One of the great things about baseball is that it pauses between pitches. These breaks may well be too long by now, but they give the players time to reset, the fans an occasion to notice what happened, the broadcasters space to articulate, and (in the case of a Texas League game I caught on the Internet last week) occasion to note that the Midland-Corpus Christi score mirrored an early-’80s film: “9 to 5.”
Each team has its own mikemen (or women), of course, and each fan’s tastes are different. A little of what the audience does or doesn’t want to hear mixed with the myriad combinations of talent to listen to creates a vast wasteland of opinions about whose dulcet tones ought to be bronzed and whose less-than-dulcet ones should fade into distant AM radio static. These opinions are a time-honored tradition: after all, the art of debating baseball must be only a few minutes younger than the game itself.
We may never satisfy the question of who was (or is) best, but the SABR national-telecast database gives us one window to that answer, through the eyes of whom the networks deemed worthy of putting on the air.
At the close of play on July 19, 175 broadcasters have done play-by-play of a Major League Baseball game on national television. The roster of TV analysts is even deeper, with 234 people filling that spot for the national pastime at least once. Simple math would suggest that those numbers leave about 41,000 possible combinations of one play-by-play announcer and one analyst.
(For the moment, we’ll limit ourselves to just the folks that work in the booth, or at least ply the conventional color-commentary trade, even if they do so from field level a la Doug Glanville.)
Of course, the vast majority of these combinations never happened, for a variety of reasons. Bob Stanton, who voiced the first MLB telecast in 1947, passed away in 1989. That means he couldn’t have worked any of the last 7,252 telecasts (and means he was off this planet a full two months before Matt Harvey was even born).
All told, 1,555 pairs of broadcasters have worked together at least once on national television, with about four-fifths of that total (1,224) covering a game together as the only two men in the booth. A little more than half of those pairs worked together exactly once, and two-thirds of the remainder worked together fewer than five times.
In this initial post, we’ll focus on the twenty broadcast tandems who have worked together the most often, in ascending order. Since 1961, the major-league season has been 26 weeks long, so at the very least, if these crews called on average one game per week, they would have to have worked together for at least 2½ years.
Before we begin, take a moment to ponder who you think might be named as being among the most frequent combinations. Some of them might not spring to mind immediately, but give it a shot (and try not to cheat by looking down the article for the answers).
I’ll give you a moment … cue the “Think” theme music …
Have some in mind, now? OK.
Here, then, are the bottom ten of the top twenty two-man pairings in the history of MLB on national TV.
20. Monte Moore and Wes Parker (71 games)
If you’re like me, your list was just proven incomplete right off the bat. Moore, the voice of the A’s in Kansas City and Oakland for 15 years, joined six-time Gold Glover Wes Parker on the air for parts of six seasons from 1978 to 1983. The duo had the misfortune of working on cable in its infancy, calling Thursday night games for USA Network, but also handled several backup telecasts on NBC’s Game of the Week.
19. Gary Thorne and Dave Campbell (75 games)
When ESPN picked up cable rights in 1990 and sent the amount of televised baseball through the roof, Thorne and Campbell were two of the primary beneficiaries. This duo was the primary Wednesday night crew in 1991 and 1992, two years that accounted for 58 of their broadcasts, including ESPN’s first visit to new Comiskey Park on April 24, 1991. They worked together for the last time in 1999.
18. Jim Simpson and Tony Kubek (85 games)
The third-most common voice heard on national baseball broadcasts, Kubek was to be expected on this list, and he’ll appear three more times. But before Kubek worked the playoffs with the men alongside whom he’s usually remembered, he spent three seasons with Simpson on NBC’s backup Game of the Week telecast from 1966 through 1968. Simpson is one of five men to call all four major sports on national TV: in their first season together, he missed the July 30 broadcast to handle the first American broadcast of a World Cup final.
17. Kenny Albert and Jeff Torborg (86 games)
Two men associated with the Fox broadcast network, Albert and Torborg didn’t appear together on your local Fox affiliate until 2004. During their first four years together from 1997 to 2000, the former Dodger catcher and the son of broadcasting legend Marv Albert worked weeknight games on FX and Fox Sports Net before resurfacing for nine regional Saturday afternoon games in 2004 and 2005.
16. Lindsey Nelson and Leo Durocher (94 games)
Nelson was known as “Mister New Year’s Day” for his work on the Cotton Bowl, but in his prime he added baseball, pro football and what might be dubbed proto-NBA to his repertoire. From 1957 to 1959, the Tennessean with the colorful sport coats joined Leo “The Lip” Durocher to call NBC’s Game of the Week, although it was blacked out in markets within 50 miles of major-league parks. Owing to a sponsorship conflict, for 47 of their games, a network of stations in the southeast heard only Nelson and Durocher for 4½ innings before they gave way mid-game to another set of announcers.
15. Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons (102 games)
The number-two crew at Fox for several years in the early 2000s, this duo covered a pair of League Championship Series in 2001 and 2002 and a pair of contests (Arizona/Atlanta in 2001 and Minnesota/Anaheim in 2002) that were split between Fox and Fox Sports Net. The pairing, like Lyons’ national career, ended abruptly when Fox dismissed Lyons for making racially insensitive comments during the 2006 American League Championship Series.
14. Steve Physioc and Dave Campbell (108 games)
When you say their nicknames back-to-back, “Phys” and “Soup” sound like a cooking experiment gone awry. The ESPN programming department, thankfully bereft of minds that work like mine, looked past that and combined the two for 106 contests (most of which started at 10:30 p.m. Eastern) from 1990 to 1993. In their third game together, they saw Brian Holman of the Mariners lose a perfect game to a home run with two outs in the ninth. When Campbell left for the Rockies’ booth in 1994, the pair reunited for two games on ABC in 1994 and 1995.
13. Jim Simpson and Sandy Koufax (113 games)
From 1969 to 1972, Simpson and Koufax covered NBC’s backup Game of the Week that was seen in markets in which the primary contest was blacked out. They got a dozen playoff games out of the deal, all in the League Championship Series, but (perhaps owing to the East Coast afternoon start time of most of their schedule) never visited Koufax’s Chavez Ravine stomping grounds and saw the Dodgers only twice.
12. Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner (116 games)
One of three pairings in this top 20 where both commentators played in the majors, Dean and Blattner were the first men tapped to call a national regular-season broadcast when they took the air for ABC on May 30, 1953. All of their games were blacked out in major-league markets, which probably explains how Dean lasted as long as he did despite speaking not quite the King’s English and singing “The Wabash Cannonball.” Dean and Blattner moved to CBS from 1955 to 1958, where they never called a World Series: however, they did call Jim Bunning’s first no-hitter, 57 years ago last Monday. They worked together in 1959 as well, but since that booth also included George Kell, those games do not count toward the total. Blattner went on to handle play-by-play for the 1964 NBA All-Star Game and was a three-time gold medalist at the table-tennis world championships.
11. Jim Simpson and Maury Wills (117 games)
After first Kubek and then Koufax moved on to greener pastures, Simpson teamed with another former Dodger on the backup Game of the Week from 1973 through 1977. Like Simpson and Koufax, Simpson and Wills never visited Los Angeles as a broadcast team, and Wills finished his NBC career calling the Dodgers’ NLDS loss to Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 1977. Simpson jumped to ESPN when that network started in 1979; Wills lasted through 1978 at the network level and then spent two years in the booth for USA Network.
In the second installment of this series, we’ll look at the top ten combinations, including two sets of ESPN stalwarts and a succession of legends in the booth at NBC.