The passing of Ernie Harwell, a true gentleman and a baseball legend, last week got me thinking about the current crop of Major League Baseball announcers. I spend, quite literally, thousands of hours each summer watching baseball and listening to the announcers for all 30 of the current teams. And while only one of the current Voices of Summer can be considered in the same category of Harwell there are still plenty of great groups doing good work from March to October.
Below is my ranking of each team’s current announcers. They basically break down into three groups. The top tier is the top 12 or 13 teams, and each has quality guys calling the game. The middle group is the “take ‘em or leave ‘em crowd” that really don’t get me going one way or the other. Then the third group is the Mute Crowd, where I’d rather be stuck watching “The Vampire Diaries” or some other cheesy crap that my wife likes on the main TV, with the game muted on the smaller ones, rather than listen to their drivel.
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With that in mind, here is one man’s ranking of the best and worst MLB announcers:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (Vin Scully)
If you have never heard a Dodgers game called by Scully you really need to. Like, now. You need to go out of your way to listen to this man call a game because it’s not actually just watching a game. It’s an experience. That’s right: a Wednesday afternoon getaway day game between the Dodgers and Pirates is something that I recommend for any baseball fan of any age.
Scully is a national treasure. The man works the booth alone and barely seems like he takes a breath. However, he is an absolutely genius and an old-soul poet. Never once have I found his calls tedious or annoying. Not once, in hundreds of broadcasts. He is a throwback to an older generation but his wit, his knowledge and his analysis fits in with any era. I just can’t say enough good things about this man. He is truly one of a kind and is the last of his kind, as there probably aren’t but two or three guys on the planet that could even come close to doing what he does every night.
2. New York Mets (Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez)
Well, at least the Mets have one thing to take pride in. Scully is a unique species and one-of-a-kind. But the way that the modern booth is set up – play-by-play straight man with one or two (likely ex-player) color men – the Mets have the Gold Standard group. Cohen is an excellent point guard, deferring most of the action to Darling and Hernandez. But Cohen definitely knows his stuff and has great anticipation when it comes to the game.
Darling and Hernandez are just excellent working off one another. They are both extremely insightful and are incredible at breaking down the nuances of hitting, pitching, managing a game, and the full cat-and-mouse that goes on between pitchers and hitters. Either one of them alone with Cohen would make a great team. But the triumvirate working together is just brilliant. They both have a load of great stories from “The Good Old Days” with the Mets in the mid-80s and there is enough of a contrast in personalities to keep things fresh. Hernandez is a character and doesn’t take things too seriously. Darling’s dry wit and quick humor keep you on your toes. And the thing that I appreciate most about the group is that they aren’t “Met fans” working the booth. They are brutally honest, they are effusive in their praise for a player or manager on either team, and they don’t get carried away or take things overly seriously. The Mets may continuously disappoint but this group never does.
3. San Francisco (Duane Kuiper, Jon Miller, Mike Krukow)
These guys are just solid and I have a lot of respect for them. They have good chemistry, they keep the game simple yet still have good instincts and insight, and they are fair and balanced in their calls. Also, I gained a ton of respect for this group with the way that they handled Barry Bonds in the last few years. They were respectful but they didn’t defend him and they weren’t sympathizers or cheerleaders.
4. Philadelphia (Tom McCarthy, Chris Wheeler, Gary Matthews)
This may be a little bit swayed by my lingering appreciation for Harry Kalas but in all I still think that the Phillies have a really strong group. The thing that sticks out the most to me is that compared with the groups in Boston and New York (the Mets announcers aside) the Philly group has the least amount of arrogance or edge to them. Hey, it’s Philly, they could be dickheads like most of their fans. But instead they are just good baseball guys that let the game play out.
5. Boston (Don Orsillo, Jerry Remy)
Yeah, I know: Remy’s accent makes you want to drive a Saab off a pier at Cape Cod. But these guys are an excellent team. Their knowledge of the game is exceptional, they have a brilliant understanding of their team, and they don’t get swept away by the media tempest that is the Boston market. Instead they have a great read on the pulse of the clubhouse without buying into gossip or the reactionary nature of their fans. In game they are both excellent analysts and I think they do their team proud.
6. Chicago Cubs (Len Kasper, Bob Brenly)
I know that there are a lot of people in Chicago rolling their eyes at this one. And plenty of people can take or leave Len Kasper. I don’t mind the man and think he does a good job. But the real reason this group is so high is Brenly. The ex-manager brings a fresh perspective to the booth and is excellent not only at explaining the in-game chess match put also anticipating it.
7. San Diego (Mark Neely, Dick Enberg, Mark Grant, Tony Gwynn)
I think that this is definitely an underrated group. Neely and Grant are two guys that bring a lot of depth, experience and intelligence to their job. Enberg is a classic voice in broadcasting and lends some weight to the calls. And who doesn’t like Tony Gwynn? The guy is a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest hitters of all time, and just an all-around good person that can break things down in a simple, jovial manner. They have been buried with a weak team but these guys do really good work.
8. Los Angeles Angels (Victor Rojas, Mark Gubicza)
I have to say that this is another very underrated group. And if someone had them in their Top 5 I wouldn’t argue for one second. Just a lot to like about this group and is as textbook as they come. It’s always enjoyable catching that 4 p.m. EST game with these guys on the call.
9. New York Yankees (Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, Al Leiter, et al)
These guys are probably the most controversial group. And if they still had Suzy Waldman in the booth they wouldn’t be in the Top 15. But there is no doubt that, on the whole, this is a good group. And it’s really all about Michael Kay. I know he’s smug. I know he’s a bit more one-sided. And I know he’s easy to dislike because the Yankees are easy to dislike. But the reality is that if Kay was the broadcaster for your team you would love him. He is as knowledgeable of a baseball guy as there are calling games. He has great command and impeccable instincts and foresight in a game. He just knows his stuff. And you have to respect that.
To be honest, the guy that drags this group down is Al Leiter. I’m a Mets fan and I loved Leiter when he was with us. And I thought he would be perfect in the booth. But he’s a disaster. He’s all over the place and he and Kay have zero chemistry. It’s painful at times. But, again, Kay is good enough that he can carry him a bit.
10. St. Louis (Dan McLaughlin, Rick Horton, Al Hrabosky)
There is no doubt that McLaughlin talks too much. But The Mad Hungarian (Hrabosky) has been in the booth for 25 years and behind his character is genuine feeling for the organization and the area that comes out in his calls. St. Louis fans are some of the best in the game and they have high expectations after listening to Jack Buck for all those years. This group can’t possibly live up to that but they are pretty good.
11. Arizona (Daron Sutton, Mark Grace)
I used to have this group in the Top 5 but I feel like they have gotten a little worse as the team has gotten worse. I enjoy Mark Grace. He is a genuine character without being all about schtick. And you endure the humor because he is still very insightful and is just one of those guys that you can tell loves what he does. Sutton can talk too much at times but he really injects some life into the exciting moments in games without getting carried away.
12. Toronto (Buck Martinez, Pat Tabler, Rance Mulliniks)
The only thing that this group gets dinged for is that Martnez’s voice can be a little grating. I don’t mind it but I can see how some can. But the bottom line is that this is another group that is just pleasant to listen to. They are great at pointing out the fundamentals of the game.
13. Minnesota (Dick Bremer, Bert Blyleven, Ron Coomer)
Simple, effective, well balanced and informative, the Twins have an excellent announcing crew that just perfectly reflects their simple, effective, well-balanced and effective organization. They get bonus points for being one of the few crews in the Central that doesn’t cheerlead for its team.
(The next guys are the second tier. With few exceptions they are all mediocre with very little distinguishing one from the next. Sure, I have my preferences and hence the rankings. But the reality is that these guys are kind of like the Blue Jays or the Astros of MLB announcing: just average year in and year out, with the occasional bright spot.)
14. Texas (Josh Lewin, Tom Grieve)
Great energy from these guys and you can tell they’re having fun. Of course it’s probably easier to make the calls on the softball games that breakout in Arlington compared to a team like Oakland that has to fill time in a lot of 3-2 games.
15. Kansas City (Ryan Lefebvre, Paul Splittorff)
I know people knock these guys but I like them. They have this garbage team and they have to endure it. They are good about talking baseball and fundamentals and they resist the urge to mail it in even as their team loses 95-100 games. They are No. 1 on Milton Bradley’s death list, which means they must be doing something right.
16. Colorado (Drew Goodman, George Frazier, Jeff Huson)
There was a 22-inning game with San Diego a couple years ago and I had a blast listening to these guys.
17. Oakland (Glen Kuiper, Ray Fosse)
These guys aren’t a bad group. They keep it simple, which some people can call boring, and I don’t have a real problem with them.
18. Houston (Bill Brown, Jim Deshaies)
Bet you didn’t know: Deshaies is from Upstate New York and is actually the cousin of the best man in my wedding. Of course, that has nothing to do with his work as a commentator, which is solid.
19. Florida (Rich Waltz, Tommy Hutton)
Waltz is understated and I definitely appreciate that about his games. But there just isn’t a whole lot going on with this group – not in the stands, not on the field, and not in the booth.
20. Cincinnati (Marty and Thom Brennaman, Paul Keels, Chris Welsh, Jeff Brantley)
This is another polarizing group and one that I, personally, used to have rated higher. Much, much higher. But the reality is that the Brennaman’s too often go off the reservation and there’s just too much periphery editorializing and weird “controversy” from guys that are supposed to be the “straight men”. Don’t get me wrong, I think that they do a quality job and this used to be a group that was easily in my Top 10. But I can’t stand Jeff Brantley. He is a mess and I think he brings nothing to the table and often seems surprised that there is a baseball game going on in front of him. And the thought of listening to him for 162 days of the year is enough to make me cringe. So, again, the Brennamans are Top 10 quality – and Welsh is a guy I think is underrated - but in a field that is separated by degrees Brantley is enough to pull them down this far.
21. Cleveland (Matt Underwood, Rick Manning)
I have to say that there isn’t much to say about this group.
22. Milwaukee (Brian Anderson, Bill Schroeder)
It would be nice if they used radio play-by-play man Bob Ueker’s broadcasts as the TV cast, like Scully.
23. Pittsburgh (Tim Neverett, Bob Walk)
Boring. But then again, how excited can you really get about Pirates baseball? This isn’t a knock on these guys really. There just isn’t anything to distinguish them above the others on the list.
(OK, now we’re getting into the just pathetic groups that make the mute button a solid option.)
24. Tampa Bay (Dewayne Staats, Kevin Kennedy, et. al)
Kevin Kennedy really doesn’t do it for me. Granted, he gets bonus points for helping to subdue a passenger on a plane that was threatening to blow it up. No joke. Look it up. But other than that he’s kind of a mess in the booth. Also, the entire group they use suffers from big-time Little Brother Syndrome compared to the Yankees and Red Sox. There is some weird arrogance I get from this group that I don’t understand.
25. Baltimore (Gary Thorne, Jim Palmer)
Every time I hear Thorne call a game I keep waiting for him to start yelling about a “POWER PLAY GOAL!” I’m sorry, but I can’t separate his voice from hockey highlights. And Jim Palmer is just insufferable. Here is a guy that I’m sure just wanders through the Inner Harbor in the wee hours looking for a homeless vagabond to beat up, a half-drunk bottle of whiskey in one hand and an O's mini-bat in the other. He is just a miserable person and he gets a little too angry about the sloppy play on the field for my taste. I know the Orioles suck, but take a cue from the Pirates announcers, wouldya?
26. Detroit (Mario Impemba, Rod Allen)
I will admit: these guys have gotten better. When Detroit was winning big a few years ago Allen was insufferable. Listening to his slow descent into madness in 2008 – after they were the consensus World Series pick upon picking up Dontrelle Willis and Miggy Cabrera, only to fall on their faces and miss the playoffs entirely – was oddly amusing. But in the end I hate cheerleaders for their teams. And there is no doubt that both of these guys are just that. I don’t get a ton of insight out of either and they mail it in quickly in blowouts.
27. Seattle (Dave Niehaus, Dave Sims, Mike Blowers)
I hate to admit it: but I used to like these guys. But then the constancy of their small mistakes really started to bother me. Whether it was getting the count wrong, missing plays on the field (calling a guy safe or out when it was the opposite), or just generally seeming confused by the action on the field, their nice-guy personas started to wear on me. A lot. There is very little insight or instinct from these guys; they simply try to call what they see. And when you are just going to do that you shouldn’t be missing things.
28. Washington (Bob Carpenter, John Holliday, Rob Dibble)
This one is easy: who the hell thought it would be a good idea to put a microphone in front of Rob Dibble for 3-4 hours a night for 162 nights per year? I can’t even listen to him for two innings, much less two games. Also, I’ve watched more Nats baseball this year than I care to mention (I had to see if they were the real deal or not) and I can say that these guys, by far, bitch about the strike zone more than any other announcers. And what’s great is that Dibble is a huge homer for the Nats, even though he has zero natural connection to them. Well, he’s a “homer” when he isn’t ripping into the team – calling them “pathetic” and accusing them of “mailing it in” during a broadcast. I mean, doesn’t he realize that a team with Julian Tavares as their bullpen anchor just isn’t going to do much right?
29. Atlanta (Chip Caray, Joe Simpson)
Yes, a little bit of this has to do with the fact that I’m a Mets fan living in Atlanta. But my hatred for the Braves announcers goes deeper than that. First, there is the fact that Chip Caray is to Harry Caray as Jeffrey Jordan is to Michael Jordan. Second is the fact that these guys are the White Sox of the N.L. in that they are unabashed cheerleaders for their team. Third is that slow drawl and demeanor, which does nothing but remind me of all the shit-kicking hillbillies that I’m surrounded by down here in the Dirty South. These guys still have the smug attitude of a franchise that won 14 straight division titles. But the problem is that they act like they are still in the middle of the streak rather than acknowledging that they are a second-rate organization now and not really competitive in the National League.
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30. Chicago White Sox (Ken Harrelson, Steve Stone)
This one was easy. The Hawk is one of the worst things in sports. That guy is an absolute joke and his broadcasts are absolutely insufferable. I mean, the guy just lives and dies on every double play, every run, every hit, every strike. If you are a White Sox fan maybe you love it. But if you are a fan of any other team it’s just absolutely horrendous to listen to. Hey, “put it up on the boooooooooooooard” brings back nothing but great college memories for me (long story). But the reality is that this man wears a skirt and pom-poms to work every day. There is nothing more rewarding than cashing a ticket bet against the White Sox and listening to his dejected voice call the game. But there is also nothing worse than sweating out a play against the White Sox and having to listen to him root against you for over three hours. Again, I just can’t say enough bad things about Harrelson as an announcer. He may be a great guy, but he is the absolute worst announcer in sports, let alone baseball.