Baseball announcers can sometimes be like a part of your team. We spend so much time listening to their descriptions and accounts of the game, their opinions and their stories that we equate their voices with the team on the field. The team may change from season to season, but many announcers are there in your ear year in and year out. Some of them are living legends; Vin Scully comes to mind immediately. Many Yankee fans grew up with the amazing tag-team of gentle Bill White and over-excitable Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto and what I wouldn’t give to hear them again on the Yankees YES and CBS television and radio broadcasts.
Which brings me immediately to Michael Kay and I’m not sure if I am in the minority here, but I have not despised a baseball announcer who I was forced to listen to this much since Joe Morgan. And at least Morgan played the game; only some of my bitterness toward the former Reds’ second-baseman is due to his team beating my Yankees in the first World Series I ever watched; much of it was his “know-it-all” attitude and his adherence to his opinion despite evidence on the field contradicting it. I know I rejoiced as much as “Moneyball” writer Michael Lewis did when Morgan was finally let go by ESPN.
Kay, on the other hand never played the game, never lets you forget he never played the game—as a matter of fact Kay never lets you forget anything. I watch a lot of baseball – even other teams – and what I notice and appreciate in many other broadcasts is being permitted some quiet time to listen to the sounds of the game. Michael Kay acts like he’s paid by the word; he never shuts up and he beats dead horses into glue.
I would watch other the other team’s broadcast actually if it weren’t for the team of ex-players turned commentators who surround Kay on YES. Most of the same team of announcers from last season have returned for 2012. I don’t really feel the need of the “side-line in-game” reporter so swapping Meredith Marakovits for Kim Jones really doesn’t register with me. On the other hand, Jack Curry can oft be counted on for some inside scoop; he was the one to break the story of Andy Pettitte’s return.
But adding “Sweet” Lou Pinella to the mix this year did make my ears perk up. Even the President of YES, Tracy Dolgin, admits that the Yankee broadcast team are “homers,” but this may not be the case with Pinella up in the booth for some broadcasts. Lou was a great Yankee and a World Series winning manager and something of a hot-head; I don’t see him keeping mum should events on the field dictate a sharper point of view. In some spring training games hearing him reminisce with Ken Singleton about baseball in the 1970s was a treat and I think we’re in for more of that.
Ken Singleton, while not a Yankee on the field, has proven over time to be a fine Yankee broadcaster. He is calm, cooler than expected (he referenced cult film “Eating Raoul” this year) and always collected. His gentle manner reminds me of Bill White and that is high praise in my book. Singleton clearly loves the game.
Yankee warrior Paul O’Neill is something of the comic relief in the broadcast booth. But his self-deprecating manner and his well deserved credibility as a great former Yankee player make O’Neill a welcome sound during games. I think we will be treated to something beyond the pale when O’Neill is teamed in the booth with his former skipper, Pinella.
Getting the pitcher’s perspective, on the other hand, is well covered by ex-Yankees David Cone and Al Leiter, both well respected pitching “brains.” Baseball is ninety percent pitching and I think it’s a very good advantage to usually have at least one ex-hurler in the booth explaining what’s going on out on the pitcher’s rubber.
Somewhere in between the great hitters that Pinella, Singleton and O’Neill were and the aforementioned ex-pitchers, the last main addition to the broadcast squad, former catcher John Flaherty, completes the team. Much like famed Brewers’ announcer Bob Eucker, Flash doesn’t know much about pitching other than he couldn’t hit it, but the former backstop knows the game and is able to explain intricacies. And while I know his banter with Kay is mostly all in good fun, I am a believer that within every joke is a kernel of truth so Flaherty earns points in my scorebook with his jabs at the over-sized talking head that is the play-by-play man, Kay.
As for the CBS radio team I have to admit that usually when I am listening to them it is not with an open mind. When I have to resort to radio it means that my MLB-TV package was blacked out from a Yankee game I wanted to see and I am angry that I have to listen to Ma and Pa. But as “luck” turned out this week as I prepared this piece, I knew I was going to be blacked out for the games vs. the Twins (I live in Minneapolis so I can’t see the home team- ever) and decided to give Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling a fair shake.
And you know what? I enjoyed their coverage. Yes, Waldman’s voice is grating and abrasive and yes, Sterling is corny and a cheese-ball, but on Thursday night when Granderson hit his third homerun of the game, not only was I looking forward to hearing Sterling’s “The Grandy-Man can” ditty, I found myself enjoying it. His play-by-play is fairly simple and standard stuff, but because of the nature of the beast of radio, Ma and Pa – proud to be “homers” – are not afforded the opportunity to ramble on with stories that don’t have much to do with the game on the field. This leads to a quiet, calmer, far more enjoyable baseball experience.
This may be their last season doing the radio broadcast and while I can’t say I will miss them exactly, I do suggest some time turning off the TV and turning on the radio and using your ears and your imagination as you listen to the game. Yes, nothing beats being at the game, but for most of us who bear witness to our team’s successes and failures via broadcast and the Yankee team of announcers is a major part of that joy.
It doesn’t have much to do with baseball although Yankee Stadium is mentioned in one story, but my first book – a short-story collection – came out last week. To read a few tales for free or to purchase the book go here.