Titanic Trios: Gowdy, Michaels and Jackson Join Baseball Stalwarts

Last week, we took a trip through the SABR national-telecast database to look at some of the most frequent announcer pairings in baseball history. Then we did it again, because the first post was so much fun.

Between NBC’s Game of the Week and ESPN announcers of a slightly more recent vintage, most of the announcers were familiar names. That seems to make sense, because two-man booths have been so common (to the tune of 90 percent of MLB telecasts): in order to crack the top 20, you have to have stuck around for a few years.

But some things just work better in threes: outs, strikes, Alou brothers, and Neapolitan ice cream flavors all come to mind. And for about one in seven broadcasts, that’s how the network executives thought their broadcasters should work  as well.

Sometimes, life imitates art; in this case, baseball mimics frozen dairy products. (Photo by Wikipedia user Celestianpower, in public domain)
Sometimes, life imitates art; in this case, baseball mimics frozen dairy products. (Photo by Wikipedia user Celestianpower, in public domain)

It’s easy to think of the three-man booth as a recent concept, since most of the crews we nostalgize from yesteryear were duos, while ESPN and Fox make frequent use of the trio today. But in fact, the three-man booth dates back to 1958, when Buddy Blattner and George Kell joined Dizzy Dean on CBS. That crew worked together for two years before Dean paired with Pee Wee Reese and Jerry Coleman in 1960.

For the next decade and a half, the three-man booth was largely the domain of the World Series, during which one team’s local broadcaster would join NBC’s usual duo on television and the other team’s announcer did the same on radio. When ABC got back into the baseball broadcasting business during the bicentennial season of 1976, they used the three-man booth extensively, and it continued to be used somewhere ever since.

So once again, we’ll strike up the “Think” music as you conjure memories of regular announcer trios into your mind and try to guess which have logged the most service time together on the air.

While you’re thinking, consider this:

Baseball season is 26 weeks long, and many times networks have used their broadcasters about once a week, so after accounting for off weeks, 20 three-man crews have worked together 20 or more times. If we set the threshold at 29 games, we can look at just the top 10. Well, the top 10 and ties.

(As they have been throughout the series, the totals below are taken from the national-telecast database through July 19.)

Ready? OK, here we go …

9. (tie) Gary Thorne/Steve Phillips/Steve Stone
Bob Costas/Joe Morgan/Bob Uecker
Joe Buck/Harold Reynolds/Tom Verducci (29 games each)
This three-way deadlock will be broken the next time Fox’s top crew works together again, something they’ve only done six times this season due to Buck’s golf commitments. The voices of the last two All-Star Games and the 2014 World Series, Buck, Reynolds and Verducci find themselves tied with a crew (Costas/Morgan/Uecker) that led NBC’s playoff coverage from 1995-97 and would presumably have done so in 1994 had a pesky labor stoppage not intervened. Joining them on the 29-game plateau are Thorne, Phillips and Stone, ESPN’s most regular Wednesday night crew in 2005 and 2006 and the only trio in the top 10 that includes two men with the same first name.

8. Dan Shulman/Orel Hershiser/Steve Phillips (42 games)
Phillips re-appears in the number-eight crew, which appeared on Wednesday nights in 2007, Mondays in 2008, and occasionally in 2009 before Phillips left ESPN that offseason. Shulman and Hershiser also worked in three-man booths with John Kruk, Bobby Valentine, Terry Francona and Barry Larkin, but none of those stayed together long enough to make the cut. Or get a second game, in the case of the Shulman/Hershiser/Larkin booth.

7. Joe Buck/Tim McCarver/Bob Brenly (45 games)
When Buck and McCarver weren’t working together to call the second-most games of any two-man booth in MLB history, Fox surrounded Buck with not one but two former catchers for big games in its first four seasons from 1996 to 1999. Like the Costas/Morgan/Uecker trio of the same era, this crew called mostly playoff and All-Star games, including four League Championship Series and both World Series that Fox aired. One of the five regular-season contests in their portfolio was the Tuesday night game when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’s regular-season home run record in 1998.

6. Dizzy Dean/Pee Wee Reese/Jerry Coleman (46 games)
While they worked together for only a single season in 1960, Dean, Coleman and Reese earned their spot on this list by teaming up on both Saturday and Sunday throughout the season. Their season was marred by an incident in which Coleman, who had served in World War II and Korea, continued an interview with Cookie Lavagetto during the playing of the national anthem. After Coleman left the CBS booth, he worked for Yankees, Angels and Padres over more than 50 years; Dean and Reese stayed together until CBS lost baseball in 1965.

4. (tie) Sean McDonough/Rick Sutcliffe/Aaron Boone (48 games)
Two of the three men in this bunch had famous fathers: McDonough’s dad Will wrote for the Boston Globe and appeared on CBS’s NFL coverage, while Boone’s father Bob caught in the major leagues for 19 years and made four All-Star teams. All three worked Monday night games on ESPN in 2011 and 2012, including a Red Sox/Orioles game on the final day of the 2011 season where several games deciding the AL playoff race ended within minutes of one another. With all three men still on ESPN’s payroll, a reunion, however unlikely, could vault them into fourth place outright.

4. (tie) Keith Jackson/Don Drysdale/Howard Cosell (48 games)
While Jackson is better-known as a football announcer and Cosell is more associated with his sesquipedalian ego than with any sport, the two men joined with Dodger right-hander Don Drysdale to call ABC’s Monday Night Baseball in 1978 and 1979. Their 1980 slate was limited to the playoffs, including Game 4 of the Phillies/Astros NLCS which started with Drysdale calling balls and strikes until Jackson could arrive from the Oklahoma/Texas football game at Dallas. The trio called the 1978 All-Star Game and most of the 1979 World Series, with Al Michaels filling in for the middle three games to permit Jackson to handle Monday Night Football. In 1981, they reunited for a slate of post-strike Sunday afternoon games, then handled the Division Series before Jim Palmer replaced Drysdale on the World Series. “Big D” shifted to the play-by-play chair in 1982 as Jackson cut back on baseball.

3. Curt Gowdy/Pee Wee Reese/Sandy Koufax (57 games)
When Don Drysdale appears on a list, Sandy Koufax is usually nearby. Despite Koufax’s less-than-exceptional broadcasting career, the same is true on this list, which finds him working alongside former teammate Pee Wee Reese at NBC. With sportscasting legend Curt Gowdy handling play-by-play duties, this trio handled the Game of the Week in 1967 and 1968, the first two years after Koufax’s arthritic elbow forced him into retirement. All three men called both the 1967 and 1968 All-Star Games, although Buddy Blattner’s appearance as a fourth wheel in 1967 prevents that game from counting toward their total. Neither Reese nor Koufax saw the World Series from the broadcast booth, however: Gowdy worked the Fall Classics with local broadcasters.

2. Al Michaels/Jim Palmer/Tim McCarver (65 games)
Several of the announcers on this list have also found success in other sports, and Michaels’s work on the NFL certainly puts him in that category. This trio’s most memorable broadcast transcended sports entirely, however: the trio was already on the air from Candlestick Park when an earthquake struck San Francisco before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. Michaels earned a news Emmy for his reporting that night. The trio was ABC’s no. 1 broadcast crew from 1985-89 and again in 1994-95, where they handled three All-Star Games, three and a half World Series, and a pair of 11 p.m. Eastern regular-season games in 1995.

After losing their feed from Candlestick Park during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, ABC posted a graphic on screen while Michaels, Palmer and McCarver contributed audio only.
After losing their feed from Candlestick Park during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, ABC posted a graphic on screen while Michaels, Palmer and McCarver contributed audio only.

1. Dizzy Dean/Buddy Blattner/George Kell (80 games)
The original three-man booth has yet to be surpassed, taking advantage of their two-game-a-week schedule to average 40 games a year for CBS in 1958 and 1959. Dean and Blattner had worked together since the dawn of televised regular-season baseball in 1953. For two seasons, they were joined by Kell, the Arkansas native who spent 15 years playing in the majors and 37 more covering baseball for the Tigers television network. The trio splintered after the National League’s 1959 tiebreaker playoff, with Dean staying at CBS, Kell joining the Tigers full-time and Blattner returning to St. Louis with the Cardinals.

Three active crews could crack the top 10 by the end of this year: ESPN’s Wednesday night team of Jon Sciambi, Sutcliffe and Doug Glanville has handled 24 games together, one more than TBS’s Ernie Johnson/Ron Darling/Cal Ripken trio. That group is, in turn, one game ahead of Shulman, Kruk and Curt Schilling, a trio which missed 22 weeks in 2014 while Schilling underwent cancer treatment.

Later this week, we’ll narrow our focus to the final quarter-percent of Major League broadcasts: those called by one announcer and those called by four.

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