2018: Halby’s sportscasting awards; The best and worst, 50 categories
The all-time Mount Rushmore of network sports; this year's standouts; a say-nothing announcer, shortsighted decisions and more
With apologies to Rudy Martzke, the ex-longtime national sports media critic, I humbly share my awards and observations covering 2018. For years in USA Today, Rudy penned a media column that occasionally included The Rudy’s which graded network announcers in various categories.
Welcome to ‘The Halby’s.’
The list runs the gamut; many categories, many sports and many specialties. There’s both good and not so good. Whether you agree, disagree or are lukewarm about my assessments, enjoy.
Remember, put everything in its proper perspective. This isn’t about illness, catastrophes or even politics. It’s about fun and games and how we consume them through the media.
|The Mount Rushmore of Network Sports’ All-Time Broadcasters
Howard Cosell, Bob Costas, John Madden and Vin Scully
The outspoken, sharp-tongued and often polarizing Cosell was network television’s first personality; Costas emerged as the ultimate host, interviewer and eloquent voice of the Olympics, someone who can do anything; Madden fashioned modern day color commentary and heightened the popularity of the NFL. Scully was the unequaled play-by-player; who set the loftiest of standards by which the best are measured. (While Vin will always be identified with the Dodgers first, he did 7 years of the NFL for CBS including the famous ‘catch,’ by the late Dwight Clark (1975-82), 8 Masters (1975-82), 11 World Series over 4 separate decades and 8 All-Star Games; all on network television. Most importantly, there’s no network announcer who would say that Vin wasn’t the best ever.)
|An acquired taste
Joe Buck His economical and undisguised sentences are punctuated by clipped, anticipative scene-setters. After a couple decades, he’s been accepted, particularly on NFL (see Book of the year)
50th anniversary of the Heidi Game – An epochal telecast that demonstrated the public’s demand for network football (11.17.1968)
|Book of the year
Joe Buck‘s Lucky Bastard. A no holds barred bio that bonded this reader with the subject. The title strikes at Joe’s roots. He was born out of wedlock in 1969 while dad Jack was married to his first wife. The profanity laced text and crude descriptions were eye-popping but they underscored Joe’s choppy youth, his interaction with his half siblings, dealing with some overpowering human foibles and the relationship he had with his popular dad. He provides great insight in the text into what made the old man tick. The book is wowing and heartwarming. The memoir was a New York Times best seller
|Fight of the year
Tigers’ announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen, engaged in fisticuffs this summer outside the broadcast booth. They were first suspended and later fired. It wasn’t the first time announcers battled physically. Brent Musburger and Jimmy the Greek got into it in a New York restaurant in 1980 and it is said hat Joe Garagiola decked Milo Hamilton when the two were calling Cardinals games in the 1950s. But in the day of social media and political correctness Mario and Rod are gone. Too bad
Jim Nantz; At ease and impassioned. Like the chirping birds, Nantz has been the television soundtrack of the game for decades
|High maintenance and over the top award
Bill Walton; Goodness gracious. Will he ever say anything that’s pertinent to the game or even basketball?
Carolina Hurricanes Pulling the plug on arguably the NHL’s best radio play-by-play announcer, Chuck Kaiton and going to a TV/radio simulcast
|In Memoriam – 2018
Rusty Staub (Mets), Woody Durham (North Carolina), Keith Jackson (ABC football), Lee Leonard (ESPN, NBC +) and Larry Cotlar (Iowa sports radio and Drake)
|Legacy for giving back
Bob Costas Helpful to most anyone requesting his counseling; from students to budding broadcasters seeking his advice
|Longevity and prominence
Marv Albert; Iconic and influential figure who’s been on-air for 56 years. Marv’s stamp on NBA telecasts is indelible
|Missing people blotter
Jim Gray, Pat O’Brien, Sean Salisbury, Bonnie Bernstein and Jim Lampley; What came of these once visible network broadcasters?
John Smoltz; Not as supercilious as Tim McCarver. Doesn’t over-talk or grind and rasp annoyingly. Smoltz speaks when he has something to say and it’s usually something fairly perceptive. He did his third straight World Series in 2018
Bob Costas; Encyclopedic knowledge, genuine love for the game and presides over the play-by-play unobtrusively on MLB Network
Sean McDonough; As solid, diverse and steady as they come; moved from the NFL’s MNF booth back to college graciously
Brent Musburger; The indefatigable voice will be 80 in May and has been at it for more than half a century. So, undertaking two new challenges this year is mind-boggling; VSiN and play-by-play for the Oakland Raiders on radio
|Most provocative move
ESPN Monday Night Football It’s been a subject of debate since week one; so much so that football television’s lexicon now includes the Booger mobile
|National talk hosts
Heady and deep-thinking Colin Cowherd and creative and offbeat Dan Le Batard are refreshing, provocative and entertaining
Reggie Miller; He’s intelligent, intuitive and his comments are visceral. Working with Marv Albert through the years has honed his broadcast skills
Mike Breen; Not as stylized as the legendary Albert, yet unsung, current and thoroughly versed in the rules. No one has done more NBA finals on network TV, 13
|NCAA basketball Play-by-Play
Kevin Harlan; A captivating call delivered with sonorous enthusiasm; no screeching. He wears well
|NCAA basketball color
Bill Raftery; 75 and spry, blends the keen Xs and Os understanding of an ex coach, the blarney, the smile and the one-liners
|NCAA football play-by-play
Tim Brando; Play-by-play is as good as anyone’s on network television; spot-on, honest and sprinkled with a hearty laugh
Mike Tirico; Newcomer? Well, yes, for the Olympics. An impossible assignment, taking over for the brilliant Costas who can virtually be draped in the Olympic flag. Costas himself praised Tirico for his debut as host this past winter
Tony Romo; Credit CBS Sports CEO, Sean McManus for hiring Romo who continues to excel. He’s cut back on predicting plays but puts viewers on the field; to appreciate the game from a QB’s perspective
Al Michaels; The game comes to him and he delivers it elegantly, stylishly and never overbearingly
Mike Emrick; Breaks cardinal TV rule, peppering audience with a graphic radio call. Still NHL’s best ever. If you don’t agree, ask announcers around the league
Barry Melrose; Shares commentary playfully on ESPN; primarily with Steve Levy. He always generates a chuckle on the set from both the hockey and non-hockey crowd. Melrose has become a TV personality
Vin Scully (91) and Jack Whitaker (94); Retired but never forgotten and both are still razor-sharp
Kenny Albert; Numbers are one of Kenny’s strength. Still, as the icon Vin Scully said, “People use statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than for illumination.”
Al McCoy (85) and Hubie Brown (85); Two amazing men. McCoy does radio for the Suns and travels the enervating NBA circuit. Hubie doesn’t miss a beat for ESPN
Iowa AD Gary Barta suspends play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin for being critical of player when he didn’t know his mic was on. Very smalltownish!
|Ray Scott minimalist
Brad Nessler; Doesn’t emote like his beloved SEC predecessor ‘Uncle Verne’ Lundquist. Schooled in the precepts of the great minimalist Ray Scott, Brad captions pictures economically and in measured intervals
Fox running MLB playoffs on FS1. Viewers needed a research assistant to find the games on their cable systems, if, big if, they subscribe
|Recently retired and missed
CBS’ Verne Lundquist , ESPN’s Mike Patrick and NBC’s Tom Hammond; In different ways each of these gentlemen who are either fully or for the most part retired are missed on network TV play-by-play
Howie Long; Does Fox actually pay this taciturn ex-player? He says little and when he does say something it’s generally inane. On camera, he looks like he wants to go home
Al Michaels (74) and Bill Raftery (75); Both men are hale, on top of their games, current and their voices are in fine fettle
|Sign him up; a promising play-by-play voice
Kevin Brown worked with aplomb and called ESPN college football smoothly and impressively
Kirk Herbstreit Herbie needs Brent Musburger to interrupt his speeches. Chris Fowler lets him spew freely
Rosalyn Gold-Onwude; Made a mark for herself during the NCAA Tournament covering Loyola’s run and her uplifting interviews with Sister Jean
Ernie Johnson; Wins in a landslide. Presides over network sports’ best studio show and knows when to shorten and lengthen the leash on Shaq, Kenny and Chuck
|Technology to salute
Streaming of virtually all sports at all levels is an underappreciated service. Even if only parents and family tune in, it affords budding announcers, beginning in high school, an opportunity to sharpen their skills. For generations, their predecessors weren’t given this golden opportunity to get their needed TV reps
|Too much work
Boomer Esiason; Working five days a week as WFAN’s morning drive host, continuing every week as a CBS NFL studio panelist, Boomer gave up his color commentator gig with national radio network, Westwood One. It was too much for the 57 year old ex NFL quarterback
Larry Cotlar; Drake announcer died this past June when he was swept away in a flash flood. He was 66 and the 2007 Iowa Sportscaster of the Year
Suzy Kolber; Impressive, dedicated, comes quietly and goes quietly. Doesn’t make a fuss of herself. Steady and smooth and by now an NFL fixture
Greg Gumbel and Kenny Mayne; Whether in the studio or calling games, Greg is about as laid back as it gets. As for ESPN’s Mayne, he’s so understated that I didn’t know he was still there until I saw him on the set recently
Dick Vitale; His voice has thinned but there are millions who still interchange his name with college basketball. Says he has a lifetime contract with ESPN
Spero Dedes; The man has the goods. He’s ready and excels game after game. Should be up CBS’ depth chart. Is there a good reason he isn’t?
Brian Anderson; Solid on three sports; baseball, football and basketball. Presides over play-by-play smoothly, can spin a yarn and share a human interest profile
Red Sox’ flagship WEEI considering a talk-show fashioned play-by-play broadcast. Is station management nipping at the bottle during office hours? Please!
Aged John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman conspicuously omitted from your list. Thanks.
What a great list! And I think the Mt. Rushmore crew is also left to right according to height ….
A name that we no longer see or mention often enough is Jim McKay. He never called the big main sports, yet he did everything else and did it well. I think we tend to minimize his Olympic role because Costas long since passed his hosting record, and “Wide World of Sports” is no more–except that it’s essentially a big chunk of ESPN.
Wonderful Year in Review! Have to disagree on Tony Romo, who should be learning his craft as a 2nd or 3rd level color guy. He has the incredible benefit of working with Jim Nance, who (personal opinion) joins Al Michaels as one of the two best in the business in this generation. With that “asterisk,” again, thanks for a great piece … and Happy New Year!
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