Radio: Pittsburgh Pirates

Flagship: KDKA-FM (Sports Radio 93.7 The Fan)

PxP: Greg Brown (since 1994) and Tim Neverett (since 2009)

Color: Steve Blass (since 1986), Bob Walk (since 1994), and John
Wehner (since 2005)

Reviewer: Vernona Elms

Category: Play by Play
Grade: 55

The Pirates have two PxP announcers, Greg Brown and Tim Neverett. They do not work together–each works an entire game as the sole PxP guy (while the other switches to TV for that game). Their styles and voices are similar enough so that unless you tune in at the beginning of the broadcast, it may take you several innings to realize which broadcaster is calling the game, as they rarely identify themselves.

Brown is a very good professional broadcaster, tending toward the serious side. Although he does have a sense of humor, he never crosses over into silliness (even when discussing with his color guy whether the Pirate Parrot can beat up the Rockies’ purple dinosaur mascot Dinger). He can get excited over a Pirate walk-off, but not excessively so. His voice is deep and smooth and is never irritating, but it is not warm, either. He has broadcast with the Pirates for twenty years, and his experience shows. He knows the current Pirates team and Pirates history backwards and forwards, and discusses the action articulately. If you want a rather somber, accurate play-by-play without any fluff, Greg Brown is your man.

Tim Neverett, who has been with the Pirates for five years, is a more excitable announcer than Brown, with a somewhat warmer voice. He has a pleasing delivery and clearly enjoys the game. You can definitely tell from Tim’s intonation which team has scored, but he doesn’t cross the line into obnoxious homerism. Although clearly rooting for the Pirates, he admiringly and enthusiastically praises opposing team players for outstanding plays. Even in a 13-0 blowout loss, while noticeably subdued, Tim could still joke about a stink bug (on the TV announcer’s microphone) making its appearance during a stinker of a game. 

Category: Color Commentary
Grade: 60

The three Pirate color commentators are all former players for the Pirates–Steve Blass and Bob Walk were pitchers, and John Wehner a utility player. The Pirate broadcasts use one radio color guy per game, with Blass doing home games only. (Like the PxP commentators, the color guys do TV when they are not doing radio.) The match-ups of PxP with color guys are not always the same (during a recent three-game series in Miami, the match-ups were Neverett-Wehner, Neverett-Walk, and Brown-Wehner).

Blass is the most active speaker of the three–he comments almost as much as the PxP announcer. He is confident and knowledgeable, especially about pitching but also about other aspects of the game. He uses a lot of humor, but makes it relevant to what is happening in the game. (While mentioning a previous rare 5-game series with the Cardinals in 1908, he joked that fellow color guy Bob Walk had won game 3 of that series, and the reason he knew was because Blass himself had won game 1.) In addition to the humor, Blass gives solid, interesting descriptions of baseball situations, such as the tricky and vulnerable role of the pitcher covering the plate on a passed ball or wild pitch with a runner on third. Blass doesn’t just stick to clichés in his descriptions, but comes up with some entertaining phrases of his own (instead of saying that the catcher made a snow cone catch, he described the play as “the ball looked like a white cupcake trying to escape the glove”).

Since Blass does only home games, either Walk or Wehner serves as the color guy on road games. While neither is as talkative as Blass, they each provide valuable comments from a player’s standpoint. Walk is more folksy than either PxP commentator, and gives some needed relief to their seriousness. Wehner is very good at providing helpful stats, such as the percentage of times a particular pitcher throws a particular pitch. Both Wehner and Walk are pleasant to listen to,
and definitely add to the listening experience. When they disagree with the PxP guy’s comments, the subsequent discussion helps clarify what happened on the field and what should have happened had the players been more alert.

Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Grade: 55

There are six possible PxP/color guy combinations for a given Pirate game, but they’re all competent. The individuals in each different team interact well with each other and provide more than adequate coverage of the game. Very much in their favor is the fact that none really goes overboard in cheering for their team or in overly praising a particular hometown player (unlike a different city’s broadcast team that fawned so much last year that I simply could no longer listen to them).

Also impressive is how all the Pirate broadcasters sincerely praise the opposing team’s players when appropriate. They also do not hesitate to say “That play should have been made” when the Pirates don‘t execute well.

The Pirate broadcasters provide professional and enjoyable coverage of the game, and describe the action clearly. Although they all switch back and forth between radio and TV, they are not guilty of the unforgivable sin committed by many TV commentators who occasionally do radio–forgetting that we radio listeners cannot see what they themselves are seeing on the field.

Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Grade: 45

“Charisma” is probably not a word that one would use to describe the Pirate broadcasters–“steady and workmanlike” are more appropriate adjectives for them. Perhaps because the PxP announcers switch color guys so often, they may not have chemistry as good as that between other broadcast teams. But the Pirate radio people nevertheless all seem to like each other, and they enjoy a moderate amount of repartee and joking. The humor is usually directly related to the game, with the targets often being Pirate players or opposing team players (such as Blass laughing that Cardinal pitcher Joe Kelly deserved style points for trying to add to his intimidation factor by telling people that he was related to Machine Gun Kelly). The Pirate broadcast teams are not of the laugh-a-minute type–you won’t tune in just for the comedy–but they aren’t dour, either.

Blass is not shy about interrupting his PxP guy when necessary, and he will not hesitate to disagree with something his partner says. But since an interesting discussion usually results, these interruptions are positive additions to the broadcast.

Category: Analysis
Grade: 55

Brown and Neverett know baseball well and call a good game, but the most interesting analysis comes from the three color commentators, who each played major league ball. I heard detailed analysis from each of the three about specific situations that I’d never heard discussed during games before. For example, Wehner talked about position players being called in to pitch, using his own experience of pitching in six games himself. Walk explained in a reasonable and unbiased way why it was the right move when the umpire ejected without warning the Pirate pitcher who had intentionally thrown at an opposing batter, even though it was the Pirates who suffered since they were losing their starter in the first inning.

All the PxP and color guys use statistics moderately–they don’t overwhelm you with stats, but provide a sufficient amount for the average fan. They do throw in unusual interesting numbers on occasion, such as when Neverett exclaimed about the Cardinals‘ majors-leading batting average with runners in scoring position, saying that they could go hitless in their next 136 at-bats with RISP and still lead in that stat. That put a creative spin on a commonly used stat.

Category: Production Values
Grade: 60

There are no problems with the sound–it’s always clear. The crowd noise is set at a perfect level–you can tell you’re at a ballgame, hearing the calls of vendors, shouts from fans, and the general buzz of the stadium, but it’s not so loud that it interferes with the commentators.

Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Grade: 60

There are not many sponsor mentions, and those few are handled well. The PxP guys read an occasional ad for the AAA Travel Agency, but it served as a vehicle for providing news about the Pirates triple-A team, coming across more like information about the farm team rather than a commercial. When the announcers give the more frequent ads for the Italian restaurant with “the only fresh mozzarella bar in Pittsburgh,” it’s handled very smoothly and never interferes with the game. The Pirates might have the fewest announcer-read commercials of any team I’ve listened to. Sponsor or guest interviews appear to take place only during rain delays, when there is no game for it to distract from. One particularly entertaining example was with hockey broadcaster “Doc” Emrick. Emrick is a huge Pirates fan and described in amusing fashion how much he loved playing ball during the annual Pirates Fantasy camp.

Category: Overall
Grade: 55

Upon your first listening, a Pirates game on the radio may seem a little dull, but the more games you listen to, the more you appreciate their PxP broadcasters and their color guys. The voices are pleasant, the play-by-play accurate, the comments interesting, and there is no hysteria. It may not be the most amusing broadcast you’ll ever hear, but it won’t be irritating, either. If you value professionalism over flashiness, the good solid reporting, along with entertaining color commentary and occasional humor, make a Pirate radio broadcast an above-average, satisfying experience.

 

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DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this evaluation are solely those of the author.  As such, the views expressed by the author should not be interpreted as representing the opinions of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), its board, or anyone otherwise affiliated with SABR.  Likewise, the conclusions included in these evaluations are not to be viewed or interpreted as official endorsements (or lack thereof) by SABR, or of anyone affiliated with SABR, of any particular broadcasters or broadcast organizations.

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