Major League Broadcast Booth Changes Don’t Open Minor League Doors

The Major League Baseball season consists of 2,430 games played over the next six months, and with each of those games broadcast on television and radio, hundreds of commentators get involved. While the phrase “you can’t tell them without a scorecard” originally applied to players, with more than 40 of those announcers changing jobs this winter, we thought it might be good to give them a rundown as well.

If you caught ESPN’s Opening Night broadcast on Sunday, you discovered a new top team for the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ coverage of the national pastime. While Dan Shulman begins his sixth season in the booth, his partners are both gone. John Kruk returns to Baseball Tonight, while Curt Schilling’s month-long departure from the Sunday night booth last September has become permanent.

Just as she did last fall, Jessica Mendoza replaces Schilling: Aaron Boone slides over from Monday-night duty to replace Schilling. Eduardo Perez will join Schilling in the analyst chair on Monday nights, with Karl Ravech or Dave Flemming handling play-by-play.

When Fox starts its coverage this weekend, it too will make a change at the top, with John Smoltz replacing the duo of Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci.

Below is a look at the changes coming to local broadcasts around the league, broken down by division. But before we get there, let’s get the easy listings out of the way: if you’re a fan of the Rays, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Twins, Astros, Angels, Mariners, Mets, Braves, Nationals, Giants or Reds, you’ll get more of the same from last season.

While 17 teams changed something about their broadcasts, that doesn’t appear to have created any vacancies at the AAA level. Every new major-league play-by-play voice save one came from a supporting role at a national network or from another major-league booth, and the lone exception jumped from NCAA Division I to MLB.

In fact, the directory at Broadcaster411.com lists just two new lead play-by-play voices in AA and AAA:Tyler Murray takes over at AA New Hampshire while Chris Adams-Wall steps in at AA New Hampshire.

American League East

Former Red Sox second sacker Jerry Remy has a new partner in the television booth this season as the organization sacked Don Orsillo following a 15-year tenure. Dave O’Brien moves from the radio booth to TV, and New Hampshire native Tim Neverett moves in from the Pirates’ broadcast crew to replace O’Brien on the radio.

Dan Shulman continues his gig as the play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, but also returns home for 30 Blue Jays telecasts on Sportsnet, where he’ll join Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler.

In Baltimore, Fred Manfra will cut back to about a third of the Orioles’ games. Jim Hunter, who was one of several analysts on the television side, will lead the committee to replace him.

American League Central

The White Sox move radio flagships from WSCR 670 to WLS 890, paving the way for the Cubs to take over CBS’s 50,000-watt all-sports station in the nation’s third-largest radio market. With the Blackhawks on WGN 720, the Bulls on WMVP 1000 and the Bears on WBBM 780, all five major Chicago sports teams are on different Class A stations for the next few months.

On the television side, the Pale Hose make another change, and it’s one that will be met with jubilation or despair but not much in between: Ken Harrelson will cut his schedule in half for his 27th straight season in the booth. “The Hawk,” who turns 75 over Labor Day weekend, has taken the unusual step of cutting his schedule back to predominantly road games because each home game comes with a 100-mile commute one way from his home in Granger, Ind. Jason Benetti, a 32-year-old Syracuse University graduate who called games at the local AAA team before joining ESPN in 2011, will handle the remaining half of the schedule.

The Tigers will swap play-by-play announcers between TV and radio for 13 games this season with Mario Impemba moving to radio and Dan Dickerson handling TV duties. Michigan native Dick Enberg, who is signing off from the Padres booth after the season (more on that below), will also step in for a game.

American League West

A Rangers broadcast crew with three 60-something announcers will get a bit of relief as 43-year-old Dave Raymond joins the staff. A Stanford graduate who was one of three men splitting in the Astros radio booth from 2006-12, Raymond will work 43 games on radio with Steve Busby, permitting Tom Grieve to dial back his schedule. Raymond will also fill in for Eric Nadel on the radio side, working with Matt Hicks.

In Oakland, Mark Mulder will join the television booth for 20 games.

National League East

The Miami Marlins dispense with television analyst Tommy Hutton after 19 seasons. The Miami Herald reported that the team believed Hutton was too negative: as media columnist Barry Jackson observed, “Hutton’s dismissal serves as a disconcerting reminder that many teams prefer cheerleaders in the booth, announcers who won’t rock the boat and certainly won’t openly question coaching or personnel decisions.”

Eduardo Perez, Preston Wilson and Al Leiter will alternate alongside Rich Waltz in Hutton’s place, leaving Leiter in the unique position of working local telecasts for both the Yankees and Marlins.

In Philadelphia, the Phillies will have just one flagship station instead of two as they drop WPHT 1210 for an exclusive home on WIP 94.1.

National League Central

The Pirates, who lost Tim Neverett to Boston, ransack divisional rival Milwaukee for a replacement. Joe Block steps aside as Milwaukee’s no. 2 radio voice to join Greg Brown in the Steel City, where the announcers alternate TV and radio duties from one game to the nexr.

With Block out, Jeff Levering assumes the title of “Bob Uecker’s backup” in Milwaukee: he serves as the secondary play-by-play announcer for home games and leads the broadcast when Uecker is absent on the road. Last year, Levering was the third man on the totem pole, which meant he joined Block to do color on the road. That means that Levering is, in effect, partnering with his own replacement this year: Lane Grindle steps in after a decade covering baseball at the University of Nebraska.

Longtime Cardinal voice Mike Shannon cuts road games out of his schedule after trimming most non-division road games some time ago. Rick Horton and Al Hrabosky, who also work the television side of things, were the fill-ins last season, and Jim Edmonds is set to join Fox Sports Midwest this year.

As mentioned above, the Cubs slide from one CBS radio station to another, departing WBBM 780 for WSCR 670.

National League West

The Rockies require two men to replace the retired George Frazier in the TV color chair: Ryan Spilborghs and Jeff Huson will join Drew Goodman on Root Sports Rocky Mountain.

At the age of 81, Dick Enberg has decided that the 2016 season will be his last with the Padres on Fox Sports San Diego. Former Red Sox voice Don Orsillo is the successor in waiting: he will cover a part-time schedule of TV and radio games this season before taking over full-time on television next spring.

Ted Leitner returns to the Padres radio booth as the play-by-play man, despite the fact that sounds to me like the guy who reads the fine print at the end of car commercials. He has a new partner, as Bob Scanlan shifts to working for Padres.com and former fill-in Jesse Agler steps in beside Leitner.

Up the California coast, another legend prepares to say goodbye. Vin Scully, who was in his second year covering the Dodgers when Bobby Thomson smacked the Shot Heard ’Round The World in 1951 and whose broadcasting career spans 67 years, says the 2016 season will most likely be his last. Joe Davis of Fox Sports, who is nearly 60 years Scully’s junior, joins the broadcast booth at Chavez Ravine, where he’ll cover 50 games on television.

Jeff Munn departs the Diamondbacks radio booth, where he was the pregame and postgame host who also pinch-hit on play-by-play occasionally. Mike Ferrin leaves MLB Network on SiriusXM to replace him.

So, if you’re keeping score, the Giants are the lone NL West team to return all of its on-air talent.

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