2016 MAJOR LEAGUE BROADCAST REVIEWS

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

AMERICAN LEAGUE

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-

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

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

AMERICAN LEAGUE

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-

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

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.

9 thoughts on “2016 MAJOR LEAGUE BROADCAST REVIEWS”

  1. The Washington Nationals crew is outstanding; I watch 3-4 times a week.

    The Kansas City team is atrocious; I watch 3-4 times a week, usually with the mute function ON.

  2. Well, that’s why we all have opinions. I would rank crews higher BECAUSE they don’t have ex-players giving useless analysis.

    1. Michael, this is actually a good platform for a big question: what IS the right amount of analysis? Are there any current ex-big league players whose radio or TV commentary you do enjoy?
      Thanks for reading…
      Stu

      1. Hi, Stu, and thanks–sorry I missed you response for so long! Not that my opinion counts for a thing anyway, but ….

        I do think Orel Hershiser is all right on what I have heard of Dodger broadcasts–admittedly, clips, since apparently the only person who can get the local telecasts is some widow in Encino. John Smoltz and Jim Kaat strike me as doing very good work. Steve Stone always impressed me. I tend to think the peak of any teams were when NBC had Scully-Garagiola and Costas-Kubek, and ABC had Michaels-Palmer-McCarver. McCarver was fine in a three-man crew or when the play-by-play man was in control (he and Kiner worked well together), but when he became the star, it was too much.

        And thanks again for YOUR post.

        1. Mike, I loved watching baseball in the 1980s, so I have strong memories of those times and those teams. Like you, I enjoy McCarver in a three-man setup.

          I’m a fan of Kaat and Stone.

          Unfortunately, time to call out a TV team I have liked in the past–the Mariners. Seems that the telecasts have lost a certain vigor. They don’t analyze–even their ANALYSTS don’t analyze–and they read a lot of dumb stuff from the press releases. This used to be a better presentation.

          Off soap box!

          Take care.

          1. Hi, Stu. Thanks again for answering! I don’t get to see the Mariners here, but you also mentioned ANALYSTS, and that may be part of the problem. We now get the Giants, and as a Dodger fan I get a bit annoyed at the homerism of Kruk and Kuip, but they are fair: they are critical when their side does something wrong and appreciative when the other side does something right. So I’m fine with that (not that my opinion matters). But Krukow’s medical issues have prompted him to adopt a Scully-style schedule–no road trips east of Colorado. They’ve used a couple of recently retired Giants who clearly don’t know what an analyst is supposed to do, and it shows.

  3. While this is a rather interesting premise there is not enough in your analysis of each radio / TV crew to warrant these arbitrary A / B / C ratings numbers …

    For instance, am unsure what minimal background PA on Blue Jays radio side would have to do with their overall performance throughout games and in 40 years have never felt it was invasive although ‘ Hitler’s Bunker ‘ ( SkyDome / Rogers Centre ) is a major disaster in many respecrs …

    On seeing headline in SABR notes yesterday felt you would have had a more comprehensive critique of all the various on-air ‘ voices ‘ however this area was rather shallow, just glossed over …

    Possibly another go at this might be better, fleshed out with actual performance details as there are some very good people doing radio / TV with more who are beyond mediocre …

    Vinny deserved an A rather than A- …

    However, all in all this was worthy of review … CM

  4. By the way, I might have been too easy on the Red Sox radio broadcasts, at least when Lou Merloni is in the booth. I’m not even sure what his “Underwater Johnson” and “I need some horn” even mean.

  5. Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer on Cubs radio are best in Chicago. Jim Deshaies is great on TV. Len Kasper is good, but is all about people taking selfies, which gets very annoying.

    Ron Santo on radio before he died was entertaining..

    My favorite ever is Bob Brenly, and was disappointed when he left Chicago… But Jim Deshaies is great replacement.

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