Is this [broadcaster] heaven? No, it’s California.
By Kyle Magin
There’s a place, somewhere near the sun’s resting place, where baseball is still told as a story.
Octogenarians and a sexagenarian do the telling in tasteful suits on TV and over the airwaves. They contextualize Yasiel Puig or Madison Bumgarner’s dazzling ability in baseball’s century-old saga with charming anecdotes woven in and out of the play-by-play narrative.
They never step on their partners’ observations and add something to every broadcast you never knew before. They are some of the last, great voices of summer: Jon Miller (63) with the San Francisco Giants on KNBR and KNTV, Dick Enberg (80) with the San Diego Padres on Fox Sports San Diego and Vin Scully (87) with the Los Angeles Dodgers on SportsNet LA.
Re-discovering Enberg has legitimately been one of the highlights of the 2015 baseball season for me.
After watching my Tigers flounder with one of the sport’s richest payrolls, my girlfriend and I flip over to the Padres telecast. She’s a native San Diegan, which is good enough for me to claim we need to watch the games, even though she mainly plays Candy Crush while I let Enberg ease my blood pressure back to normal.
Even though the team is in fourth place, Enberg’s cadence (undoubtedly owing to his status as the voice of football in my childhood) lends weight to 16-2 blowouts and the endless, horrifying routes taken by Pads outfielder Matt Kemp. Sprinkle in an always apt and never shoe-horned anecdote about John Wooden from Enberg’s days as a play-by-play man with the Bruins and you can almost imagine yourself pulling a hoodie over your head and letting the sand slide out from your flip flops as you dangle your feet from a barstool beachside in Carlsbad.
While researching this column, it shocked me to find out Miller is only 63. In as tough a broadcasting crowd as you’ll ever find to stand out amongst—Enberg and Scully—he probably has the most distinctive voice. I remember sitting on the deck of a cabin my parents had rented in Lake Tahoe while I searched for a place to live here in 2007. My dad flipped on KNBR while we were barbecuing and I turned to him in amazement.
“They have Jon Miller call all of their games!?”
I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that other teams had legendary voices do something as mundane as a daily broadcast. In a bit of reverse Midwestern modesty, I thought the Tigers’ late Ernie Harwell was the only such deity who deigned to call baseball daily, on the radio of all mediums.
Miller’s crisp calls and folksiness are one of the few things that have made interacting with the Giants pleasurable during their dynasty years as fans have piled onto the bandwagon. He humanizes an organization that’s gone so stratospheric in its success.
Scully, of course, is the dean of the group and of sports announcing in general. His dapper baby blue suits and pocket squares are as much the highlight of a Dodgers broadcast as the eloquent old grandpa reading fan Tweets and making them sound like sane, salient points with his impeccable enunciation.
Scully really shines when he’s telling some ribald tale, on par with the old allegation that Kevin Mitchell beheaded his girlfriend’s cat. He could talk about some roaring drunk assaulting his escorts and bailing out of county just in time to hit the winning home run for the boys in blue and make it seem like the most charming tale ever told. Scully routinely spins yarns that last a whole half inning without missing a beat in the here-and-now.
Now, lest you think I like these guys just because they’re aged, let me disabuse you of that notion right now. I reserve a large portion of the hate in my heart for one Ken “Hawk” Harrelson (73), announcer for the Chicago White Sox and known miscreant. He routinely abuses the English language in the least attractive ways possible ‘cause he’s reel excahted to see you at the ballpark on Mondee. The Sox fan-run blog heavethehawk.com sums up my feelings on him nicely: “Mr. Harrelson’s unique blend of non-standard English and ego-maniacal blather has made the mute button a must for Sox T.V. viewers during the last four decades.”
He’s everything wrong with anyone who’s been around the game for decades. Every broadcast is a trip to Hawk’s Glory Days, and he’s an unrepentant homer who wears windbreakers and sweater vests atop golf-outing polos. He also has a habit of leaving dead air just hanging when the Sox are getting their asses kicked.
His style couldn’t be more disparate from that of the Enberg-Miller-Scully triumvirate.
Maybe it’s the nine they can get in at Torrey Pines, Pebble or Riviera before heading to one of their never-rained-out games in the evening. Maybe it’s because of sweetheart, Keith Jackson-esque deals that have them mostly staying on the West Coast and avoiding the really shitty parts of the schedule. Probably it’s just that they care, are likeable and hardworking.
You don’t pick up great anecdotes being a jackass.