MLB All-Time Broadcasting Team
There have been plenty of great MLB announcers over the years, but which are the absolute best?
Written by Jake Elman
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we’re less than a week away from the official return of Major League Baseball for the 2015 season. Teams are deciding who they want starting on Opening Day, minor leaguers and players on the bubble are doing their best to show why they should be taking place in the Opening Day ceremonies, and baseball is almost back.
With the start of the baseball season comes the return of some of our favorite broadcasters, everyone from the living legends (Vin Scully and Jon Miller) to the young guys (Ryan Ruocco). As a New Yorker, I’m a bit spoiled because I’ve gotten to listen to both the YES (Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network) and SportsNet New York (who broadcasts the New York Mets) over the years, and both networks have excellent crews. There are plenty of broadcasters that have been fantastic over the years, but if I were to make an all-time broadcasting team, who would be on that list?
So, what goes into a broadcaster making this list? Well, it’s part longevity, but it’s also just personal taste about five broadcasters who I’d pick as the guys to broadcast anything from a World Series game 7 to an exhibition game in Toyko, Japan. There are two teams, so to speak, the TV and Radio team. All broadcasters on this list worked in both TV and radio, so I split them up as just an easy way of having my five broadcasters not crowded in one booth. I’ve definitely left off a lot of deserving people, so make sure to send me your all-time broadcasting team. Without further waiting, let’s head to the booth.
It’d be so wrong to make a list like this and not have Vin Scully on it, even if you’re someone who hates the Dodgers with everything in your body. There’s a term known as ‘GOAT’ which stands for Greatest of All Time, and Scully is the epitome of a GOAT. I’ve always joked that the only time I sleep without waking up at least once is when I hear Vin Scully broadcasting a Dodgers game, mainly because the way Scully commentates is so calm and relaxing. As much as I honestly enjoy listening to guys like Duane Kuiper (San Francisco) and Ken Harrelson (Chicago White Sox) who put a lot of emotion and emphasis in their calls, Scully is one of the few broadcasters out there who excels with a, for lack of a better term, quiet way of commentating.
But, that’s always been the case with Scully, who is entering his 66th season broadcasting games for the Los Angeles (formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers. To give you an idea of how long Scully has been broadcasting, he’s had a longer career than fourteen of the league’s thirty teams have even been around, and if you want to count teams that at some point have moved cities and made ‘new franchises’ (not counting a team like the Oakland Athletics that only changed cities), that number shoots up to sixteen. Scully’s called everything from perfect games to four home runs in a row, and it only makes sense to put the GOAT on our list, right?
We go from a broadcaster still going strong to one that actually replaced Vin Scully on the World Series radio broadcasts, that being former St. Louis Cardinals play-by-play man, Jack Buck. Father of the somewhat loved, somewhat hated, Joe Buck, Jack Buck was the broadcaster you wanted announcing your wedding, your graduation, and your funeral; Buck was able to mix excitement with a love for the game, something we often criticize his son, Joe, for not doing. Some of the most notable calls in recent baseball memory — Kirk Gibson’s home run in 1988, Ozzie Smith’s walk off in 1985, Kirby Puckett letting fans know that he’d see you tomorrow night in 1991 — were all called by Buck, and all had a level of excitement that can send chills down one’s back.
Also, as a native New Yorker, maybe I’m a little partial to putting Buck on this list because of his beautiful poem that followed the September 11th, 2001 attacks.
Unfortunately, I missed out on hearing Rizzuto call games, as he retired following the 1996 season and I was born in June 1997, but the late, great, Scooter’s legacy lives on nearly two decades after he hung up the microphone. What I’ve always loved and respected about the way that Rizzuto called games was his creativity and humor, something that helped make the slow game of baseball more enjoyable; from wishing listeners happy birthday to eating a canoli in between innings, Rizzuto was a colorful character that broadcast Yankee games for 40 years.
What was great about Rizzuto’s commentary was that he could make a boring game one worth watching, instead of flipping the channel to watch a re-run of some sitcom. So often, we talk about how baseball is boring and we want to find ways to keep watching the game, but Rizzuto was a reason in itself for Yankee fans to keep listening, even during the dark years of 1982-1994. With my TV crew, we have a poetic broadcaster in Scully, an excited one with Buck, and a humorous, creative one with Rizzuto. That, friends, is a pretty good crew in my eyes.
Another broadcaster I unfortunately didn’t get to hear much before his death in 2010, Harwell was to Detroit what Buck was to St. Louis: when you listened to Harwell, you weren’t listening to baseball, but life itself. From Norm Cash to Mike Maroth, Harwell broadcasted parts of five decades for the Detroit Tigers, trading a normal play-by-play style for a more conversational one, not unlike Phil Rizzuto. To be blunt, Detroit baseball was not as good as they are now for the majority of Harwell’s tenure, only recording four playoff appearances — and only two after 1972 — across those five decades, but fans still tuned in daily to hear Harwell’s thoughts on a batter “who stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by,” or about a young fan from Kalamazoo that caught a foul ball.
Alas, Harwell seems to have been somewhat forgotten in recent years, but there’s no denying what a fantastic broadcaster he was. It’s a shame that the Tigers were so bad in his final years broadcasting, because this is a guy that deserved to call at least one more playoff game in Detroit. Rest in peace, Ernie.
I end this list with the former host of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and the Major League Baseball 2K series, Jon Miller. Before Sunday Night Baseball became Dan Shulman’s gig (and Dan is an extremely underrated announcer, for what it’s worth), Sunday nights belonged to Jon Miller, a poetic, easy going San Franciscoan with a love for Shakespeare and homers. Regardless if it was a Yankees-Red Sox thriller or a matchup between the Cubs and Brewers that was over relatively quickly, Miller made Sunday nights baseball nights with flawless broadcasting, emphatic calls, and witty banter with former Reds second baseman Joe Morgan that kept our eyes glued to the screen and our remote on the counter.
I also have to give Miller credit for something that not many people think about when his name is mentioned. Since the late 90s, Jon Miller has done broadcasting work for the San Francisco Giants, a team that employed the controversial outfielder, Barry Bonds, for fifteen seasons. In 2007, Bonds’ final big league season, the slugger hit his 756th career home run, taking hold of the record previously owned by former Atlanta Braves star Hank Aaron. At the time, there were a lot of people upset with Bonds because of his past mistakes when it came to performance-enhancing drugs, but Miller, a self-described puritan, still called the home run as if Bonds had done no wrong. Sure, Miller was employed by the team that Bonds played for, but the Hall of Fame announcer could have acted nonchalant about it because of the player’s history.
Is it the excitement that, say, John Sterling shows when a member of the New York Yankees hits a home run. No, but just the fact that Miller would show the level of excitement that he did — for a puritan — is partly why I remain a big fan of his despite only hearing him when I listen to a stream of a Giants game.
Finally, though he wasn’t on this list, I’d like to give a special mention to the late, great, Bobby Murcer. Growing up in suburban New York, watching Yankee games on the YES Network became a hobby of mine that soon turned into a requirement, in part because of how much I loved listening to Bobby Murcer. There’s an honest part of me that is studying communications at Florida Atlantic University starting in the fall of 2015 because when I was much younger, I wanted to follow in Bobby Murcer’s footsteps.
Though I never met Bobby Murcer, I’ll always remember the late Oklahoman that inspired me to go down the path that I have. Rest in peace, Bobby.
What MLB broadcasters are on your all-time broadcasting team? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman.