Let Us Now Praise Famous Mike-Men

garykeithron.jpgThere’s an excellent article in last week’s NY Observer about the awesomeness that is the SNY play-by-play team: Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez. Anyone interested in baseball as it is broadcast should read that piece post-haste. And if you want to get into the announcing biz, you might want to listen to the trio to get some pointers, too.

There might be one or two better individual announcers, but Gary, Keith, and Ron are the best broadcasting team in the business. I defy anyone to convince me otherwise. Between the three of them, they know everything you could want to know about the game, and the history of the team they cover. They’re never afraid to call a Met out for doing something stupid. And they’re never less than entertaining, even during a season that’s anything but.

A few years back, I splurged on a Gameday Audio subscription (set me back a whole $15/year) and started listening to out-of-market radio calls. I was absolutely stunned at the rampant homerism and incompetence exhibited by other teams’ announcers.

Guys who didn’t know the rules, or mispronounced players’ names, or got facts wrong they easily could look up on the intertubes. Guys who didn’t seem to watch any baseball except the games they broadcast–and weren’t watching that one too closely either, by the sound of things. Not to mention the sickening rah-rah attitude and willingness to look the other way when it came to the ills of the Hometown Nine.

If you don’t get a chance to listen to different baseball broadcasts, I have some sour news to report: These announcers are everywhere, in every conceivable market–including some where baseball fans are supposed to “know their stuff” and should expect better of their play-by-play guys. Where I didn’t find total hacks, the announcers were just boring. Radio–which is supposed to be the best medium for baseball–is a vast wasteland now.

Then again, you don’t have to stray too far from NY to find terrible announcers. This is where I’d launch into an indictment of YES’s own Michael Kay, but the hysterical fake Twitterer yesmichaelkay does it far better than I ever could. (Here’s a great recent tweet: “Hey fans! The debate over Joba RAGES on. RAGES. Like the debate over evolution and
creationism and the existence of the Loch Ness Monster!

But at least YES has some decent color guys (David Cone, Al Leiter) and at least one guy who can actually call a game (Ken Singleton, who fills in for Kay during his lengthy vacations). And Kay is like Edward R. Murrow compared to the moron who “announces” for the Yankees on the radio: John Sterling, the worst play-by-play guy in America, for any sport, bar none.

It’s not even the idiotic home run calls (THE MELKMAN DELIVERS!). Those might be endearing, or at least excusable, if the man knew how to call a baseball game on the radio. But he doesn’t. Not by a long shot.

There are some very simple rules about describing baseball on the radio that even I know, which seem to escape Mr. Sterling completely (despite being a broadcaster for several millennia). For instance, you don’t have to start talking the exact second the pitcher goes into his windup. Sterling loves to do this, which inevitably results in him pausing a small eternity until the ball is in the catcher’s glove. (“And the pitch is……………………………………………………………….swung on and missed.”). He does something similarly infuriating whenever a ball is hit close to the foul line.

What else do I know about radio that Sterling evidently doesn’t? The audience can’t see what’s happening. You have to describe it to them. Saying WOW, WHAT A CATCH! and not elaborating doesn’t help anyone. Nor does screaming WOW, DID YOU SEE THAT?! because no, of course we didn’t. I’m tempted to say he must be missing a chromosome, but that would be insulting to the chromosome deficient community.

There are three things about Sterling that truly blow me away. The first is: he does play-by-play for the entire game. There isn’t a radio announcer in baseball that calls an entire game. Most trade duties with a partner, one inning on, one inning off. Even Vin Scully doesn’t call an entire game by himself, but John Sterling does. How did that happen?!

The second thing is: He’s an announcer for the Yankees. Not for some small-market team that could use a lovable goofball as their play-by-play guy. He is the radio man for the most successful franchise in the entire sport, one that has a long tradition of great announcers. Mel Allen, Red Barber–even Phil Rizzutto, with all his goofiness, could run rings around John Sterling. I don’t understand why a franchise that bluldgeons you with the weight of its PRIDE and TRADITION and EXCELLENCE would have such a total clown for an announcer. It’s like a Rolls Royce driven by Rip Taylor.

The third thing is: I have never met a Yankee fan who likes him. Some tolerate him because he’s the only way to listen to the Yankees when they’re in the car, or at work. Others try to avoid the subject. Still others hate him as much as I do. But I’ve never met one who could look me in the eye and tell me they like listening to John Sterling call games for their favorite team. That’s something I do constantly: confront total strangers and try to make them confess things to me. I wonder why I can’t make friends?

So Mets fans are definitely spoiled to have the righteous trio of Gary, Keith, and Ron in the booth. We’re not spoiled with much else.