anything by copying your homework answers out of the back of the book.

OK, ready?  Here we go …

10. Thom Brennaman/Bob Brenly (118 games)
While Joe Buck and Tim McCarver get the credit (or the blame, according to much of the Internet) for voicing Fox’s MLB broadcasts, Brennaman and Brenly were their original backups. From the day that sport premiered on that network in 1996 until Brenly left for the Diamondbacks dugout after the 2000 campaign, Thom and Bob handled the second game on Saturday’s totem pole of importance. In an era where Fox only had half of the playoffs, with NBC taking the other half, Brennaman and Brenly called at least one Division Series game in each of the five years.

9. Bob Wolff/Joe Garagiola (137 games)
Before Gowdy, Kubek or Costas took over the nation’s Saturday afternoons (in fact, starting less than a month after Costas’s 10th birthday), Wolff and Garagiola handled Saturday and Sunday afternoon broadcasts for NBC in 1962, 1963 and 1964. This is the first of three appearances in the top nine for Garagiola. Wolff, on the other hand, called nearly all of his 141 national broadcasts in that three-year span; he took advantage of the final three years that featured both Saturday and Sunday games on the same network to rack up his total before moving on to the New York Knicks.

8. Dave O’Brien/Rick Sutcliffe (168 games)
The only crew in the top 10 and one of only four in the top 20 that did not call primarily weekend games, Syracuse-educated O’Brien and Missouri native Sutcliffe handled Monday night games for the Worldwide Leader in Sports from 2002 to 2010 and also worked together for the playoffs, including the 18-inning NLDS Game 4 between the Braves and Astros in 2005. Even after Sutcliffe moved to Wednesdays, they reunited for a Yankees-Red Sox tilt on September 3, 2014. Behind Joe Buck, who appears below, O’Brien and Sutcliffe are no. 2 and no. 3 respectively on the list of active announcers.

7. Bob Costas/Tony Kubek (179 games)
The partner with whom Costas is most remembered was his analyst on the “B” game most weeks. After calling a single game in October 1982, Costas and Kubek handled NBC’s second-biggest game of the day for the final seven years of that network’s Game of the Week, 1983-89. The two men were at Wrigley Field for Ryne Sandberg’s eponymous game in 1984 and broadcast the American League Championship Series in the odd-numbered years during their run. This duo played second fiddle to the Vin Scully/Joe Garagiola pair, which covered NBC’s World Series in 1984, ’86 and ’88, for its entire run.

6. Curt Gowdy/Tony Kubek (192 games)
The second pair in the chronology of NBC’s exclusive Game of the Week and the first to crack this list, Red Sox voice Gowdy and former Yankee infielder Kubek straddled the New England/New York divide to handle the national Saturday broadcast from 1969 to 1975. They were the first crew to take a national audience to Canada with the Expos in 1969. While they called the World Series in all seven years they were together, none of those games counted toward the 192 total: under a network policy in place through 1976, they were joined by a home-team broadcaster for all 43 of those games.

5. Joe Garagiola/Tony Kubek (195 games)
Given that they followed the Gowdy/Kubek pair as Game of the Week voices, it’s only fitting that the Garagiola/Kubek tandem also follow them on this list as well after working together from 1974 to 1982. For the final two years of the Gowdy/Kubek pairing, Garagiola was the regular substitute when Gowdy was away to tend to other business (e.g., the NFL). Like their predecessors, Garagiola and Kubek were always part of a three-man booth for the World Series, with Tom Seaver joining them in 1978 and 1980 and Dick Enberg stepping in for 1982. They watched baseball restart after the strike at the 1981 All-Star Game and covered Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter later that year. While working with Garagiola, Kubek took the crown of most ubiquitous baseball broadcaster in 1978; he held that until Joe Morgan passed him in 2007.

4. Vin Scully/Joe Garagiola (197 games)
The first Game of the Week crew to handle a World Series as a duo, Scully and Garagiola worked together from 1983 to 1988, including the Fall Classics in even-numbered years. They handled Jack Morris’s opening-week no-hitter in 1984, opening and closing their season with Tigers wins when the Large Felines won the World Series. Vin and Joe were also on hand for the first official night game at Wrigley Field on Aug. 9, 1988, working together for the final time in that year’s World Series before Garagiola yielded their spot to Tom Seaver in 1989. But Vin and Joe had worked together before the ’80s: they also handled the 1963 All-Star Game in Cleveland, with Scully sitting in for Bob Wolff.

3. Dizzy Dean/Pee Wee Reese (201 games)
Before the Game of the Week was an NBC-specific fixture, CBS beamed the national pastime into living rooms around the country with its own Game from 1955 to 1964 before focusing on the Yankees exclusively in 1965. Or at least, they aired the games to most of the country: markets within 50 miles of major-league stadiums were blacked out. At any rate, Pee Wee Reese replaced Buddy Blattner as Dean’s partner in 1960 and the duo stayed together until the end of CBS’s GotW run: when NBC gained exclusive baseball rights in 1966, Reese switched networks and slotted in beside Curt Gowdy until 1968.

2. Joe Buck/Tim McCarver (395 games)
The son of a legendary Cardinal broadcaster teamed up with a longtime Cardinal to form the top crew on Fox from that network’s baseball debut in 1996 until McCarver’s retirement after the 2013 season. Together, they called 14 World Series, not counting the two (1996 and 1998) where Brenly joined them to make a three-man booth. A 2014 study on the Classic TV Sports blog put their 18-season run together as the fourth-longest streak in professional sports. All told, Buck and McCarver worked 467 games together: the 62-game gap between that and their total above traces back to six different third men in the booth.

1. Jon Miller/Joe Morgan (514 games)
For the first 40 years or so of Major League Baseball on television, the Game of the Week was clearly defined on CBS, then NBC, on Saturday afternoons. When baseball moved to CBS with the 1993 season, the number of games on broadcast network TV dropped precipitously (although it did give us 55 more Buck/McCarver duos, albeit with Jack Buck). But for the first time since the early ’80s, the national pastime aired on non-superstation cable stating in 1990, and Miller and Morgan anchored the Sunday night exclusive time slot for ESPN through 2010, their dual stranglehold broken only by Steve Phillips joining in 2009, followed by Orel Hershiser stepping in for 2010.

Among them, the top 20 crews handled 3,263 games, a little less than a third of the 10,500-plus national broadcasts. Next week, we’ll continue the series with a look at the more than 1,400 games that had more or less than two announcers.

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