Category Archives: Television

When Two Announcers Were Too Many (Or Three Were Not Enough)

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.

In this still image from The Naked Gun: From The Files of Police Squad!, six announcers share the booth. MLB national telecasts haven’t gone THAT far. Yet.

(Last week, we looked at the most frequent two-announcer pairings, first from 20th place to 11th place and then the top ten. Earlier this week, the three-man booth took center stage.)

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.

Titanic Trios: Gowdy, Michaels and Jackson Join Baseball Stalwarts

Last week, we took a trip through the SABR national-telecast database to look at some of the most frequent announcer pairings in baseball history. Then we did it again, because the first post was so much fun.

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.

Sometimes, life imitates art; in this case, baseball mimics frozen dairy products. (Photo by Wikipedia user Celestianpower, in public domain)
Sometimes, life imitates art; in this case, baseball mimics frozen dairy products. (Photo by Wikipedia user Celestianpower, in public domain)

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.

6. Dizzy Dean/Pee Wee Reese/Jerry Coleman (46 games)
While they worked together for only a single season in 1960, Dean, Coleman and Reese earned their spot on this list by teaming up on both Saturday and Sunday throughout the season. Their season was marred by an incident in which Coleman, who had served in World War II and Korea, continued an interview with Cookie Lavagetto during the playing of the national anthem. After Coleman left the CBS booth, he worked for Yankees, Angels and Padres over more than 50 years; Dean and Reese stayed together until CBS lost baseball in 1965.

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.

After losing their feed from Candlestick Park during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, ABC posted a graphic on screen while Michaels, Palmer and McCarver contributed audio only.
After losing their feed from Candlestick Park during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, ABC posted a graphic on screen while Michaels, Palmer and McCarver contributed audio only.

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.

Dynamic Duos II: “Game of the Week” Dominates Frequent Pairings

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.

BC stalwarts Tony Kubek, left, and Joe Garagiola each appear on several of the most common broadcast pairings in baseball history.
NBC stalwarts Tony Kubek, left, and Joe Garagiola each appear on several of the most common broadcast pairings in baseball history. 

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.

Dynamic Duos: A Look At Baseball’s Top Broadcast Pairings

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.

If You’re a Baseball TV Ratings Geek, You Will Really Enjoy This Story

I will totally cop to being a ratings geek.  Even when I was a kid and they would publish local TV or radio ratings once a quarter in the entertainment section of the paper, I would immediately glue myself to the story and memorize the numbers and rankings. I love ratings so much, I selected my college major and career path just so they could be a part of my work.  So when I see an article like Maury Brown’s in Forbes from the other day, it’s like handing me a pound of peanut M&Ms and saying, here you go, chow down.

Brown takes a good look at the Nielsen TV ratings for the 29 clubs based in the U.S. (Toronto is in Canada and thus is not measured by Nielsen, so they’re not included here.) I would recommend you go on over and read his story for yourself, but if you can’t make time, here are a few high points from it:

  • Local baseball telecasts continue to dominate their markets during prime time (defined as 8p-11p Eastern and Pacific, and 7p-10p Central and Mountain). Ten teams rank #1 in their markets, led by Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Another six come in at #2 or #3. This is amazing because almost all the telecasts run on cable regional sports networks, which do not have penetration into all the TV households in their markets, yet they routinely outpull even broadcast (aka “over-the-air”) stations in total viewers.
  • If you exclude broadcast stations from the analysis, baseball ranks #1 for 24 of the 25 local TV markets (except only Houston, who are handicapped by having to overcome a horrible TV situation with Comcast Sportsnet  from last year).
  • The Royals are riding their surprise World Series appearance and fast start this year to a +114% ratings increase versus last year, which puts them at the top with an astounding 12.7 household (HH) rating.  This means that 12.7% of all TV HH in Kansas City are tuned to the Royals at any given time. The Royals have both the highest rating and the greatest increase over last.  The Cardinals are second with a 10.2 HH rating. The Tigers (7.7), Pirates (7.6) and Mariners (6.3) round out the top five in ratings.
  • After the Royals, the  Cubs are riding a similar surge in win-loss record, plus exciting new young players, to a similar increase in ratings: +112% over last year, up to 3.1 from 1.5.  The Padres (+52%), Cardinals (+35%) and Nationals (+29%) round out this top five.  On the flip side, the White Sox are disappointing on TV as well as on the field, losing viewers at a -42% clip over 2014.  The Indians (-36%), Braves (-32%), Brewers (-27%) and Reds (-25%) have had similarly horrifying ratings losses, and yet, these latter four teams are still the #1 ratings grabbers in their markets.
  • In terms of total average viewers, big markets rule: The Yankees (206,000) and Mets (180,000) are 1-2, with the Red Sox (146,000), Tigers (141,000) and Cardinals (125,000) coming in at #3 through #5.

Here is the table from the Maury Brown story.  You can click through it to go directly to his story over at Forbes.

h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.
h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.

Tonight’s Mariner-Yankee Game Will Be the First Game Broadcast in 8K. What Does That Even Mean?

You may have run across this story a couple weeks ago: tonight’s game between the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium will be broadcast in 8K.

“8K” is a short name for something that might seem somewhat big and confusing to understand, but I will try to explain it in simple terms.

If you already have a standard HD TV, its maximum resolution in pixels is 1920 (in width) x 1080 (in height).  This is the same kind of screen resolution terminology used for your laptop or computer monitor, and you can see what that is right now by going to WhatIsMyScreenResolution.com.  Maybe your computer already uses 1920 x 1080, which would match an HD TV. My laptop comes in at 1600 x 900. The most common computer screen resolution is 1366 x 768.

The next big advancement in screen resolution for TVs is 4K, which has a max resolution of 3840 x 2160. How did they come up with the name “4K”? Because 3840 is close to 4,000; thus, “4K”.  If you like the resolution you get on your current HD TV, you will love the resolution of a 4K TV, which you can see for yourself by going to any store that has an electronics department.

So, you can get a 4K TV today if you want, but you won’t be able to see much 4K content on it. Even though top providers like DirecTV and Comcast’s Xfinity already have 4K boxes customers can obtain, only a few odd movie titles and TV series even offer true 4K, and none of that content includes major networks like ESPN, HBO, USA … or, sadly, anything MLB.  That should change within the next few years, but for now, unless you have too much money sitting around or you crave cutting edge technology, you probably want to wait before buying a 4K TV set.

OK, so, what about 8K? The screen resolution for 8K is 7680 x 4320, which is four times sharper than a 4K resolution, and even though 4K as a technology has fairly recently been released and is probably within a couple of years of widespread adoption, 8K is already nipping on its heels.  In fact, some industry insiders are predicting that 8K is coming on so fast that it won’t even make sense for consumers to get a 4K set, because by the time 4K is ready to become commonplace, something four times as good will be ready to go. (That prediction doesn’t take into account the possibility of a coordinated controlled rollout strategy by electronics manufacturers so they can maximize revenue from 4K technology before they start an 8K rollout, but this isn’t a forum for the discussion on the nature of free markets versus corporate collusion.)

All of which brings us full circle back to tonight’s Mariners-Yankees game: it’s going to be broadcast in 8K. But you and I and everybody else aren’t going to be able to see it, so why bother? They are bothering because they want to gauge the feasibility of broadcasting the game in higher-than-today’s high definition, which includes both 8K and 4K.  Eventually, the new technology will be taken advantage of, so they want to start that evaluation process tonight by viewing an 8K-resolution game in the one Yankee Stadium suite in which it will be available in order to answer the question, “Can this actually be a thing?”

Major League Baseball probably does have a while to think about and work on it, though. Current estimates call for 22 million 4K TV shipments by 2017 and 1 million 8K TV shipments by 2019.  That might sound like a lot, but considering we live in a world with 1.5 billion TV households, including about 116 million in the US, you can see that there is a long way to go before most households will have either one, and most likely not until 2020-something.

So, it will probably be a while before you and I shell out the bucks for something better than the HD sets we have today.  But it’s also good to know what’s coming down the pike, too.

(NOTE: I had to do a significant edit to change the explanation how they arrived at 4K and 8K as an explanation.  As the kids of 1995 like to say, “my bad”.)

The First Use of the Center Field Camera on a Local Telecast Happened 57 Years Ago

SABR member James Braswell shared a brief piece that ran in the Chicago Tribune 57 years ago today:

CF Camera Tribune

This isn’t the first time a televised baseball game featured the now common shot of the plate from a camera in center field over well 400 feet away, but the 1958 tilt between the hometown Chicago Cubs and the visiting Cincinnati Redlegs is believed to be the first local game to do so. NBC, after “weeks of experimenting by engineers at [Milwaukee NBC affiliate] WTMJ-TV”, had successfully aired the first game to feature a center field camera during the previous year’s World Series.

Here is an article that ran in the Sporting News back then describing in fairly precise detail how the new camera angle worked:

CF Camera Sporting News

Thanks for the Tribune article, James!

 

Around the Dial: Database Update, O’Brien Crosses 450

Data Overload: The database of network television broadcasts has been updated through the end of May and now includes 10,465 games. The list of most common announcers is up to date as well.

The year’s first national-TV rainout struck Saturday night in Chicago, wiping out the Royals-Cubs tilt until Monday, Sept. 28. That deprived Cubs TV voice Len Kasper of his third chance to work on Fox and C.J. Nitkowski of his 13th.

Dave O’Brien became the seventh man to handle 450 national telecasts when he did the Yankees-Orioles game for ESPN. He’s the third person to hit that milestone on play-by-play, following Jon Miller and Joe Buck.

The next active play-by-play man on that list is Dan Shulman of ESPN with 374 games. Shulman will be off next week, however, as he coaches his son’s baseball team. Karl Ravech steps in for that game, and Mark Mulder will replace Curt Schilling, who’s headed to Oklahoma City to analyze the Women’s College World Series.

Speaking of ESPN and unusual commentator assignments, the Worldwide Leader will deploy “The Shift” on Wednesday night for the Dodgers-Rockies game. Jon Sciambi and pitching analyst Rick Sutcliffe will work from the box, with Eric Wedge (managing) and Eduardo Perez (hitting) in the dugout-level camera wells. Fielding analyst Doug Glanville gets set up in the outfield stands. The entire exercise strikes me as an attempt to mask quality with quantity (except for Glanville, who can hold his own with any broadcast partner out there), but obviously ESPN believes it works for them.

The National Pastime at All Hours of the Night: A pair of national broadcasts this season have taken a page from the Paul Simon playbook, going “Late in the Evening.” The Royals and Tigers played till 1:16 a.m. on May 10 after a 103-minute deluge (and an extra-inning game to boot).

A month earlier, Bob Costas and John Smoltz outlasted the late-night talk shows as they called a 19-inning Red Sox-Yankees game on MLB Network. That game ran almost seven hours, longer if you include a delay to fix a twelfth-inning power outage. The 2:13 a.m. finish was the second-latest in the database, following only a 2:26 (EDT) conclusion to Game 3 of the 1998 Rangers/Yankees Division Series, and that game had a 3:16 rain delay.

On This Date…

June 7 will mark 51 years since Pee Wee Reese became the most common national television analyst in MLB history, unseating Buddy Blattner. Reese held that crown until Tony Kubek passed him in 1974.

Eleven years ago on June 14, Michael Reghi and Frank Viola went off the air from Citizens Bank Park at 2:03 a.m. Their Reds/Phillies game, an ESPN broadcast, was delayed three times by rain.

On June 17, 1978, Kubek worked his 449th national telecast, passing Dizzy Dean for the most in MLB history.

We’ll cut off the list there for the moment, in anticipation of a couple anniversaries later in the month that deserve more than two sentences of recognition.

A Sportswriter’s Response to ABC-TV’s Wacky 60-Game MLB Schedule Idea

On Wednesday we shared the—how to put this diplomatically?—”out of the box idea” that ABC-TV, or at least its president Thomas W. Moore, offered up to Major League Baseball: cut your season to 60 games, play only on the weekends, promote the games as major television events along the lines of college and pro football, and watch the money roll in.

OK, I’m liberally paraphrasing (probably), but that was the gist of his proposal.  Mark Aubrey, who runs Baseball Nuggets, a really interesting historical baseball site composed mainly of old newspaper articles offered up “as is”, tipped us off to that one.

One might think that the tepid response to this nutty idea by network rivals CBS and NBC (who had actual major league baseball games on their airwaves while ABC did not), as well as by then-Commissioner Ford Frick, would have been pretty much the extent of the response.  I mean, come on: who was going to take this idea seriously?

Francis Stann. That’s who.

A sports columnist for the Washington Evening Star, a major DC daily that published until 1981, Stann took the proposal seriously enough to fashion a response that could best be described as “indignant”. Because when you spell out the word you use to describe the nature of an obviously ridiculous and unworkable proposal as “G-R-E-E-D”, you’re undoubtedly steeped in indignation in a deep way.  If he’d’ve written this article two decades on, he might have been advised thusly: “Lighten up, Francis.” That said, it is an entertaining read, which we present to you below.

For more articles related to this, including a happy ending article in which ABC-TV is awarded the rights to baseball broadcasts for a cool $12 million over two seasons starting in 1965, check out the rest of Mark’s article over at Baseball Nuggets.

Stann Article

ABC-TV Once Suggested that Major League Baseball Reduce Their Regular Season Schedule to 60 Games!

Rob Manfred, the rookie Commissioner of Baseball, stoked increased discussion about MLB reducing its regular season this past February. You yourself have probably had discussions with other fans about this many times over the years, so you likely know that a lot of people who consider themselves big fans of the game nevertheless wouldn’t mind seeing less of it. Proponents of shortening the schedule usually maintain that 162 games is just way too many to play in a season and argue that the season goes too late in the year, topping it off with the horrific vision of a November World Series game getting snowed out.

The weather point starts to frost up a bit when you consider that in cities where playing in cold weather is an issue, early November runs anywhere from one to five degrees warmer on average than early April, as well as drier. No matter: the weather argument has a lot of traction in the debate, and occupies a trump card in proponents’ hand at the moment.  A better, recently proffered argument is that players would benefit from a season of fewer games to help preserve their health and perhaps lengthen their careers.

There is some general merit to the latter point, although the funniest thing to me about this debate is that the number of games most advocates invariably choose to reduce the season to is 154.  The difference between 162 and 154 is not all that great, less than 5% of games, so would a season of 154 games provide all that much more relief to an everyday player than one of 162?  That seems a somewhat dubious proposition.  So why is 154 always the magic number in these debates?  Why not 144, or 140, or 134? Might it be that nostalgia plays a significant role in the advocacy of the 154 solution? I might place a bet on that, if one were available.

Nothing nostalgic about a solution that ABC television came up with over a half century ago to reduce the season, though.  They didn’t suggest 154, or 144, or anything as incremental as that. Their suggestion: play a 60-game season, on weekends only, and promote it the way that football is promoted, as a major television event.

This idea brought chuckles of disbelief from their rivals at CBS and NBC and the kind of dismissals reserved for the crazy political ideas that one uncle of yours evangelizes at every Thanksgiving dinner. Commissioner-at-the-time Ford Frick was reportedly equally unimpressed, the article stating flatly that “the public is satisfied with the way things are now, and he is too.”

Undaunted, ABC did not stop there with the out-of-the-box ideas. They believed other sports could benefit from dramatic changes, too, such as professional golfers competing with each other on a season-long points system administered by the PGA; the USOC holding regional Olympic competitions to better prepare the nation for the actual quadrennial event; and college football doing away with the bowl system and replacing it with a March Madness-style playoff instead.  As you can see, not all their ideas were total clunkers.

The original article, published in the wonderfully alliterative Rockford Register-Republic in April 1964, is reprinted below.  Hat tip to Mark Aubrey, who featured this in a post on his own blog located here.

 

ABC-60games