Rating the Top Announcers in Baseball

One of the things that makes me crazy are bloggers who rip sports announcers, without saying who they think are actually good. I would agree that other sports seem to have more quality of depth in their booths, but I would suggest that a large reason behind this is that baseball is the toughest sport to broadcast. Considering how much slower the action is than the other Big 3 team sports, baseball broadcasters can’t rely on emotion to help push the telecast along. Statistics and strategy are a much larger part of the fabric of the game than they are in other sports broadcasts.

So here is your assignment. I want you to list your current Top 3 play-by-play men, your Top 3 analysts, and the ultimate broadcasting duo you would hire for your World Series telecast. Keep in mind that this is for a national telecast. Some guys are good doing a local game, but wouldn’t translate well to a national audience. The only rule I have is that you can’t use your own team’s broadcasters. (So if you are Dodgers fan, no Vin Scully or if you are Yankees fan, no Slobberin’ Susan Waldman.) Since it seems like a universal notion among the blogging universe that every broadcaster Fox, ESPN, or TBS uses is dismal, I want to see who you would employ. Time for all the haters to put their balls on the line. I will post my current list on Friday, as I will wait to take the shrapnel until then. So you have an example of what I’m looking for, I will post my all-time Top 3 in each category. You can list your all-time list as well, but I’m most interested in who you would hire now.

Top 3 All-Time Play by Play Men

  1. Curt Gowdy
  2. Bob Costas
  3. Bob Uecker

Top 3 Analysts

  1. Tony Kubek
  2. Steve Stone
  3. Don Drysdale

Ultimate Duo

  1. Bob Costas and Tony Kubek

Gowdy had the voice of the big event, when you grew up in the 70’s. Game 6 of the 1975 World Series between the Reds and Red Sox is the ultimate baseball game for many. During this historic game, the broadcasters were just as good as the action, with Gowdy and Kubek the maestros behind the mic. It’s been a long-time since he did baseball play-by-play, but Costas brought a modern style to the game, while still maintaining a baseball purist attitude. Uecker is seen by some as a bit of a buffoon from pitching Miller Lite or playing the part of Harry Doyle, but he is really a joy to listen to do a game.

Many of you don’t remember the former Yankee shortstop Kubek’s days as a broadcaster, but he was the first ex-jock I ever heard who wasn’t afraid to be honest with his criticism. I’m partial to pitchers as analysts. Stone and Drysdale are/were consistently strong with their takes on what players were doing on the field, despite it putting them occasionally in the team’s doghouse they worked for.

From 1983 to 1989, Costas and Kubek were one of the 2 broadcast teams that did the Saturday afternoon NBC Game of the Week. They played off each other beautifully, as they brought a real intelligence to the game, without the sing-songy vocal inflection that so many baseball broadcasters use.

(Note: my list is post-1974, because I don’t remember much before then.)

 

31 thoughts on “Rating the Top Announcers in Baseball

  1. 1.  I realize the intent behind prohibiting people from voting for their own team’s announcer. But since my team’s announcer actually is the best of all time, hands down, it seems silly to not recognize that fact. Omitting Scully is downright un-American. But if it makes you feel better, Scott, I’ll put a hated Giant at #2.

    Doing this all off the cuff… ask me in a week and you may get completely different lists.

    1. Vin Scully
    2. Jon Miller
    3. Bob Uecker — he really is fantastic once you get him off the big networks

    1. Joe Torre
    2. Orel Hershiser
    3. Don Sutton
    (Drysdale was good, too, but here I will observe the no-Dodger-broadcasters rule)

    Ultimate duo: Vin Scully and Marcel Marceau

  2. 2.  Also, Jim Kaat was really good. I guess he’s not working anywhere anymore?

    I would really like to have heard more of Denny Matthews, Herb Carneal, and Harry Kalas, as I’m mostly unfamiliar with them although they have really good reputations.

  3. 3.  First team: Scully and Stone
    Second team: Kalas and Brenly
    Third team: Trupiano and Santo (Trupiano is out of work, as far as I know–he was a Red Sox announcer up until spring of this year, when he was unceremoniously and coldly canned; this choice, which may seem ridiculous to some, is my way of protesting the trend toward pairing young corporate-smooth play-by-players with pompous know-it-all ex-big-leaguers. When you listen to the dying breed guys like Trup and Santo it helps you remember baseball is supposed to be fun. Uecker would work well in this team, too.)

  4. 4.  1) Bob Murphy
    2) Mel Allen
    3) Curt Gowdy

    Murphy was the voice of my youth. Growing up in upstate New York I wasn’t close to any major league team but I could pick up Met’s games on my radio. Even though I wasn’t a Met’s fan one of the best memories of my childhood is laying in the grass on a summer day listening to Murphy call the game. Allen was a great substitute when all I could get was a Yankee’s game.

    I don’t really like analysts during a game, especially on radio. But after watching this year’s playoffs, the first one I hear point out that calling for a sac bunt, with anyone other than a pitcher, with no score in the second inning is ridiculously stupid will become my favorite.

  5. 5.  Top 3 All-Time Play by Play Men

    1. Vin Scully
    2. Ned Martin (Red Sox)
    3. Curt Gowdy

    Top 3 Analysts

    1. Steve Stone (mostly Cubs)
    2. Bill White (Yankees)
    3. Tony Kubek/Joe Garagiola (did they ever do a 3-man booth with Vin Scully?)

    Ultimate Duos

    1. Vin Scully & Joe Garagiola (NBC 70s)
    2. Ned Martin and Bill White (combo local TV of my youth)
    3. Keith Jackson & Howard Cosell (not great baseball announcers but great TV)

  6. 6.  Yes, I’m a Dodger fan so I’ll painfully observe Scott’s rule. There is quite literally no subject in sports I’m more passionate about than broadcasting, particularly baseball broadcasting. It bugs me that I’m rushed and can’t write a thousand word post on this, though I imagine for the rest of you it’s a relief….

    All-Time PBP. Numbers 1 and 3 have been heard extensively on tape.
    1. Mel Allen: The very best combination of energy and being into the game outside of the city of Los Angeles. Somehow, those two key facets of broadcasting have escaped the modern announcer.
    2. Early Bob Costas
    3. Red Barber: How good was the early Costas? I give him the nod over Barber.

    Top 3 Analysts
    1. Al Leiter: I heard him a few years ago and was blown away. I can’t understand why the networks stopped using him.
    2. Jeff Torborg: His radio work with Scully was very strong though he wasn’t controversial enough, meaning he wasn’t controversial at all.
    3. Joe Torre: I was really hoping I wouldn’t get beat on this pick. Thanks, Eric. Torre with the Angels was incredibly good: insightful, unafraid, direct, informative… in fact, switch numbers one and two for me, please? Work beckons…

  7. 7.  Gary Cohen is the best there is right now. His work with Keith Hernandez (acerbic, unpredictable, passionate) and Ron Darling (analytical and insightful) is terrific TV.

    Leiter has good insights but he needs a deeper voice or something. I suspect he and Michael Kay didn’t really get along.

  8. 8.  PBP:
    1. Vin Scully – I’m a Dodger fan, but since I live on the east coast all of my experience with Scully (before there were internet broadcasts) was when he was working for NBC, so I see no conflict of interest. Getting to listen to him do Dodger broadcasts is just icing on the cake.

    2. Bob Costas and 3. Al Michaels – One of the most annoying things for me about the current state of baseball is that two of the very best baseball announcers work for a network that doesn’t carry baseball any more.

    Honorable mentions – Jon Miller, Bob Uecker

    Analysts:
    1. Al Leiter – Like Suffering Bruin, I was very impressed by Leiter when he was doing playoff games for Fox. It is a small sample size, though.

    2. Tony Kubek – He really was terrific.

    3. Bill White – One bad thing about White becoming President of the NL was that it took him out of the broadcast booth.

    Honorable mention – Don Sutton

    For a duo, Scully and Kubek would be terrific.

  9. 10.  Announcers:
    1) Scully
    2) Uecker
    3) Gary Thorne / Gary Cohen (tie)
    Honorable mention: Jerry Coleman

    Analyst:
    1) pre-1990 McCarver (before he got full of himself)
    2) Steve Stone
    3) Hershiser

  10. 11.  I think Scully gets a distinct unfair advantage from the fact that he is permitted to work alone. As much as I literally worship his genius — and as much as enjoyed his work with Garagiola as a partner, proving he can do the two-man better than anyone as well — the fact that he is talking to you, the listener, and not to his partner, is the best broadcast strategy for baseball.

    So, I think the main thing Fox/TBS/ESPN ought to do is let one of their better announcers work a playoff game alone. I’d start with

    1. Jon Miller without Joe Morgan
    2. Bob Costas
    3. Bob Uecker
    4. Dan Shulman without Dave Campbell

    I too have good memories of Jim Kaat as an analyst. Apparently he stopped broadcasting of his own volition.

  11. 13.  It’s a national crime that Vin Scully hasn’t been allowed to broadcast every World Series.

    Jon Miller comes next, but I agree with dzzrtRatt that he needs to work alone.

    In general, any baseball announcer does a better job if he announces as if he is on the radio while doing a TV broadcast.

    I have no need for analysts.

  12. 14.  I don’t remember early Tony Kubek, but by the time he was doing Yankee games on MSG in the early 90s, he was cover-your-ears awful. Maybe the poor quality of those Yankee teams contributed?

    PBP:
    1. Vin Scully
    2. Jon Miller
    3a. Bob Uecker
    3b. Jon “Boog” Sciambi, the best of the younger generation

    Analyst:

    My list would be Bill White, Ken Singleton, and Jim Kaat, but as a Yankee fan, I will observe Scott’s rule. Singleton is fantastic. There was a Yanks-Os game in 2005 that Singleton called by himself (Michael Kay was unexpectedly absent, his mom was sick IIRC). That was my favorite broadcast since the Scooter retired. Just superb.

  13. 15.  I used to think Jon Miller was the greatest play by play guy ever, but lately he’s just so into his own schtick.

    That said here are my top three Play by Play guys:

    1) Miller
    2) Scully
    3) Costas

    As for color, I think most of them are terrible.

    Here are three that aren’t perfect but whom I like for various reasons:

    1) Al Leiter
    2) Orel
    3) Timmy Mac – He just amuses the hell out of me.

    …yeah I got nothing.

  14. 16.  ok, I won’t list Vin Scully..but the fact that you don’t include him on YOUR list, Scott, is grounds for removing your blog from the interweb and banning your interweb access until the Dodgers win the World Series.

  15. 17.  Play by Play
    1. Vinny
    2. Dick Ensberg(Maybe he was better as the Rams announcer but I liked him)
    3. Bob Costas

    Color
    I don’t like any color analysts.

    I dislike multiple people in the booth.

  16. 18.  I grew up listening to 2 announcers. Just like as a Dodger fan it seems best to listen to just 1, it is that way with 2 for me. I would agree that Scully is the best at being in a booth by himself. I’ve never thought he was great when in the booth with another person. It just wrecks his natural rhythm. Some broadcasters are best doing a show by themselves, as Rush Limbaugh, Jim Rome, etc. do. I’ve been on a lot of radio talk shows and have an immense respect for the few that can do it alone, as I work best playing off of someone else.

    Scully and Garagiola worked together for most of the world series I watched growing up and I was never as big of a fan of them together, as I was the backup team for NBC of Kubek and Costas. I think DXMachina really nails the point of how sad it is that 2 of the all-time best announcers, Costas and Michaels haven’t done baseball in years, even though it was the sport they initially built their names on. I would have rated Michaels 4th on my play by play list.

    I grew up in Des Moines, which was smack between KC and Minneapolis. The announcers were Denny Matthews and Herb Carneal. I think Matthews is really good, I thought Carneal sucked. Of the traditional guys, I rate them this way.

    1. Ernie Harwell
    2. Harry Kalas
    3. Harry Caray (before 1990)
    4. Jack Buck

    I’m not trying to create a complete shitstorm here, so let me reiterate that I believe Vin Scully is the best I’ve heard in a booth by himself, but it just isn’t the way I like to hear a game announced. I like the give and take between 2 people, like overhearing a conversation.

  17. 19.  4 : I loved Bob Murphy. Phil Rizzuto also rates really high for me. He gave me a lot of enjoyment.

    The talk about Bob Costas reminds me of the story about him in Terry Pluto’s oral history of the ABA, Loose Balls (one of the greatest sports books ever): Costas was really young when he started broadcasting for the Spirits of St. Louis, 18 or 19, I think. Anyway, the team was frittering away a 4th-quarter lead the night after they’d lost a game they’d been leading comfortably for most of the way. Costas said into a live mike: “They really want to avoid last night’s blow job.”

  18. 20.  Loose Balls is one of my 5 favorite sports books. (sounds like a topic list I should visit)
    His story about Marvin Bad News Barnes not wanting to get on the team flight because it was leaving on East Coast time and touching down in Central time making it seem like a time machine to Marvin is as classic of a sports story as I’ve ever heard.

  19. 21.  18 I’m not trying to create a complete shitstorm here

    No offense, but it appears like you ARE trying to create a shitstorm with the majority of your blog entries.

  20. 22.  What would I gain by trying to create a shitstorm? So I create hatred towards me so people that check in at the other Toaster sites hate me? If I was trying to create a real shitstorm, I wouldn’t offer up any caveats, I would say I hate Vin Scully. I think he is great in the single man booth. As Toy Cannon offered up, he doesn’t like multiple people in the booth. It sounds foreign to my ears, so it’s not my preference. This is not to say that I don’t have immense respect for Vin Scully.

    Now if you want to read a shitstorm about Vin, check out this link.
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/richard_deitsch/09/17/lange.qa/index.html

  21. 23.  Any list that does not include Vin Scully is a joke. But then, Mr. Long presents himself as a comedian, and so the cycle is complete.

  22. 24.  I loved the trio of Palmer, Michaels and McCarver in the early to mid-1980s on ABC. Also, the NBC pairings of Scully/Garagiola and Costas/Kubek were excellent.

    On the radio, I always enjoyed Bobby Murphy when he was paired with Gary Thorne. On the Yankee side, I really enjoyed Tommy Hutton with Hank Greenwald, and thought the Sterling/Jay Johnstone duo was very entertaining. Of course, the Scooter and Bill White were also great together, along with Frank Messer, Spencer Ross and others.

  23. 25.  22- the only thing i got from that interview was artie lang is a yankee fan and artie lang likes comparing things to symphonys. bob uecker first, then wetteland/rivera. wow.

  24. 26.  18 Friends of mine from the midwest who have heard both Scully and Harwell are unanimous in siding with Ernie. One of these days, I’ll get a library and hear some Harwell.

    Los Angeles in the 1970’s and early 80’s was spoiled rotten with broadcasting talent: Scully with the Dodgers, Dick Engerg calling the Angels and UCLA basketball and Chick Hearn with the Lakers. All three men have been called the “best” at one time or another. It was fun.

  25. 27.  Play-by-play guys:

    1. Vin.

    Kind of precipitous falloff from there, but I do like Sean McDonough and Don Orsillo.

    Color:

    Jim Deshaises is my favorite right now. Doesn’t fall back on cliches, and is up to speed on the new science of baseball.

  26. 28.  I think anything I might have added has already been said, so here’s my list of announcers I would want on a post-season broadcast today (excluding Vin Scully per Scott’s “rules”):

    Play by play: Costas, Michaels, Uecker
    Analyst: Sutton, Leiter, Torre, Hershiser

    Any pairing would be ok for me, but the farther the left the better, so my pairing is Costas/Sutton.

    I am old enough to remember watching the Gowdy/Kubek team on NBC’s Game of the Week in the early 1970s, before Joe Garagiola came (back?) aboard the NBC team, but at that age I was not listening to announcers with a critical ear. I do remember being impressed with Kubek later, with Costas.

  27. 29.  26 (and 17 ) Ah, but Dick Enberg calling the Rams was where he shone the most. I can still hear him saying “Fearsome Foursome” and “Roman Gabriel”.

  28. 31.  I think 3 people in a baseball booth doesn’t really work, but I always thought that Jim Palmer was underrated behind the mic.

    I would pick Harwell over Scully because he was such a generous partner with whomever he did the games with. Scully is amazing by himself, but as I’ve outlined that is not the way I grew up listening to the game, so it seems incomplete. If I grew up in LA listening to the Dodgers broadcasts, I’m sure I would have the same hero worship that DT contributors offer up.

    Oh and to the Frightened Mallard (23), if I had a list that had Joe Morgan and Frank Thomas as my favs…that would be a joke.

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