Monday, April 27, 2009

More Sportscasting

Good is not good enough when better is expected. ~ Vin Scully

I wanted to talk a little more about the ASA's Top 50 Sportscasters of all time, just because it's my blog and I can if I want to.

Actually, the reason I wanted to go on is that there are so many great names on the list. There are also a few strange ones. Chris Berman at number 35? Please.

However, I want to accentuate the positive here. There are a lot of people on the list who would not have gotten national notice. Ernie Harwell, for example, was the long time voice of the Detroit Tigers. In my youth, WJR-AM radio carried the Tiger games, and oftentimes it came in clearer at night than the Cleveland Indians station. Harwell had one of those perfect radio voices. It's hard to describe exactly, but most of the old time radio sportscasters had a sort of nasal edge that could cut through the static without being annoying. Cleveland's long time announcer Jimmy Dudley had the same sort of voice; so did Mel Allen.

I also see Bob Prince on the list. Prince was the Pittsburgh pirates announcer, and he was a devoted fan of the Buccos. It was "us" and "them" always. Some people on the national scene seemed to think this was a bad thing. Personally, I couldn't see why the announcer for the home team, broadcasting on the team's network, couldn't root for the team. Harry Caray (18 on the list) and son Skip, who just missed the list, always made you very aware of whose side they were on.

Skip Caray, who I think should have made the list, used to do Atlanta Hawks broadcasts as well as Braves games. One time, the Hawks were in Cleveland. The game was close late with the Hawks holding a slim lead when Skip noticed that the clock was not started on a posession by the Cleveland clock operator. After he brought that up, he said, "Excuse me, folks, but I've got to tell Hubie [Brown, Hawks coach] know about this. Hubie! Hubie!" His voice faded off as he got Brown's attention. Brown hollered at the officials who went back and checked a replay (the game was being televised by WTBS). Sure enough, they caught the timekeeper in the act, and took time off the clock. The Hawks won the game, and it could be that they owed Skip Caray the victory.

Another name on the list that deserves mention is Ray Scott. In the olden days, NFL broadcasts generally featured a national game and a regional one. The regional games would be broadcast by the local announcing team. The Green Bay Packers were getting to be big noise in the early 1960's, so we got to hear a lot of Ray Scott, their main sportscaster. Scott was one of the good ones, one of those guys who realized that people could see the action, so it wasn't necessary for him to keep gabbing. When the NFL went to network teams for all games, Scott became their number one national announcer. A wise decision.

Milo Hamilton holds the distinciton of succeeding two legends. He replaced Bob Prince in Pittsburgh, where Prince had been a legend. When Harry Caray passed on, Hamilton came to Chicago to do the Cubs games. Hamilton's appearance on the list is sort of interesting in that he didn't have a particularly distinctive style, and I certainly don't recall any memorable phrases or moments that he had. Unlike Prince and Caray, Hamilton never came across as a "homer." Oh, he had all those home team tidbits that only a local guy will have, but with Prince or Caray, you could always tell who was winning by their tone of voice. With Milo, you'd better pay attention to the score; his demenaor wasn't going to give you a clue.

One of the few things I miss about not living near Cleveland are the local broadcasts of sports. For a long time, the Braves broadcasts on TBS filled that void, but now they've gone to national games, and that's a shame. Part of the fun of following sports is listening to your guy announce the games. Whether it's a Bob Prince or a Jimmy Dudley or an Ernie Johnson, the local sportscaster is a fan like me. The difference is he gets to go to all the games and talks to the players and coaches all the time. You really get a different perspective from them. National broadcasts are so sterile. They tend to be more about the announcers than the players.

When I listen to an event on ESPN, FOX, NBC, or wherever, it seems like they keep saying the same stuff all the time, regardless of the teams on the field. And, of course, they have to be impartial, which is understandable. But when I'm watching my team, I'd like the the broadcasters to be on my side, feeling the pain when things go awry and the joy if we win. The network guys spend more time talking about themselves than the do the games. Why not? They don't have a vested interest in either side.

Now, there have been those great announcers who give you the sense they're rooting for both sides. Vin Scully, who I discussed previously and who used to do NBC's Monday night baseball game, and Keith Jackson, one of the great college football announcers of all time, could do their national gigs and make me feel that they were on my side somehow. But guys like that are few and far between.

I miss Jimmy Dudley.

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