A Great Announcer Adds To The Game

by Kevin Burton

   When I was nine, Al Michaels let me know that my Reds were going to the World Series.  Instant friend for life!

   He left the Reds, but has called hundreds of big games since then, including the Miracle on Ice in 1980 and the Royals World Series win in 1985.  He’s one of my favorites.

   That’s why when I tuned in to Sunday Night football Sept. 27 and found out he wasn’t doing the game, I became a lot less interested in watching, a lot more interested in sleeping, even though my two favorite NFC teams were playing. 

    It makes a difference to me who is announcing a game, always has.

    Often a sports fan is with a favorite announcer two or three times as long as with a favorite player.  The announcer is in your home as an honored guest. If it’s baseball it’s nearly every day for six months. There is a bond there that is real.

   That’s why in 1990 with the Reds leading the Oakland A’s three games to none and two runs to one in World Series game four, I made a phone call.


   “Hey man, put the phone next to the radio,” I told my friend Brandon.  Long distance Alaska to Ohio.

   I had to hear Marty Brennaman, who took over play-by-play from Michaels, call the last out of the Reds sweep.

   “..and the 1990 World Series belongs to the Cincinnati Reds!…”

   Last year I watched parts of some Sunday night games when I had zero interest in the teams because I knew Michaels wouldn’t be around forever.  I just got an unexpected reminder of why I did that.

   The Royals were of mild interest to me this year, but I checked out some late-season games because there can’t be too many more season left for hall-of-famer Denny Matthews. He’s been with the team since it was born in 1969. 

   Mike Tirico is the big-money heir apparent to Michaels in the Sunday Night booth.  They are giving him some games this year to keep him happy. Michaels’ contract expires after next season and he turns 76 on Nov. 12.

   I’ll use a Cincinnati analogy here: If Al Michaels is Tony Perez, Mike Tirico is Danny Driessen. The Reds stupidly traded Perez, a hall of famer and the team’s beast leader and clutch hitter, to make room for Driessen.

   Driessen turned out to be an above average player, but no Tony Perez. That’s how I see Tirico, very good but no Al Michaels.  So I’m not staying up deep into the night to hear his call.

   I’ve come to appreciate a number of local and national announcers over the years. I’ll mention some favorites.

   Dan Kelly doing St. Louis Blues hockey was simply the best. It was the perfect match of knowledge of the sport, voice and rhythm of the call.  He had me on the edge of my seat all the time. Nobody could touch him.

   Best call, 1980 Mike Crombeen game winner in double overtime to win a first-round playoff series over Pittsburgh.

   Joe Tait doing the Cleveland Cavaliers had a way of capturing the excitement of a big game and also added humor. He used to say “The referee giveth and the referee taketh away, blessed be the referee.” Best call, 1976 Miracle at Richfield series win over Washington.

    Mike Kennedy isn’t known nationally, but is a legend doing Wichita State basketball. A bad referee call against the Shockers will bring an “Oh for cryin’ out loud.”

   Fred VanVleet ran out of eligibility, but Kennedy rolls on.

   I recall Jack Buck and Mike Shannon doing Cardinals baseball on all my dateless Saturday nights in the 80s. Cards/Giants on the coast, late night and I’m praying for extra innings.

   Then there’s Bob Costas, doing whatever.  His sports knowledge, humor, sense of the moment, add to the atmosphere whatever his assignment.

   I’m omitting some great ones because I am out of space.

    I will miss Al and Denny, when they stop doing games.  So much fun to hang out with them in the sports arena all these years. And yes, I will make room for Mike Tirico.

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