I don’t care about your tour of the clubhouse

Enough with the pitch count! It was 88 last pitch—and even with my limited mathematical ability I can figure out that the next must be 89. Keep quiet about on-base percentages against away-team lefties. I don’t care if you met the pitcher in the clubhouse. Stop pestering us with details and get on with the game!

Whew. I feel a little better. Now that I’ve calmed down…

Whether it’s wise or folly, I am a fan of the Detroit Tigers.

I listen to them on MLB’s Gameday audio—an exceptional bargain, by the way; only $15 a year and you can listen to any game from either team’s home radio station. The old games are archived.

If the Tigers aren’t playing, I’ll tune in to any game that is on. Usually this is the Damn Yankees or the Mets, since I live in Manhattan. But sometimes I play scout and try other teams.

I have heard the home-team announcers from almost every team, and am therefore something of a radio connoisseur. This ability has allowed me to note that a depressing trend in sportscasting is gaining momentum: Announcers who do everything but call the game.

The ratio of inane chatter to play-by-play is increasing at an alarming rate. Soon, there will be nothing left but “in-depth, hard-hitting” analysis. All sentences will begin with, “You know, Bob…”

These guys must figure that nobody needs to actually listen to the action. Not when there’s important words to be said about how the guy who is playing third base now played second in the past. Analysis is what wins broadcasting awards. Anybody can keep track of the score.

Dan Dickerson and Jim Price (sadly both tenors) who call the Tigers’ games are typical. They frequently forget they are on the radio. Somehow it slips their mind that listeners cannot see the game as they can.

Last night, I heard comments like “Look at that,” which got the response “Wow.”

Look at what? Wow what?

A new batter comes to the plate—we are not told he did, but he must have because the last one got out—and all the while the announcers are chattering and we never learn who it is.

After an anecdote about a clubhouse tour we suddenly hear, “That’s 2 and Oh, on so-and-so.” 2-0? What happened to the first pitch?

Never mind, because it’s back to a story of how the color man once saw a game somewhere. During this fascinating saga, I could just make out the crack of the bat, cheers in the stadium. Dickerson reluctantly breaks away from his partner’s gripping tale to say—long after it has happened—that so-and-so was thrown out at first.

Action in baseball can be slow, methodical. It takes an expert radioman to keep his voice interesting. I fairly long to hear Ernie Harwell again. Harwell was a master and knew when to shut up. He understood that you let the ballpark fill in the gaps. How comforting it was to hear “Beer here!” and the murmur of the crowd.

But because the job is tough, it’s no excuse to clog the silence between pitches with mundane stories about what the announcers did the day before, who they spoke with, how they feel about today’s game, blah blah blah.

Silence must terrify sportscasters. They must figure that if they’re not spewing out a stream of words that people will forget what they’re listening to and tune out.

So they start babbling, usually falling back on the safe bet, “analysis.” That’s the real meat, the serious stuff. This is where they can show off their intricate and arcane baseball knowledge.

Save it.

During the game, call it. Tell us everything that is happening. Keep quiet about everything else. If we were bored of the game and didn’t want to hear about each pitch, we’d read about it in the paper and not tune in. For God’s sake, Mr Announcer, remember you are on radio. Hard as it is to believe, we cannot see what you can see.

No more analysis during an inning. Wait until it’s over. Shut up once in a while.

In fact, shut up a lot more than once in a while.


A small clip of Harwell is here. A tribute is here.


  1. Mike B

    Let me add another piece of advice to today’s radio broadcasters: listeners at home should be able to fill out a scorecard based on your call of the game. “And he looks at strike three!” (Backwards K). And so on. Any unusual play should come with the explicit explanation of how it is to be scored (catcher interference, etc.). The baseball scorecard is a great example of what Tufte would call a data-rich graphic, and the announcers call should be no less data rich (at chatty-Kathy poor).

    We miss Jack Buck here in St. Louis as much as you guys miss Harwell.

  2. Briggs


    Jack Buck was great. We used to hear him over AFRTS from time to time.

  3. Well, if you’re gonna throw yourself into hopeless causes better the Tigers than Lions, I guess.

  4. Chriscafe

    Yeah… What the hell do they think it is, cricket?

  5. Joy

    Did someone say cricket?
    Cricket on the radio was a favourite with the lads at school. We sat on the bank of the Severn in Worcester which is right next to the grounds and listened to the crowd cheer with the radio commentary going at the same time. How grown up were we? I think the ball sometimes still makes it into the river, like your petanque ball!
    I keep this sound clip on my PC whenever I need a good laugh.
    It never fails to make me at least smile.

    It’s not live commentary, or baseball, but it is a funny, very famous BBC cricket clip, voted by FiveLive Britain’s favourite of all time.
    Why do the winning teams have the most supporters? Which comes first?

  6. deathsinger

    I do not know the announcers in question, however, I do know that some teams have announcers that do both radio and TV. The Braves are one such team. I think these announcers get lazy once they start doing TV. If you do not have to describe the action, there is a considerable amount of empty space to fill.

  7. Kevin Jackson

    I’m a hockey fan myself, but some of the same problems exist. The difference I’ve noticed in play-calling is between radio and television. Radio play-by-play is quite busy, because everything has to be described, plus the announcers have to fit in updates of the current score, plus the colorman has to squeeze in his stuff, plus there’s all the advertising (I don’t mean separate ads, I mean various plugs by the announcers to pay the bills). TV, on the other hand, does a lot of that work. The score is always displayed up in a corner. The general flow of the game is obvious, and only the particular player with the puck needs to be announced. This often results (depending on the quality of the TV announcers) in two color men, which is what it sounds like you’re getting in baseball.

    My preference is actually to just use the TV for the picture and use radio for the commentary. But since I watch most of my games online, get two feed synced is pretty rare.

  8. JH

    Oooh boy, how Harry Caray was loved by our relatives near/in Chicago!

    Take me out to the ballgame,
    Take me out with the crowd.
    Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
    I don’t care if I ever get back, ’cause it’s root, root, root for the home team,
    if they don’t win it’s a shame.
    For it’s one , two, three strikes you’re out, at the old ballgame.

    Cannot help it…

  9. Doug M

    I miss Bob Costas calling baseball. I know that this was a discussion of radio announcers, and he is a TV guy.

    In San Francisco we have a multi-headed monster that calls the games. Fortunately for me, it is a tallented and deep crew: Jon Angel, Lon Simmons, “Kruk and Kuip”, Dave Flemming, and Greg Papa. In a game, the team and rotates between the radio booth, local TV, and National TV.

    Anyway, the team does a fine job ballancing the BS, the arcana, and the actual call of the game.

  10. Gary P

    I once picked up my football fan sister at the airport shortly before both the Packer and Viking games ended. We listened to the end of the Packer game and then switched to the Viking game with five minutes left. From previous experience, I predicted that the Vikings radio guys would not give out the score. We did not hear the score until after the game ended.

    This is one of the reasons I am a fan of two teams. The Packers and whoever is playing against the Vikings.

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