This list is the answer if you will to the original worst announcers. I narrowed my list down to guys that actually call the games. Not the studio guys, but the actual people at the arena, wearing a headset and a stiff company blazer, breaking the action down. So for instance I love Charles Barkley on TNT and James Brown on CBS, but they are not on this list because the great work they do is in the comfy confines of their respective network sets.
Many of the best broadcasters overlap into several sports and they get extra props in my book for that. Too be great at one sport is one thing, but to effortlessly juggle multiple highly visible broadcasting jobs is really impressive. It involves a ton of travel, a lot of studying of game film and statistical analysis, and not to mention having unique chemistry with separate broadcast partners.
The best announcer I ever heard call a game was the late great, baseball hall of fame inductee, Ernie Harwell. He was the Langston Hughes of Baseball. Nothing beat the radio on the Tigers, a Faygo rock n rye in hand, washing down a bag of Better Made potato chips. If you’re my age and from anywhere near Detroit, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I met him one time, and he was the coolest, most humble guy that you could ever meet. And even in person his voice was the perfect contradiction of bombastic and smooth. Nobody could paint a picture like Ernie. He’s so good he’s Vin Scully’s idol. Think about that for a second Dodger fans. I give you a few Ernie-isms:
- “That one is long gone!” (His trademark home run call, with an emphasis on “long”)
- “He stood there like the house by the side of the road, and watched it go by.” (After a called strikeout)
- “Called out for excessive window shopping.” (Also after a called strikeout)
- “It’s two for the price of one!” (After a double play)
- “A fan from (insert a city) will be taking that ball home today.” (When a fan would catch a foul ball)
Ernie Harwell, Al Mcguire, and Chick Hearn.
So with a lump in my throat, to the list:
(as always they are numbered but not necessarily ranked)
1. Hubie Brown
The Yoda of basketball. Young people should pull their shorts up, stop worrying about what color shooting sleeve they are going to get for their arm that doesn’t even hurt and listen to Hubie. He breaks the game down how it is supposed to be broken.
2. Gus Johnson
How can you not love Gus? The guy gets excited, but this is sports people, not heart surgery. And he is everywhere these days. CBS football, NCAA basketball, Big Ten Network, and Showtime boxing and MMA. I cannot wait for him to call a Pacman fight! For some of his best work take a listen to his classic calls during the game of the tournament when my Xavier Muskies came up just short in double overtime to Kansas State:
3. Jeff Van Gundy
I like Jeff’s goofy ass. He gives great insight from a coach’s perspective. Yet he is not one of those guys that is looking to get a coaching job and is scared to say anything negative about a player, a franchise, or a referee. He calls out players who deserve to be called out, regardless of their stature, and that is refreshing. Even if you don’t agree with him, you have to respect him for what he has accomplished and the fact he doesn’t care if you agree with him. His greatest talent however is being so good at what he does that I will stomach listening to Mark Jackson, just for his insights.
4. Manny Steward
I am bias on this one because Manny is from Detroit by way of West Virginia just like my dads side of the family. And oh yeah he needs a shape up more than the Geico caveman but so what. And from time to time he gets a prediction wrong (like we all do) but until you train:
Dennis Andries, Wilfred Benítez, Julio César Chávez, Kermit Cintron, Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, Naseem Hamed, Thomas Hearns, Evander Holyfield, John David Jackson, Hilmer Kenty, Ole Klemetsen, Wladimir Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, Michael Moorer, Oliver McCall, Mike McCallum, Milton McCrory, Steve McCrory, Gerald McClellan, Jimmy Paul,, Jermain Taylor, Duane Thomas, and James Toney into world champions shut up and soak up the knowledge.
5. Al Bernstein
I have always been a fan of Al’s from back when he was on ESPN, and now of course on Showtime. Before I saw him on TV i read his work in Ring Magazine at the Barber shop. I really respect that he gives his opinion without trying to sound like an expert, and isn’t afraid to let the fight speak for itself. Most announcers drive me nuts when they think they are the event, and Al is never that guy. I don’t get that impression form Al at all. I look forward to hearing even more analysis from his as Showtime has really upped its stake in the boxing world.
6. Greg Anthony
Greg does mostly studio work now, but for the last couple of seasons he did analyst for CBS doing the tournament and CBS college sports during the basketball regular season. I think out of any ex pro player, in any sport, he is the best analyst going. He is intelligent, has well thought out points, and his insight is prepared. Many pro players just talk sports, Greg researches sports.
7. David Aldridge
I broke my own rule. But after all it is my list “I’m Gumbi dammit!” David Aldridge is a more of a reporter than a broadcaster, but he does so sideline work, so its not too much of a stretch. I am always sure to read his stuff and check him out on NBA TV. He is another guy that ESPN let go I suppose because he doesn’t yell at the viewers, or use enough corny hip hop lingo in his delivery. He always has great inside info, due to his years as a beat writer and the fact that he always gives his honest take on things. And I think players and coaches have come to respect him and share nuggets with him that they normally wouldn’t with other members of the “dreaded” media.
8. Clark Kellogg:
He won me over simply by not being Billy Packer. So anyone short of that pill popping lard Rush Limbaugh, was just fine with me. Yeah he makes up some phrases during a game that make you scratch your head, but difference between him and Walt Frazier is he actually makes sense. Many of them involve food in someway so I am not sure if subliminally that means his wife cannot cook or what but here are a couple of his favorites: ”Stat sheet suffer.” – all around player. ”Pursue the pumpkin.” – rebound. “Share the sugar” -assist.
9. Kirk Herbstreit
Herby as his friends call him, is on top of his game. Even though he is Buckeye, which makes his professional speaking accomplishments even more remarkable, he is one of the top analysts in all of college football. He does a great job on GameDay which has now evolved into its own touring extravaganza with cult following. But what really elevated him in my eyes was a couple years back he partnered with Brent Musburger to call ABC’s marquee prime time game. I really love his observations, surprising sense of humor, and honest opinions during the game. As a fan I want the announcer to point out things to me that I don’t already know. I think Herbie does a good job of that without coming off condescending.
10. Jim Nance
The voice of the Masters, college basketball (NCAA tournament), and the NFL on CBS. He is with out pier at the moment. He is the guy Brent Musburger used to be. He does it all without breaking a sweat.
11. Bill Raftery
You never want to miss the start of a college basketball game if Raftery is on the call (unless its Syracuse vs. temple) when both teams come out in: “man to man.” And don’t let a player make a clutch 3 pointer: “Onions.” And he has a very self deprecating east coast dry sense of humor that he squeezes in just perfectly in the few non action moments of a game. You can really tell he loves being around the game and around the coaches and kids he covers. But part of you can tell he really wants to be in a high school gym somewhere teaching kids the right way to play the game he cherishes. While Dick Vitale has long been considered the more famous voice of NCAA basketball, for my money no way can he touch my man Raftery.
Jay Bilas. I really like Bilas work but there are only 11 spots.
Who did I miss?