Announcers

Dick Stockton: “Body of work counts more than a moment in a broadcast”

Longtime baseball, football and basketball network voice doesn't believe that management is swayed by outside criticism

Stockton says that calling Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in ’75 World Series is the most significant moment of his career

Dick Stockton has always been approachable; an easy going ex New Yorker who’s happy to engage in unhurried conversations with fans who recognize him and want to say hello.  

Big-time broadcasters might hide. Some wear sunglasses and pull their baseball caps down to their noses to conceal their identities. Dick isn’t one of them, even after a stellar and visible fifty year sportscasting career. For years, in fact, he and his ex-longtime wife, Lesley Visser, were almost like sports broadcasting’s first couple; both successful, friendly, accommodating, visible and helpful. 

Today, Stockton’s longtime dulcet tone is still in fine fettle.

He came along in the late 60s, newly graduated from Syracuse at a time when the sports broadcast business was taking off. The most explosive decade for on-air network sports was the 70s. For the first time, the NFL was on all three major networks, CBS, NBC and ABC. Baseball had a highly rated Game of the Week, the NBA was on ABC and the NCAA Tournament had a network television home on NBC.

And when ESPN surfaced in the 80s, there was a rush to fill announcing positions.

Stockton emerged during an era that preceded specialization. Network play-by-play announcers had to be versatile. It wasn’t like today when Mike Breen does hoops, Mike  Emrick does hockey and nothing more.

Curt Gowdy called everything that NBC carried then. Even Pat Summerall, a football man, did tennis, golf and yes, the NBA one year. Footballer Frank Gifford at ABC did the the historical Olympic gold medal basketball game between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1972. (Yes, we wuz robbed.)

Dick was ready for any assignment; he was quick on the learning curve. Yes, he called the major sports; one of the very few who can do baseball, basketball and football proficiently on network television. He also did swimming, diving, figure skating, speed-skating and tennis. Dick worked locally too; Red Sox, Knicks, A’s and more.

Stockton started his career in Philadelphia, moved to Pittsburgh and later Boston. It was there that he was recognized for his telecasts of the Red Sox. It led to an opportunity to call the unforgettable 1975 World Series on NBC when the network included the local voices on its Series coverage.

Later, at CBS, Stockton’s visibility grew. The network had rights to the NBA, NCAA Basketball, Major League Baseball, the NFL and an occasional Olympics. Stockton was part of CBS’  star studded mix; Brent Musburger, John Madden, Pat Summerall, Billy Packer, Pat O’Brien and others.

He was there when the great Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson matchups stimulated interest in the NBA, after its low point when championship games were run as recorded programming after the local news.  The Dukes of Hazzard meant more to CBS than the NBA Finals in midweek, so for three years the finals were on delayed tape (1979-81).

Stockton was CBS’ lead voice on the NBA, presiding over the title series nine years, all dominated by Magic or Bird. His name was interchangeable with the Showtime years and the slick Pat Riley. Marv later did nine NBA Finals and Breen has done 13 in a row since taking over in 2006.

Like Dick Enberg, Keith Jackson, Curt Gowdy and others who preceded him, Stockton is not as sharp now as he was in the prime of his career. Yet, Dick, 76, can still run circles around others, presenting special moments dramatically, whether it’s underscoring them with the right word or remaining silent and letting the pictures capture the theater.

Does he make mistakes?  Yes. Are some of them embarrassing, you bet. When he set the scene for a matchup between the the, “Los Angeles Chargers and the Denver Nuggets,” social media took note in the pejorative.

To err is human. Just last year, CBS’ number one, Jim Nantz called a college basketball game and had a player picking up a loose football. Perhaps AI, technology’s almost frightening future, will pilfer microphones from human beings and viewers will have perfect calls. Flawless, yes; but inhuman and lifeless.  I dread that day as much as I do now, when having to listen to sterile announcers who make almost no mistakes; but are emotionally divorced. Boring. 

The great announcer, Chuck Thompson, called game seven of the 1960 Yankees-Pirates World Series.  He was on network radio when Bill Mazeroski homered in the last of the ninth to win the Series for the Bucs. Thompson erred, “Art Ditmar is ready and throws.” The Yanks’ pitcher was actually Ralph Terry. Given the historical enormity of Maz’ shot, the call is still replayed 58 years later. Thompson was given the opportunity to correct the recording so that it would be accurate. He said no; I called it that way and I’ll live with it. 

We’re all human. So is Dick Stockton. Enberg, Jackson, Gowdy, Don Criqui and Verne Lundquist were among the best play-by-play voices on network television into their seventies. But neither made it on-air to their eighties. Will Stockton?

Dick is reaching that precipice. No matter what happens, Dick is ready. He has tons of interests and looks back at a blessed fifty plus year career.

You’ve had a stellar broadcast career. Not many have enjoyed your success. You did a World Series, the NCAA Tournament, tons of NFL and MLB. How would you say you’re first identified? Is it for the NBA in the 80s and 90s when you called nine NBA finals for CBS? 

Dick Stockton addresses students at Syracuse University. Dick himself is an SU alum

While I’ve done countless games in many sports, people usually point to my NBA work more than any other. How fortunate and timely it was for me to be able to broadcast those nine finals for CBS, including every Celtics-Lakers series, and in 1983 when Julius Erving finally won a title with the 76ers after several disappointments. I covered the emergence of Michael Jordan and finished with back-to-back championships by the Pistons, and their bad-boy reputation.

Above and beyond those NBA finals was the call of Jordan’s breakout 63-point game against the Celtics in the first round of the 1986 playoffs. But the best series I ever  broadcast was a year before becoming the lead announcer on that package. In 1981, the Celtics rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Sixers 91-90 in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals.  As the second team for CBS, Kevin Loughery and I were at courtside for a classic battle in which five of the seven games were decided by two points or one. That series was the best I ever covered.

Your proficient at the three top sports; baseball, football and basketball. Which is your favorite to broadcast and why?

Baseball was far and away my favorite sport growing up.  I had a special affinity for the game when I had the opportunity to broadcast baseball. My reputation may have been built on basketball, but I now have worked 610 NFL games, and at this point it’s the only sport I really want to do. There is something about the week-long build-up of a game that seems to always carry a sense of drama, starting with the opening kickoff.

It’s that way, regardless of a team’s record. But I guess overall, the game I am doing at the moment is always my favorite.

You were raised in New York. Which announcers helped fashion your style?

I was blessed to be able to listen to many great announcers growing up in Forest Hills in Queens, New York (same part of that town that produced Ian Eagle). We had three baseball teams. Mel Allen was the voice of the Yankees, Red Barber, and a young Vin Scully were on the Dodgers broadcasts. But I was a New York (baseball) Giants fan and Russ Hodges, thus became my favorite. But the best was Marty Glickman who was behind the mike for college basketball and the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Marty also was the voice of the New York Giants football team. No one could better set a scene, from the specific descriptions of a team’s uniforms, to precisely describing the action of where players were placed on the field or court, than Glickman. No one really shaped my style because I never gave thought to a broadcasting career. I wanted to be a sportswriter. Most of the time, I read as many as eight newspapers. I attended Syracuse University because of its highly-rated journalism program. 

You worked the 1975 Red Sox-Reds World Series on NBC. It was one of the greatest of all-time. What are your recollections of it?

Carlton Fisk’s dramatic home run in the 12th inning of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park remains the most significant moment of my career. It was my first year broadcasting baseball and in those days NBC  selected announcers from the two teams involved. Here I was, in the same booth with Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola. I worked the sixth game, when the Reds were up 3-2. The game was pushed back several days because of rain, and the enthusiasm for the resumption of the Series was dimmed. But the game turned into one of the classics of all-time. The Red Sox led 3-0, the Reds eventually tied the score and went ahead 6-3, before Bernie Carbo’s pinch hit 3-run homer with two-outs in the eighth inning tied the score. NBC usually had either Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola do the first four and-a-half innings, with the team  announcer working the rest.

But in Game 6, the network understandably wanted its own voice to be on the mike at the finish if the Reds were to win and capture the Series. So, I began the broadcast. It was Garagiola’s turn on TV and he took over in the bottom of the fifth. When the game was tied 6-6 going into extra innings, NBC decided to alternate innings. I worked the 10th, Joe the 11th and I was back on for the 12th. That’s when Fisk led off with the game-winning home run which has gone down as one of the great moments in baseball history. After I made the call of the home run, I remained silent as Fisk rounded the bases, and fans started to pour out of the stands. I didn’t speak again until he was about to enter the dugout. That’s when I realized nothing was better than the sounds and pictures of the scene. It was pure instinct, and I have had that attitude ever since. 

That Fisk moment remains the top moment of my career.

Social media can be quite blunt. It doesn’t discriminate. Like many others, you’ve been an occasional subject of unflattering comments. How does it affect you personally and how do your bosses respond?

There is no doubt that social media has become the principal element of broadcast sports criticism. It started with the advent of sports-media columnists and now social media has taken over. My view is that some of the criticism directed my way is warranted and some isn’t. 

It goes with the territory, and I accept it. For me, the body of work counts more than a comment of a single play or moment in a broadcast.

As for my bosses, no one at CBS or at Fox has ever responded to anything I’ve uttered on a broadcast. 

I don’t believe they are swayed by outside criticism. 

Most network announcers leave their play-by-play chairs once deep into their 70s; Verne Lundquist, Brent Musburger, Keith Jackson, Don Criqui, Curt Gowdy and Dick Enberg; to name some. You’re 76 and doing only the NFL. Do you still feel sharp and how much longer can you go?

I like my schedule of working only NFL and this year, doing 14 games. It fits my life, which involves traveling, reading, piano, golf, tennis and working out. I know I am in better physical shape than I was 10 to 15 years ago. I love doing the games, working with my partners and production crew.

My mind has stayed sharp. I have always felt that the two key elements to gauge whether you’ve really slowed down, is one, whether you remain on top of the play and maintain the tempo of the game, and two, your energy and voice-strength aren’t weakened  in the latter stages of a blowout . 

I feel I can still execute both elements, and I guess at some point my superiors at Fox and I will sit down and make a decision. But I don’t think I’m there yet. 

You’ve worked with many analysts through the years. How does an experienced play-by-play announcer make their partner commentators better?  

In recent years my role has been to mentor expert-analysts, help develop the skills they obviously bring to the table and hopefully set them up for future success. I relish that role. In fact, I have proudly worked with every one of our corps of analysts at one time or another. The past two years, Mark Schlereth has been my partner and I have seen him grow significantly. My mission is simple. Give him all the room he needs to express himself and establish his personality on air, allow him to be as relaxed as possible, and offer words to get to where he wants to go based on my decades of experience.

How much harder is it today for a network play-by-play announcer to call a game, given all the graphics you have to reference and the promos you have to read?

It is really not more difficult to call a game today because of the increase of graphics, promos, and other elements dropped into the coverage. Graphics don’t always have to be mentioned. Many of them simply can be read. Promos have never been a problem. They’re usually dropped in at the proper time. As long as everything is presented in the flow of the broadcast, and not forced, there’s no problem.

The enemy of a commentator is the mute button. There’s too much talk on TV. Let games breathe. Allowing the pictures and sounds to come through only heightens the drama. Go look up a Pat Summerall broadcast, and you’ll see what I mean. Even on radio, check out how the great Ernie Harwell described Tigers games.

Less is more, is never a bad way to go.

Network TV’s Don Criqui- first season off football since 1965; Did NFL or Notre Dame nationally for 51 straight seasons

 

 

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green
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I always thought Dick Stockton had–and has–the kind of voice that tells you, this is a big game. Great interview. I read a story in a book about the 1975 World Series that for the pre-game show before Game 7, Joe Garagiola, um, suggested to the producers that since Stockton wasn’t a real NBC announcer, they let him record the voiceover for Fisk’s homer when they replayed it. They were uninterested, thankfully. I don’t know why this sticks with me, but it does. Stockton left the Red Sox after 1978 and joined CBS, and his first job there was a… Read more »