The Hit List: The Top 12 baseball announcers of all time
In another life, I was in radio as an on-air producer, voice-over artist and DJ. It was awesome. It was fun. And it was “theater of the mind.” That’s a phrase I was taught by my first program director. I could be anyone I wanted to be, as long as I was real. That seemed a little too philosophical at 10 p.m., but what the hell, I went with it.
I love radio because you have to be a master of the craft to be on it. If not, you will get scolded in this fabled age of social media. If you are good, it will show. And if you suck, you will show no more. That said, are you the type of baseball fan who listens to the radio while watching the game on TV? Would you rather sit in your car or drive around the block at three mph to hear the call of your local play-by-play guy just for the fun of it?
If so, then you get it.
I’m a Rangers guy and, quite frankly, we have one of the best announcers in the business in Mr. Eric Nadel. For more than two decades, he has been “the voice” of the Texas Rangers. Now, let’s not get it twisted — you can be a baseball announcer and not a “voice” of your team. When you hear Nadel, you hear the Texas Rangers. Frankly, we are spoiled rotten in Dallas because we have Brad Sham (Cowboys), Ralph Strangis (Stars) and Eric. All great. All near legendary. All sports homers. All ours.
However, there’s something magical about a great baseball call that supersedes all other sports. The great game has been blessed by Baseball Jesus with some amazing voices. How do you know? Those voices are coupled with vivid imaginations and the ability to describe what is seen and put your narrow behind in the seats. Eric does that better than most, but who has done it the best? Here’s my list. Is your guy here? Let’s find out:
Honorable Mention. Russ Hodges. Honestly, it galls me that this guy isn’t on more lists. And no, he’s not on a list for one historic call (perhaps the most played call in MLB history) known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” featuring Bobby Thomson crushing a ball in the 1951 NLCS that posed [NewYork] Giants v. [Brooklyn] Dodgers. He was the voice of the Giants for more than two decades — on two coasts. Men grew up sitting on the floorboard of their dad’s old pickup listening to the gravely throated Hodges. In the baseball announcers Hall of Fame, this man deserves a bust. Oh, and you know you love it when baseball announcers shut up and let the crowd noise to the talking. Yeah, you can thank Russ Hodges for that. Heeeey-oooo!
10. Phil Rizzuto. “Holy Cow!” Baseball announcers have borrowed that phrase for more than six decades, but Rizzuto made that cow so sacred, Hindus worshiped it. Even when he wasn’t on his game, he was one of the best in the game. Scooter made the smoothest transition from the bench to the seat. He sounded like WPIX knew he would be great. They were right.
9. Curt Gowdy. He went from local 20-year Beantown guy to national NBC guy and was seamless at doing it. Gowdy was great at “being real.” His call had little homerism but he painted the picture so well. Check out this 1972 clip where Reggie Jackson gets ejected. Sure, it’s not Gowdy’s best work (even though it’s great) but Reggie gets ejected and that’s all right by me.
8. Jon Miller. This may be a skosh controversial but it is warranted. Jon Miller’s dulcet tones were made for the game. Forget the ESPN affiliations, for which he did proudly for 20 years before going back to his beloved San Francisco Giants. Remember what it means to listen to the radio at someone describing the wind whistling through the pennants, the scents of hot dogs and mayhem on the field. You know, like this iconic call with the dolt named Ruben Rivera. Just greatness.
7. Walter Lanier “Red” Barber. The man is known more for his protege (we’ll get to that later) than he was for his call, but he was historic nonetheless. Speaking of history, he called Roger Maris’ number 61, which is still the golden standard sans horse roids. He was simple, understated and everything a baseball announcer should be at the time. And if ever there was a guy who should be paid royalties, it’s the Ol’ Redhead. Look at all the phrases he coined. Genius.
6. Bob Uecker. Are you going to tell me that “Mr. Baseball” doesn’t belong on this list? Sure, bandwagoners know him as the great Harry Doyle of “Major League” fame but Brewers have known him as their first fan for almost 40 years. This story in SI says it all. Beautifully. He plays self-deprecating to a science and passion to an art. Plain and simple. He was Harry Doyle for a reason. Why? Because he was Bob Uecker first.
5b. Ernie Harwell. Forty-two years. Detroit has Motown, GM and Harwell. He was that great. His name is even retired at Comerica Park. Although he is “loooooooong gone,” he is always a part of baseball. Listen to the greatness of Ernie Harwell. Just close your eyes and enjoy. Thank you, Ernie. Indeed.
5a. Harry Kalas. So I cheated. Sue me. Much like Joe Buck is today (on a smaller scale), Harry Kalas is known to as many baseball homers as football guys with an unmistakable sound and unrelenting passion for the game. Each game. The man behind the almost creepy NFL Films montages was also the voice of the Phillies for 39 years. His calls were the perfect mix of homer and expert. He called six no-hitters, six NLCS and three World Series. And each of them were classics.
4. Harry Caray. Mount Rushmore for the Voices of Baseball Announcers begins with this guy. This bespectacled beauty is inseparable to the Chicago Cubs. His calls were classic, but it was his relationship with the fans that makes him legendary. Singing with his “I just started my 12-step program” drawl during the seventh inning gives anyone tears who loves this game. I’ve been to Wrigley once. Sang the song with Harry. And can check that off my bucket list. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was played lightly as Caray was interred to his eternal rest. Now that’s baseball, folks.
3. Jack Buck. This man is St. Louis. This man was Cardinals baseball. His words “That’s a winner” and “Go crazy” are etched in annals of Cooperstown. Buck also earned work on many national sportscasts, including radio coverage of 18 Super Bowls and 11 World Series. Remember a baseball announcer calling Kirk’s Gibson 1988 World Series Game 1 Home Run? Buck. Ozzie Smith’s 1985 NLCS home run? Buck. How about Kirby Puckett’s walk-off home run in the 1991 World Series. Buck. (Enjoy the homage by his son there, too. Chilling.)
2. Mel Allen. Another reason why I hate New York Yankees baseball – they have two Hall-of-Fame baseball announcers. First, the Scooter. Now, the iconic Mel Allen. Millions of kids (at heart, these days) grew up with “This Week in Baseball,” which ostensibly means we all grew up with Mel Allen. You didn’t need to live in New York to fall in love with his command of the great game. I’ll be quiet and you watch Mel first describe and then call Mickey’s last home run in Yankee Stadium. Sure it was an old-timers game but what I wouldn’t do to catch that ball. Yeah, because Mick hit it but also because Mel called it.
1. Vin Scully. Remember that protege of the legendary Red Barber? Yeah, it was this guy. For 60 years, Vin Scully has not only been the esteemed voice of the Dodgers, but also of baseball. I could listen to this smooth-talking fellow call a game of Little League and get misty-eyed. A brief resume: Scully has covered three perfect games, 25 no-hitters, 25 World Series, six Dodgers World Series championships and 12 All-Star Games and his calls are among the most memorable in sports. Oh yeah, and there’s this perfect game that may make the list. He is the supreme voice in baseball and as great as the rest are in this game, they are all looking up at Vin Scully all by himself. Fitting.