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What Makes A Great Sportscaster/Analyst?

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Thank you to everyone who shared your ideas in yesterday's post, including the late night visit by Susan Slusser.

Our spoken media is obviously vastly different from what we expect in our print media, but I would venture to say that it more profoundly affects our experience of the game. While print media gives us the ‘tangibles’ of the sport--the game previews, wrap-ups, lineups, and often anecdotal information about the clubhouse and various players, the broadcast team brings the game to us; whether we are in an office cubicle, driving down the freeway, at a sports bar with friends, or simply watching the game in the privacy of our own homes. Many magical moments are created by the tone, inflection, and big calls of the game, and the experience can certainly be heightened (or the opposite) by the voices narrating the event.

As many have pointed out, it’s hard to judge our own announcing team by the most recent year, considering it’s a monumental task to conjure up passion for a team that is playing so poorly--and worse, so unexcitingly. I know how hard it is for me in a recap, and it would be near-impossible for me to be optimistic during an entire game. I think it has to go one way or the other; either you are passionate and excited about a winning team, or you find the humor in your terrible team. There isn’t a lot in between.

There are many announcing teams that I absolutely love, and a handful that I simply cannot listen to. Let’s just say that when the A’s are playing the White Sox, should the A’s feed suddenly end, I would rather not listen to the game at all. However, on the rare occasion that the A’s play the Dodgers, I will listen to the opposite feed, and consider that three hours of baseball education.

There have been a flurry of posts recently debating the merits of ESPN’s poster boy, Joe Morgan, and in answering the charge of the website named after him being a one trick pony, I’m afraid I have to say the same about Joe.

Joe’s problem is that he sees the game of baseball from a 30,000 foot view. If you want a description of the game of baseball, there is no one better. If you want to know what it is like being a major league ballplayer, there is no one that makes it sound more attractive, or paints a more romantic picture. But for someone whose sole job is to watch the games and offer his opinion, I think Fire Joe Morgan is right on the money. In his weekly chat with the public, Joe informs his listeners that he basically knows a handful of players from the current major league pool, doesn’t watch more than a few teams a year unless it is their turn on Sunday Night Baseball, and refuses to accept that there are better and more accurate ways to measure the talent of baseball players than when he played.

In addition to being completely unwilling to accept that he may not know everything about the game of baseball and its current players, Joe’s admittedly captivating storytelling sometimes amounts to rewriting history as if he was a baseball analyst when he played the game. Joe’s egregious claims range from retelling stories as if he was a part of them, yet not getting the details quite right--or even partially right--to flat-out puzzling statements; such as how he (as a starting second baseman who would most likely be getting ready for his own game and not paying attention to his teammates as if he was a coach) used to spend the hour before the game watching the starting pitcher warm up, and could tell just by his delivery how his night was going to go. Y-e-a-h.

While in the broadcast booth, Joe also has the habit of making patently untrue statement about players, as if he is measuring them on criteria that he alone is privy to, despite presumably having the real numbers right in front of him. Add to that his latent hostility for certain teams, managers, and coaches, and Joe’s number one character trait of never being wrong, and it’s a train wreck of a show.

Of course, that is just my opinion, but if pressed, I could put the weight of many years of supporting anecdotal evidence behind it. (CVG team, I’m looking at you)

Looking back over the post, I would have to say that pretty much my perfect broadcast team would be the opposite of the weaknesses in Joe Morgan. I want someone who can spin the game to me as if it’s a really great story, yet I want to learn too. I want to know about the players; a little bit about who they are, but mostly about what they have accomplished in their baseball careers.

I want to have the announcers get a little bit shaken up when something unusual happens, and I want the magical calls to be ones that I can replay over and over again, each time hearing the joy and the excitement radiating from their voices as they describe their version of the events unfolding. I want to turn on the radio and hear familiar voices; ones that make me feel like I’ve come home when I’m listening to an A’s game. Great voices; maybe void of tired catchphrases and overused clichés. And I want them to know that if they use the words ‘He Gone’, I’m turning them off, perhaps forever.

Maybe I’m asking for too much. But some would claim that their ideal already exists for their city, and their team.

What do you listen for when you deem an announcer/analyst/sportscaster great? And is/was there anyone out there who fit that bill?