Players’ View: Broadcasters and Radio Baseball

Like many of you, I grew up listening to baseball on the radio. And while I’m now at a ballpark over 100 times each season, and see many games on TV, listening to pictures being painted over the airways remains a wonderful way to follow the action. To me, baseball’s best radio play-by-play broadcasters are gems.

To coincide with the broadcaster rankings currently being released at the site, I asked a cross section of players, coaches, and managers who they enjoyed listening to growing up. I asked some broadcasters as well, for the simple reason that they chose to follow in the footsteps of the voices who helped shape their love of the game.

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Vince Cotroneo, Athletics broadcaster: “My experience was different. I saw Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek on the Game of the Week. I saw Al Michaels doing games on Monday night. I watched a little bit of the Braves on weekends when they were on TV in Orlando. But in terms of sitting in the car, or having a transistor under my bed, I didn’t have that luxury. I didn’t have Bill King or Vin Scully or Jack Buck or Harry Caray.

“My first full-time job was in 1984, in Lynchburg, Virginia, and that’s when I could hear Jon Miller doing the Orioles. When I got to the big leagues in 1991, all of a sudden I’m around Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully, and I was working with Milo (Hamilton).

“My first year, I went into the press room in Lakeland during spring training. Ernie Harwell was there with Paul Carey and he introduced himself to me. It should have been the other way around. Instead, this grand Southern gentleman was coming over to me. It was surreal. I met Vin at Vero Beach. It was the whole nine yards, where I was seeing greatness in front of me. When Vin goes to work, he paints pictures.”

Sean Doolittle, Athletics pitcher: “My grandparents lived in north Jersey and we lived in south Jersey. When they would come down to us, they had to get their Star-Ledger newspaper and they had to get 660 WFAN. They were huge Yankees fans and they weren’t going to miss out just because they were visiting us. That’s when I’d be listening to games on the radio, when I was riding in the car with my grandparents. We’d be driving around and the signal was barely strong enough to come in. If we were too close to the wires it would cut in and out.

“Today, with the MLB At Bat app, you can just watch the game. You don’t really hear the radio much anymore. Some of that nostalgia has gone away. It’s kind of sad, now that I think about it.”

Robert Ford, Astros broadcaster: “I grew up a Mets fan and back then about half their games were on WOR, and the other half were on cable. We didn’t have cable until I was a teenager, so I listened to a lot of games on the radio. Gary Cohen and Bob Murphy were the radio broadcasters at the time. I liked Bob, but I gravitated more to Gary. He’s probably influenced my style more than anybody else.

“Another big influence was Tim McCarver, who did the Mets games on TV back then. There’s the concept of first guessing, of talking about moves before they happen, and he would always do that on the broadcasts. It was neat, because my dad and I would watch the games together and do the same thing.”

A.J. Hinch, Astros manager: “The more I traveled around the league as a player, the more I appreciated broadcasters, specifically radio broadcasters. I got to meet some legends. I didn’t grow up listening to Vin Scully or Ernie Harwell, or some of the famous voices, but I got a chance to sit around with them and listen to their stories and hear their perspectives on the sport.

“There’s a fame to those guys. Dick Enberg, in San Diego, as well. They’ve been impactful for a generation of baseball lovers. It’s sort of sad to think that it’s maybe not as impactful now as it was for so many years. Some of the great stories of older coaches and managers — people who have been around the game — include the stories told by men over the radio.“

Ken Korach, Athletics broadcaster: “For my generation, that’s how you followed the game. When I was a kid in LA, the Dodgers only televised nine games. Those were the games in San Francisco. For the other 153, if you wanted to follow the team, it was on the radio.

“Vin Scully is a god to all of us. I don’t know that I’d be here today, doing games, if I hadn’t fallen in love with radio and become enthralled with his broadcasts. It was just an incredible thing to have Vin in my life every day. And after all these years, through the internet and satellite radio, we can still listen to him.

“I first heard Vin in 1958, the year the Dodgers moved to LA. I was really young — I was six — but I still remember it. In 1959, they got to the World Series against the White Sox. Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs — I listened to that. Scully’s ninth inning, over the air, is a great example of baseball literature, and it was off the top of his head.”

Torey Lovullo, Red Sox bench coach: “At times, it was the only way you could lock in to a baseball game. Television wasn’t what it is today. I remember trying to paint my own picture, listening to Vin Scully. I’d let my imagination run wild with what was happening. He gave a great description every day, coloring that picture for me. He’s still doing it today and nobody is better.”

Ryan Madson, Athletics pitcher: “Growing up in southern California, I listened to Rex Hudler. He was hilarious. My dad and I would be watching and laughing. When the game was going slow, he’d come up with some off-the-wall stuff. He made it fun. And Hud played, so there was a different lingo with him that you kind of connect to as a player.

“I didn’t really hear Vin Scully, because I didn’t grow up watching the Dodgers. I was pretty much Angels only. But Scully is obviously great. He probably has one of the most recognized voices in America.”

Collin McHugh, Astros pitcher: “I’m from Atlanta, so I listened to the Braves broadcast. Skip Caray, Pete van Wieren, some Don Sutton. I was mostly a fan of the players, especially the big three — Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux — but to be able to hear them every day on the radio, in the car on the way home from baseball practice… and they were on TBS, so you could also watch the games wherever you were. You felt like you were part of it.”

Bob Melvin, Athletics manager: “I grew up in the Bay Area listening to Bill King and Lon Simmons, two iconic broadcasters. I was lucky to grow up in the area I did and listen to such quality. You would look forward to these games. Wherever you were, you could listen to these guys on the radio. They made it feel, as much as anyone I’ve ever been around, that you were at the ballpark. Whether you were at the pool, playing tennis, whatever. These guys were just a big part of your life. You came to them every day.”

Pat Neshek, Astros pitcher: “I loved John Gordon. I like Herb Carneal, too, but that was my guy. I started watching baseball when I was six years old. The Twins won it in ’87. They won it it ’91. That was the only thing I knew. You’re outside mowing the lawn, or playing baseball, and you turn the radio on and hear that familiar voice.

“My dad was a big radio guy. He grew up with the Brewers and loved Bob Uecker. Some guys are big homers, like Hawk Harrelson with the White Sox. But as far as radio or TV, you’re going to be around TV a lot more now, being on your iPhone. I think radio is kind of a dying thing now. But if I had a preference, I’d say I’d rather listen.”

Dave O’Brien, Red Sox broadcaster: “Ken Coleman and Ned Martin were my staples. Those were the voices that came through my dad’s radio and television. They were the preeminent voices of my childhood. They hooked me on the Red Sox forever.

“I got to meet Ernie Harwell at Tiger Stadium before he retired. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder during batting practice and I turned around. It was Ernie. He stuck out a hand and said, ‘You must be Dave O’Brien.’ I said, ‘You must be Ernie Harwell.’ You couldn’t miss that voice, that great rolling voice. When he did that, you really felt like you were being welcomed into a club. Jack Buck did that, as well. He threw an arm around me and welcomed me to the fraternity of Major League broadcasting.

“I used to see Vin Scully when I was in the National League. He’s another gentleman from another time. So warm, so welcoming, so friendly and generous. Those guys listened more than they talked. They wanted to hear your story, and I found that very endearing.

“I met Harry Caray many times. I worked with his son, Skip, which was a trip. You talk about larger than life — Harry was a walking billboard. I’ve never seen an announcer in baseball that famous. No matter where he went, he was Harry Caray, the voice of the Cubs.”

Steve Sparks, Astros broadcaster: “I grew up listening to baseball on a transistor radio in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were the Triple-A affiliate for the St. Louis Cardinals, so we would get Cardinals games. My brother and I shared a bedroom and in the summer we would listen to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon. We fell in love with that.

“As a player, I was in Detroit for four years, so I got to know Ernie Harwell. Had I known I was going to have a second career as a broadcaster, I would have spent more time talking with him about his craft. Ernie was genuine, and he was also easy to listen to. It felt like he was sitting in the stands taking with you. He was iconic in Michigan. He was the voice around the lakes, all summer long.”

Brent Strom, Astros pitching coach: “I grew up in San Diego, listening to the PCL on a transistor radio. The San Diego Padres, Sacramento Solons, Vancouver Mounties, Portland Beavers, Hollywood Stars, San Francisco Seals — all of those teams. A lot of the broadcasts were re-creations, where the guy would do it over the ticker tape. He’d crack the bat on another bat to make a sound.

“I could get the Dodgers on the radio, so I was able to hear Vin Scully. I listened to Koufax’s perfect game against the Cubs. He’s unbelievable. He’s seen it all and can weave stories like nobody else.”

Curt Young, Athletics pitching coach: “My hometown, Saginaw, Michigan, is just north of Detroit, so I was a big Tigers fan growing up. Them winning the World Series in 1968 made me an even bigger baseball fan. Listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey on the radio, those were special voices.

“I got a chance to meet Ernie Harwell when I was player. I did a pregame show with him and got a $100 gift certificate to Florsheim Shoes. That was a very special day.

“We all love listening to Vin Scully talking about the Dodgers and telling stories. Our announcers are great too. Ken Korach, Ray Fosse, Glenn Kuiper. They’re married to the team. As kids, you grow up listening to the game on the radio. You get hooked on baseball listening to those guys talk.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Greg Goldenmember
6 years ago

It’s all about L.A. and Franzke here in the Philly area these days. I’ve got the MLB.TV package, but we’re blacked out from watching the Phils games, so I usually stream the 610 WIP audio feed. It’s never anything short of incredible with those two guys.

About once a year, an aging player will announce his retirement mid-season, and L.A. will tell his retirement story on the air. I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t heard it, but spoiler alert: It ends with a very hungover Larry Andersen walking out of a minor league dugout after being summoned to pitch in mop-up duty while on a rehab assignment.