The Hot Stove League baseball season is always full of trade talk, rumors and conjecture. No real confirmation yet of when baseball will begin this spring. But there have been broadcast developments and the winds of change blew pretty hard.
Mike Shannon knows that it’s time to hang it up and will do so following this coming Cardinals baseball season. In recent years, his voice has faded and his sharpness has dulled a bit. We all get older and few of us win the battle against the inexorable aging process.
Shannon is one of four 80 or older MLB broadcasters. He’s had a long and prosperous run and has stuck to just home games the last few seasons. Mike will be 82 in July. He started under the tutelage of Jack Buck in 1972. This will be his 50th and golden year.
Bob Uecker owns Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin. He can and will remain in the radio booth as long as he’d like. He just turned 87 and sounds good. Bob does only home games too. John Sterling, beloved by some and berated by others, turns 83 in July. Illnesses have gotten in the way of his perfect attendance. He continues as the Yankees radio announcer. and maintains that the late George Steinbrenner said that he can have the job forever.
Dave Van Horne seems to want to continue calling Marlins games. Van Horne never grew the popularity in South Florida that he enjoyed in Montreal where he was the first and longtime Expos announcer. But it’s tough to do the same in Miami where the Marlins just don’t have the loyal following that the Dolphins and Heat do. There was talk a couple years ago that both Dave and his sidekick, Glenn Geffner were in trouble but they survived the rumor and a published report. Dave will be 82 this summer. If judged on timbre alone, Dave still has the best voice of any baseball announcer broadcasting games today. I enjoy his old-school style but others don’t.
Wholesale changes in Baltimore. Jim Hunter announced by twitter that he won’t be returning to the Orioles in 2021. Jim admitted that it wasn’t his choice. His association with the club began in 1997 as both a game broadcaster and a pre-and postgame host on television. Jim’s dad Jimmy worked behind the camera and directed Yankees telecasts on WPIX Television. Before ESPN acquired MLB’s national radio rights, CBS Radio had them and the younger Hunter did the broadcasts.
In Baltimore too, popular TV voice Gary Thorne won’t be back and neither will Rick Dempsey. Mike Bordick, an analyst since 2012, isn’t returning either. A couple years ago, the time-tested Joe Angel retired. Sounds like cost-cutting to me.
The club brought in new voices last year with little or no MLB experience. Unknown names like Brett Hollander, Geoff Arnold and Melanie Newman have surfaced. Kevin Brown is relatively new and he’s quite talented. Scott Garceau will be back on television. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer an Orioles TV staple and Ben McDonald are the analysts working with Garceau.
You need more than a scorecard now to keep track of the Birds’ announcers. Remember when it was just Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell? You’d hear them up and down the East Coast on WBAL Radio. Think of the outstanding voices that have filled the Orioles booth through the years. In addition to Thompson, O’Donnell, Thorne and Angel, there have been Jon Miller, Ernie Harwell, Bob Murphy and Herb Carneal, who in addition to Thompson make it five Orioles announcers who’ve won the Frick.
Victor Rojas leaves the Angels broadcasts to transition into the administrative side of Minor League Baseball. Victor has been appointed General Manager of the Fresno RoughRiders, a Double A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He’s 52 and the son of longtime MLBer Cookie Rojas.
Don Sutton who died last week at 75 did Braves broadcasts for 28 seasons. He turned into a fine play-by-play man. His son Daron Sutton did Arizona, Detroit, Anaheim and Milwaukee games. Daron also covered other sports in addition to baseball.
Ted Leitner retired from MLB broadcasts after 41 seasons doing the Padres. He’ll continue to preside over the football and basketball broadcasts of San Diego State. Leitner is arguably the most well known sportscaster in the city’s history. The moved surprised me. I didn’t think he’d ever give it up. Wonder why?
Boog Sciambi takes his unique TV style to the Northside of Chicago and Wrigley Field. Len Kasper leaves Wrigley for the White Sox where he’ll do mostly radio and some television. Sciambi will continue to do work for ESPN, both MLB and college hoops.
Blue Jays radio voice Mike Wilner is gone after 20 years. He was the first Blue Jays radio voice born and raised in Toronto.
Jim Jackson, the Philadelphia Flyers TV voice, who also did radio work for the Phillies won’t return to the baseball broadcasts. He remains with the Flyers. Yes, another Syracuse man.
And yes, there’s another Jim Jackson. The former Ohio State hoopster does good work covering basketball for Fox in both the studio and as an analyst on game broadcasts. Jackson has experienced basketball as much as anyone. In the NBA, Jackson was on the active roster of 12 different teams, tying the league record shared with Joe Smith, Tony Massenburg and Chucky Brown.
So you wonder when Vin Scully was given an opportunity to develop his mastery for storytelling. Well, much of it of course is his natural talent. When he was young and thinking about a career, one thought he had was being an entertainer. When the Dodgers arrived in Los Angeles, they only televised the 11 games from San Francisco. (Until 1962, when the National League expanded to ten teams, clubs played one another 22 times. From 1962 through 1968, it was 18 times.). In other words, radio was king. Los Angeles was growing and Scully had a ready-made and large radio audience on the heavily traveled freeways.
The Dodgers also broadcast every Spring Training game, all played in Florida. Now that’s a ton of fill-in time for radio broadcasters. Spring training has long rosters and many human interest stories. To keep things interesting, Vin had to tell stories and it was likely a time when he perfected the craft.
Los Angeles was the third largest city in America when the Dodgers landed there in 1958. New York was first and Chicago second. In time, LA surpassed the Windy City in population.
So you ask about how the Angels ended up as a new franchise in the American League in 1961. The Dodgers radio rights had something to do with it. Gene Autry owned Golden West Broadcasting. When the Dodgers arrived, Golden West’s KMPC carried the games. But after two seasons (1958 and ’59), the Dodgers moved to KFI where they would remain through 1973. When the American League was about to expand in 1961 from 8 to 10 teams, Autry traveled to the baseball meeting in St. Louis, hoping to convince the new owner of the AL franchise to have KMPC carry the games of the new team. The problem was that there was no owner yet.
One group in contention included the promotional genius Bill Veeck. Dodgers boss Walter O’Malley had clout because of franchise rights he owned in Southern California. O’Malley simply didn’t want to compete with Veeck for fans.
So Autry who hoped to land the radio rights bought the franchise. The Angels of course ended up on KMPC. The shrewd O’Malley (above left) wrung $350,000 from Autry (right) for the Angels rights to share Southern California and $300,000 for the nickname Angels which O’Malley owned through a previous purchase of the PCL Minor League club, Los Angeles Angels.
As the great Marty Glickman would say, “And so it is…”