Sunday Notes: Dick Enberg Was an Iconic Broadcaster

Dick Enberg died on Thursday, at the age 82, in La Jolla, California. His roots were in Michigan. Born in Mount Clemens, Enberg lived on a farm in Amada and attended college in Mount Pleasant. He went on to cultivate an inimitable broadcast style and become known to sports fans everywhere.

To say that Enberg reached the pinnacle of the profession would be an understatement. He called some of the biggest games in college basketball history, several Super Bowls, and more than two dozen Wimbledons. As the voice of the California Angels, and later the San Diego Padres, he was behind the microphone for nine no-hitters. Two years ago, the Baseball Hall of Fame honored him with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.

Enberg was reportedly as good of a person as he was a broadcaster and based on my brief interactions with him that’s certainly true. When I first met Enberg, we spoke of our shared Finnish heritage and small town Michigan upbringings. He couldn’t have been more congenial. I recall walking away impressed that a legend could be so humble.

It is by no means hyperbolic to call Enberg a legend. Here is what two of the best broadcasters in the business had to say when I asked them about his passing.

Len Kasper, Chicago Cubs: “I was very saddened to see the news. Dick was one of the first big time national sportscasters I remember hearing as a kid. I took a special interest in his work because he went to Central Michigan University, just a few miles from where I grew up. I was fortunate to get to know him a little bit when he joined the Padres TV booth and we had several great conversations. The word iconic gets thrown around lazily in our business, but if Dick Enberg wasn’t an iconic broadcaster, I don’t know who was. I will throw out one other thing. His tennis work was totally underrated. I watched a ton of it in the ‘80s and ‘90s and he was the #1 voice of THAT sport too! He did everything! Versatile, knowledgeable, understated, he had everything you’d want in a national broadcaster.”

Dave O’Brien, Boston Red Sox: ”His broadcasts were a symphony. Whatever the sport, he was tone-perfect. He had that magical way of complementing the game without becoming the story and his talent for selecting just the right phrase, the exact word needed, set him apart from all the rest. Dick is the model for anyone who ever dreamed of sports announcing.”

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Zach Wilson was effusive with praise when I asked about him about Yency Almonte. Colorado’s farm director called the 23-year-old righthander “highly motivated with a tremendous work ethic,” adding that he has “a kind soul and a great way about him.”

When he’s on his game, the promising youngster has his way with opposing hitters. Almonte sits mid-90s with his fastball and has shown an ability to hold his velocity deep into games. He also has what Wilson referred to as “a second gear,” which allows him to reach back for extra giddy-up when needed.

Reining in his secondary offerings is the key to his future success.

“His slider is a true put-away pitch, it’s just a matter of corralling the consistency of it,” said Wilson. “He needs to keep it consistently shorter and sharper. He’s also had games where he can mix in a pretty-quality changeup and rack up outs, rack up some punch outs. There are still strides for him to make, but it’s all in there. I mean, it’s a great package.”

Almonte logged a 2.91 ERA in 22 starts this year between Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque, then pitched out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League. According to Wilson, he could work in either role upon reaching Colorado.

“As we move forward he’ll be prepared as a starter, but at the major league level.. we’ll see,” said Wilson. “All I know is that he’s got really good stuff and a great head on his shoulders. He’s going to be a big leaguer for many years, and he’s close to being ready.”

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Fatherly guidance is valuable, and 27-year-old Steel Russell received some when he began coaching in the Baltimore Orioles system. His father — longtime coach and manager John Russell — shared the following with me this past summer.

“One piece of advice I gave Steel is to not over-coach,” said the elder of the Russells. “That’s something that can happen when you just start out. You try to be so energetic that you over-coach. But all of these things you’ll tell a guy in the first couple of days may not even pertain to him. Don’t be a super-coach where you try to do too much too quick.”

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Staying ahead of the pitching curve isn’t easy. More and more information is becoming available all the time, and how to best utilize it is an ongoing challenge. But while being a step ahead of the competition creates an edge, the art of attacking hitters hasn’t markedly changed. According to Neal Huntington, the basics remain the same.

“The best coaches have always been able to incorporate a balance of subjective and objective information,” said the Pirates GM. “The best defensive catchers, as well. Game-calling, helping a pitcher make an adjustment, the human element — the human analytic —because you need to build trust and build relationships. They’ve understood all of those things for last 100 years. We’re really just trying to drill down a little deeper. We’re just quantifying what has been believed anecdotally for years.”

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Last Sunday’s column included quotes from Craig Counsell on the subject of procuring outs without power. The Brewers’ skipper addressed Brent Suter and Zack Davies, who rely more on guile and deception than they do on velocity. Given the proliferation of high-octane pitchers in today’s game, the duo provides somewhat of a different look to opposing hitters.

I asked Counsell if having non-garden-variety pitchers in the starting rotation can work to a team’s advantage.

“To some extent, but I don’t place as much value on that as I do different looks within a game,” responded Counsell. “Going from a Brent Suter or a Zach Davies to a power reliever can be difficult for hitters, and that’s something you certainly acknowledge when putting together a bullpen. But throwing two sinker-balling righties back-to-back against a team… that defeats their uniqueness.”

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During the Winter Meetings, Mariners manager Scott Servais turned around my question about the 2017 home run surge, asking why I think it happened. I responded by saying that I get paid to ask the questions. His counter response was golden.

“And they get paid to hit it out of the park,” said a smiling Servais. “Obviously guys are getting rewarded. There were a record number of guys who hit over 20 home runs, and they were hunting their pitches and not missing them.”

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From 1913-1915, left-hander Paul Strand had a 2.37 ERA in 95 innings for the Boston Braves. After spending the next seven seasons in the minors he returned to MLB and played 47 nondescript games as an outfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1924. The second chance opportunity was earned with a record-setting performance. In 1923, Strand logged 325 hits — the highest one-year total in professional baseball history — while batting .394 for the Salt Lake City Bees.The Pacific Coast League club played a 199-game schedule that year.

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In the “All I Want For Christmas is One Measly Hit” category, a pair of outfielders share the ignominious record for most career at bats by a position player without a single safety. Mike Potter went 0 for 23 with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1976-1977. Larry Littleton went 0 for 23 with the Cleveland Indians in 1981.

Another former outfielder holds the record for the most career at bats for a position player with just one hit. Skeeter Shelton went 1 for 40 with the New York Yankees in 1915. In all, 14,018 different players (including pitchers) have recorded at least one hit.

Meanwhile, what do Ty Pickup and Roe Skidmore have in common? They are among the 67 different players to have recorded a hit in their only big league plate appearance.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Gift Ngoepe is 3 for 3 against Jose Urena.

J.T. Realmuto is 10 for 14 against Gerrit Cole.

Christian Yelich is 0 for 10 against Tim Lincecum.

Oris Hockett went 6 for 45 against Johnny Niggeling.

Otto Knabe went 1 for 14 against Mysterious Walker.

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The Dodgers are a progressive organization, so it should come as no surprise that they employ Rapsodo technology as part of their development process (frankly, it would be more surprising if they didn’t). This past summer, that usage came up when I was talking to Connor McGuness, the pitching coach for LA’s low-A affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons.

“If you watch us throwing sides, you’ll see that we have the Rapsodo set up right there,” McGuiness told me. ‘The guys have just absolutely loved it. If we’re playing with a new grip, or with a new pitch, we can get automatic feedback.

“For instances, we had a reliever, Sven Schueller who really didn’t have a slider at all. He worked hard and harder on it. He had a 96 (mph) bowling ball sinker, kind of from a low slot, and now he’s a good slider. We worked heavily with the Rapsodo to help us with that.”

Schueller, a 21-year-old native of  Wuppertal, Germany, split the season between Great Lakes and high-A Rancho Cucamonga. He had a 2.74 ERA in 72-and-a-third innings.

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This past Thursday we heard from Tom Hackimer about his nerdy approach to pitching. The Minnesota Twins prospect geeks out in other areas of life as well.

“I’ve been nerding out with cooking recently” explained the former physics major. “I’m also a little bit of a musician. Guitar is my most recent instrument — I started playing it my junior year of high school — and before that I played the bass, the piano, and a few brass instruments.”

Hackimer sings as well, and participated in a few open-mic nights this past season in Fort Myers. One of his goals this winter is to “fix up some things in my basement so that I can record a little bit of music.”

Whether he was referring to his own basement, or to his mother’s basement, is immaterial. Hackimer is clearly a nerd.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Dee Gordon is adjusting to life as a Mariners outfielder and he doesn’t understand the Marlins’ moves. Tim Healey has details at The Miami Sun-Sentinel.

Dieter Kurtenbach feels Evan Longoria is the perfect pickup for the Giants, and he explained why at The East Bay Times.

The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier took a nuanced look at the differences between Eric Hosmer and Mitch Moreland.

Writing for SportTechie, Joe Lemire delved into visual acuity and the new science of hitting.

Over at The New York Times, Wallace Matthews wrote about how Ed Kranepool, “The Real Mr. Met” is selling off his past and coping with the present.

SABR’s Women in Baseball Committee has announced the nominees for their inaugural Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award.

Want to know how many miles each MLB team is scheduled to travel next season? Baseball Savant has the breakdown.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

On this date in 1967, Red Sox right-hander Jim Lonborg suffered a knee injury in a skiing accident. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner proceeded to go 6-10, 4.29 in 1968.

Three Hall of Famers were born on Christmas day: Nellie Fox, Pud Galvin, and Rickey Henderson.

Over his career, Logan Morrison has slashed .230/.313/.396 with 49 home runs in home games and .26/.347/.470 with 73 home runs in road games.

St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial had 1,815 hits in home games and 1,815 hits in road games..

In 1937, Leo Durocher had 477 at bats and 117 total bases. In 2001, Barry Bonds had 476 at bats and 411 total bases.

In 1923, Chicago White Sox second baseman Eddie Collins slashed .360/.455/.453. He struck out eight times in 633 plate appearances.





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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LHPSU
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LHPSU

There was a player named Mysterious Walker???

mando3b
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mando3b

Absolutely love those old nicknames–this is one of my favorite parts of this excellent Sunday column. It’s fun to thumb randomly through the old print baseball encyclopedia and see them all. My favorite has to be White Wings Tebeau, although the nickname Death to Flying Things is right up there, too. As is Pud Galvin, for that matter!