A good number of Play-by-Play announcers were once high-level athletes. (This doesn’t include analysts or sideliners.)
More baseball players have tried their hand at play-by-play than any other sport. This is largely because of the sport’s tradition of broadcasters splitting innings on radio and at one point on TV. There will be more names on this list than others.
Names I considered but left off include Ralph Kiner (Mets), Ernie Johnson Sr. (Braves), Mike Shannon (Cardinals), Steve Busby (Rangers), Buddy Blattner (CBS/Angels/Royals) and others who were known more for their analyst work such as Tony Kubek and Tim McCarver. I have never listened to Ford Frick Award winner Jack Graney, the first ex-player to work in broadcasting. The trend of splitting innings with a color commentator is slowly slipping away, but Dan Gladden (Twins) and Steve Sparks (Astros) do a good job today in their more limited innings.
Don Drysdale (1970-93)Hall of Fame pitcher for the Dodgers. Worked for many teams and national networks as a broadcaster, notably the Angels, White Sox, and Dodgers. Made one of sports’ all-time great calls for ABC on Steve Garvey’s walk-off home run in the 1984 NLCS. Tragically and suddenly passed away in 1993 at the age of 56 on a road trip in a Montreal hotel room.
Joe Garagiola Sr. (1955-2012)
Nine-year Major League catcher and Yogi Berra’s childhood neighbor. Worked on both radio and TV, best known for his decades with NBC. Was the lead play-by-play announcer for the network from 1976 to 1982, before moving to the analyst’s chair when NBC hired Vin Scully to call the network’s schedule. When Gibson hit the amazing homer in the 1988 World Series, Joe remained quiet while the crowd erupted. Scully and Garagiola then turned over the audio event to the celebrating fans. Joe also hosted game shows for the network. Finished his career with the Diamondbacks.
Ken “Hawk” Harrelson (1975-2018)
Popular and outspoken player who was an All-Star in 1968. Started broadcasting with Dick Stockton on Red Sox games in the mid-70s before joining the White Sox in 1982. Popular with the teams he worked for, Hawk was criticized by rival teams for being a homer. Known for his minimalist style, Hawk experienced both intense, positive, and negative emotions, his call was often driven by how his teams often played.
Waite Hoyt (1940-72)
Brooklyn-born Hall of Fame pitcher. One of the first ex-players to become a successful in sports broadcasting. Joining the Reds broadcast team in 1942, Hoyt was the lead play-by-play man for 24 seasons in Cincy. Known for his expansive vocabulary, criticism of bad play, and calling games in the past tense, Hoyt might have been the only person to ever did so.
Jim Kaat (1986-2022)
Left-hander who pitched in the Majors through his mid-40s in age. Became an announcer for the Yankees and Twins after retirement, also serving as a color commentator for NBC and CBS. After leaving the Yankees, he had a long career in both booth roles for MLB Network from its launch through 2022. Bob Costas was his most prominent national network partner.
George Kell (1959-96)
Hall of Fame third baseman with five different teams. Arkansan started his career on radio, calling the famed final out of the 1962 World Series between the Yankees and Giants. Became a Tigers’ broadcaster in 1959. Very popular with the Tigers’ fanbase, working well into his 70s.
Duane Kuiper (1986-present)
Second baseman for the Indians and Giants for parts of 12 seasons. Joined San Francisco’s broadcast team after retirement and became the lead TV announcer in 1999. Noted for deep voice, home run call of “It. Is. Outta Here!”, and chemistry with partner and ex-teammate Mike Krukow.
Phil Rizzuto (1957-96)
Hall of Fame shortstop with the Yankees. Was given a radio and TV job immediately after retirement. Paired with Mel Allen and Red Barber on radio and television before becoming the lead man himself in 1967. Known for storytelling and his famous catchphrase “Holy cow”, and even got to play an announcer in a popular Meat Loaf song.
Herb Score (1964-97)
Fireball left-hander before career-altering facial injury. Joined the Indians broadcast team in the 1960s and worked for over three decades with the team. Known for his New York accent and occasional mispronouncing of players’ names. He broadcast Len Barker’s perfect game on radio in 1981.
Bob Uecker (1971-present)
Caught for six seasons in the Major Leagues. The Wisconsin native joined the Brewers’ broadcast team in 1971 and has been there ever since. Has served as the lead radio play-by-play announcer for the team since 1980, with national television work mixed in through the 1990s. Still calling home games at 89 years old. Also has had a career in acting and was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show.
(More on other sports broadcaster in Part Two)