Halby's Morsels

Halby’s Morsels: Health issues, ESPN and NBA; NHL; Old-time voices; Mets and MLB Giants


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Just got word that Tuesday’s scheduled media call with  ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson has been postponed. It will be rescheduled during the NBA Finals. Let’s hope that Covid doesn’t wreak havoc as the NBA Finals start on Thursday. and the NHL Stanley Cup Conference Semi-Finals begin. ESPN will have the Rangers vs. Lightning. Sean McDonough still amazes me with his ability to do play-by-play on any sport. He reminds me a bit of the late Dan Kelly whom he grew up idolizing, Kelly was the Voice of the St. Louis Blues, who was recommended to KMOX Radio by NHL icon Scotty Bowman. Kelly later helped popularize the league on CBS TV. As I listened to him calling game #7 of the Rangers win over Carolina, Sean’s cadence and intonations reminded me of Kelly.

Kenny Albert is getting high praise and deservedly so for his wonderful work as Turner’s lead NHL play-by-play voice. He’ll be doing the Western Conference playoffs, Edmonton vs. Denver. 

  • I feel bad for Mike Breen who missed calling the Eastern Conference title game Sunday night, Boston-Miami. He was out with Covid and Mark Jones backed him up. ESPN’s Jones, a Canadian, has a good command of the mic, a rhythm for the broadcast and a feel for the game. But he was hit by a tough ask, partnering with with Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, When the two work with Breen, if one starts a sentence, either of the other two seamlessly  finish it. The trio are a fun listen. Jones kept his play-by-play to a minimum and let the other two carry the meat of the show. The game told its own story right down to the wire. During the game, social media was wondering whether JVG had his health. He sounded subdued and a little phlegmatic.
  • Kate Scott, now Voice of the Sixers, is pretty good. I hope Mike is back for the Finals’ opener. If not, Kaye’s ready to step in. ESPN should consider her.
  • Age difference: Ryan Ruocco is 35. He does the NBA and WNBA for ESPN. He’s also getting better, particularly with the use of his vocabulary. It’s a bit richer. He sprinkles in words and descriptions not heard before during standard basketball broadcasts. Ryan Ruocco is 53 years younger than his analyst Hubie Brown, 88. Coach Brown can easily be Ruocco’s grandpa. Ryan is another Fordham alum, like Breen. More New York bias? Ryan’s dad was a longtime NFL executive, Peter Ruocco. Son Ryan’s fill-in work on Yankees baseball wasn’t highly reviewed but he’s working hard at his craft. Fordham is beginning to give Syracuse a run for its money, educating and developing play-by-players. Ryan’s mingling of a broader vocabulary will serve him well. There’s nothing to ever criticize about Hubie. The man is still irrepressible and sharp. My best guess is that Brown will zip right through next season and continue as a nonagenarian in 2023 on ESPN.
  • One of the few who can take on Hubie Brown (88) for sharpness is Warren Buffett (91) and his half-century sidekick, Charlie Munger (98). Warren hosts the Woodstock of Capitalism in Omaha each spring, the annual stockholders’ meeting of Berkshire Hathaway. Charlie is partially blind and has taken braille lessons. An amazing man, Munger is still razor-sharp and his acute quips still sting. When a shareholder or reporter asks Buffett a challenging question, Warren’s answers are unhesitating.
  • New Orleans guard and NBA Players Association president CJ McCollum has yet another assignment, NBA analyst for ESPN. He’s added a multiplatform deal with the Bristolites.
  • Red Barber needed attention, always did. When he did Yankees games, the last gig of his baseball career, he pronounced Los Angeles, ‘Los An(k)eles, a hard G, underscoring its Hispanic roots. Just to be different and stubborn. Red blended impiety and irreverence memorably. Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley didn’t want him around anymore after the 1953 season. Vin Scully in the booth took care of Barber. Red might say something like ,”Los An(k)eles, into the stadium over the weekend, will have Bo Belinsky on the mound Friday night.”
  • By 1966, Red polarized his three other partners in the Yankee booth, Joe Garagiola, Phil Rizzuto and Jerry Coleman. Red thought that he could push the other broadcasters around. In his early years in Brooklyn which started in 1939 he was first beloved. There was nothing like him. In 1948, when the Dodgers started traveling their announcers, Barber got ill on a road trip. Marty Glickman told me that conventional knowledge was that he drank too much and that his physicians asked him to quit alcohol. On his Yankee broadcast when Barber was out, Mel Allen, reported on a Yankeecast that Red was recuperating. But no specifics were given.
  • From Red Barber: The Life and Legacy of a Broadcasting Legend (p. 254): When Ernie Harwell left Brooklyn to take the New York Giants’ number-two broadcaster slot for the 1950 season, Barber recommended Scully to Branch Rickey. Rickey interviewed him for three hours, concluding with the standard “Mahatma” advice for all young men: “‘You married?’ [Scully] said, ‘No, sir.’ [Rickey] said, ‘Engaged?’ [Scully] said, ‘Going steady?’ [Scully] said, ‘No, sir.’ [Rickey] chewed that cigar of his for a minute and then he snapped, ‘Get a girl, go steady, get engaged, get married. Best thing in the world for a young man.’” Rickey called Barber at his CBS office to say, “Walter, this is Branch. I don’t wish to trespass upon your time, but you sent the right young man; good day.” For those who care, this tome, 500 words, fantastic detail on one man, doesn’t leave an iota out on baseball’s first rhythmic broadcaster. Barber’s puzzling profile is told with magnificent structure and trivia. Barber himself was a sermonizer and an evangelist and often bullheaded
  • Bob Murphy broadcast more than 7,000 Major League Baseball games, covering the New York Mets. He started alongside Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner during the club’s laughing stock years. The trio (Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Murphy) were together and seemingly inseparable from 1962 through 1978 on both radio and television. The story of why and how Nelson left the Mets and whether he did so at exclusively his own preference, was never told. Yet on-air there was never any evidence of an imbalance in the booth during their 17 seasons. In 1979, Nelson headed to San Francisco. In his autobiography, Nelson recollects how he drove into the Candlestick Stadium parking lot and introduced himself to the attendant from the passenger seat. The attendant paused and glazed at him, “You sure don’t look like Lon Simmons,” whom Nelson succeeded. Lindsey lasted in the Bay Area only three years.
  • During the team’s long history, from the Polo Grounds to Seals Stadium, Candlestick and Oracle Stadium, the Giants produced some colorful Ford Frick winners; Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons, the first two in San Francisco. Other Frick winners affiliated with the Giants include Nelson, Jon Miller, Ernie Harwell, Al Michaels, Bill King and Al Helfer. By my count, it’s eight.


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 and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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