Tag Archives: Ernie Harwell

NEW: Hear Recently Uploaded Classic Baseball Radio Broadcasts

Don Zminda has been a baseball writer, a VP at STATS LLC, and a SABR member for close to four decades, so it’s fair to say that Don knows a lot about baseball. He’s a big fan.

Don’s also a collector, and one of the things he’s collected over the years is baseball broadcasts. In fact, Don is in the process of uploading several radio broadcasts to a new YouTube channel he just created called “Don Zminda“.  Simple and elegant name, no?

Don has uploaded (so far) 14 radio broadcasts of baseball games, and there are some real beauties in there.  Eleven of them are postseason games, eight of them World Series, and included to date are five of the six 1981 World Series games miked by Vin Scully and Sparky Anderson; two 1982 ALCS games called by Ernie Harwell and Denny Matthews; and that famous 1988 World Series game in which Jack Buck could not believe what he just saw.

The set of three regular season games is composed of the broadcast of a 1965 tilt helmed by Ford Frick Award Winners Bob Elson and Milo Hamilton; the 1984 Jack Morris no-hitter against the White Sox called by then Pale Hose radio men Joe McConnell and Lorn Brown; and the infamous 1982 Fred “Chicken” Stanley game between the Tigers and A’s in which the protagonist appeared to get intentionally picked off second to open up the base for Rickey Henderson to try to surpass Lou Brock’s single season stolen base record.

The quality varies from broadcast to broadcast, as you might expect from the technology available at the time, but they are all at least quite listenable, and some of the broadcasts are clean and clear. These games would make for a pretty good companion on long drives, or as background while puttering around the house.

Again, here is the link to Don Zminda’s YouTube channel:

Don Zminda Baseball Radio Broadcast Channel

Enjoy!

With Scully and Enberg Retiring, Who Will Now Be the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters?

He's gone, he's gone, and nothin's gonna bring him back ...
He’s gone, he’s gone, and nothin’s gonna bring him back …

The 2016 baseball season is now officially in the books, and in broadcasting terms, it was one of the most momentous in history. Two Ford Frick Award-winning broadcasters, Vin Scully (1982) and Dick Enberg (2015), have stepped away from their baseball mics for good and now head off to their next adventure.  (Not for nothing, but Bill Brown, radio play-by-play man for the Astros for the past three decades, is also hanging up the mic, although he has not yet received the Ford Frick Award himself.)

Enberg had a great career, no doubt, but It is universally acknowledged that Scully had been, for a span of at least a decade and a half, the unchallenged, unquestioned dean of baseball broadcasters, mantles previously held by such luminaries as Red Barber, Bob Elson, Byrum Saam, Jack Brickhouse, Mel Allen, Harry Caray, Chuck Thompson, and Ernie Harwell.

Now that Scully is gone, and that Enberg and Brown have headed off into the sunset with him, we now need to contemplate who among the current mikemen should now be considered the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters. That’s what I am asking you, the reader, to do here today: vote for who you believe should take on that exalted title.

The Game is currently blessed with dozens of great, long-time baseball play by play and color commentators. In fact, no fewer than thirty current broadcasters have 30 or more years in the business, an unprecedentedly high number. Not all of them, of course, can qualify for Dean status.  But in our opinion, the eight broadcasters who have 40 or more years of experience can qualify, so those are who we would like you to vote on today.

The eight on this ballot include:

  • Jaime Jarrín: With the Dodgers since 1959, he is the currently the longest-serving Spanish-language radio play-by-play broadcaster in history. In 1998, Jarrín received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Dave Van Horne: Hired as the first Expos English-language radio play-by-play announcer in 1969. Moved to the Marlins in 2001. In 2011, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Denny Matthews: Hired in 1969 as the first (and still only) radio play-by-play announcer for Kansas City Royals. In 2007, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Bob Uecker: Began calling play-by-play for the Brewers’ radio broadcasts in 1971. In 2003, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Mike Shannon: Hired as radio color commentator by the Cardinals in 1972; became the lead voice after Jack Buck’s death in 2002.
  • Marty Brennaman: Reds radio play-by-play announcer since 1974. In 2000, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.
  • Ken Harrelson: Hired by the Red Sox in 1975 for the TV broadcasts, moving to the White Sox in 1982. Became White Sox GM for 1986, took up with Yankees TV in 1987 before settling in with White Sox TV broadcasts in 1989. “Hawk” was a Frick award finalist in 2007.
  • Jon Miller: Also well-traveled, first with the A’s for the 1974 season, and had subsequent tenures with the Rangers (1978), Red Sox (1980) and Orioles (1983) before landing with the Giants in 1997. In 2010, was the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award.

And now is the time for you to vote for who you believe the Dean of broadcasters should be, below. You may vote for one, two or three broadcasters you believe deserve this august title. Teams and first year broadcasting are shown next to the nominees’ names.

 

Who Now Becomes the Dean of Baseball Broadcasters?

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New Video on YouTube: “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”

Committee member Norm King has shared a link to something any sports media acolyte should relish: a History Channel documentary called “Sportscasters: Behind The Mike”, a 1999-2000 effort that was narrated by Joe Mantegna and that features interview pieces with luminaries such as Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Curt Gowdy, Bob Costas, Jack Whitaker, Jim McKay, author Curt Smith, a young David Halberstam, and more.

The tone of the documentary is rather heroic and superficial, with the kind of dramatic martial type musical bed frequently associated with televised sports in general. But that is, of course, perfectly fine, because the point of the doc is to feature historical clips of TV and radio calls of yore, as well as to give us some topline backgrounding on the history of sports broadcasting and its most famous practitioners.

This is a VCR recording converted to digital to be uploaded to YouTube, so it includes commercials from its broadcast. I am assuming this was the broadcast premier of the doc, since one of the commercials is for Ameritrade, and during the spot they have an offer to rebate half your trade commissions if you open an account “between 1/1/00 and 2/29/00.” This was back during the go-go stock trading atmosphere of the Dot-com Bubble which came crashing down later that year, and I apologize for dredging up flashbacks if your own portfolio got creamed in the melee. (My 401(k) certainly took a hit). But as a snapshot in time, not only does this video capture vintage broadcasters in their relative youth (or even alive), but it reflects a unique moment in American history.

This doc also contemplates more than just baseball, giving a significant amount of time over to the history of the broadcasting of football as it, too, was emerging to prominence.

The doc wraps up around the 49:00 mark but runs another fifteen minutes of commercials and the intro to the next program, the NBA All-Star Game Slam Dunk contest on TSN.  Not relevant to the doc, of course, but again, if you’re an amateur anthropologist, you might have an amateur’s interest in how a person viewed TV in the year 2000.

Enjoy!

Only the Game Was Real: The Aesthetics and Significance of Re-created Baseball Broadcasting

Very few of us reading this article ever heard an actual re-created baseball game on the radio, but game re-creation was the norm for away games for nearly every team broadcasting their games on radio from the dawn of broadcasting well into the 1950s.  Almost all of us knew that already, but if you didn’t, you know now.

But even though we know, intellectually, that this was the state of the baseball broadcast art, probably very few of us have thought very deeply about how this art was executed. We perhaps don’t often close our eyes and imagine what a re-created baseball game would sound like, and the effort that went into making it sound like a real, live baseball game.

Committee member Bob Barrier has, and he wrote a nice little piece a few years ago about, as he terms it, the aesthetics of re-creating a road ball game on the radio for a team’s fans to enjoy at home. While the whole idea of re-creating a baseball game from a telegraph wire might sound a bit like a silly exercise to undergo, sending broadcast equipment and an announcer on the road was prohibitively expensive at the time, and besides, teams usually had room to house only one broadcast team, obviously for the home team’s broadcast (which probably explains why the Brooklyn Dodgers re-created road games even at the New York Giants’ Polo Grounds, less than 15 miles away). But the fans still wanted and needed to hear their own team play even when they were playing on the road, and thus: the re-creation.

Barrier’s piece is reproduced in full below, having first appeared in the tome entitled Baseball/Literature/Culture: Essays, 2006-2007. Especially illuminating is his interview with Nat Allbright, little known today but widely considered the “king of the baseball re-creators” throughout the Fifties, having worked some 1,500 Brooklyn Dodger road games for the Mutual Network from his studio in, of all places, Washington D.C.  During the interview, Barrier asked Allbright to simulate a baseball re-creation for him, and … well, I invite you to just read it, below.


Only the Game Was Real

The Aesthetics and Significance of Re-created Baseball Broadcasting

Robert G. Barrier

The huge success of XM Satellite Radio’s Major League Baseball broadcasts the past two years has highlighted a truth almost forgotten. Even in these days of high-definition television, streaming Internet video, and play-by-play graphical Web sites, baseball on the radio still remains the most compelling, imaginative, nostalgic, and personal way to participate as a “spectator” from a distance. Indeed, radio announcers maintain the seams of nostalgia, and in their different ways make the listener a daily participant in the game. But for some of these listeners, particularly those who lived in the rural South and Midwest from the 1930s to the 1950s, the imaginary stadiums constructed for them came from announcers re-creating the actual games from Western Union tickers miles away from the actual game. The re-created games, which often relied on recorded crowd noises, audio clips of bats hitting the ball or the ball hitting the glove, were also embellished by the imaginative patter of word artists, such as Red Barber or Graham McNamee, who created broadcasts in many instances under the illusion that listeners were hearing a real game from a real stadium.

Early on, electronics connected the nation of fans with largely factual accounts devoid of creative imagination. The earliest commercial radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, broadcast scores during the summer of 1921 and carried the first live broadcast on August 5. The

Arch McDonald was one of the early pioneers of baseball game re-creation on the radio. Here he is hard at work on Washington's WJSV.
Arch McDonald was one of the early pioneers of baseball game re-creation on the radio. Here he is hard at work on Washington’s WJSV.

following year, RCA-Westinghouse broadcast the 1922 Series from the Polo Grounds, arranging for famous sportswriter Grantland Rice to report to an audience, which was called by the New York Tribune “the greatest audience ever assembled to listen to one man” (qtd. in Tygiel 65). Even competing stations in New York went silent so that listeners could hear the broadcasts. But for all of Rice’s brilliant poetry, the creator of the famous image “the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” failed in on-air reporting. He simply described what happened in “a little flat, atonal voice somewhat awkwardly modulated and unmistakably Southern.” Of this experience he would later report, “The broadcast officials wanted me to keep talking. But I didn’t know what to say” (qtd. in Tygiel 68).

The tradition of the personalized broadcast began in 1923 with Graham McNamee’s conveying the atmosphere and the imagination of on-air baseball. A singer brought to New York to develop his talent, he “understood pacing, style, and performing for an audience, even one he could not see” (Tygiel 69). Whereas the Western Union operator was expected to remain, “perfectly cool and collected, no matter what happens … and would be chided by the manager if he did bring in personality,” McNamee recognized that the new medium required a different approach: “to avoid dead silence, I found myself more than ever falling back on general description. And that is where the imagination comes in” (qtd. in Tygiel 69).

Though sportswriters groused and criticized the showmanship, McNamee successfully made every listener a spectator, enabling them “to use their eyes” by “paint[ing) word pictures that other minds could feast upon…. Very little imagination was required … especially when the announcer turned his microphone on the roaring, booing and cheering crowd” (Tygiel 71). Very soon teams in the Midwest began regular season broadcasts, especially in Chicago, but not in the eastern cities where there were larger population centers as well as many more major newspapers. In more scattered areas of the Midwest, broadcasts could extend the drawing area to 100 miles or more. Even the Sporting News, self-described as “baseball’s bible,” criticized broadcasts because of economics—fans wouldn’t pay for what they got free. Essentially, radio coverage democratized Major League Baseball, making it more accessible and intimate to those far away from the stadiums; as Jules Tygiel observes, “the process had become more familial or individualistic, replacing the communal experience with a more isolated one” (72).

As the listening audience expanded, so too did the need for announcers like McNamee who approached the game with a showman’s view. Many of the most popular announcers of the 1940s and 1950s were southerners, including industry legends like Red Barber, Mel Allen, Arch McDonald, Ernie Harwell, and Russ Hodges, all of whom made famous peculiar southern expressions and maintained a narrative rhythm reminiscent of the southern oral traditions of local color and humor. Perhaps it is this storytelling tradition—and their professionalism—that enabled so many of these broadcasters to approach baseball games as story, humor, and spectacle while maintaining the reportage narrative that was their main duty. Harwell, recently retired after 56 years of broadcasting, accounts for the distinctive southern voice as a natural result of the southern oral tradition, so many stories told at evenings on the porch or in the kitchen (Kaufman).

One might trace this loquaciousness back to Mark Twain and the southwestern humor tradition, but there remains a significant difference. Whereas the point of a Simon Wheeler or a Eudora Welty character is to stray far afield from the initial conversational subject, southern baseball announcers restrained themselves to commentary between pitches (Harwell says he never told a story he could not finish within the inning and he insisted upon giving the score as often as possible). It was a studied but natural patter of talk, not an extended yarn. And also there was the distinctive southern accent:

Ernie Harwell still sounds like old radio…. His style is conversational, sure, but he’s not just talking. He’s broadcasting…. People talk about his Southern lilt, and you can hear it on the air if you’re listening for it, but more noticeable is the precise, clipped diction of a 1940s radio man who has to make himself understood through the static and noise of a distant Philco (Kaufman).

Likewise, southerners also played a significant role in the lost art of re-creating live baseball games for later broadcast. In the first radio recreated games, which date to 1921, a reporter telephoned details of the action to a radio announcer, who in turn dictated the game to a very limited audience. Many re-creators made no bones about the fact that they were re-creating but others went to great lengths for the illusion of reality. Willie Morris, in North Toward Home, praises McNamee for making each game an epic contest and recounts how he won money from his childhood acquaintances by predicting upcoming events in re-created games after he had heard the real games earlier via shortwave. And even though, according to Dodger re-creator  Nat Allbright,  the law required re-creator announcers to make a statement that the game was re-created at both the beginning and the end, most listeners thought the games were real. In the ’30s and ’40s, almost all teams—major and minor—re-created games,with most teams re-creating only away games to save money. Many older fans recalled how they preferred the created game to the actual, since the re-creator had a 10 to 30 minute lead time, except that occasionally the teletype would fail. Ronald Reagan, who did Cubs games throughout the Midwest, had to invent, on more than one occasion, marathon foul balls, fights, or power failures.

Perhaps the most popular of the studio broadcasters,  Allbright led the second largest network (next to Mutual’s Game of the Day) –26 states and 117 stations—out of Virginia from 1950 to 63.  Allbright

Nat Allbright "King of the Baseball Re-Creators".
Nat Allbright “King of the Baseball Re-Creators”.

calls what he did a science, using both high and low technology. High-tech resources included tape recordings of “background roar” and “excited crowd” noises; a recording of each stadium’s separate singing of the national anthem; and having a colleague listen to the live game in the next room, or following it via Morse code. Low-tech tools included rapping a pencil against the table for the crack of the bat, crinkling a cigarette wrapper for thunder, or having someone in a nearby bathroom play the role of the echoing PA announcer  (Allbright).

Although they had a lead-time from the actual games, the successful re-creators also had to follow the broadcast atmosphere created by McNamee and other live announcers. To  Allbright  and other re-creators, the artful process required pacing, pause, timing, and building to control the whole tempo of the broadcast. Having the extra time gave a re-creating announcer an opportunity to add the effective comments for his team. For example, broadcasting live, Russ Hodges is famous for screaming after Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard around the world” in the Giants -Dodgers playoff in 1951:”The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”  Allbright, the Dodger re-creating announcer, did it this way:

I announced that Clem Labine was coming in to pitch, then had to change it to Ralph Branca when that was corrected. Suddenly, my associate in the next room started waving his arms like the ball was gone. When he handed me a piece of paper confirming what had happened. I said, ‘A drive to left field—back, back, and that ball is gone! … Unbelievable! It’s out, and I’ll see you next season” (qtd. in Heller).

To further illustrate the pacing and process of re-created games, Allbright, during a personal interview, agreed to re-create a game from the ’50s, while sitting in the glass-enclosed office. While the action below likely only exists in his mind, one should notice how he still uses pacing, byplay, tempo, imagery, and building to make this imaginary game come alive:

Alright, Let’s see…. We’ll open it up in the top half of the ninth inning. The Dodgers lead 3-2. The Giants have the tying run at third and the go-ahead run is at first base with one down. Mueller is on at third and he’s talking now to Leo Durochcr. That’s the tying run and Dusty Rhodes at first for the New York Giants. Dusty came in and hit for Jorgenson here in the ninth and singled to right in front of Carl Flunk. And the batter will be Willie Mays—number 24. He has one for three, right-handed batter. He doubled in the fourth and drove in a run.

Don Newcombe on the mound for the Dodgers, pulls off his cap, walks over now, picks up the rosin bag, looks toward third.

Gil Hodges with the go-ahead run at first base will play close to the bag. He will play the runner Rhodes. He will not be in back of him. Andy Palko back in deep left. Duke Snider, left center. Carl Furillo in right-center field. With Don Hoak third. Pee Wee Reese at shortstop and … Jackie Robinson at second and Gil Hodges at first.

Campanella, in front of the plate, holds up one finger now. Runners on the corners as Willie Mays moves into the batter’s box. Don Newcombe cannot pitch around Willie Mays because the on-deck hitter is Bobby Thompson.

Mays swinging his club back and forth. Newcombe stretches. Looks back to first. Now takes his foot off the rubber. Wipes … pitching hand across DODGERS on the front of the uniform.

Game time tomorrow evening. Friday, will be at seven. Saturday afternoon at one and Sunday at one. And that will finish up the four game set.

The Dodgers lead the National League by four games over these Giants. Newcombe ready, comes in with the pitch … and it’s … inside, close for a ball.

Mays steps out of the batter’s box … goes down for a handful of dirt. It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right.  [Three second delay.]

Newcombe ready on the mound, looks in for the sign, set and delivers. And a SWING and a MISS for a strike.

It’s one and one for Willie Mays. We’re in the bottom half of the ninth inning. Bobby Thompson on deck and it’s a 3-2 ball game. The Dodgers lead by one. Tying run is at third.

Newcombe … on the mound. This guy can let it go. He can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet.

Don Newcombe. Ready. Set. Comes down with the pitch. There’s a GROUND ball past the mound, going to Reese. Reese up with it, over to Robinson. THERE’S ONE. Back to first: A DOUBLE PLAY AND THE DODGERS GET OUT OF IT IN THE NINTH and WIN THE BALL GAME by a score of 3 to 2 over the New York Giants.

So they win the first game of this four game set. And Newcombe and Roy Campanella down below celebrating. There’s Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Gil Hodges. And it’s the HATED Giants GO DOWN in the first game of this four game set.

This is Nat Allbright  at … Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. Re-created and … tomorrow game time will be at seven.

I’ll be back right after these words from … YOUR local … beer dealer.

Ok? [ends]

Without the constant noise level of the imaginary crowd, the hum and buzz of excitement, note how  Allbright  moves in a controlled tempo, with few breaks in the delivery and only one mistake (calling the Giants’ inning the bottom half though the game was at Ebbets Field—perhaps unconsciously thinking of the infamous Thompson home run?). In fact, Allbright’s abilities to convey the color and tension of a real game by his delivery stand out even more without the canned noise. Notice also that Allbright makes the event and his “telling of it” personal without intervening in the game: ‘It’s a bright sunny day with a temperature of about 84 degrees … at Ebbets Field and the wind is blowing … toward right,” hesitating, as if he were actually checking the pennants blowing in the outfield. Another aspect of the “personal” in Allbright’s above sample that differs from some earlier broadcasters and many current ones is that he functions first as a reporter, rather than a fan. Though obviously a “homer” he refrains from pulling directly for the Dodgers, an element many modern team network broadcasters bypass.

The Allbright  re-creation transcribed above reveals how “reportage” can be made vivid by rhythm, figurative language (Newcombe “can make that ball look like an aspirin tablet”), pauses, and pacing. As an indication of the difference in engagement between re-created baseball by Nat  Allbright and on-site baseball broadcasting, one might compare the 1950s’ broadcasts of Mutual’s Game-of-the-Day (live) and  Nat  Allbright’s re-created Dodgers games. By that time, many major league teams were playing games at night during the week and so many weekday games came from Wrigley Field or from minor league venues. I recall coming home from school September afternoons to hear those Mutual games from Chicago and even sometimes from Yankee Stadium when the weather turned too cold for night games: those were long afternoons filled with leisurely and slow games, the action interspersed with banter, such as how announcer Bob Neal’s last name backwards seemed to spell “Lean,” a conversation I somehow recall from fifty years ago! Though I did not perceive of it until recently when I heard the  Allbright  re-creation, the re-created games from the Dodger network were far more appealing because of the constant hum and ebb and flow of canned background ”noise far louder than any real stadium could be, each inning rising to a climactic sound level, almost like eighteen horse races. In another indication of the ”reality” of the re-created broadcasts,  Allbright  recounted during the interview how some of the thousands of listeners from small towns of the South and the Midwest attending spring training games in Florida would seek out the Dodger’s broadcast booth and refuse to accept that Red Barber was the only on-site announcer. Indeed, I remember my own friends in 1957 ready to fight me for telling them that  Nat  Allbright’s broadcasts were re-created, a fact I had learned from the Sporting News.

Allbright remembers Mel Allen telling him that the baseball re-creator had the best of both worlds, broadcasting the games yet getting to remain at home and “sleep in (his) own bed at night.” In many similar ways, the lucky listeners of those re-created games also had the best circumstances possible: the ability to hear the results of the game, the opportunity to listen to a word artist’s re-creations, and the pleasures of the imagination to participate in the game itself in one’s mind’s eye—and ear.

 

WORKS CITED

Allbright. Nat.  Personal Interview. 1 Match 2006.

Heller, Dick.  “Nat Allbright  was the Dodgers to many fans in the 50s.” The Washington Times 10 March 2003: A10.

Kaufman, King. “Baseball Greetings. Ernie Harwell.” Salon Online 27 August 2002. http://archive.solon.com/people/feature/2002/08/27/harwell/index5.html (accessed I5 July 2007).

Morris, Willie. North Toward Home.  Oxford: University of Mississippi Press.1999.

Tygiel, Jules. Past Time: Baseball as History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

 

From Baseball/Literature/Culture: Essays, 2006–2007 ©2008 Edited by Ronald E. Kates and Warren Tormey by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640. www.mcfarlandpub.com.

Working the Game: An Interview with Dan Dickerson, Detroit Tigers Radio

This is the first in a periodic series of interviews, called “Working the Game”, with some of the broadcasting and journalism professionals who work every day in baseball.  Loosely based on the Slate podcast “Working”, these interviews attempt to reveal what it is like to work as a baseball media professional on a day to day basis.

Dan DickersonThis first interview takes place with Dan Dickerson, the play-by-play announcer for the Detroit Tigers Radio Network.  Dickerson is a veteran Michigan sports announcer who is serving his 16th season in the booth, and his 13th as the lead play-by-play radio voice of the Tigers. Dickerson made his Tigers debut in 2000 alongside Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell. Dickerson is available on Twitter at @Dan_Dickerson.

When did you become aware that you wanted to seriously pursue a career as a baseball broadcaster?

Fall term, freshman year, Ohio Wesleyan, 1976, I fell into radio.  They had a 10-watt radio station and you could do anything you wanted. I was a DJ, but then I saw there was a need for someone to do Ohio Wesleyan football, and that was my first play-by-play. I was sitting in the pressbox, corrugated plastic around two chairs and a table, and I was in hog heaven!  So I got hooked on it.

My first job was at a radio station in Grand Rapids, then another job there, and all the time the jobs were in news and I wanted to get into sports, so I got a chance to do high school basketball playoffs there. That just reinforced my belief that play-by-play was what I really wanted to do. My wife was working at the Detroit Free Press, so I finally got to Detroit and [radio station] WWJ, doing news part-time. I got to do Michigan football and basketball, but the more I did baseball, the more I thought, this is what I want to do.  So I asked the Tigers about it in 1999.  I did pre-game and post-game, but I submitted my play-by-play tape in case Ernie [Harwell] ever got sick, and he missed, what, three games in 54 years? And they said they were thinking of adding a third guy to the booth the next year.  I actually applied when Ernie and Paul [Carey, Harwell’s long-time broadcasting partner] were let go [by radio station WJR after the 1991 season] and I obviously didn’t get it, but then I got it in 2000.

So the Tigers was the first baseball team you ever broadcast?

Yeah, isn’t that something? It was the last game at Tiger Stadium [on September 27, 1999] and Ernie gave me one inning of play-by-play. A couple weeks before they asked me whether I wanted to sit in with Ernie for the last couple of innings. I was already doing pre and post-game so we were going to be there all day anyway. Jim Price [Harwell’s then broadcasting partner and Dickerson’s current broadcasting partner] had left to participate in post-game ceremonies and he said I could sit in with Ernie for the last couple of innings. I was in the booth, which was tiny, maybe 8’ x 5’, and then Ernie stands up to stretch after the fourth inning and says, “So what’s the plan?” I told him I think I’m supposed to be here from the seventh inning on after Jim leaves and just stay out of your way until the end of the game. So Ernie asked, “Would you like to do an inning?” I said, naw, it’s your last game at Tiger Stadium. He asked again, “Do you want to do an inning?” Well, I was ready to do an inning and I wasn’t going to say “no” twice, so he gave me the bottom of the seventh and the top of the eighth. It was incredible because here it was, the last game he would ever do at Tiger Stadium, and he’s giving me, who’d never done an inning before, the chance to do one of his last three innings. I think it definitely helped to get me into the booth the next

What do you do to prepare for a game before you get to the ballpark?  Meaning, you get up in the morning, when does your routine start and what does it look like?

I would call the whole season “constant preparation”—you’re always looking ahead to the next series.  My must do’s for every series is, do a bio sheet for every player showing current stats, career stats, and I have their page from Baseball-Reference open. I put below that anything I think is interesting, such as defense, baserunning, basic stats. What kind of a hitter is he—does he walk much, does he strike out much, is he is power hitter—from either Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference. And the Fielding Bible is worth its weight in gold. It’s invaluable because they look at every [defensive] aspect of every position. I get baserunning numbers from the Bill James Handbook. It takes time to build pages for each individual player. That’s step one. Step two is series notes—how do the Tigers play the other team, how the opponent’s stadium “plays” year in and year out, how Tigers players hit each opposing pitcher last year and this, so on. That’s a page or two of notes right there. For instance, the Tigers just went to Pittsburgh, and you had an idea that run scoring was going to drop there because in the previous ten games there they’d scored 21 runs, it’s a pitchers’ ballpark, there aren’t many runs scored there, so that’s the kind of thing I like to give listeners a feel for.

Each day during a series I do a pitcher card, a 4×6 card for each starting pitcher, although instead of typing out the player bio I do the pitcher card handwritten, because you’re updating it every start. Current numbers, trends, recent starts, pitching splits, anything else that’s interesting.  Those are the basics right there.  I also do a team snapshot for each team in the American League Central which I started a couple years ago and update throughout the season with things like offense, defense, speed, baserunning, pitching, health.  Two pages each.

That’s something I really love about my job.  It’s labor intensive, but it’s so fun to me.  I frequently have to cram late at night or early in the morning since I also want to see my family when the team is at home, but once you’ve played every team at least once that season, it becomes easier to do.

How long before a game do you arrive at the ballpark?          

If it’s a home game, I like to get there between 2:00 and 2:30.

What are the key things you do at the ballpark before the game starts?

The hour or so before the clubhouse opens is a good hour.  I get in the booth, the stadium is quiet and beautiful, and I think about what we are going to talk about today.  The clubhouse opens at 3:30.   Brad usually does his media session then.  I do the manager’s show with him after that.  After the Brad show, the team heads out to BP about 4:15. I sometimes head down to the field and see who I can talk to.   I try to stop in the opposing clubhouse at least once a series, maybe talk to the manager or a player.  I like to head up to the booth by 5:00.  I’m glad there’s a first pitch because it would be easy to just look stuff up and write the whole night!  But in that two hours I might be filling out my scorebook or writing notes down or finalizing my pitcher cards.  I might talk to the opposing broadcasters; that’s always fun to me.  Good group of guys.  But I need those last two hours to finalize things because you know you’ll be interrupted or have conversations that will eat up part of that time.

When you’re on the road, because batting practice is 40 or 45 minutes later [than at home], it’s easier to go into the clubhouse early, so you can have conversations with players about things that happened in the past couple of games. Conversations are easier to have on the road.  I would talk to [former Tigers manager] Jim Leyland or [Tigers pitching coach] Jeff Jones, and I might take my scorebook and do the lineups there because you might end up having a conversation with someone there.

What is the easiest thing, and what is the hardest thing, to do while the broadcast is in progress?

In Spring Training, the hardest thing is figuring out who’s on the field!  [Laughs] Give me the regular season every time. There’s nothing that’s really hard.  Just try to think ahead like a manager, especially when you get to the late innings, such as if the starter is tiring and getting knocked around, who’s available in the bullpen, what matchups do we have, all that.  I will never think at that level, because there’s so many things a manager thinks of that we’ll never know, but it’s fun to try to do.  If I’ve done my preparation, if I have my binders there, I might put those to the side and chances are I might not even open it for more than a batter or two during the game.  You’ve done your work, you set it aside, and you have it with you if you need it during the game.

What do you do in between innings of a broadcast?

It’s a minute-forty break, so it’s pretty quick.  I might stand up and stretch, get something to drink.  Sometimes you just let your brain go free for a minute and a half, then get back to it. Other times you might look something up, but usually I just look out at the ballpark, chat with Jim or chat with the engineer, or just stare blankly at the field for a minute. [Laughs] You do have to remember to stand up—you do have to move a little bit.

Once the broadcast is over, what are the final things you have to do before you leave the ballpark?

You got the post-game, so we’re there to make sure we get it to the next break. That goes pretty quickly.  There’s the player of the game, the play of the game, the stat of the game.  It’s a scoreboard show; there’s no heavy lifting.  That takes probably 20 to 25 minutes. I’ll do post game recaps on Twitter, for the fan out there who wants to know what went on during the game, the things that stood out.  Then I might write a game recap for 97.1 [FM, the Tigers’ flagship radio station], and they provide a link to it, with two or three highlights.

When you go on a road trip, how does your daily routine differ from when you’re working a homestand?

When I’m home, I want to make myself available for my family. I try to spend some time with my kids and my wife.  So you’re getting up earlier, or staying up later, to do your work.

The road is a little easier than at home, where you can throw yourself into your work more.   There’s always something to read.  I’m not a fast reader so I print out a lot of stuff! [Laughs]  Stuff I might never get to, but I try to keep up with things that are said about the [sport] and challenge assumptions made, such as whether relief pitching is truly dominating the game today and whether good hitting teams are better at hitting relief pitching.  I didn’t find any correlation for that, but that was a nice hour diversion.  That kind of thing takes time, and it’s easier to do that on the road.

When you’re traveling with the team, what is your favorite thing to do on the road?

I’m pretty boring!  I like finding a good bookstore.  I don’t really go out.  Most people ask, don’t you go out and get a good meal?  Usually not because most games are at night. You’re leaving late after the game and I don’t like to be by myself at a nice restaurant anyway! [Laughs] I don’t do much sightseeing by myself, I’d rather do that with my wife.  I like to walk around cities a little bit.  Sometimes in Seattle, though, I hop on a ferry to the islands and take in the gorgeous setting.  But usually, between getting my workout in, and my work in, the days go pretty quick.  I like cities and I like the ballparks, but I don’t do a whole lot of exploring on the road.

What are the most common pitfalls to avoid while broadcasting baseball games?

It’s a constant challenge to stay on top of some plays.  Guys like José Iglesias [Tiger shortstop] are not good for broadcasters because they’ll do [amazing] stuff and you have to try to describe it and you think, “I can’t keep up with this guy!”  He’ll do things I’ve never seen before.

There are some games that move very quickly, and you’re not painting as much of a picture as you would like to be, such as where defenders are or describing things on the field.  But you have to think about people tuning in and what they need to know, such as what the score is. Don’t be afraid to give the score more! Because people are always tuning in and out.

The advice I always got from Ernie, when I was thinking about how was I going to do this for 162 games and feeling a little anxious, was: “get what’s in front of you right.  Give the listener a clear understanding of what’s happening.  Everything else is style.”  That’s probably the best guidance for a radio play-by-play person.  Does the listener have a clear understanding of what happened?  And that’s what makes a guy like Iglesias such a challenge to describe. So sometimes it’s best just to describe the basics of the play, and then go back and fill in the details, because there’s just too much going on in the moment.

Sometimes, if I see a play I haven’t seen before, I will practice that same play on the way home.   I’ll think, “OK, I screwed that play up”, and I’ll just run it through my brain, and I’ll practice the call again so that next time I’ll call it correctly.  There’re just some plays that trip you up.

When the team has a day off, how do you spend your time?

You get maybe 15 or 16 off days during the season, other than the All-Star break. Some of those are travelling, but there aren’t many of those anymore.  Like, you’re off on Monday and you’re traveling—that’s not much of an off day to me.   They’ve gotten better at that.

How do you spend time over the All-Star break?

I’ve been going to West Michigan since I was a wee lad, so we rent a cottage there.  I go from Sunday to Friday, and it’s heaven just to relax for a few days.  I might have to do a little work, but I like what I do, so it’s not like I have to “do work”.   When you have an off day on the road or at home, you’re always thinking about the next series, so having those four days at the Break, where you don’t really have to do anything if you don’t want to, is heaven.

How do you spend your time during the offseason?  Do you do any broadcasting?  

I don’t like doing a whole lot.  I do a radio talk show in January and February, one hour, once a week, Tigers talk with [97.1 radio host] Pat Caputo. A few events for Fox Sports Detroit, anywhere from five to eight events.  I call the Michigan High School Football Championships—I’ll do two to three games most years. That’s fun. I try to do a little bit of hockey. I’d like to get more college hockey, maybe five to seven games a year.  That would be great. Talk about being out of your comfort zone! Mike Emrick, who is the very best, gave me a good tip: when you’re calling Michigan State-Ohio State hockey game on TV, you’re describing for a Michigan State audience, so when two guys go into the corner, you just have to get the Michigan State guy’s name. You don’t have to name everyone on every play, because it’s TV.  If it were radio, and I tried to practice it, just … forget it.  But I really like hockey.

What baseball announcers do you most admire, both retired and currently active, and why?

Ernie [Harwell] is at the top, because I grew up listening to him.  That ability to wear well over a summer is a special thing.  As a listener you like having that radio on—or these days, your phone or your computer—and you like the sound of the game being called, even if it’s as background, while you’re doing something else.  That how I listen.  I felt the same way about George Kell and Al Kaline, on TV.  I love their style, the sound, how they called the game.  I recall where I was listening to many key moments in the 80s and 90s … well, there weren’t many key moments [for the Tigers] in the 90s, but … [Laughs]. But I remember right where I was when [Ernie] called [those moments].

When my wife and I lived in different cities for a while I used to drive across Michigan to see her, so I would like to pull in other cities and their broadcasts.  I liked Bob Uecker in Milwaukee.  My exposure to him was late night with Johnny Carson, Mr. Belvedere … but then you hear him call a game and you think, “Wow, this guy is really good.”

Joe Block, who was one of my wife’s students (at Michigan State), he’s the middle innings guy in Milwaukee.  I try to listen to him when I can.  Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo with Oakland do a terrific job.  Ken’s got a very smooth delivery and Vince does a good job—that’s a good team.  The Tampa Bay guys do a very nice job, Dave [Wills] and Andy [Freed], good voices.  Dave O’Brien [Red Sox] is very good.  Gary Thorne [Orioles]—he does TV, but I wish he did radio—he’s right at the top.  Tom Hamilton [Indians], I’ll listen to him, I like him.  Tom and I have become very good friends.   He’s not that much older than me but he’s been in the job longer than me.  I was just a middle innings guy in 2000 and he immediately befriended me and treated me like one of the guys.  The career advice he’s given me has been great.

What’s are some of the things, or maybe even the one big thing, you wish ordinary fans knew about your job?

Good question. [Laughs]  Understand that we’re going to make a mistake once in a while and we can’t erase it, we can’t hit a delete button.  Five hundred hours of being on the air, you’re going to slip up once or twice.

Jim Leyland sat in with us one inning in Spring Training, in this tiny little booth in Lakeland, which he’d never done before.  We’re watching from behind home plate, and there’s no monitor, since it’s not a regular season game.  So, the batter takes what I think is a weak swing, looks like he’s flailing at an off-speed pitch, so I said, “he swings and misses on a changeup.”  Well, I look at the board and it says “95 MPH”.  After the inning, Jim is joking with me: “Whoa, he swung at a 95 MPH changeup!  He must have a 105 MPH fastball!”  He hasn’t let me forget that ever since!  Every time I see him … we’re watching David Price pitching 95 in Cleveland, Jim Leyland’s in the booth next door with Dave Dombrowski, and he looks over at me and he’s giving me the changeup motion with his left hand and he’s going, “like this?”  [Laughs]

Sometimes people wonder if I’m a homer.  I am employed by the team.  But the thing I appreciate is that the Tigers have never, in sixteen years, told me what I can and cannot say, about a player or anything.  But you use your brain and realize that things you say will get back to the players.  If you report that a player’s 2-for-24, they don’t mind that.  But if you get personal with them and talk about bad effort, it’s different and you’re going to hear about it.  You shouldn’t say anything on the air that you wouldn’t say to their face.

If you were the King of Baseball Announcing and you could make any changes or improvements to the broadcasting profession or the process, what would they be?

I joke about this with the sales guys all the time, but the constant reads that you have to do.   I have a good relationship with the head sales guy at 97.1, and I understand they pay the bills but I’ll always push back on that, we want to make sure we’re not interrupting the broadcast with too many reads, or cluttering the broadcast, and he understands that.  But I think we’ve gotten to the point where we get the reads in at the beginning of an inning, satisfy the sponsors, and then get on with the game.  I think we’ve struck a good balance, and that’s always the battle, and you’re spoiled because you just want to call the game and not be bothered, but you know you have to pay the bills.