Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Open letter to MLB

Major League Baseball attendance has really plummeted. It’s now at the lowest average in the last fifteen years. There are lots of reasons given for this: bad weather, higher prices, length of games, too many games on television, or in the case of Los Angeles – too few games on television.

Allow me to offer another reason; one I’ve not heard anywhere else.

Today’s announcers are fucking boring.

They’re generic, they’re competent, they have pleasant voices, but they give the listener or viewer zero reason to want to tune in if the game itself isn’t important or meaningful. And face it, with 162 games a year, very few are really “important.” I love baseball, can watch it year round. But seriously, a single game the end of June? Who gives a shit who wins or loses? Even championship teams lose 60 games a year.

When I would tune into a Dodger game and find they were losing 10-0 I thought, “Goody! Vin Scully is going to fill the time with wonderful stories.  For the next hour he will keep me enthralled.” Now if the Dodgers are losing 5-0 – CLICK!

How important are announcers? Again, let’s look at the Dodgers. 70% of the market can’t get their telecasts. The only way 70% of the market can follow the games on a daily basis is over the radio. So you would expect the Dodger station would have enormous ratings. After all, we’re only a half-year from them being in the World Series. And when Vin Scully called Dodger games radio ratings were 40 shares or above – year after year – win or lose. Scully is gone. The Dodger radio station draws a 0.9. And attendance is way down so it’s not like everybody is just going to the park.  I'm sorry but that's horrifying. 

Announcers create loyalty. Announcers are a team’s best salesmen. But audiences need a reason to listen. It used to be that announcers had showmanship, distinctive styles and personalities. Fans would listen or watch games regardless of the score. I’m not saying the announcers should be bigger than the game or detract from the game, but Jesus, give us SOMETHING. Are teams so deathly afraid their announcers will God forbid say something that one fan might complain about? Fuck them. Even when fans HATE certain announcers they listen. God bless John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman of the Yankees – love ‘em or hate ‘em they’re unique and they draw a big audience. Have we forgotten the lessons of Harry Caray? Or Ernie Harwell? Or Jack Buck? Or Dave Niehaus? Or Bob Prince? Or Harry Kalas? Or Jerry Coleman?

I listen to a lot of announcers today and wonder – if you took away their laptops would they still be able to call the game? There is an ART to calling baseball – especially on the radio. You need to be a storyteller. You need a flair for the dramatic (and I don’t mean screaming home run calls). You need a sense of humor, you need to sprinkle in things other than baseball.

In fairness, there are some but very few who do this. People ask me who will be the next Vin Scully? My answer is always Jason Benetti of the White Sox. Don’t look now but he’s having fun. He’s making the game come alive. He’s giving a Shakespeare reference.

He makes you want to care about the White Sox – maybe enough that you’ll even come out to the ballpark. And it doesn’t cost your team $200 million for five years and Jason Benetti will never need Tommy John surgery.

Or does this just make too much sense to work?

Thanks to Mike Kinosian  for the following chart on flagship station ratings.

82 comments :

slgc said...

As a Mets fan I'm blessed with great announcing teams on both television and the radio. But when the Mets aren't playing I'll seek out Boston games on the MLB Network because Jerry Remy (who really does know his stuff) cracks me up with his thick Boston accent. The more he goes on, the thicker the accent gets. I don't care at all about the Red Sox, but I have fun listening to the games.

So yes - announcers do help create a listener base for a team.

Mike Barer said...

The Mariners are doing well to start the season, so are attendance is up. However, I was wondering if NFL's meaningless preseason games outdraw the World Series.

Ruth Harris said...

Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling for the Mets are terrific. Great chemistry, good game insights, entertaining stories and fun digressions. Worth listening to even though the Mets suck.

Jeremy Anderson said...

I'm a Braves fan, but the reality is that if you have a family, it's just not feasible to attend a game after the month of May. It's just too damn hot and the humidity is just oppressive. It's hard to enjoy the game when you are sitting in the hot Georgia sun with 80% humidity. I was disappointed that when they built the new stadium last year they didn't consider some sort of dome configuration to tackle this issue.

John in NE Ohio said...

For the purpose of this article, I'll take you at your word that the White Sox announcer is the best. That obviously is not the solution - their ratings are down in April. The biggest ratings and biggest jumps are rust belt / heartland - with some outliers like the Dodgers % increase over April. Maybe the solution is to not concentrate on the Yankees in every national press, but the healthy markets. That is where there is interest.

There are some that you won't know until July's numbers that may actually be NBA bumps - Oakland, Cleveland, Houston, Boston. IDK if it the same flagship elsewhere, but in Cleveland it is. Looking at the Philly numbers YTD, I imagine that is the flagship of the Eagles because the numbers were HUGE in Jan/Feb. But Philly is big sports town, so the numbers are always pretty big.

And I will say it again - I love listening to Tom Hamilton. Too bad he takes the middle 3 innings off.

Joel Keller said...

Glad you mentioned John and Suzyn... many people hate John for his home run calls and apparent inability to tell the score every five minutes. But is that really necessary in the era of smartphones? They're entertaining to listen to, and that's all that matters.

I think New York is pretty blessed with entertaining radio baseball guys: There's no way you can call Howie Rose generic, especially because he has that Mets institutional memory to work from (he's been a fan of the team since day one). Josh Lewin can be funny every so often -- and he sings and plays piano -- but he falls into more of the "pleasant voice guy" category to me.

Surprised you didn't mention Jon Miller. He's probably the guy that should take Scully's title as the best in the business.

paul k said...

agree 100%

Growing up listening to Jack Brickhouse I learned more about the science of baseball than from anyone else... I loved the rain delays and listening to him talk with Lou Boudreau talk about Branch Rickey and the old days of baseball-- I am willing to bet ask any current announcer for any team who Branch Rickey was and they will look at you with a blank stare.

-prk60091

VP81955 said...

As someone who used to live in Philadelphia, I can vouch for how the community loved Harry Kalas, especially when he was partnered in the booth with Rich Ashburn. They had chemistry, just as Harry Caray did with Jimmy Piersall on White Sox games in the '70s.

Harry and Dick Allen saved the Sox for the South Side, after a period when they were even worse than they are today and appeared bound for Seattle. Their 2005 title -- the one ending the 88-year "curse" that everyone forgets -- probably wouldn't have happened without Caray.

Ralph C. said...

The New York Mets announcers, Howie Rose and Josh Levin, are entertaining and do tell stories, sometimes. The Yankees could have no announcers and still get high ratings.

Keith Nichols said...

I grew up in the Midwest, where Chicago radio was available. But my favorite baseball announcer in the 1950s was Gordon McLendon, on the Liberty network. McLendon created the color of games out of his imagination as he read the ticker tape. I remember him transposing a game into the early 1900s, reporting such things as foul balls spooking horses attached to carriages parked along the foul lines. McLendon was an entrepreneur in various fields but loved buying and converting radio properties into innovative music stations, including some offshore from Europe. According to Wikipedia, "Liberty was the second largest radio network in the U.S. at the time with over 458 affiliated stations. Most of Liberty's MLB broadcasts were re-creations of games, utilizing McLendon himself and future sportscasting stars such as Lindsey Nelson and Jerry Doggett on play-by-play."

CS said...

It's not a coincidence that Milwaukee has the smallest American market and WTMJ has some of the highest ratings of any of those stations. Why?

Bob Freaking Uecker, American Treasure.

brian said...

Scully was so good, fans would bring their portable radios with them to the game to listen to his call. And he always worked alone - too often nowadays the color guy is a talentless hack.

Ron Peach said...

I love this. How I long for the days of Ernie and Paul on my transistor here in Muskegon, MI, or of Harry in Chicago (or of Lloyd Pettit calling the Blackhawks). They were as much a part of the roster as were the guys that played the game. As a kid I fought to stay awake, listening to their voices.

kent said...

Actually, Joe Davis of the Dodgers is pretty good for a man caught in the shadow of the best who ever lived. It's too bad so few get to hear him.

Phil said...

This is why I'm so thankful that Bob Uecker is still behind the mic for the Brewers. He's been funny for years, most of them entertaining us when the ball team wasn't. It's great that the Brewers are competitive again, giving Bob the chance to call great games. I hope he lives forever.

DwWashburn said...

I don't know if I'm reading that chart right but in the numbers between March and April are supposed to be a representation of the additional people that listen because of the local baseball team then my beloved Cardinals are #1 with a 2.3 increase. Makes sense. I've always thought that Cardinal fans are the most loyal of all baseball fans.

However if I'm interpreting the chart correctly I am amazed at both NY and LA flagships. Listener share for the Dodgers is barely ahead of the Padres and Marlins? And the Yankees, the team that ESPN, FOX and the MLB network must believe is the only team to exist, shows about the same market share increase as the hapless Tigers? This is America's team?

Baylink said...

> Have we forgotten the lessons of Harry Caray? Or Ernie Harwell? Or Jack Buck? Or Dave Niehaus? Or Bob Prince? Or Harry Kalas? Or Jerry Coleman?

Yes.

Bob Uecker is still calling baseball? Really? Is he still calling beer?

blinky said...

In San Francisco they charge $12 for a can of bud at Pacbell>SBC>ATT Park. The least they could do is provide a reach around.
Needless to say I do not even consider going since the game is on TV and my beer is way cheaper.

Janet Ybarra said...

I couldn't agree more, Ken. (And , yes, girls can like baseball ;)).

I happen to be a fan of your old team, the Orioles. You are absolutely right announcers make the difference.

The Orioles rotate between the announcing team of Gary Thorne/Jim Palmer and another couple of guys who I won't name out of kindness.

The unnamed team, as you say, is totally serviceable...they call the plays, mention stats...and put me to sleep. I have little interest in watching them.

Thorne and Palmer? Those guys are awesome! Thorne's an older guy from New England, the two have great chemistry and Thorne (an attorney in his previous life) talks interestingly about subjects related but tangential to the game. (It's called knowing more than baseball and being a Renaissance person, and both Thorne and Palmer fit that bill.) The two of them make it a great time.

I particularly like Jim Palmer's old Earl Weaver stories.

The other downside I see to baseball is games used to run on free broadcast TV. Here, at least, they are mostly kept on a cable only channel owned by...you guessed it, the Orioles.

Of course, interest in the Orioles would be helped if they weren't in last place this year in the AL East. Oh well, there's always next year...

blinky said...

One reason I never go to see a Giants game is the $12 can of beer. That's a dollar an ounce.

Shawn Steele said...

As a White Sox fan, I have to agree. Jason Benetti is definitely one of the better decisions the Sox have made in the last few years.

Will said...

This is an odd rant. I agree that announcers seem to be less interesting than in the past (though I suspect that is just a result of my own nostalgia), but I don't see how that would impact attendance. If anything, it should be driving it higher at the expense of TV ratings, which isn't the case. As Forbes details every year, MLB RSN ratings are fantastic (almost every team is #1 in its market in key demos). If announcers were really so off putting, that shouldn't be the case. On the contrary, because of technology, the TV experience has become so good, and that may be keeping fans at home.

slgc said...

I agree with VP about Harry Kalas - he was wonderful.

I used to listen to Phillies games often, but I haven't since we lost Harry. He was a true voice of the summer.

Thomas Anderson said...

I grew up listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons on SF Giants radio broadcasts, professional baseball announcers with catch phrases and stories, as well as personalities, that seem lacking in today's world. "Bye-bye, baby!"

Anonymous said...

The reason attendance is down with the mid market teams is because they did absolutely nothing this past off season giving the fans zero reason to show up. Each owner received 50 million due to the majority stake of BAMTech sold to Disney.

Orbit said...

Todd Kalas and Geoff Blum on tv and Robert Ford and Steve Sparks on radio for the Astros are great!

Dan S. said...

I live in Cleveland. So I'm lucky enough to have Hammy calling.
But he teams with Jim Rosenhaus.
I'd rather listen to paint dry. Christ!

I dread the day Hammy retires.

Covarr said...

This is really the same reason broadcast radio is dying. With widespread availability of services like Spotify that allow you to choose your own song, or Sirius XM that have no ads, traditional radio is going to live or die by its personalities. And right now, it's dying by them because the industry as a whole doesn't seem to understand how much they matter.

Xmastime said...

I've stopped being excited about going to the ballpark for one reason: THE NOISE. Baseball's supposed to be a quiet, pastoral game, yet stadiums are terrified if they go one second between pitches without assaulting our ears we'll wander away, never to return. I was at a game a few weeks ago and had to literally scream at my friend sitting next to me to be heard. It's ridiculous, and I can't imagine I'm the only person who hates this. According to my ranting 12 years ago the problem used to be just noise between inninga, while now it's between every pitch. https://xmastime.blogspot.com/2006/05/things-are-good-part-xv.html

Dana King said...

I lived in Atlanta during the Braves' nadir in 1980-81 but still rarely missed a game on what was then still WTBS because I didn't want to miss Skip Caray.

I also remember the days when the Orioles were just drop-dead bad but even rain delays were fun because of the announcers. Jon Miller and some other guy. Levine, maybe.

I'm not much of a fan of today's Pirates announcers as I try to follow them on mlb.tv, bu Bob Walk is an underrated gem. Lots of good insights and a wickedly dry sense of humor.

Steven said...

Don't forget the Cubs broadcast team of Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Both guys are good at having fun while incorporating new school sabermetrics into the broadcast, without feeling as though they're beating you over the head with them.

One thing that I especially like is they let the game breathe. They're perfectly willing to let 4-5 seconds go by without comment if a description isn't needed.

This may sound like a simple thing, but it's a refreshing contrast from ESPN and Fox's trend of sticking 3 guys in the booth--along with a field reporter--for all national broadcasts.

During these games it seems like someone in the aforementioned group is always talking.

Whether about the network created storyline for the game, Rich Hill's various curveballs, exit velocity, launch angle, trade deadline speculation, you name it. it all serves to distract the viewer from what's actually happening on the diamond.

And sometimes during national network games, they don't even make an effort to show you what's going on because the talking heads in the booth are doing a dugout interview with a player from one of the featured teams. broadcast. The network would like you to believe this player has a fun loving, gregarious personality.


However, the player in question usually just mumbles through their responses to these softback questions. On the whole, nothing is gained, and those answers that aren't drowned out by the crowd mikes are usually just clich├ęs viewers have heard a billion times.


Here's another baseball conundrum for you to tackle, Ken:

Why is the sound system at Dodger stadium so loud?

Pat Hughes comments on it every time the Cubs play in LA

Janet Ybarra said...

Xmastime, I'm not disagreeing with you, necessarily, but before you complain too much about ballpark noise, let me impart this cautionary tale.

It was three or four years ago, when Baltimore was enveloped in rioting, which included the area area around Campden Yards. Several Orioles home games were cancelled.

Finally, however, it was decided that despite the threat of violence, a particular game had to go on. (If I remember correctly, it was against the White Sox.)

Anyway, the threat of violence was too real to allow fans into the ballpark.

So they held the game in a ballpark devoid of any fans but broadcast the game on TV.

I remember how odd and eerie that game was, as you could hear sounds you would never hear in a standard game.... voices, players running, etc.

I believe that was the only game thus played in baseball history.

Todd said...

I know you are talking about Padres play by play guy Jesse Agler

Michael Hedin said...

With the MLB app, I listen to different team announcers and thank the heavens for Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper. Listening to a game with them is like going to a game with your uncle and his oldest best friend who happen to be ex-ball players. Great humor and insight into the game makes the time fly by. I know I’m a homer, but have yet to hear anything better!

Jeff P said...

I watch many, many games.....Here's my top picks.........
The best----Gary Cohen, Ron & Keith-- Mets TV..(They put you IN the game).
Tie--------Kruk & Kuip, Giants TV (YOU are in the game as much as the players)!!!!

Very, very good------Yankees TV. Michael Kay is a pro!!!!! (Makes the 9-other color people sound great)!

Top analyst------Jim DeShaies, Cubs TV....Funny, funny & knows the game all too well!

Red Sox----Orsillo and Remy WERE very pleasurable....Who knows what happened there?

Underrated----Dick Bremer--Twins.....Good, solid. Pro!

Radio: Mets with Howie and Josh----2-Jews went to a baseball game and.....)!
Tie-----Jon Miller --Giants (Just a fricking pleasure) !!!!!

Worst? I don't know, but I live in San Diego...and Padres radio-----No Comment!

Anonymous said...

This question is a bit of a foul-tip, slightly off today's theme, but are TV play-by-play announcers really necessary? The bugs on the corner of the screen tell me the score, inning, pitch count, who's on first...er...whatever base, batting average and who's batting and pitching.

Do I really need someone to tell me "grounder to short...over to first...one away.?" On TV? Why is this man talking?

And launch angle. I'm a baseball stats guy and I love some of the new metrics (LA's Ross Porter must feel he was born too early), but just because you can measure something doesn't mean it needs to be reported.

-30-

Andrew Krigel said...

You can't blame me personally but I haven't listened to the radio in ages. I even dropped my xm subscription. You're right, it is all boring and nothing but advertising. Lost interest in baseball in my teens. I still have an ancient clock radio in the garage...wonder if it still works?

Victor Velasco said...

The last time I went out of my way to listen to as many MLB announcers as i could has been three or four years, and, not to single out any one team, but what I found was that most announcers fall into two categories: the ones that over-describe and the ones that under- describe. Being a Giants fan for decades, I'm partial to Duane Kuiper and Jon Miller; love 'em or hate 'em, those two just don't do either.

Also, some blame has to be issued to whomever sets up the ads re: spots embedded within the broadcast (e.g."...the count is 2 and 2...and Jonnhy Franklin's Mufflers offer two ways to save this week on..."} some teams really lay it on thick

Irv Goldstein said...

As a Red Sox fan, one word immediately comes to mind..."pizza."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufSQMXLO95w

John Nixon said...

I think that the declining attendance at baseball games is more due to the fact that the games move slowly, take a lot of time and are expensive to attend. They just don't fit into a contemporary lifestyle. Golf courses are having the same problem for the same reasons. If my wife and I go to a baseball game it's going to take pretty much the entire day and cost $100 or more. There's so much more we could've done with that time and money. When I watch a game on TV it seems like there are as many people in the stands looking down pushing things around on their cellphone screens as there are people looking up and paying attention to the game.

That being said, you're right about the announcers. So many fail to speak one-to-one and rely on worn out cliches instead of using their own unique personalities. I hear the same things over and over again...."hi everybody"...."his batting average is down to a buck thirty eight"..."Smolee's tossin' a screwgee". One I haven't heard lately though is a reference to "The Mendoza Line".

DukeCincinnatra said...

I could not agree more with your assessment of Jason Benetti. He is smart as hell and very funny. Effortlessly funny. I go out of my way to watch White Sox games because of him. I grew up watching Cubs games during the summer on WGN where Steve Stone was the young whippersnapper to Harry Carrey and I love that now Steve is in the crotchety old man role with Jason. They do a great job all across the board, calling the action, analyzing the action, and a rapport that is entertaining and funny. EFFORTLESSLY funny.

I'll keep my comment on the positive side and not mention my opinion that the other big market teams have broadcasters that I strongly dislike. I'll also refrain from pointing out that FOX national broadcasts are, and always have been, awful.

Hope you are very well Ken!

Jimcomics said...

Bob Uecker is still great and still calling home games- and a few road games- for the Milwaukee Brewers. He tells great stories AND talks about the teams and personalities playing the game. He's a HOF broadcaster for a reason, and should be on any list of great baseball announcers of all time.

Paul G said...

I can think of one solution to this problem: let's bring Ken Levine back to broadcast MLB games. The demo tapes you have played on your podcast were fantastic. That Levine fellow may not be the next Vin Scully or even the next Brockmire, but then again who is?

Len said...

The chart you provided is a flawed and lazy analysis. It features the ratings of the MLB flagship vs. an all day period. If you wanted the true picture, you would isolate the actual time periods of when games are broadcast. It is a different story.

stephen catron said...

Love the Mets announcers even though I'm a Phillies fan, but for the past couple of years I turn the sound off and have the game on in the background while I play on the computer.
I can't stand the idiot reporters on the field in any sport but Philly has one of the worse. Can't stand all the non baseball nonsense that goes on. And the games are boring for the most part. Most of the time I record the games and skip commercials and the Phillies' opponents at bats. It just isn't that interesting anymore.

Mike Bloodworth said...

As I've said before, Vin Scully made baseball tolerable. I'm one of those guys that brought a transistor radio to the ball park. I also remember when if a game was on a network you'd turn down their sound and listen to VINNY on the radio. Currently I'm one of the many that can't get the Dodgers on T.V. And I'm really NOT a fan of Rick Monday. (radio)
I don't know about the rest of the country, but one of the main reasons I don't go to Dodger stadium is COST. A beer and a "Doyer Dog" require a second job. Don't forget L.A.'s infamous traffic. A lot of people have started taking the subway down there. I've considered it. But, is it worth the hassle for a baseball game? Another reason I don't like going to the games is that we're all TOO FAT! The seats were designed for people with 1960's bodies. Not the engorged ticks we've become. Its not very pleasant when everybody in your row is a fat guy...or girl. Thank God for the seventh-inning-stretch.
Speaking of boring announcers, as I write this I'm watching the World Cup. (Serbia vs Brazil) Even though I don't speak Spanish I always watch soccer on the Spanish station. Their announcers are so enthusiastic and hyped for the game that it makes it seen much more exciting than it actually is. A definite benefit since I'm not really a fan of "futbol."
Finally, even though I don't really care for baseball, I would still chose watching it over cricket or the WNBA.
M.B.

Xmastime said...

I agree with whoever mentioned the crazy amount of stats they stuff your tv screen with, the latest of which is bat speed and ball velocity. I love that Aaron Judge hit a ball in the seats, but couldnt care less how fast it came off the bat. Wtf. I feel like every year they try to come up with one more of these worthless stats. It began a few years ago with showing us the pitch count. How on earth is this a concern to me - is there some point during the game I'm gonna pick up the phone and call the bullpen? Ugh.

Also YAAAASSSS to loving Bob Uecker!! A real national treasure and quote machine. :)

Janet Ybarra said...

Actually, Ken, would you seriously have an interest in getting back to calling baseball? Might be fun!

Tom said...

Thank you for mentioning Jason Benetti and thank you to the White Sox for snapping him up before, say, the Dodgers grabbed him to replace Scully (which IMO he was qualified to do). He's a 30-something who loves baseball as much as some Baby Boomer 25 years his senior (ahem), his chemistry in the booth with Steve Stone is ridiculously good (something Stone and Ken Harrelson never figured out how to do), he understands and uses analytics without getting hung up on them, and then he'll casually introduce a player by saying something like "Lorenzo Cain is his name and he rode on the Valdosta train." I hope I'll be listening to him call Sox games for the rest of my life.

Robert Forman said...

I don’t disagree at all with what you are saying here Ken, but I would point out that sports attendance seems like it’s down all over. NFL is down and even NASCAR (well, if you want to call that a sport). I think, perhaps, one of the problems is a lack of “stars” who draw people to games and get them interested to watch and listen. When I was young, getting to see Mays or Koufax was the big deal, no matter how otherwise boring the game might have been.

VincentS said...

Thanks for mentioning John Sterling and Susyn Waldman. Even though John Sterling drives me crazy sometimes - everybody else in the Universe - including I'm sure aliens on the other end of the galaxy who have picked up our TV and radio waves - says bring the infield "in" and he always says bring the infield "up" - they are really interesting and have distinctive styles and chemistry.

VP81955 said...

But one of Liberty's "live" broadcasts was the deciding Game 3 of the 1951 Dodgers-Giants NL playoffs from the Polo Grounds. McLendon's call of the fateful bottom of the ninth survives, as does Russ Hodges' famed "the Giants won the pennant!" call and Red Barber's call for Brooklyn radio.

VP81955 said...

That cable channel, MASN, also owns the rights to Washington Nationals games -- one of the conditions of Peter Angelos' agreement allowing the Montreal Expos into D.C. -- and the Nats' current owners are seeking to renegotiate the deal in court. As a fan of the team since its arrival in 2005, I hope it happens, thus giving the Nats revenues worthy of a top 10 market. As for Cuban Pete and the Orioles...karma.

Speaking of the Nats, their announcers (Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo on TV, Charlie Slowes and Dave Jagelar on radio) are pretty solid to listen to, although Bob's sunny midwestern tone sort of clashes with Washington's east coast sensibility. The radio flagship also carries the Capitals, although it wasn't until May that D.C. sports fans believed the Caps would finally get over the hump. Washington sports isn't all-Redskins, all-the-time anymore.

VP81955 said...

And while Charley Steiner is no Scully, he and Rick Monday make a good team on Dodgers radio. I love Charley's droll sense of humor...and I still wonder how he managed all those years in the Bronx as the number-two guy to that hack John Sterling (who has Ted Baxter's pomposity + Kenny Bania's ineptitude).

estiv said...

Off-topic but I can't resist: Keith Nichols, Gordon McLendon was an interesting character in other ways. He bankrolled two horror movies shot in Texas in 1959, The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews, and played a supporting role in the second one. It's fun to watch Baruch Lumet, a very experienced actor (and father of Sidney Lumet), play a scientist, and being quite patient with the lousy actor who also happens to be supplying his paycheck.

Saburo said...

In the late 70s/early 80s our house got cable TV and for the next several summer vacations from school I consumed Atlanta Braves baseball like so much soda. Skip Carey, Ernie Johnson (prime), and Pete Van Wieren were the voices of my childhood. I don't think I really, REALLY appreciated Skip until long after cable exploded into dozens of other choices to consume.

Fun and engaging, that guy. And gone much too soon.

VP81955 said...

Have Ken do the Angels on TV. They dearly need a replacement for Victor "big fly!" Rojas.

Dr Loser said...

Time-zone wise, Ken, you could do a lot worse than watch the San Diego Padres.

OK, a fairly hapless team, though they do have a bunch of interesting young prospects, as befits a perennial loser ... but, the main thing here is, you get to listen to one of the most urbane and generally likeable play-by-play guys still on TV.

I'm talking about Don Orsillo, much missed around Boston parts. (Fired by a total incompetent in the marketing department called Joseph Maar -- apparently the Executive Producer at NESN, so go figure the minuscule intelligence of the man.)

A very classy guy, is "The Don," as we Red Sox supporters used to call him. He knew he was going to be fired two months before it happened, but he stuck with the contract. His final words, on the last day of the season, to us, the fans?

"This is Don Orsillo, rounding Third, and heading for Home. Thank you all!"

Marvellous. I teared up, just remembering it.

(His replacement is an utterly worthless multi-sport divot. I could actually do a better play-by-play than Obie. Perhaps you should apply for the job?)

James said...

Interesting idea (boring announcers being part of the problem). I hadn't thought of it, but I agree. I'm a fan of another once-great, now niche sport (Indycar racing). Part of the problem is that a lot of the color has been bled out it. Except in rare instances, the drivers all thank their sponsors and their crews and give mostly the same interview regardless of what happened. The announcers are competent but vanilla, and it's been a looooooong time since we had the equivalent of a Vin Scully.

Mike Bloodworth said...

P.S. My initials are M.L.B. At first I thought Ken was sending ME a message. Message received. Wink, wink.
M.B.

Al in PDX said...

I certainly agree with you about Benetti ... just a pleasure listening to him and Steve Stone work together when MLB network airs a White Sox game.
I wonder if the story-telling opportunity for radio announcers will ever be heard again as each broadcast seems too packed with promos ... "This 3-and-2 pitch brought to you by..."

Jeff said...

Amen, brother! I've posted here before about the earnest but dreadfully bland guys who have the thankless job of being Bob Uecker's straight men on Brewers broadcasts. When Ueck takes a couple of innings off, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Although I will concede that Ueck is entertaining, he frequently rambles on about stuff from the Stone Age. "Dick Groat! Man, that guy could play. Only guy who could call his own bunt. Bill White! He became the NL president!" I am 61 and this stuff is before my time!

BobinVT said...

Years ago there was a book about female stars from Hollywood’s Golden age titled “They had Faces Then”. For this topic the book would be called “They had Voices Then”. Each of the announcers you mention had a distinctive voice. Another favorite voice for me was Lindsey Nelson. And of course Mel Allen (I never got the appeal of Red Barber). Many of them were also shameless homers, actively rooting for the home team. They used catch phrases that came to be associated with them, and many had trademarks such as Nelson’s loud sport coats (presaging Craig Sager). The result was a lot of fun as well as a professionally called game. Nowadays, with MLB live look ins, you get to hear many announcers (TV, not radio), and they are bland, corporate, generic, as you indicate. They all sound the same, and the games are reported with as much excitement as they would display if broadcasting surgery. Typical is Dave O’Brien of the Red Sox. He is very professional, smooth even. But someone once described him as plain vanilla ice cream in a white bowl. And he replaced Don Orsillo, one of the few play by play guys who had fun in the booth (along with a very professional voice). He is now doing Padres games, which can’t be much fun. I know many didn’t like Hawk Harrelson, but I thought he was great. A real throwback, homerism, catchphrases and fun. Totally agree on John Sterling and Suzyn. They really spice up the game.

Stuart Raish said...

I have the MLB app so can listen to all radio broadcasts. The only one I listen to is the Mets team of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin. The team on the field is so bad but the radio booth is the best. All the rest on radio pale to compare. Great commentary and have fun even with a terrible team.

Janet Ybarra said...

Who here misses Howard Cosell? Who else here is old enough to remember him?

sanford said...

I agree with the comment that the announcer are not the problem with attendance. Costas is still great even though he doesn't do many games. I like Jim Katt and Smoltz. I didn't see any one mention Steve Stone. One of the best analysts in the game. If you don't read him read Phil Mushnick in the New York Post. He pretty much hammers most announcers. No, he is not a big fan of Sterling. Maybe he was great at one time, but I guess they like his calls even though he is wrong on a lot of balls that he thinks are homers. One of the things he points out about announcers, is they never say anything about a batter not running hard on balls batters think are home runs. I live near Milwaukee and Uecker is still great at the age of 85. Like Scully he doesn't do many away games. I think the TV guys are great. Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder are very good. The bad thing with Anderson is he is allowed to do the NCAA tournament and some of the NBA post season. When he is gone Matt Lapage, who mainly announces Badger football and basketball takes his place. I didn't see any one mention Pat Hughes. He and Ron Santo were great. Now Ron Coomer is the analyst. They are fine together but I don't know if Coomer adds very much to the game. Carey and Piersall were great when they announced Sox games. Of course you never knew what Piersall was going to say. They were great fun to watch.

Y. Knott said...

Yes, the quality of announcing is generally poor, with some outstanding exceptions as noted above.

But the real problem, I think, is the incredibly leaden pace of today's baseball...

___________


I crunched some numbers from the 1979 Toronto schedule. Out of their 162 games:

10.5% lasted 2 hours or less - (17 games, including 1 6-inning game)
55.6% lasted between 2:01 and 2:30 - (90 games, including 3 10-inning games)

Only two 9-inning games during the entire season lasted 3:15 or more.




Now flashforward to 2017. Out of the team's 162 games:

0% lasted 2 hours or less.
4.9% lasted between 2:01 and 2:30 - (8 games)

Forty-one of the team's 9-inning games lasted 3:15 or more.



_____________



The basic rules of the game haven't changed -- there are still (usually) nine innings to get through. But every night, there's now an extra 45 minutes to an hour to wade through of players calling time outs, mound conferences, pitching changes, and waiting for replays. EVERY NIGHT.

Baseball announcers don't just have to be as good as they were 38 years ago -- they have to be about 50% better. Because the game has gotten 50% slower and duller.

JoeyH said...

As a Cardinals fan, I appreciate the personality that Mike Shannon brings to the booth. The fault also has to be partially on the changed nature of the game. It's mostly strikeouts, walks, and home runs now. The ball just isn't in play enough. Base stealing is becoming a lost art. Bunts are a rarity. Launch angles and exit velocities are boring. And, there's a pitching change every batter in the late innings. Who wants to sit through that? Baseball has always been my favorite sport but the guys in the booth can only do so much with the wreck the game is becoming. (Babe Ruth points to the upper deck and says, "There's an 87% percent chance I'll hit it right there.")

John Jackson Miller said...

As the others said, Bob Uecker is the whole reason Milwaukee’s radio ratings are so high. He kept us entertained through many a terrible game in years gone by. This year I skipped the TV broadcasts an stuck just with radio.

MikeKPa. said...

I miss the days of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. They made even the bad games entertaining. Ashburn had so many stories of his playing days that he could go to when the action on the field didn't warrant commentary. The Phils current TV team are homers (we need a homer here) and bland (reading right off the chyron without adding any context); even John Kruk, who is cruising since he left ESPN (his self-depreciating weight jokes are getting stale). Unfortunately, the Phils best play-by-play guy, Scott Franzke, is on the radio. He has a dry wit, and when he teams with Larry Andersen (who now only does home games), on their best days give a a hint of what we got every game from Kalas/Ashburn.

MikeN said...

How does quality of radio announcers impact the people who come to a baseball game?

Steve said...

(From a former Reds Radio Network operator back in the 1980's, when running the Reds required substantial doses of Mountain Dew.)

With radio revenue falling due to lower ratings and a general depression in the radio business as a whole, the budget in the booth gets slashed when a legend retires. Baseball franchises are not going to pay a Vin Scully salary anymore, and it shows in the overall quality of the broadcasts these days. (The board ops on some of these flagships have gotten a bit sloppy over the years as well.) A bland but competent nobody behind the microphone fits the budget and placates the granddads still listening to AM just fine.

It would be interesting to see some data from the MLB streaming. I wonder which teams get the highest numbers of listeners worldwide. I'm betting the Yankees.

Cleveland fans: I like Tom Hamilton, too. But one of these days he's going to have a heart attack calling a foul ball.

Jeff Boice said...

The local announcer was more important back when the primary broadcast vehicle was those clear channel 50,000 watt flamethrower AM stations. In the early 80's in the midwest you could tune the dial and choose among Bob Uecker on WTMJ Milwaukee, Harry Caray on WGN Chicago, Marty Brennaman on WLW Cincinnati, Ernie Harwell on WJR Detroit, and Jack Buck on KMOX St. Louis. Some good choices there, don't you think? A lot of people became baseball fans (or fans of specific teams) thanks to those guys. Now the primary local broadcast vehicle is the regional sports network, and it isn't the same. Because the RSN's audience isn't the same.

Mike McCann said...

Ken,

Baseball sorely needs more outreach to the next generations of fans. And I don't mean a canned national show on MLB Network at 10am Saturdays hours away from that day's game broadcast.

Baseball once had a marvelous salesman. Sixty years ago in Brooklyn, there was a brilliant program hosted by a magical entertainer named Happy Felton who CONNECTED the fans (via local little league programs) and the home team players.

Decades have passed, people are more jaded, players no longer live in the same neighborhoods as their fans (save for the children of corporate titans and hedge fund execs). BUT the underlying attitude works -- make the kids feel connected to and invested in the team.

Copy this URL, watch this film of an actual Happy Felton's Knothole Gang -- which was the pre-game show leading into weeknight Dodgers games on channel 9 in New York. Strip away the vaudevillian trappings -- the man was like your favorite uncle getting YOU excited and emotionally involved.

https://youtu.be/KsQuqhWhm8o

In today's terms, he was getting that 10 year off his PlayStation and into a sport to love and inspire -- and in the case of many of us -- getting us to READ something. A book on Jackie Robinson or Pedro Martinez is just as important to a young person's development as Harry Potter.

Find someone who can take Happy's concepts and bring them up to date without losing the humanity and the passion.

It can be done. More crucially, it needs to be done.

Mike Barer said...

Colin Cosell, the grandson of Howard is now a stadium announcer for the New York Mets. I've gotten to know him through social media and I'm sure he brings something really good to the field.

Lou H. said...

WABC was the Yankees flagship station for years, even though its other programming was not sports oriented (Limbaugh, Hannity, Art Bell). I assume they were being paid to carry the game. Anyway, it made for a pleasant evening. The dinner time right-left duo of Malzberg and Bey were spirited but congenial, and I'd fall asleep during the game, eventually waking up to conspiracy theorists and purveyors of colloidal silver.

Andy Rose said...

I agree that the decline in interest is more about the play than the announcing. In football, innovations like the West Coast Offense made the game more exciting and unpredictable. In baseball, innovations like the left-handed specialist are making the game less exciting and more predictable (and, as noted, slower).

The constant pitching changes aren't just taking up time. They're taking up more roster space. Now, after the pitchers and catchers are accounted for, the typical team has only about 10 slots left to fill the remaining seven positions (or eight in the AL). For position players, the GMs are focusing more on bats than fundamentals. Defensive play, especially in the outfield, has suffered. A lot of outfielders can still make a nice catch through sheer athleticism, but they can't throw a ball all the way to home plate.

J-Rod said...

Every announcer I hear sounds like the dreaded Joe Buck. The inflections are wrong on most calls. There is zero enthusiasm . Heck, even our Dodgers announcers are pretty boring and get many calls wrong.

Astroboy said...

I don't know, but I think I began losing my love of watching and listening to baseball when pitchers pitching complete games pretty much disappeared. 2017, I'm actually surprised to see two pitchers lead baseball with 5 complete games each, I didn't think any teams allowed even that many! Next came 6 pitchers with 2 complete games each. I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it does.

ChgoMagic said...

We're also lucky in Chicago to have Pat Hughes doing radio for the Cubs. Great fun.

mike said...

I don't like Rose and Levin on the Mets radio, but I was spoiled with Murphy, Nelson, and Kiner. And Gary Cohen is very good indeed. Yankees announcers terrible, worst homers ever. I'd agree with the point about bland corporate sameness but the main thing is the lack of balls in play and the constant pitching changes, as Joey says. Problem is, the computers tell the managers what to do and they do it. Much less of a human element, and that's going to be much exacerbated when umpires are replaced with machines which I feel is inevitable. Although to be fair, most plate umpires now fall for the most obvious frames. Lose the replay and the blizzard of impossibly arcane stats and us fans would be better off. And as has been mentioned, it's REALLY expensive to see a big league game; I like the minor leaguers and was annoyed when the Newark club evaporated in the dead of night.

Artie Breyfogle said...

So true big guy...Need you to step up to the plate and make baseball on radio exciting again...We were so spoiled with Vinni and Chick all those years...even Dick Lane could make Ascot racing, wrestling, and roller derby better than Shakespeare's words...Find folks with a PERSONALITY...