Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A void in the booth

The great ones are going, and they aren't being replaced.

Ernie Harwell on Tuesday became the latest baseball voice to fall permanently silent. There's been a string of them in recent years — Herb Carneal here, Harry Kalas in Philadelphia, Phil Rizzuto and Lindsey Nelson in New York, Herb Score in Cleveland, Jack Buck in St. Louis, Harry and Skip Carey ... They were all radio guys first and foremost. Most of them did TV, some of them a lot of TV, because that's where the audience has migrated over the years, but they all started on the radio side years ago, when the TV broadcasts were relatively rare.

On the same day that Harwell died, John Gordon completely and utterly botched the call on a key play of the Twins-Tigers game. In the ninth inning, with Detroit's Alex Avila on second, Ramon Santiago hit a grounder to the shortstop hole. Gordon's call went something like this:

Base hit! A diving stop by Everett! Oh!

At which point, perhaps because he was aware that he had just misidentified J.J. Hardy, he got all tongue-tied and unable to describe how Hardy saw Avila rounding third base, threw the ball to Nick Punto, who then ran Avila down.

You probably didn't hear Gordon butcher the call. If you did, you couldn't possibly have figured out what was going on. That's the thing about radio: If the announcer is inattentive or inarticulate, there's no visual to save the day.

It's tough work. I'm sure I'd be terrible at the job, starting with the limitations of my voice and including all the other aspects of it, including those that the listener is unaware of.

My real point: There are doubtless good, even great, young play-by-play men out there. But they're doing TV, not radio. It's easier and it pays better. And the guys who mastered the art in the era when radio was all we fans had most days — they are dying off.

1 comment:

  1. I was listening on XM to that call, and the worst part was calling it a base hit. I thought he might have said "Base hit to left" because in my mind the ball had gottenn through before he all of a sudden called the diving stop. I was able to figure out what was going on after that. Fortunately, there is plenty of time between plays to explain better what just happened. Most radio guys need that. I still prefer listening to the Twins' announcers compared to most others, especially the Indians and White Sox guys.