Tag Archives: Frank Gifford

Gifford Sparks Inquiry Into Baseball’s Player-Play-By-Play Pipeline

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:

Buck Martinez
Ed Farmer
Darrin Jackson
Ron Darling
Mike Shannon
Don Sutton

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’s One Degree of Separation from Baseball Broadcasters

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.

Frank Gifford never worked any baseball broadcasts, but he worked with a bunch of guys who did. View image | gettyimages.com

 

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.