Gifford Sparks Inquiry Into Baseball’s Player-Play-By-Play Pipeline

Earlier this week, Chuck Hildebrandt noted the death of Frank Gifford on this blog. While Gifford wasn’t a baseball announcer, he worked with a number of commentators who were.

That post prompted some discussion on Twitter about the fact that, while most of you can probably name several former baseball players who have assumed play-by-play duties, the world of football has fewer similar examples.

So I did what most of you have the common sense not to do and dove headlong into another set of data.

I can find 12 people who have been NFL players that did NFL play-by-play, though I admit to not having done an exhaustive comparison of the list of NFL announcers against the NFL encyclopedia. They’re listed below.

NFL Players Turned PBP Announcers
Pat Summerall (534 games)
Frank Gifford (273 games)
Red Grange (172 games: local Chicago stations; then CBS, 1947-63)
Tom Brookshier (77 games: CBS, 1981-87)
Ray Bentley (55 games: Fox, 1998-2001)
Tom Harmon (35 games: local stations in the 40s and 50s; CBS Cowboys crew, 1961)
Paul Hornung (15 games: CBS, 1975-76)
Dan Dierdorf (12 games: CBS, 1985 and then once in 2004)
Mike Adamle (11 games: NBC, 1980-81)
Wayne Walker (8 games: CBS, 1986)
Johnny Sauer (7 games: CBS Eagles crew, 1965, with Brookshier)
Mike Haffner (2 games: NBC, 1982)

Like many of you, my first thought is that baseball has had way more than 12 of these guys. But going strictly down the play-by-play section of our national-telecast database (creating an apples-to-apples comparison), I get all the way down to two appearances before I find 12 ex-players.

MLB Players Turned PBP Announcers
Dizzy Dean 444
Joe Garagiola 255
Don Drysdale 59
Dave Campbell 46
Ken Harrelson 17
Steve Busby 11
Jim Kaat 5
George Kell 5
Duane Kuiper 5
Tommy Hutton 4
Phil Rizzuto 3
McCarver, Uecker, Bench 2

That suggests to me that baseball and football have been similarly stingy about putting ex-players on network mikes.

The difference is, of course, at the local level: something football really doesn’t have in the way baseball does. Because, pulling only from current announcers, here are some names you don’t see on the list above:

Buck Martinez
Ed Farmer
Darrin Jackson
Ron Darling
Mike Shannon
Don Sutton

Another of baseball’s features that lends itself to ex-players doing play-by-play is that the games are subdivided into innings: a broadcast crew can easily phase in a less-experienced announcer by letting him call play-by-play for a few innings. In fact, most major-league radio booths do split their innings among two or more voices. In football, where the game doesn’t ebb and flow as much as it constantly spews out another play 25 seconds later, this is less feasible.

One thought on “Gifford Sparks Inquiry Into Baseball’s Player-Play-By-Play Pipeline”

  1. To the list of locals, we might add Rick Monday, who did play-by-play on radio and TV when the Dodger crew was Vin Scully, Ross Porter, and himself, and has done radio play-by-play off and on since 2005 when Charley Steiner is doing television.

    Of course, if you were mentioning national radiocasts, remember that Jerry Coleman did a lot of play-by-play for CBS Radio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *