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August 6, 2014

The Lineup Card

8 of Our Favorite Broadcasters (Non-Vin Scully Edition)

by Baseball Prospectus


1. Herb Score
They say that no one in baseball history has had to endure more bad baseball than Herb Score. Score, who had been AL Rookie of the Year in 1955, worked as the primary radio announcer for the Indians from 1968 to 1997, meaning that he had a front row seat for the entirety of the 70s and 80s in Cleveland baseball. Let's just say that there weren't a lot of people around fighting him for that seat at old Cleveland Muni. When I came of age as a baseball fan, in the late 80s and early 90s, and the Indians were regularly losing 90 games a year, it would have been easy to go become a football fan and to follow the then-successful-but-always-bested-by-John Elway Browns or the then-successful-but-always-bested-by-Michael Jordan Cavs. But Herb's voice was magic. It was often the last voice that I heard as I fell asleep at night (sorry, Mom...) He was notorious for rarely giving the game score, which infuriated some, but it didn't really matter. His philosophy was that he called everything like it was Game Seven, because the game itself was so beautiful. It didn't matter who was winning. This was a baseball game!

I didn't think of it in those terms back then, but now I realize that when my mind goes into the Herb Score audio vault, it's not to some classic call of his, but to the gentle cadence that built to a frenzy any time that Brook Jacoby fielded a ground ball and then came back down and chuckled when Manny Ramirez did something silly. Maybe Score wasn't the only broadcaster in history who made the game of baseball seem magical, but you know what? He was the one who made it seem magical to 8-year-old me, and for that I am a grateful man. Herb's final call was the last at-bat of the 1997 World Series, the one where Edgar Renteria singled in Craig Counsell and broke the collective heart of Cleveland. I'm not sure what was the bigger loss that day, the Indians losing in the World Series or the fact that Herb turned off his microphone after that. He passed away in 2008, so I have to hope that heaven is up to date on its BP subscription so that Herb might know what he meant to me. —Russell A. Carleton

2. Dewayne Staats
Although I grew up listening to Staats, he's my favorite announcer for reasons beyond nostalgia. His voice and play-by-play style are positives, but his selfless approach elevates him to another level. To use a basketball analogy: Staats has less interest in taking shots than making passes, and given the talent around him, that's a good thing. (Staats and former boothmate Joe Magrane used to make Devil Rays games worth watching, and he has that same chemistry with his current partner, Brian Anderson.) Staats forgoes catchphrases for the most part, and his signature call—"We hope you enjoyed the broadcast, if not the outcome"—is a perfect tribute to the franchise's past. All of that is why Staats is the voice of the Rays—even if he's seldom the one talking. —R.J. Anderson

3. Duane Kuiper
Having grown up in San Francisco as a fan of the Giants, my perspective is biased, but it's easy to feel as though Giants fans have been spoiled by the roster of broadcasters the club has assembled. You'll find below that Matt Kory chose Jon Miller, Doug Thorburn wrote about Mike Krukow, and Sam Miller picked Dave Flemming. I chose Kuiper in large part because his is the voice that I remember from when I was growing up.

If broadcasters were evaluated by tools, Kuiper's voice and humor would rank between 75-80 on my scale. Most couldn't pick Kuiper's voice out of an audible lineup the way Vin Scully's would immediately jump out, but the effortlessness with which the former second baseman raises it in big moments sets him apart. Meanwhile, his humor—which often comes out when the camera/production crew notices overzealous or otherwise funny fans in the crowd, and is aided by Krukow's jokes—keeps any game, even one in which the Giants are losing by 12 runs, entertaining.

Scully's ability to fly solo, to both eloquently describe a game and flower it with stories and observations, puts him in a league of his own. But when it comes to two-man teams, Kruk and Kuip are the class of the league. As the play-by-play man, Kuiper does an outstanding job of both leaving his calls of memorable moments—from Matt Cain's perfect game to Madison Bumgarner's second grand slam of 2014—inextricably linked from the events themselves, and of giving his partner room to flavor the telecast in ways that give it broader appeal. Outside of Scully, there's no one I'd rather listen to while watching a game today. —Daniel Rathman

4. Dave Flemming
The Giants' radio crew this year has a sponsored Home Run Tracker. Every time a Giant hits a home run, Dave Flemming and Jon Miller fire up the home run tracker, which tells them with precision exactly how far the ball flew, within inches sometimes, within moments usually. Not always within moments; when, for instance, two home runs are hit real close to each other, they might have to wait for the home run tracker to reset. Sometimes early in the game they have to wait for the home run tracker to load. It wasn't until a month into the season, and dozens of home runs had been tracked, that I finally realized: there's no home run tracker! The home run tracker is them, making these numbers up. I laughed and laughed.

This isn't why I love Dave Flemming as an announcer, but it includes a lot of what I love about Dave Flemming as an announcer. Flemming joined the crew--along with Miller, he works with the usual television guys, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow--in 2004. Those other three are all big personalities; Miller is a broadcasting icon and Krukow and Kuiper carry on like the two best friends who show up to summer camp together and instantly have a leg up on everybody else. Flemming was just 28, and looked two-thirds of that. At first you might have thought he was a bit shy among them, but from the start--and as he got more comfortable--he never tried to force his way up to their theatrics. He found a spot as the straight man, the calm voice of bemusement in the middle of their three routines. He would tell his own jokes (and they were funny; he's as witty the other three), but they were slipped in furtively, like a $20 that your mom might slip into your coat pocket before you leave for prom. For that, the payoff was always better, the moment two pitches later (or a month later) when you realize you'd been had.

Of course, that's not enough to carry a broadcast. You need to be able to see the game, and at this Flemming excels, too. He speaks clearly, charts player movement with efficient, specific descriptions, uses a wide range of data (particularly to assess defense), and takes the time to explain some of the advanced metrics to Miller (who, I'm sure, doesn't need the explanation, but stands in for the listening masses). He doesn't put on a saccharine or bombastic or folksy radio voice; he just speaks. Sometimes people ask me my favorite sports podcast, and I realized recently that it's the three-hour podcast Flemming and Miller do every day while watching the Giants play.

He's still young. You watch a game, and it occurs to you that every element of that game will be gone before you're done with this sport: The players will retire, the managers will grow old and fade away, the parks will be torn down and rebuilt, the commercials for cell phones will be replaced by commercials for Brawndo. But Flemming might very well be there for 40 more years. It's incredibly reassuring. —Sam Miller

5. Mike Krukow
Giants television announcer Mike Krukow calls games as if he is sitting next to you on the couch, with a weave of personality and knowledge that brings the audience closer to the action on the field. The former Giants pitcher imparts valuable insights, particularly from the mound, with the type of in-depth analysis that goes far beyond the typical cliches of a color commentator. The guy just knows pitching, from mechanics and stuff to the psychological side of the game, and he conveys that knowledge in a way that can be appreciated by the audience regardless of the listener's expertise. There are few announcers who will cause me to turn up the volume (I am more fond of the mute button, personally), but Krukow combines with play-by-play partner Duane Kuiper to be a must-listen whenever I tune into a Giants broadcast.

He also earns bonus points for having a devastating sinker/splitter on the original RBI Baseball video game, a pitch that still gives me the occasional nightmare. —Doug Thorburn

6. Jon Miller
I considered picking Vin Scully for this category for two reasons. First, because I don’t read the directions, and second, because Vin Scully scoffs at your “rules.” But then I decided that wasn’t that funny, so instead I’m picking Jon Miller. Miller is in fact my favorite non-Vin Scully announcer and maybe my favorite announcer even if you include Mr. Scully. That’s no knock on Scully, but I grew up listening to Miller back when he was the radio voice of the Baltimore Orioles. At night before I went to bed, I’d hide a small radio under my pillow, kiss my parents good night, and then turn it on to WTOP 1500 AM, the radio home of the Orioles in Washington, D.C. “Orioles magic, feel it happen!” I’d be sure my parents were out of earshot and then turn the radio on. It was one of those where the on/off switch was also the volume knob and so I’d turn it on to the lowest possible volume and then put it right next to my ear. I’d fall asleep to the mid-80s Orioles with John Lowenstein, Floyd Rayford, Rick Dempsey, Storm Davis, and of course, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. I remember waking up with the news in my ear.

Years later, Miller’s contract wasn’t renewed by then-new owner Peter Angelos. Angelos spat out some bunk about Miller not supporting the team enough, not being a big enough cheerleader, but Miller was never about that. He was about the game and reporting the game and telling stories that even as a kid I remember being charmed by. And his voice, well his voice is a classic deep radio voice that rises as the tension of the game dictates, but more than that, his voice is the voice of my childhood. He’ll always be the one I listened to walking home from school on Opening Day in April of pick your year. He’ll always be the one on in the background of weekend day games while my friends and I held our own baseball card conventions on the living room floor. He’ll always be the one voice cascading through the concourse at old Memorial Stadium, or heck, wafting out of houses as I walked through the neighborhoods of North Baltimore on the way to the game. No offense to Mr. Scully, but there’s outstanding announcers who make you love and appreciate the game even more than you thought you could, and then there’s the voice that makes you 10 years old again. Jon Miller. He’ll always be the one. —Matthew Kory

7. Neil Solondz
Neil Solondz was the Durham Bulls' radio broadcaster for the first three seasons I covered the team. He called games with a mixture of unapologetic, expressive enthusiasm and close attention to the characters and stats of the Bulls. He was the best kind of homer. My wife and I loved listening to him when the team was on the road, and I relied on his play-by-play for enrichment of my coverage. He was also generous with his opinions and information when I had questions.

Solondz is now with the Rays, I believe as their postgame ringmaster. Broadcasters are angling for callups, too, and he earned one. Solondz worked extremely hard, even for a minor-league broadcaster. Not only did he make all those grueling overnight bus trips to Toledo, Scranton, and all those other International League towns; not only did he call all the road games solo, with no color guy to fill pauses; he also did the Bulls' daily game notes as the team's de facto PR man. In the untelevised minors, we bond with our teams through the voices of their radio broadcasters. Solondz is gone, but I still hear him when I watch the Bulls play. —Adam Sobsey

8. Pat Hughes
I was introduced to Pat Hughes as an outsider, a recent baseball outcast whose youthful love of the game was scorned by a labor dispute that cost us one World Series. I came to Pat Hughes through my grandfather who would play the Cubs games on his radio during long and seemingly tedious car rides in the summer. I was introduced to an odd kind of literary style of baseball announcing, in which the descriptions of the players became lasting visuals that would come to life. Players like Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood came to life through Hughes' descriptors as his talent shone through an otherwise quirky show. Pat Hughes can straight up call a game and describe a player in a way that connects the mental and visual aspects of radio.

He’s not a legend quite yet for reasons that escape me. Perhaps the radio game is from a bygone era and his contributions to baseball broadcasting on the whole are blurred by how old-timey radio baseball broadcasts feel. Even so, there’s a large segment of fans who identify Pat Hughes as the voice of baseball. With his ability and deep understanding of broadcasting, Hughes has become a beloved figure worthy of praise and admiration. —Mauricio Rubio

Related Content:  MLB,  Broadcasters,  Announcers

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