Voices In My Head
The Off-Season: Voices In My Head.
By Tim Kabel
January 6, 2022
Eventually, the lockout will end. Baseball will resume and the games will be played. Think about this, no matter how devoted a fan you are, most of the games that you take in are not in person. Even if you own a full-season ticket package, that would only be half the games played during the season. At one point in my life, before I was married and had children, I had a Sunday package, where I had tickets for 13 games a year. I thought that was a big deal. In a way, it was. However, that meant there were about 150 games that I didn’t see in person. Yet, I experienced those games. I either watched them on television or listened to them on the radio. The announcers of the game, whether they are on radio or TV, play a major role in our lives as fans.
Think of all the people who have called Yankees’ games over the years: Mel Allen, Russ Hodges, Curt Gowdy, Dizzy Dean, Art Gleason, Joe E. Brown, Red Barber, Jim Woods, Phil Rizzuto, Jerry Coleman, Frank Messer, Bill White, Fran Healy, Bobby Murcer, Spencer Ross, Jim Kaat, Ken Harrelson, Tony Kubek, Al Trautwig, Dwayne Staats, Tom Seaver, Rick Cerone, Ken Singleton, John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman, Tim McCarver, Michael Kay, David Cone, Paul O’Neill, Jay Johnstone, and John Flaherty. The list goes on. Heck, even Joe DiMaggio was a color commentator in 1952. I’m sure he was a barrel of laughs. Phil Rizzuto at 40 years, had the longest tenure of any of the Yankees’ announcers. John Sterling comes in second at 33 years. However, when you consider that Phil frequently left games early, Sterling may have logged more innings behind the microphone since he never took a day off until a couple of years ago.
Looking at that list, some of them are much more memorable than others. There is a range in their skill sets and techniques. Announcers have their own unique styles and can develop a following. There are some who are more popular than others. For example, Howard Cosell was a galvanizing figure. Some people loved him while others did not. Howard announced a variety of sports including baseball. I happened to like listening to him. The point is that Howard was unique. Listening to him was an experience. It’s a shame that many people in today’s listening audience never heard him. The same can be said of Mel Allen, Red Barber, and Phil Rizzuto. Think about how long John Sterling has been calling Yankees’ games. Suzyn Waldman hasn’t been doing it as long but, they have been a team for almost two decades. Announcers can shape the way we think about the game. In many cases, they make it much more enjoyable. Sometimes, they do not.
Some announcers are much more analytical than others. Tim McCarver, Jim Kaat, and John Flaherty presented themselves as something of authority figures and could be somewhat instructional in their style. Others were more laid back and entertaining such as Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Murcer. As fans, we decide which styles we like. We decide which announcers are enjoyable to listen to. Not everyone likes the same thing. This is why Baskin Robbins makes 31 flavors of ice cream. There are options in life, baseball announcing, and ice cream flavors.
For today’s discussion, which again involves audience participation, I would ask the following question: if you could only watch one more Yankees’ game in your life, of all the announcers they ever had, who would you want to call the game? The second question would be why you chose the the people you chose.
For most of my first 25 years of life, I was a student. Then for a period of time, I was a teacher. Frequently in my job now, I have a role that involves teaching and explaining. When I watch a baseball game, I want a certain amount of information but, I don’t necessarily want to be in a classroom setting. I don’t need the announcer bludgeoning me over the head with an overabundance of statistics, and didactic discussion. I know enough about the game that I can get by without a constant tutorial or a lecture series. When I watch the game, I want to enjoy it. Some information is very welcome but, I mostly want to have fun.
I grew up listening to Phil Rizzuto. Most of the time, he was with Frank Messer and Bill White. Watching a game called by Phil Rizzuto was like watching a game with your goofy uncle. You never knew what he would say or do. Sometimes, he was wildly inaccurate. His blatant and open rooting for the Yankees irritated some people. The so-called purists felt that it was not appropriate and that he was a “homer”. Well, what else would he be? He played for the Yankees for 13 seasons and announced for 40 more. He was a Yankees’ employee for his entire adult life. In a way, I wouldn’t trust a man who didn’t have a rooting interest for and loyalty to the team for which he played and broadcasted for so many years. For me, he made the game fun. To this day, I still laugh when I think about some of the things he said. He would offer birthday greetings to people constantly during the game. He would munch on cannoli and leave early to head over the bridge to get back home. On more than one occasion, he introduced himself as Bill White when he read the cue cards that were designated for his partner. It’s probably not fashionable or statistically driven to say that he was a good announcer or was fun to listen to. Many fans like the more serious and statically driven announcers. Tim McCarver, as an example, had a big following.
I particularly liked Phil Rizzuto when he was paired with Bill White. Rizzuto’s infectious charm and mischievous nature brought out the best in Bill White. I found Frank Messer to be rather dry and stuffy and felt he often droned on endlessly. He was not a bad announcer; he just wasn’t my cup of tea. Bobby Murcer could give quite a bit of useful information but, he also knew how to have fun, particularly when working with Phil Rizzuto. Michael Kay functions as a gatekeeper very often but, does not shy away from controversial topics. He’s not afraid to question the Yankees organization or the manager for moves that they make. He does not wield this tactic like a cudgel but, still gets his points across.
If I were only going to watch one more Yankees’ game in my life, I would want it to be called by the combination of Michael Kay, Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and, and Bobby Murcer. That would be my chosen team to make it a pleasurable experience. This is a personal choice.
My question to the readers is: who would you pick? Remember, this is the last Yankees’ game you will ever watch. You can pick as many announcers as you want, in whatever role you want them to be in. The only stipulation that I would put in place is that the announcers had to have been actual Yankees’ announcers at some point. So, I am again requesting audience participation. I want to hear what you think.
Of all the Yankees’ announcers, who would you choose to call the last Yankees’ game you would ever watch?