This is the hardest assignment I have ever had. I've written about scandal, death, social change, politics…hell, I've written about Tim Tebow more times than I can count…but ranking baseball announcers? It's the hardest assignment ever, mostly because there's no way I won't be wrong.
There is no right answer in ranking any announcer for any sport—everything in some way is relative to the person doing the list. But in this case, unlike other sports like football, the baseball announcers of our time mean so much to us personally. They mean something to our lives; they become, over the years, a part of the family.
Harry Kalas will be way too high on this list for some of you, but for anyone in the Philadelphia area who grew up listening to Harry and Richie Ashburn, he's right where he belongs.
And usually in a situation like this I'd ask for help, but even the help wasn't much help. Ford C. Frick Award winner Dave Niehaus was called "the soundtrack of my childhood" by a Seattle Mariners fan who shared an opinion, then called "a pretty pedestrian announcer" by someone in our business whose opinion on this project I valued more than my own.
This list is inexact, biased and completely impossible to justify. But it's the best I could do, while trying to focus as much (or more) on national announcers as the legendary locals—factoring in careers in television and radio and making sure people from two or three generations are represented.
Again, this is the hardest assignment I've ever had to do. Please remember that when you tell me how much of an idiot I am for not putting Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow in the Top 25.
Before we get to the list, here is a group of announcers who certainly deserved consideration. This list is presented in alphabetical order, not in any semblance of a ranking. Several members of this group have been awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Frick Award is given each year to a broadcaster for "major contributions to baseball." Here is the list, in full.
Anderson, at 42, is one of the youngest announcers on this list, but certainly deserves consideration after developing a national voice in the game over the last six years. Anderson has worked with the Brewers since 2007, and just one year after he got his start in the major leagues, he found himself as part of the TBS national crew. Now a mainstay in the Turner stables, Anderson's professional, stoic style allows his analysts, and the game itself, to be the star.
Someone is already going to look at a list of 25 names and see that Skip Caray isn't one of them and probably decide to stop reading right now. The son of Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray and the father of Braves announcer Chip Caray, Skip is part of one of the great families in broadcasting.
Caray worked for the Atlanta Braves for more than 30 years, sharing his wit, humor and homerism with fans across America as part of the Braves' national television deal. Place him on your list where you feel he best deserves to be.
Castiglione is part of the fantastic Boston Red Sox set of announcers, which includes Don Orsillo, Dave O'Brien and, until recently, Jerry Remy. Each unique in their own way, it is Castiglione's 30 years calling games for the Sox that sets him apart.
Coleman was a player for the New York Yankees in the 1940s and '50s, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1949 and helping New York to reach six World Series, including four championships in the '50s. Oh, and he is the only major leaguer to see combat in two wars.
None of that, however, explains why he's on this list. Coleman got into broadcasting in 1960, working both radio and television for more than 50 years. He was a 2005 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.
Enberg is one of our country's great general sports announcers. He was ranked as one of the top college football and NFL announcers on each of our respective lists for those sports, and he would surely crack the list of other sports like tennis or the Olympic Games.
Enberg worked California Angels games in the late 1960s before reaching national acclaim. When he moved to NBC in the '70s, he continued to call Major League Baseball games and had plans to become the Peacock's lead baseball voice in the '80s before the network hired Vin Scully to anchor its coverage. Enberg did just fine for himself in other sports.
In 2009, Enberg took a step back from the national spotlight to return to baseball, calling games for the San Diego Padres.
Harrelson has become one of the most polarizing announcers in the game, most notably for his recent tête-à-tête with MLB Network's Brian Kenny over the value of sabermetrics and what Harrelson called "TWTW: The Will To Win."
A former player, Harrelson has been a broadcaster for nearly 40 years, mostly calling games in his signature style for the Chicago White Sox. If we were doing a ranking of the biggest homers in baseball, Harrelson may top the list. For this, he’s an honorable mention.
From Jeff Passan, one of the leading baseball scribes at Yahoo! Sports:
I love Tom Hamilton. Part of it is that I grew up in Cleveland. More than that is the balance he strikes during his calls. He is measured, intelligent and tonally appropriate. His voice always equals the moment. Which is what made that Jason Giambi call so spectacular. Next to "The river's on fire," the four greatest words to come out of Cleveland in the last century are: "Swing and a drive!" I never thought a fragment could be so powerful. Hamilton then sprays on the whipped cream: "To deep (direction of the home run)" ... drizzles some caramel: "A-waaaaaaaaay back!" ... and plops the cherry: "Gone!" If that wasn't perfect enough, he dropped the "Mardi Gras in September in Cleveland," and it was over. I've covered baseball for 10 years now. I've never heard a better call.
Ernie Johnson Sr.
While those of us in the Turner family (Turner is the parent company of Bleacher Report) have the esteemed pleasure of calling Ernie Johnson Jr. a colleague, it's his father who certainly warrants inclusion on this list.
A pitcher in the 1950s for the Braves of Boston and Milwaukee, Johnson became an iconic broadcaster for the team in Atlanta, calling games on TV and radio from 1962-1999. The Turner Field broadcast booth is named after the elder Johnson. His legacy, even after his passing in 2011, is still going strong.
Kiner could certainly be on the list of 25, but we will have more on the rest of the Mets' announcing crew later, I promise.
A six-time All-Star and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player, Kiner entered the broadcasting business in the early 1960s and joined Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy in the inaugural season of the New York Mets in 1962. Kiner has been around the Mets for the team's entire existence and was a signature voice of the franchise for decades.
Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow
It was hard to separate Kuiper and Krukow on this list, so we decided, simply, not to. Kuiper is a five-time Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, calling some of the great moments in the illustrious recent history of the San Francisco Giants.
Krukow has won seven Emmy Awards for his work as a broadcaster, calling Giants games since the '90s. The duo became so popular they did the voice work for EA Sports' MVP Baseball for three years in the early aughts.
McCarver got his start in the late 1970s working Phillies games, and parlayed his knowledge of the game and status as an All-Star and World Series champion player to reach the highest levels of broadcasting.
McCarver has been the lead analyst on Fox for years and has taken his fair share of criticism over that time. Frankly, if McCarver—who is leaving Fox after this season—had retired 10 years ago, he might be in the Top 10 on this list. But he hung around far too long, and his folksy nature of oversimplifying while overanalyzing the game at the same time has him worthy of mention, not ranking.
Nelson is one of the great announcers in the history of sports broadcasting, and if he wasn't so high on the list of college football and NFL announcers, he would probably rank higher on here. (I admit that logic does not seem fair.)
One of the first announcers for the New York Mets, Nelson spent 17 years with the Mets before moving to San Francisco to call Giants games. Nelson is in what seems like every possible Hall of Fame for an announcer, a series of much-deserved honors over his illustrious career.
Niehaus was a Seattle institution, and if you grew up listening to him call Mariners games, there’s a chance you grew up loving Niehaus. From a 2010 New York Times story about his retirement:
His voice was unmistakable, his passion coming through on the big plays and the homers, when his voice would rise and he would shout, “My oh my!” Most of his home run calls—and at the Kingdome, there were lots—would start with “Swung on and BELTED” and end with, “It will fly away!”
And if one of those homers was a Mariners grand slam, well, Niehaus went crazy. He employed what must be the only home run call in baseball history to reference a grandmother: “Get out the rye bread and the mustard, Grandma, it’s grand salami time!”
Don’t forget the cheese.
Palmer was a top national analyst for years, working NBC games with Al Michaels and Tim McCarver before settling back in Baltimore to work for the Orioles, primarily with long-time partner Gary Thorne. Palmer is never afraid to share his opinions—a charge that is harder than it sounds for game analysts who are paid by the teams they cover. Just don’t get him going on the Steroid Era.
Santo was a homer in a class unlike any other homers, but that’s just what endeared him to Cubs fans and fans of other teams alike; he was unabashedly rooting for the Cubbies. And for much of his tenure in the booth, the team was horrible, which made his blatant honesty kind of...refreshing...in a way.
I really enjoy Smoltz on TV, which is saying something as a Phillies fan who hates everything about the Braves of the '90s. (Yes, his affiliation with the Braves trumps his affiliation with Turner.)
Smoltz doesn't rely on gimmicks in the booth. His analysis is always sound, well-reasoned and delivered with confidence that never sounds like he’s talking down to the audience, or down on the players.
Perhaps more than any announcer in the game, Sterling manages to make everything about him, which is why he’s the perfect radio announcer for a team like the Yankees, whose fans make everything in baseball about them.
Sterling got into professional broadcasting in New York in 1970, but didn't join the Yankees until 1989 (after a long stint in Atlanta), holding a position in the Yankees booth ever since. His signature home run call, “It is high...it is far...it is gone,” is what has made him so recognizable, and in some cases, maligned. There have been far too many warning-track false starts in Sterling’s later years and that, when coupled with campy schtick like “It’s an A-Bomb from A-Rod,” is what keeps him out of the Top 25.
And speaking of the Top 25...
Here’s a fun story about Bob Costas. Back in the late '80s or early '90s, I went to a Phillies game with my parents and we sat in one of the old luxury boxes at Veterans Stadium (yes, if you've ever been to the Vet, you know that’s an oxymoron).
Costas was calling the game for NBC and the box we sat in had a closed-circuit feed to the NBC booth. We heard everything they said, even during commercials. After each half inning when the game went to break, most of the people in the suite would stand up, walk around, get some free food and schmooze. Not me, though—I wanted to hear what the TV people said to each other during commercials.
"Can someone get me a tissue?" Costas asked someone, anyone within earshot. "Can I get a tissue? I am in desperate need of a tissue here!"
For the last 25 years, every time I've seen Costas call a baseball game, I hope to myself he’s packed enough tissues.
Truth be told, if this list were ranking the most important announcers in baseball history, Costas would be far higher on the list. The man was a legitimate public candidate for MLB commissioner some years ago, and with Bud Selig retiring, he should be again.
Costas is the best studio host in sports history—his 6 million Emmy Awards validate that—and while he hasn't called too many games on television over the last decade other than his work for MLB Network, Costas still holds an important place in the game.
Over his illustrious career, Costas has anchored coverage for every sport imaginable, from NFL to PGA to NBA to NHL to both the Summer and Winter Olympics. But you can hear it in his voice when he talks about Major League Baseball. It just means more to him than the other sports. In a way, he has meant more to it.
Jim Kaat has been calling games for decades, slowing down his full-time schedule around 2006 but still working games for MLB Network, including the 2013 MLB playoffs. Kaat has been in the game as a player, coach or broadcaster since 1959, on the field for nearly 25 years and in the booth even longer.
There's something folksy about Kaat's delivery in the booth, which may be why he was such a strong national announcer. With Kaat, it feels like there's something ultimately relatable for everyone in the audience. He doesn't talk down to the viewer, yet his analysis has never been too complex for the casual fan to follow.
For much of his career, Kaat called games for the Twins and Yankees, but his national coverage has always been solid and straightforward, simply calling the game the way he sees it.
"Boog" Sciambi has come up the ranks of Major League Baseball from working Marlins games to Braves games to his current stint as a national television and radio voice for ESPN's MLB coverage.
Sciambi has managed to create a name for himself with his extremely solid work in the booth, but has specifically endeared himself to the new generation of baseball fans by implementing advanced stats into his broadcasts. He doesn't overwhelm the audience with high-minded numbers and figures, but Sciambi certainly doesn't shy away from using non-traditional statistics to inform listeners in a way that, sadly, most announcers still refuse to incorporate.
The job of any play-by-play announcer is to present the events of the game in a cohesive and entertaining way, while adding timely and pertinent information that can enhance the audience's viewing or listening experience. Sciambi gets that more than most.
Prince was a legend in Pittsburgh, spanning five decades on the call for Pirates baseball. From the Ford C. Frick Award biography at BaseballHall.org:
Prince's charming yet brash demeanor, clever command of the language, entertaining gift of gab and appreciation of baseball's human elements made him the consummate professional. He was known for his colorful colloquialisms and he coined many of the Pirates' nicknames. His popsicle stick frame was invariably adorned with a narrow tie and a garish sport coat, attire which suited his flamboyant personality.
The name Russ Hodges may not be as well known today as some of the other legends on this list, but his voice and signature call certainly are.
"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
It's one of the great moments in baseball history, and as you can see in the video above, it was captured nearly by accident.
Hodges started his announcing career in 1929, becoming the Giants' lead announcer in 1949. He called Giants games on both coasts, continuing with the team through the 1970 season. He passed away a year later at the age of 60 and was posthumously inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Bob Elson started his career in radio in 1929 by chance, as the story goes (retold here by South Side Sox), when he entered and won a contest for a radio announcer job in St. Louis. Shortly thereafter, Elson was brought home to Chicago by WGN to work Cubs and White Sox games. He is credited with conducting some of the first on-field interviews in the game's history.
He wasn't fancy or charismatic. No "You can put it on the board, yes!" or "He gone." His broadcasts were filled with what we grew to expect: a description of what was happening on the field and at the ballpark. We learned where the wind was blowing, whether rain was in the area, what each team's uniform looked like, who was throwing in the bullpen, how the defense was positioned, and what kind of pitch just got hit into the upper deck.
Elson painted the picture, and we embellished it in our heads. When he told us, "He's gonna get it, and he does," we knew a routine fly ball had been caught. "Throw to first, back in time," meant that this was not the pitcher's best move. The world of the 1950s was rather predictable, and so was Bob Elson's broadcasting. It wasn't about him. It was about the game, the team…
This is probably as good a place as any to address the rest of the Ford C. Frick list, especially those who are not on these rankings. Why is Bob Elson on this list, and not Jack Brickhouse or Milo Hamilton? I have no answer for that, truly, other than the fact that Elson predates them in the game's history. Still, it was decisions like this that makes the list so much fun, and so difficult, to compile.
I had the great pleasure to talk with Charley Steiner on an ESPN conference call for SportsCenter last year. I asked him about beards, and his reply was as thoughtful and engaging as you could imagine a Charley Steiner answer to a question about beards might be.
This is how Steiner calls baseball games, too. He's thoughtful and engaging, telling a story of the game rather than bogging the broadcast down with paint-by-numbers minutiae.
Steiner was known as a great SportsCenter anchor, but he cut his teeth in radio, returning to the medium in 2002 as the ESPN Radio lead baseball announcer in 1998. Steiner left ESPN in 2002 to work for the New York Yankees alongside John Sterling. And while both were adept in their own way, the pairing never felt right, most notably because Steiner's calls were constantly being overshadowed by Sterling's schtick.
Don't believe me? OK, click that link. But this is about Steiner not Sterling, which coincidentally may have been why he left New York after the 2004 season for Los Angeles to be the Dodgers radio voice.
Steiner has been the radio voice of the Dodgers ever since, save for the first set of innings when the team simulcasts the television call of Vin Scully. Steiner is not Scully, nor does he try to be, but he is still a thoughtful and engaging listen.
Gary Thorne may be one of the five greatest hockey announcers of all time—Mike Emrick, Tom Mees, Gene Hart and...I'll think of the fourth—but Thorne is also one of the best baseball announcers of this era.
Sure, Thorne is no fan of sabermetrics (or "sabermatics," as he called it), which may not endear him to the more advanced baseball fans of today. But his dulcet tones and penchant for always knowing the right moment to gin up the excitement make him one of the great voices in the game.
Thorne started in baseball in the 1980s calling Mets games and was eventually replaced by Gary Cohen (more on him in a bit). Thorne combined his work on both baseball and hockey to become one of the most recognizable announcers in sports, working primarily national telecasts for ESPN while also serving as the lead announcer for Armed Forces Radio and international MLB telecasts.
Thorne has been calling Baltimore Orioles games since 2007 and has been the voice for the MLB 2K video game series since 2009.
At the risk of having all of you close this slideshow and never return, I'll get this out of the way: I think Joe Buck is probably too low on this list, not too high.
For a number of reasons, Buck has turned people off to his style of calling a game, but I feel after a few early years in his national broadcasting career where he may have come off a bit too sure of himself, Buck has really come into his own as one of the finest broadcasters of his day. For some, the transformation came too late. For me, with all the talk show and studio work in the past, he is hitting his stride as a play-by-play announcer.
Buck is as sharp and witty as they come in this business and is completely aware of all the fanbases who think he hates their team. While his call can sometimes be a bit dry, he is afforded no favors by being paired with someone like Tim McCarver. If Buck were with a more contemporary former player like John Smoltz or Cal Ripken, the booth would be (read: will be) a lot more enjoyable to listen to as part of Fox's national coverage.
Is Bob Uecker the greatest entertainer in the history of baseball not named Bill Veeck?
Uecker parlayed a six-year stint as a journeyman major leaguer into a Hall of Fame career in broadcasting and entertainment.
Uecker was a regular on the talk-show circuit, yukking it up with the likes of Johnny Carson or David Letterman. He was a notable pitchman, doing some of the best television commercials in the history of sports advertising. And he was a star on TV and in the movies, most notably for his role on the '80s sitcom Mr. Belvedere (yes, I watched every episode as a kid) and the classic "Major League" movies (yes, we all mimicked his "juuuust a bit outside").
And yet, through all that, Uecker was (and remains) an actual baseball announcer, calling Milwaukee Brewers games for more than 40 years with the same style and humor as everything else he does.
Oh, and you're welcome for all those links.
Marty Brennaman has been the lead play-by-play announcer for the Cincinnati Reds since 1974 and is one of a handful of broadcasting greats to work with one major league franchise for as long as he has. Brennaman is coming up on his 50th year in broadcasting, including four straight decades in the Reds radio booth.
In September, Brennaman signed a three-year extension to stay with the Reds through the 2016 season. He is a Cincinnati institution. The Brennaman name is synonymous with Reds baseball, down to Marty's son, Thom, calling Reds games on TV, in addition to his national work for Fox.
As a kid, Phil Rizzuto was the only non-Philadelphia announcer I truly remember loving. His voice was so different from other announcers that he became so much fun to listen to on Yankees broadcasts. I have no idea if he was a great analyst, but he was always opinionated, passionate and unique, which in this business is three-fourths of a great recipe for success.
His signature “Holy cow” call is still, to this day, one of the most memorable catchphrases in sports. Rizzuto worked with all the greats in the Yankee booth, including Mel Allen, Red Barber, Joe Garagiola, Jerry Coleman, Bobby Murcer, Jim Kaat, Tom Seaver and probably dozens more over his 40 years in the booth.
And yet, on top of his Hall of Fame playing career and Hall of Fame broadcasting career, Rizzuto may have been most well known around the country as a pitchman for The Money Store.
“Holy cow, are you as confused as I am about these new tax laws?”
Yes, Phil. A thousand times yes.
Dan Shulman is ESPN's lead play-by-play man for baseball and one of the network's top announcers for college basketball, and it still feels like he is undervalued. (Maybe it's that he doesn't call NFL games like many other “top” analysts in sports today.)
Shulman is one of the great announcers of our time in any sport. He is always prepared, informed and pitch-perfect with regard to the game situation. He is constantly saddled with a three-man booth, adding the role of traffic cop to his telecasts—one he does with aplomb.
Shulman was named the 2011 NSSA National Sportscaster of the Year, an award he certainly earned. He is one of Canada's great exports in American broadcasting, but he hasn't forgotten his roots, recently competing for Canada in basketball during the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
"I'm representing my country, representing my religion, [and] my culture. I love it,” Shulman exclaimed, via the Jerusalem Post. “I do work in the U.S. but… I'm Canadian. I love wearing the red and white.”
Curt Gowdy is on several of our announcing lists, including college football and NFL, but it's baseball where he may be most notable. Gowdy started in Major League Baseball working behind Mel Allen for a few years with the Yankees before moving up to Boston to become the lead broadcaster for the Red Sox in 1951 at the age of 31.
Gowdy worked in Boston for nearly 15 years before being hired by NBC to be the Peacock's lead national announcer, covering the National Football League's AFC contests as well as Major League Baseball. Gowdy called baseball for NBC through the 1975 World Series, until he was replaced by Joe Garagiola.
Gowdy had several famous calls in his career, most notably the call of Ted Williams' final at-bat in 1960, when Williams belted a home run on the final swing of his professional career. Gowdy also had one of three famous calls on Hank Aaron's 715th home run in 1974.
He was one of several announcers, including Dick Enberg and Mel Allen, to call the legendary Angels-Mariners game when Reggie Jackson tried to assassinate the Queen of England. Wait...that may have been in a movie.
Tony Kubek was a mainstay in the booth for NBC for three decades. Kubek also called games for the Toronto Blue Jays, but was most known for his work in the booth with Bob Costas at NBC, among other notable broadcast partners.
Kubek called 11 World Series and 10 All-Star Games while at NBC, staying with the Peacock until the network lost its contract with Major League Baseball. He then went to work for the Yankees before quitting broadcasting in 1994 during the league's work stoppage. In a 2008 New York Times story by Harvey Araton, Kubek said:
I had two years remaining on my contract with MSG at the time. But it struck me that day that I just didn't want to be in or around baseball anymore. I remember that I called Bob Gutkowski, who was my boss, and I told him that I wasn't going to finish the contract. He said, `Wait a minute, that's pretty good money you're going to walk away from,' but I had made up my mind and that was it.
Part of it was that I didn't like what was happening in the game, or what was going to happen. But part of it was that I had been around baseball my whole life. Everyone around me had been in baseball. I decided I didn't want to be in it anymore, to go home and spend time with my family. I said goodbye, and that was it. I haven't seen a major league game since I retired, even on television. I've never seen Derek Jeter play, though I do recall seeing him work out when he was very young and still in the minor leagues.
If Kubek was that disenfranchised after the strike, imagine what the Steroid Era would do to him. I wonder, some five years after that interview, if he still hasn't seen a game. What does a guy who spent his entire life involved in a sport do without watching it at all? Cooking shows? Real Housewives?
Joe Garagiola retired at the start of 2013 after 57 illustrious years in the broadcast booth. After retiring from the game as a player in 1954, Garagiola took his remarkable personality and jocularity to television, appearing many times on the Tonight Show and even earning a co-hosting gig on the The Today Show.
Garagiola was the lead national baseball voice for years for NBC, working as both a play-by-play man and color analyst. He left NBC in 1988, falling out of the national spotlight while calling games for the Angels and, most recently, the Diamondbacks.
From Jim McLennan of the AZ Snake Pit in February:
Listening to Garagiola work a game was like listening to your favorite grandfather speak. What he said might not necessarily always be accurate, but it was told in such a way that it was a genuine pleasure to listen to. And that was true, whether or not you had previously heard the constant stream of anecdotes from his half-century plus in and around the game, in which his commentary was embedded.
Gary Cohen is one of the absolute best announcers working in Major League Baseball today, and it's frankly amazing that he hasn't been pulled into a greater national spotlight. He works in New York, so it's not as if he has a low profile by any means. If there was a coefficient ranking between skill at the craft and national prominence, Cohen's is completely out of whack.
Now, here's what separates Cohen from some of the other top play-by-play men in the game right now: His analysts make him even better. The SNY group of Cohen, Ron Darling—who also works national games for TBS—and Keith Hernandez (and even Howie Rose, who does radio) are great together.
From top to bottom, the Mets broadcast crew has to be the best in all of baseball, led by Cohen (and the occasional appearance from Jerry Seinfeld).
For 20 years, Jon Miller was the voice of baseball for ESPN. Sure, there were other play-by-play guys over that time—Dan Shulman among them—but none could come close to the panache and lighthearted showmanship of Miller.
Miller has been with his hometown San Francisco Giants since 1997 after 15 years with the Baltimore Orioles. Throughout his long career, Miller has called games for five MLB franchises.
To say Miller is quirky would be an understatement. His play-by-play is often lyric, bordering on poetic. His call of players from Asia or Latin America often comes with a nod to that player's heritage, and Miller's pronunciation of whatever term he chooses is handled with perfect pronunciation and diction. He is a true character of the game.
Miller, of course, was famously paired with Joe Morgan for years at ESPN. After...*ahem...careful consideration, Morgan was left off this list, in large part because the opportunity to anger the Internet was not something I wanted to do on purpose with this piece. Miller, unlike Morgan, deserves to be near the top of the list.
Red Barber is a true legend of broadcasting, starting his major league announcing career in 1934—fittingly with the Cincinnati Reds. Barber moved to Brooklyn to call Dodgers games in 1939 before moving to the crosstown Yankees in '54. Per RadioHOF.org, "Barber had the distinction of broadcasting baseball’s first night game on May 24, 1935 in Cincinnati and the sport’s first televised contest on August 26, 1939 in Brooklyn."
Barber was never a homer, but his unabashed honesty and nonpartisan style while with the Yankees did not exactly endear him to those in charge in the Bronx.
Let go from the Yankees in 1966, Barber retired from broadcasting to focus on writing and other media endeavors. Ever the wordsmith, Barber is credited with coining many different baseball catchphrases, most notably calling a lazy pop-up a "can of corn."
He was one of two announcers to receive the inaugural Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and was part of the American Sportscasters Association's inaugural HOF class as well. His accompanying video (seen above) is my favorite of all the videos in this series. Barber's honesty about overcoming his initial reluctance to call Brooklyn games with Jackie Robinson as a member of the Dodgers, so many years after the fact, speaks volumes about his thoughtfulness and integrity.
For nearly 30 years, Mel Allen was the voice of baseball, first as the top play-by-play announcer in the country and then as the host of This Week in Baseball. In total, his career spanned more than 50 years in the game.
Allen's voice was unmistakable, and his lighthearted tone endeared him to fans around the country. Allen started his announcing career in the late 1930s, working with both the Yankees and Giants in New York in the early '40s.
Following three years of service in World War II, Allen worked home and road games for the Yankees until 1964, when he was unceremoniously ousted. After working for several teams around baseball for some time, Allen eventually returned to the Yankees in the late 1970s, working with the team until the mid-'80s.
"Mel Allen meant as much to Yankee tradition as legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle," George Steinbrenner once said, per ESPN.com. "He was the voice of the Yankees."
His signature "How about that!" call transcended the booth, working its way into many different facets of pop culture over the years.
Allen started with This Week In Baseball in 1977 and continued to narrate the show almost until his death in 1996. He is in every Hall of Fame imaginable, including the Baseball Hall of Fame, as he was one of two announcers, with Red Barber, to be given the inaugural Ford C. Frick Award.
More than perhaps any other sport, baseball thrives on the presence of personalities, and there may be no bigger personality in the history of baseball broadcasting than Caray. The eldest of three generations of MLB announcers, Harry Caray is a Chicago legend for what was his stream-of-consciousness style and hilarious storytelling.
Caray started his career in St. Louis in 1945 and worked for the Cardinals and Browns for 25 years before moving to Oakland, then Chicago. Caray actually worked with the White Sox for more than a decade before moving to the north side of town in 1981 to join the Cubs.
With WGN one of the most widely carried networks in America, Caray was seen and heard in millions of homes around the country, helping to increase his profile as one of the great voices in the game.
Caray's seventh-inning stretch routine of leading the fans in "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" galvanized his persona as the everyman in the booth—a fan of the game through and through.
Go crazy, folks!
Well, don't go crazy over this, because Jack Buck certainly deserves to be considered among the best announcers in baseball history.
Buck started calling St. Louis Cardinals games in 1954 with Harry Caray, Milo Hamilton and, a year later, Joe Garagiola. He was let go by the Cardinals in 1959 and worked national games for ABC before returning to the team two years later. Buck and Caray teamed for the next eight years, and after Caray left St. Louis, Buck served as the lead play-by-play man for essentially the next 40 seasons.
His most famous call may be that of Ozzie Smith's walk-off home run in Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS, but some of Buck's greatest moments in baseball came outside of St. Louis, or even outside of baseball altogether. He called the 1981 NFL Championship Game, which featured “The Catch.” He called the famed blown call by Don Denkinger in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, and who can forget the call of Bill Buckner's error in the same game of the following year's Fall Classic?
Buck called Kirk Gibson's walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series, repeating, "I don't believe what I just saw." He also famously called Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series that led to one of the most epic clinching games in baseball history. Nearly 20 years to the day, Joe Buck borrowed father's famed"And we'll see you tomorrow night” for a call of David Freese's walk-off homer in Game 6 of the 2011 Series.
Unlike his son, the elder Buck seemed easily excitable, often announcing historic moments with as much (or more) energy as the crowd. Without question, Jack Buck is one of the game's very best.
There are not many broadcasters more associated with one city than Ernie Harwell is with his adopted home of Detroit. It took a dozen years in baseball, however, before Harwell landed in Detroit, starting in New York with the Dodgers and Giants before going to Baltimore for five seasons in the 1950s.
Harwell was the lead radio analyst for the Tigers from 1960 through 1991 before he was let go, much to the ire of the team's fans. Harwell was brought back to Detroit by new ownership after a year away, and a decade later, Harwell retired at the end of the 2002 season.
During his time in the Motor City, Harwell also worked national radio for NBC, CBS and ESPN, calling several All-Star Games and World Series.
Harwell was known for his conversational style in the booth, like many great announcers, creating a dialogue with the audience during the game.
It's hard to truly appreciate someone until they are gone. When Harry Kalas died on April 13, 2009, it was like losing a member of the family. For people who grew up watching and listening to Phillies games, Harry the K and his longtime partner and friend Richie Ashburn were as important to the city of Philadelphia as any of the players.
Hell, there were some years where Harry and Whitey were the only reason to pay attention to Phillies games. And somehow, they always managed to make the game entertaining.
Kalas started with the Houston Astros, but was hired by the Phillies in 1971, replacing the ever popular Bill Campbell and Ford C. Frick recipient By Saam. Paired primarily with Ashburn, they quickly became fan favorites and, over the years, much more than that.
When "Whitey" passed away in 1997, a little bit of Harry was lost too. It was never quite the same in the booth for Kalas, and there was talk as the Phillies moved into a new stadium in 2004 that his time in the booth was running thin. But he stayed and was rewarded by getting the chance to call the final outs of the 2008 World Series.
Kalas died early the following season, and the Philadelphia sports scene has never been the same.
Some people may feel that Kalas—who also followed John Facenda as the voice of NFL Films—may be too high on this list. For me, he's the reason this list exists.
Kalas was the narrator for my introduction to baseball. The team may not have been great, or good, or mediocre when I was a kid, but I knew we had two things: the best mascot and the best announcers in the game.
When the quality of the team finally caught up to the likes of Harry (and the Phanatic), Philly became a pretty magical baseball town.
That's how important Harry Kalas was...and still is.
Simply the best. There is no announcer in any sport who does his job better than Vin Scully calling a baseball game.
Scully, 85, has been with the Dodgers just shy of 65 years—the longest tenure of any broadcaster with a single team in pro sports history. Scully has meant as much to Major League Baseball—and, specifically, Dodgers baseball—as all but a handful of people in the history of the game. He is as synonymous with Dodger Blue as Koufax, Drysdale, Campanella and Robinson.
Scully has steadfastly insisted on going it alone, serving instead as both play-by-play announcer and color analyst for Dodgers telecasts.
In addition to calling games for Brooklyn and Los Angeles, Scully was the lead announcer for years for CBS and NBC, calling both baseball and NFL games.
He was behind the mic for some of the great moments in the history of American sports, most notably Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Scully also had the chance to call a perfect game for Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron's 715th home run, and Bill Buckner's mistake in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. (With all these great announcers alternating TV and radio back then, the press box conversations must have been legendary.)
Scully has won every award one could possibly imagine and is universally viewed as the finest announcer to ever call a baseball game.