It is uncertain whether a young Vin Scully or Dick Enberg
starting off today would be allowed to achieve greatness
Why do broadcasts need to be ruined by untrained former players and babbling, superficial play-by-play voices who spend too much time competing for air time and talking about themselves?
By David Maril
Two of baseball’s top all-time baseball voices hung up their microphones at the end of this regular season. What does it say about the state of baseball announcers when two of the best in 2016 were 88 (Vin Scully) and 81 years-old (Dick Enberg)?
Scully, who had been doing Dodgers games since 1950, retired with great fanfare on a national level. Enberg, perhaps better known for terrific, Super Bowl play-by-play of NFL football, ended his baseball career more quietly. The San Diego Padres’ market is a lot less significant than Scully’s Los Angeles, and also Brooklyn, where his Dodger legacy began.
Scully’s Hall of Fame career has been highlighted from all angles in documentaries, magazine profiles, interviews all over the country, and hundreds of moving personal reminiscences from retired and active ballplayers. A favorite of mine belongs to Rick Monday, a former Dodger player and currently a colleague of Scully’s on the team’s broadcast crew. He grew up in Los Angeles and his family had always listened to the Dodgers games. When Monday was traded to the Dodgers, after a number of decent seasons with the A’s and Cubs, he said his mother’s proudest day, related to his career as a baseball player, was when she heard Vin Scully talking about him on the team’s broadcast. To her that was full acknowledgement he had arrived as a big leaguer.
HOWEVER, LOST in all this coverage is the essence of what made Scully, Enberg, and all those captivating voices from the past, so great, bringing the game to life in the days when AM radio and 50,000 watt stations ruled the airwaves. These broadcasters usually worked alone, capturing the pace, drama and mood of the game. They were colorful, entertaining, and succinct enough to wear well over a 162-game season and not become annoying or repetitious.
Surprising to me was in all the coverage of Scully, little attention was paid to how he, at age 88, was still so effective and entertaining working every single inning and calling every pitch by himself. There were no babbling former players, overstating the obvious and making an infield setting up at double play depth sound like brain surgery. There was no chatter back and forth with another play-by-play partner about what they had for dinner yesterday or some stupid, trivial story related to them personally. Scully talked plenty between pitches. But only at the appropriate times and not in tension-packed situations. When he did tell stories, it was interesting background about the players and the history of the game. Not about himself.
As a native of Baltimore, I follow the Orioles pretty closely, watching them on TV and catching radio games. Yet, when the Orioles played three games in Los Angeles this summer, I learned a number of things about individual players from the 88-year-old Scully’s telecasts that I had never heard from nearly a dozen Baltimore announcers, including former players, with the team all season.
IT MAKES YOU WONDER whether a young Vin Scully breaking into major league baseball would be allowed to develop into what he became. If you really like baseball, watching and listening to the games today is a challenge. Most of the announcers either don’t know their place or they are not allowed to settle into what their roles should be. Beside the endless chatter with too many mouths trying to justify their reasons for being stuffed into overcrowded booths, there is way too much shrieking and screaming over inconsequential plays.
Scully reserved his dramatic calls for crucial moments. And he would usually step back from the microphone after the big hit or play to let the roar of the crowd take over. This sort of restraint, instead of two announcers trying to scream over the cheering, was a lot more common in the old days. Even the loquacious Harry Caray realized this and, after a a Stan Musial or Ryne Sandberg home run had landed into the stands, he would exclaim, “Listen to the crowd.”
Growing up as a kid before cable and access to so many televised games, listening to baseball games from all over he country over distant radio stations is what helped shape my interest in baseball. Spending summers on Cape Cod, it was a revelation when one night playing around with a radio I was able to get the Orioles, with Chuck Thompson, on powerhouse WBAL, 500 miles away. From the East coast, you could follow the Yankees, Mets, Tigers, Reds and Senators. When the atmospheric conditions were right, you could also hear Pirates games plus the Cardinals, White Sox and Astros.
The local announcers were, for the most part, colorful and distinctive. They divided the innings up, so each one worked solo, and effectively drew you in, describing the action and the atmosphere. There were commercials that had to be weaved in, but there was not as much shilling with almost every pitch sponsored by something or someone the way it sometimes seems today.
TODAY WE NO LONGER HAVE to battle static at night, trying to pull in a distant radio broadcast. No matter where you live, every game is accessible. All the radio broadcasts are available through satellite or Internet packages. The telecasts can be viewed by purchasing different cable, internet and satellite plans. I watch and listen to a number of games and while the raw, physical talent of the players keeps getting better each year the broadcasting talent is becoming worse.
In general, the teams have too many announcers competing with each other. Former players are shoved into the broadcast booths with limited training. While they know the game, many do not have an idea what it’s like to be a fan and what viewers know, don’t know, and want to know.
The drop in quality is everywhere, even including the major markets. Look at the Yankees, a team that used to have Mel Allen, Red Barber, Bill White, Frank Messer and Phil Rizzuto. Yes, even Rizzuto was good, particularly in his early broadcasting days, before he became a caricature of himself. Today, the Yankees have former sportswriter, Michael Kay, anchoring the TV broadcasts, doing radio play-by-play, as if unaware the viewer can see what is taking place. The army of former players that sit next to him providing color are uneven and usually nothing more than a distraction. Although John Sterling, the radio voice, is knowledgable, the broadcasts are not worth discussing.
Boston, which once had NBC network giant Curt Gowdy, radio greats Ned Martin, Jim Woods and Ken Coleman. is mediocre today on its best days. However, Tim Neverett, who came to Boston this year, has boosted a woefully weak radio team.
THIS ISN’T TO SAY that there aren’t any good baseball voices around today. The San Francisco Giants can lay claim to having one of the best radio and television broadcasting crews in the history of baseball.
Jon Miller, already in the Baseball Hall of Fame, is comfortable and terrific doing a whole radio game alone in the tradition of the old days. Dave Flemming, his younger radio partner, would be the lead baseball voice on most other major league teams. The two TV guys, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, are the best former players turned announcers in the game. With a rich voice and a concise, accurate announcing style, Kuiper is an excellent play-by-play announcer on TV and radio. Krukow is one of the few color men who knows how to enhance a broadcast. It is such a pleasure listening to these two work together, not stepping on each other’s lines and having a respect for game-flow and, when appropriate, silence. Every major league television broadcasting team should be forced, as part of training each year, to listen to a tape of a Giants’ telecast.
Other announcers worth going out of your way to listen to include DeWayne Staats (Rays), Steve Stone (White Sox), Jerry Howarth and Buck Martinez (Blue Jays), Marty and Tom Brennaman (Reds), Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse (Athletics), Denny Matthews (Royals) and Rick Rizzs (Mariners).
I was spoiled with my hometown team, the Orioles, for years, with Baseball Hal of Famer Chuck Thompson, also the voice of the Colts, who should also be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My other favorites with the team were Ernie Harwell, Jon Miller, Herb Carneal, Joe Croghan and Frank Messer. Today, Gary Thorne brings an authoritative voice to his TV games. On radio, Joe Angel has a great baseball voice, solid knowledge of the game and a decent sense of humor. Sometimes, his casual approach, not always telling you what a hitter has done in previous at-bats or a player’s stats the first time up, can be annoying. The Orioles may be the only team, on radio broadcasts, that does not always give the opposition team’s lineup and batting order.
ONE OF THE BIG CHANGES, which goes back to the late 1970s when ABC had the Major League television contract, is post-season coverage. Before ABC insisted the World Series would be announced only by broadcasters on its network staff, you could enjoy the local flavor of the competing team’s voices doing post-season games. When the Orioles played the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series, Thompson worked the games in Baltimore with NBC’s Gowdy on TV. For the games at Dodger Stadium, Thompson did the radio, with NBC’ Jim Simpson, and Scully was on TV with Gowdy.
The local announcers were professional and did not openly root for their own teams, But you could sense the emotion and their excitement when their teams were doing well and won. This brought an air of enthusiasm to the games, often lacking with the polished, often generic, and more detached network voices. This post-season, if it were the old days, we’d have had Caray with the Cubs, Martin or Gowdy with the Red Sox, and Scully with the Dodgers during the post-season.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE, those announcers are gone. The bigger question is why does the quality and coherence of baseball broadcasts also have to disappear.
If a Vin Scully can show, in 2016, that baseball is still more enjoyable with one announcer alone, painting that lyrical picture of the game, why do we need so many blabbermouths fighting for airtime?
Even worse than the fact that Scully’s voice is leaving the game is that the art and legacy of his classic approach is also fading into history.
David Maril has been a columnist, sports editor and copy editor at three newspapers published in Massachusetts, winning numerous writing and section-design awards. As sports editor of the Milford Daily News, he covered the Boston Red Sox, Celtics and the New England Patriots. At the Brockton Enterprise he served as vice president of the newspaper’s guild, dealing with contract negotiations and workforce issues through difficult economic times. He also served on the board of the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, where he is a lifetime member and voter in Major League Baseball’s annual Cooperstown Hall of Fame balloting. For several years was a columnist for Voice Of Baltimore. The son of the late artist Herman Maril, whose work is included in over 100 museum collections, David splits his time between Cape Cod, MA and Baltimore, MD. He currently serves as president of the Herman Maril Foundation, which supports curatorial projects, art education programs and exhibitions related to the study of his father’s work. The website, featuring his father’s artwork, is hermanmaril.com. A graduate of Park School in Brooklandville, MD, David majored in English at Clark University in Worcester, MA.
If you wold like to comment on this blog David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.