Wednesday, March 31, 2010

YAY! For the old baseball announcer guys ...

Whether or not they make an incorrect call sometimes, the old guys are still in place and continuing sports legends across America ... click the link for stats and photos and more.

From USAToday, by David Halberstam

If sportscasting was a young man's game years ago, it is no longer.

The number of announcers age 65 or older is growing. Even Dick Enberg, 75, who will call his final NCAA tournament game Saturday on CBS, will continue broadcasting as voice of the San Diego Padres.

Their longevity is a tribute to their talent, but with longevity sometimes come questions.

Dick Stockton, 67, was last season criticized for giving the wrong score on Fox at a critical moment late in a New York Jets game. Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News made the point that like athletes, announcers' skills erode with age.

New York Yankees' radio announcer, John Sterling, 71, has been misjudging fly balls for home runs for years. While national talk show host Dan Patrick said he thinks it's because Sterling is eager for a big call, it could also be his advanced age.

Even the illustrious Vin Scully, 82, was chided last season by Ted Green in the Los Angeles Times for misidentifying pitches. "Because he's 81 — and bless his Irish heart, who has perfect eyesight at that age? — Vinny is having a heckuva time correctly ID'ing the pitches," Green wrote.

There's no denying vision, hearing, reflexes and sharpness weaken over time. It was painful watching Chick Hearn use a walker to get to his broadcast position in the final year calling Los Angeles Lakers games.

Does that means it's time for some of them to hang up their mikes? Is the tyranny of the clock overpowering?

"The faculties at 70 are not what they were at 40," says Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports. "But talent has trouble conceding it."

"The whole Stockton thing was blown out of proportion," Pilson adds. "I blame the truck. No one listened to the announcers. The producer should have corrected Stockton immediately. I would have had the producer in my office first thing Monday morning."\

Scully was hospitalized March 18 when he got up from bed too quickly, fell and bumped his head. He was released the following day and resumed his duties broadcasting the Dodgers. As for his longevity and retirement plans, he says: "God made me who I am and enabled my career. My health is good; I take it year-to-year and I leave the rest in God's will."

His story is old school. He broke in with the Dodgers under Red Barber in 1950 and became the team's lead announcer by the mid 1950s. When the club headed to California in 1958, stations in Los Angeles suggested all sorts of play-by-play men. Walter O'Malley, the club owner, said defiantly: "I'm bringing Scully."

"When we arrived in Los Angeles, most of the fans really knew of only star players like Musial, Mays and Banks," Scully said. "I made it a point to collect anecdotes and off the field stories about the rank and file players so that fans would become more familiar with them."

Today, building a reservoir of anecdotes is so much easier, he says: "I've been carrying a laptop on the road for some 10 years because the internet offers a goldmine of information, anecdotal or otherwise. But there's so much available today that there's the constant temptation to provide too much information on the broadcast."

Scully takes note of other technological advances. "In the late 1950s, it was the advent of the transistor radio that fans brought to the Coliseum because the sightlines there were unfavorable," he says. "Now, in June, I see fans in the stands at Dodger Stadium watching the Lakers on portable televisions or wireless handhelds!"

Adds ESPN/ABC's Brent Musburger, "Because of the immediacy of the internet and because so many viewers are also online while watching, the scroll of out of town scores on the screen is less critical. The internet is changing the way telecasts are produced."

Septuagenarians and octogenarians are asked to keep up with the play of teenagers and young men, keep an eye on officials' calls, game clocks and more, all while directors are barking commands in their ears and asking them to synchronize on-air promotional reads.

To stay sharp and avoid dreaded mistakes, TNT's Marv Albert, 68, exercises regularly and spot-checks his work frequently.

"I look for certain things when reviewing my play-by-play on both television and radio," says Albert, who has called NBA games of both Dolph Schayes of the Syracuse Nationals and Danny Schayes of the Denver Nuggets. "Doing radio also keeps me sharp because it demands immediate description."

Musburger, 70, says he works harder than ever at preparation and uses only last names when doing play-by-play. "It's easy to interchange the first name of an athlete of yesteryear with the same last name of an athlete today. I play it safe."

Musburger told Sports Illustrated he believes he's actually getting better when asked if he had intentions to retire soon.

"They're going to have to carry Brent out in a pine box," says Brent's brother, Todd, who doubles as his agent.

With so many games on the radio and TV today, and an endless number of channels, there are enough announcers to make up an army. Most of the play-by-play voices are solid. There's little to criticize. They're young and they're paid a fraction of the personalities of the past.

But they lack the presence of Albert, Enberg, Musburger, Scully, Curt Gowdy and Keith Jackson. Today's play-by-play folks make the gig sound somewhat robotic. They are indistinguishable. It's hard to decipher one voice from the next.z

"Generally, storytellers like Vin Scully, distinctive voices like Verne Lundquist and stylized guys like Marv Albert survive," Pilson says. "Face it though, some just age better than others. But a mandatory cut off age would be silly."