The Houston Astros announced this past Saturday that Larry Elston, who called Houston Astros games from the team’s inaugural season of 1962 through 1986, has passed away at the age of 93.
Elston was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award, aka became a Hall of Famer, in 2006 for “major contributions to baseball”, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a broadcaster. At the time he was only the thirtieth to be so honored in the entire 90+ year history of baseball broadcasting.
The Houston Astros released the following statement:
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Gene Elston. Gene helped introduce baseball to Houston as a part of the original broadcast team of the Colt .45s when the franchise was born in 1962. For 25 seasons, he served as the lead voice of the Colt .45s and Astros and called many of the great moments in franchise history. The memories he helped create are cherished fondly by the generations of Astros fans that he touched. On behalf of the entire Astros organization, I send my deepest condolences to Gene’s family members and to his many friends and fans.”
You can read more about Elston on the Astros website, or you can choose from among the many current stories that have been published recently about Gene Elston by clicking on this link:
But one record almost never gets mentioned, even though nearly everyone would agree that it is probably impossible to break: Vin Scully’s 66 years of broadcasting games on a regular basis for a major league baseball team . And now comes the word that Vin will be extending that record by returning in 2016 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 67th and final season which, at that level, makes it exponentially more likely that his record will indeed never be broken.
You might be thinking at first, hey, good call on mentioning Scully’s streak as a baseball record that’s unbreakable. (I confess that I myself had never considered it before hearing the announcement this morning.) But then you might be thinking, wait, this one will certainly be broken someday, won’t it? After all, each generation lives longer than any generation before it. People living into their nineties and even past 100 is becoming way more common, and soon might even come to be commonplace. So we can’t really call a record of 67 seasons in the broadcast booth totally unbreakable, can we?
Technically, you’d be right to think so, and maybe you’d even be proven right some day. But there are also a few mitigating circumstances to consider. For one, Vin Scully came into the booth as one of the youngest broadcasters ever to call a major league game, during the 1950 season at the age of 22. By contrast, the youngest baseball broadcaster today, Aaron Goldsmith of the Seattle Mariners radio network, started his major league broadcasting career just shy of his 30th birthday. The likelihood of any major league team hiring a kid in his or her early 20s to be a regular on their broadcasts is very slim.
For another thing, in order for someone to call 67 straight seasons of baseball as a regular for a major league team, they would almost certainly have to do so into their 90s, living to which becomes increasingly less likely as you pass through your eighties. When you as an American male turn 80, for instance, your chance of dying that same year is 1 in 16 (contrasted with 1 in 430 at age 40 and 1 in 88 at age 60). That drops to 1 in 8 by Vin’s age of 87, and 1 in 6 by age 89. Put another way, 87% of all American males born in a given year will have died before their 90th birthday. And even though the odds that an American female will live into her nineties is much greater at about 24%, it will be a long time before females are hired as regular major league team broadcasters at a rate that makes it just as likely that a woman will call games into her nineties as it is for a man to do so. So even with today’s extended mortality levels and tomorrow’s egalitarianism in broadcaster hiring, that is still a long, long shot.
Lastly, the chances that someone will remain with a major league team, any major league team, for 67 seasons without getting fired, or without quitting for another job or to go to a network, makes the odds longer still that this record will ever be broken.
Roll that all around in your head, and once you have, you will come to a fresh, new appreciation of the magnitude of the record that Vin Scully sets every time he steps back into the broadcast booth to begin another season, which he will do yet again next spring.
That is beyond amazing, and we are beyond blessed for living in these times so we can witness it.
Congratulations to you for your long and successful career, Vin Scully, and thank you for returning to the booth to entertain us for another year. And special thanks to your lovely wife, Sandi, for allowing you to do so.
(This article has been edited, with a revised headline, from the original to include reference to 2016 as Scully’s final season.)
Shortly after it was announced that the Red Sox are going to dump Don Orsillo, their long-time play-by-play voice, from their telecasts on NESN, the tributes started coming in, and the outrage within Red Sox nation started boiling over.
Boston.com, the Internet arm of the venerable Globe newspaper, provided a nice historical overview of top Bosox broadcasters that fans throughout New England have bonded with, resurrecting such names as Jim Britt, Tom Hussey, Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin and some of the younger whippersnappers, which you can read here:
Jerry Thornton, a sometimes stand-up comedian who appears regularly on the The Dale & Holley Show on WEEI-FM, posted a nice retrospective of Orsillo’s funniest moments on his blog on the station’s website, featuring his five favorites. This one is my personal favorite, since it makes good fun of Jerry Remy’s Masshole accent:
You can read his post and see the other clips here:
The other side of the coin from tribute is outrage, and there is no shortage of that here, either. The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy casts this incident as just another of a series of botched moves in a lost season that have culminated in the firing of Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington as well:
Alex Reimer over at Boston Magazine believes that this firing was not just a dumb move by a clueless organization. He maintains that this change is a calculated move that “could signal a dark, propaganda-filled turn for Red Sox telecasts.”
Meanwhile, one of the eggheads over the Bston’s NPR affiliate, WBUR (OK, E. M. Swift was a writer at SI for for three decades, but still … 😀 ) makes very clear that even while he is largely unimpressed with practically every other announcer he’s ever heard—including Vin Scully, for cry eye!—Don Orsillo is the very best he has ever heard. Ever.
By now it’s pretty well known—even by people who don’t care about baseball, media, or baseball media—that Curt Schilling made a horrible decision to tweet the following:
Schilling did not create the meme in question—he “merely” tweeted it out. I put the word merely in quotes because the gravity of his action is hardly mitigated even by the realization that he merely agrees with the sentiment enough to repeat it publicly, rather than authoring the sentiment himself.
You can’t see the tweet live anymore, since Schilling has deleted it from his feed. Too late to reverse the condemnation he has received, of course, but at least he’s not doubling down on the sentiment by maintaining its presence on his feed or, worse, tripling down on it by defending or flaunting it, as some might.
Now comes word that Schilling’s punishment by ESPN is extending to his regular gig on their Sunday Night Baseball telecasts as well, as The Worldwide Leader announced late last night that Schilling is being pulled from this week’s Cubs-Dodgers tilt. No word yet on whether the ban will extend beyond this week, but it’s hard to envision Schilling returning to the booth any time this year, given how raw the original story is at the moment. There’s a lot of noise surrounding Curt Schilling right now, and if there’s one thing megabillion multinational media and entertainment companies despise, its noise of exactly this type.
Curt Schilling is a very smart man, so he had the good sense (and decency) to express a feeling resembling remorse over his bad decision:
I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.
This tweet occurred the same day as his LLWS telecast suspension. It is, at the moment of this post’s publication, his most recent tweet, so we do not yet know publicly his reaction to his removal from this Sunday’s telecast.
Now, articulating “my bad” for expressing an opinion is not the same as feeling shame for having the opinion in the first place. Schilling must certainly understand that difference, and while I can’t read the man’s mind, it strikes me as doubtful that he feels any differently about Muslims (extremist or not) today than he did two days ago. But the bar at hand does not extend as high as prohibiting the most secret thoughts and opinions a man might want hold in his head. It extends only to expressing them in a public forum. In America and most of the rest of the First World, you have the freedom to express such thoughts, but that freedom does not extend to exemption from the consequences of expressing them.
Schilling is smart also because, unlike some knuckleheads imploring him to “NEVER apologize for telling the truth especially if the PC bullies don’t like it“, he understands that when you are the public face of a very high profile organization, the thoughts you express for public consumption, even in your off hours, reflect on the organization you’re associated with. Schilling does not work 24 hours a day seven days a week, but The Walt Disney Companydoes, so there is no off-hours period of freedom from his public representation of them. Plus, The Mouse as a corporation has accountability to an international and multicultural audience that extends far beyond defending the right of their employees and representatives to publicly express whatever they believe their truths to be, never mind any obligation to maintain their full status in good standing within the corporation afterwards.
Whether this will cost Schilling any chance to work a booth at any point in the future is still unclear. What is clear is that any sports broadcasting concern interested in maintaining politics-free output will think twice about hiring someone who, intelligent though he may be, has a history of exhibiting poor impulse control and bad judgment when it comes to putting his innermost political thoughts out there for the purpose of the entire world enjoying them.
It’s fairly common for ex-major leaguers to show up in the broadcast booth playing second banana as analyst to the team’s play-by-play announcer, but it’s somewhat less common for ex-players to sit in the first chair and describe the action itself. George Frazier was one of the latter.
A ten-year middle reliever with five clubs, mostly in the 80s, Frazier spent nearly two decades on various TV channels describing the activities of the Colorado Rockies baseball club to fans dotting a vast stretch of the Rocky Mountain region.
Dusty Saunders, a columnist for the Denver News, wrote a very nice piece that provides an overview of Frazier’s career in the broadcast booths at Mile High Stadium and Coors Field. With the permission of Saunders and his boss at the Post, Torin Berge (himself a ex-pro), we reproduce it in its entirety below. Click here if you would prefer to read it on the original website.
Dusty Saunders: George Frazier bowing out of booth at season’s end
Frazier made his Rockies debut as a “tryout” TV analyst and color man
Former Rockies manager, Jim Tracy, left, takes a bite from a sandwich while talking with Rockies baseball television analyst, George Frazier in his office hours before a game at Coors Field. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)
George Frazier, after 19 seasons and more than 1,800 games, will say goodbye to Root Sports and Rockies fans Oct. 4, when he will be at AT&T Park in San Francisco for the Rockies’ final game of the season.
“I’ll miss all things Rockies,” said the veteran broadcaster, who lives in Tulsa, Okla. “But it’s time. After 28 years (overall) in broadcasting booths, I want a new challenge.”
Frazier, 60, made his decision a year ago, telling Root Sports management that he didn’t want to renew his contract after this season.
“I’m not going to hibernate on my front porch in Tulsa,” Frazier said. “Baseball remains a big chunk of my life. I want to stay involved, maybe by showing kids what a great game it is. I could work in the minor leagues, and Oklahoma University has new TV technology which interests me. My career door is wide open.”
Frazier made his Rockies debut as a “tryout” TV analyst and color man during the last three games of the 1997 season.
“Dave Campbell was leaving and I had a shot at replacing him,” Frazier said. “I don’t remember that first game score, only that the Rockies won at home against the Reds. I was nervous. I liked Denver and wanted to work here. There was so much fan enthusiasm for the Rockies.”
He did well enough to get offered a full-time contract for the 1998 season — joining play-by-play man Dave Armstrong, who was replaced by Drew Goodman in 2002.
Frazier’s career as a broadcaster began in 1988 after 10 years as a big-league pitcher, mostly as a middle reliever. He had a career 35-43 record with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians.
Frazier’s first TV job was covering Big Eight Conference men’s and women’s basketball for Prime Sports. That led to baseball coverage at Home Sports Entertainment, the Baseball Network, ESPN, Fox Sports and with the Twins.
Last weekend, when the Rockies were playing in St. Louis, Frazier told viewers about his close relationship with Hall of Famer Lou Brock.
“Lou was my lockermate during his final years. We became good friends,” Frazier said. “I idolized the guy … still do.
“When I was talking about Lou on Root Sports, he was visiting in the Cardinals’ TV booth next door with Tim McCarver, telling viewers about our relationship.”
As Rockies fans know, Frazier loves to talk about baseball. His style has irritated some fans. He also has been accused of being too much of a “homer,” a charge made against many big-league broadcasters.
“I love to talk, particularly about baseball,” Frazier said. “I provide a lot of information about the game that often ties into my knowledge about the past. A lot of fans like that. Criticism has never bothered me. I never wanted to change my broadcasting style.”
Frazier’s favorite Rockies memories include the team’s run to the 2007 World Series and Ubaldo Jimenez’s no-hitter vs. the Braves in Atlanta in 2010.
“But even more important to me has been watching guys like Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez play regularly,” Frazier said. “They’re in my Hall of Fame.”
Frazier, who considers himself “a country boy at heart,” will spend a lot of time hunting and fishing near his Tulsa home and cruising around in his 23-year-old Chevy truck, which has 288,000 miles on it.
His retirement from booth duties also will give him more time with his wife, Kay; their children, Matthew, Brian, Parker and Georgia; and five grand- children.
“Speaking of families,” Frazier said, “I’ll miss Drew and the Root Sports gang. It may sound like a cliché, but a broadcasting organization is family, particularly after 19 years.”
Parker is a pitcher in the Oakland Athletics’ farm system. Georgia, recently crowned Miss Oklahoma, will compete in the Miss America Pageant, which ABC will televise Sept. 13.
“I’ll be there cheering loudly for my daughter,” Frazier said. “People will probably hear me, although I won’t be in a broadcasting booth.”
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:
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.
Frank Gifford died at his home yesterday morning in Connecticut at the age of 84. A bona fide Pro Football Hall of Famer, he was also a Hall of Fame-level football broadcaster as well, receiving the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for his broadcast service in 1995.
Gifford never broadcast any baseball games (even though he did work some non-football sporting events such as the Olympics, including the infamous 1972 Gold Medal game, which you can hear him call here), but The Giffer did work with several broadcast partners who did, from long-time baseball play-by-play guys to those who merely dipped their toe in the ballpark booth waters, including:
Chris Schenkel: We think of Schenkel as the TV bowling broadcaster today—heck, he’s an actual PBA Hall of Famer because of his work on that— but he anchored a whole bunch of sports for the American Broadcasting Company, including a 24-game slate of baseball games in 1965. That same year, Schekel began a three-year run with Gifford to call New York (football) Giants game for CBS, closing out the days when The Eye deployed dedicated announcers for each NFL team.
Jack Whitaker: This guy is also known for his coverage of non-team sports, chiefly golf and horse racing, but he too was a jack of the trade of pro football broadcasting for CBS, as he paired with Gifford for several games during the 1969 and 1970 football seasons. Whitaker also did a single baseball broadcast, doing play-by-play for CBS on May 7, 1960 from Yankee Stadium during which the Bombers took on their perennial trading partners, the Kansas City A’s.
Chuck Thompson: Thompson was one of the all-time great baseball play-by-play men, serving over 40 seasons in the mid-Atlantic region with the two Philadelphia teams, the old Senators (the iteration that became the Twins), and most famously the Orioles, all from the late 40s into the current millennium. But like almost all baseball announcers of the time, he filled his off-seasons with football, and worked with Gifford for a single Colts-Packers game on Dec. 7, 1968.
Howard Cosell: Howard, of course, worked with Gifford for most of his tenure at ABC’s Monday Night Football, during the first 13 years to be exact (1971 to 1983), and we tend think of Howard today as a football announcer and boxing commentator first and second, the order between the two dependent on the person doing the reminiscing about Humble Howard. After a few seconds, hardcore sports fans of the era will also clearly remember that Cosell was a prolific baseball announcer as well, shoring up 144 airings between 1976 and 1985 (with a stray NBC GotW in 1973 as well), good enough for a tie with Bob Uecker for 21st on the all-time color guy list.
Don Meredith: Meredith served mostly as comic relief within the various troikas that manned the MNF booth between 1970 and 1984, excepting a three-year hole in the middle of that run to work football with Curt Gowdy at NBC. During that period, The Peacock hoped to capture some of Don’s third man magic for an NBC Game of the Week broadcast with Gowdy and Tony Kubek during a Pirates-Reds tilt on Aug. 12, 1974. How did Dandy Don do in the baseball booth? Well, he never did work another baseball broadcast after that, so …
In addition to the five listed above, Gifford had a connection to other long time baseball broadcasters without actually working in the booth with them (a second degree of separation, if you will). In 1969, Gifford filled in as an play-by-play announcer on CBS Football for Jack Buck (96 network baseball broadcasts; St Louis Cardinals radio and TV from 1954 to 2001), the regular broadcaster, who was wrapping up his baseball commitments for the season. (Gifford also filled in for Chuck Thompson, same season/same reason, in addition to teaming up with him for one game.) As for ABC’s MNF, which Gifford headed up from 1971 through 1985, he replaced Keith Jackson (153 network baseball broadcasts from 1965 to 1986, with an appearance on a 2003 broadcast) who had wrapped up that gig after the 1970 NFL season, and was replaced by Al Michaels (263 network baseball games from 1972 to 1995, plus a game in 2011, as well as six seasons with the Reds and Giants from 1971 to 1976), who succeeded Gifford starting with the 1986 NFL season.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the surviving family members and friends of Frank Gifford.
When you think of televised baseball, chances are your trip down memory lane has either two or three people in the broadcast booth. There have certainly been exceptions at the local level: today, of course, Dodgers home games are televised by the one-man crew of Vin Scully, and solo radio broadcasts are standard operating procedure in San Francisco when one of the team’s three play-by-play men is on assignment elsewhere.
But on the national level, this is the exception rather than the rule. As of the last update (through the games of July 19, 2015), 99.78 percent of the telecasts in the SABR network television database have had either two or three people in the broadcast booth. Today, we’ll look at those broadcasts that don’t fit in those categories.
For a time, it was the two-man booth that was noteworthy, since the play-by-play announcer typically worked alone. Sometimes there was a second voice present, one which would handle a few innings or read commercials, but by and large only one man was at the microphone.
There have been 20 nationally televised games during which a single broadcaster handled all nine innings, and the majority of those came under the system described above. Bill Slater, Bob Stanton and Bob Edge split the duties for the seven-game 1947 World Series, which was televised not by a single network but an ad-hoc setup that allowed any television station in the U.S. to air the game, if they wanted to. The same circumstances reprised themselves in 1949, this time with Jim Britt handling all five contests.
In 1948, over the same sort of network, Red Barber was the play-by-play voice of the World Series on TV, but he was joined by one of the home team’s announcers: Tom Hussey in Boston and Van Patrick in Cleveland. When NBC took over World Series rights in 1951, they would continue to use local announcers until the mid-1970s.
Early All-Star Games, which like the World Series were telecast nationally, accounted for three more solo broadcasts. With the 1949 Midsummer Classic in his Flatbush backyard, Red Barber handled the duties: Jack Brickhouse did the same in 1950 at Comiskey Park and 1951 at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium. If you’re counting along, that brings us to 15 solo broadcasts.
By 1954, precedent for the midseason and postseason showpieces had been set, and two announcers were deployed for those games. That year, ABC sent a broadcast crew to a second game on Saturday afternoons, primarily to use in case of rain at the primary site but also to file reports as appropriate. For the season’s final two broadcasts, Bob Finnegan was away doing college football on ABC radio, so his usual partner Bill McColgan handled the backup game solo.
The remaining three solo broadcasts in history were one-off instances set up by pennant races. Until NBC inked its first contract with Major League Baseball in 1966, postseason tiebreaker games were bid on separately from either the regular season or the playoffs, and so ended up with different sponsors than the other games.
In 1959, ABC won the rights to the Braves-Dodgers pennant tie-breaker playoff but had no regular announcers to field, since the network broadcast no other baseball that year. George Kell called the first game of the best-of-three series solo before Bob DeLaney joined him for game two. In 1962, Bob Wolff covered the first game of a Dodger-Giant pennant playoff solo; Kell sat in for game two, and Wolff’s usual partner, Joe Garagiola, handled the third game.
Finally, entering the final day of the 1982 season, Atlanta led the N.L. West by a game over Los Angeles, who was playing third-place San Francisco at Candlestick Park. ABC’s two games that day featured the Brewers and Orioles, who were tied atop the A.L. East and were meeting for a winner-take-all Game 162; and the Braves playing San Diego. Since an Atlanta loss coupled with a Los Angeles win would have triggered an N.L. West playoff game, ABC sent Don Drysdale to the Bay Area.
(In the interest of full disclosure, there is a 21st solo broadcast currently listed in the database at this moment. On July 29, 2010, Vin Scully called a Dodgers/Padres game on MLB Network. This was a national retransmission of the Dodgers local broadcast, however, and as such should not be included. It will be removed in the next update.)
On the other end of the spectrum, in recent decades network suits have occasionally decided that three men in the booth was not enough. The 1988 movie The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad lampooned the then-growing trend of three-man booths by teaming Curt Gowdy with Jim Palmer, Tim McCarver, Dick Vitale, Mel Allen, Dick Enberg and Dr. Joyce Brothers for a game being “broadcast” during the movie.
No networks have gone quite as far as stuffing the booth with Vitale or Dr. Brothers on their own real-life broadcasts, but on three occasions, four men have called a national telecast. All three such games were All-Star Games on networks whose principal crews used a play-by-play announcer and two color men. In 1967, NBC’s “A” team featured Gowdy with Pee Wee Reese and Sandy Koufax. With the game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Angels voice Bud Blattner joined them in the booth. The Zanesville Times-Recorder notes that he also appeared on the NBC radio feed with Jim Simpson and Tony Kubek.
In 1980 and again in 1982, Don Drysdale and Howard Cosell were two-thirds of ABC’s broadcast crew with either Keith Jackson or Al Michaels doing play-by-play. Jackson and Michaels traded off throughout the season as each man went on assignment elsewhere, but with only baseball in session in July, both play-callers worked the games from Los Angeles (1980) and Montreal (1982).
More recently, ESPN has used three or more analysts on the same game, stationing them in various locations around the field in a practice they call “The Shift.” For example, for a Pirates/Dodgers game on June 1, 2014, play-by-play announcer Karl Ravech holed up in the press box with Buster Olney, usually the sideline reporter. Aaron Boone and Mark Mulder reported from the first- and third-base camera wells, with former manager Eric Wedge in the stands behind home plate and Doug Glanville in the outfield.
Glanville and Wedge have reprised those roles on two Wednesday night games this season: Jon Sciambi has handled play-by-play, with Eduardo Perez replacing Aaron Boone, Wedge moving to the third-base camera well, and Rick Sutcliffe analyzing in the press box.
I’m tempted to not count the “Shift” broadcasts as true four-, five- or six-person crews since they represent an intentional paradigm shift away from the booth-based tradition of a single play-by-play announcer working with one or two analysts. But regardless of how one handles them, it’s hard not to think of the wisdom of Lindsey Nelson: “Two analysts in the booth are often one too many, and three people in the booth are often several too many.”
If that’s true of three people in the booth, imagine how Nelson must have felt about four. And whether consciously or not, the networks seem to have followed his lead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.