Commentary and Notes

Halby’s Morsels: Iowa AD wrong for suspending announcer; When Vin Scully met the late George Bush

Dick Enberg and the epochal 1968 Lew Alcindor-Elvin Hayes showdown propelled the college game to the network fore

Gus Johnson or Greg Papa on Big Ten title game, Jets vs. Giants broadcasts, John Sterling in his days with the Braves

I don’t know much at all about the innerworkings of the University of Iowa athletic office. But suspending announcer, Gary Dolphin, for his basketball candidness when he didn’t know he was on the air is shortsighted, small-townish, and draconian.

For those who missed it, when play-by-player Dolphin thought the network was in a commercial break, he shared critical comments about the basketball team with his color man Bobby Hansen. In other words, Dolphin thought he was off-air and privately derided 6’6” Maishe Dailey for dribbling through a double team with his head down. He was also critical of what he feels is the team’s poor recruiting history. A recording of the comments first sprouted throughout the state and then made its way around the country by social media.

Gary Dolphin (r) and commentator, former Hawkeye Bobby Hansen

You might say that Dolphin should have been prudent. We’re all taught to never say anything remotely questionable in front of an open mic because one never knows when it’s hot. Furthermore, you might say that Gary has to travel with the team and as such interface with those who engage on the court. Words must be guarded.

Still, had he shared his frustration privately with a buddy or a family member, would he have been penalized? Heck, Gary thought (mistakenly so) that he was sharing private sentiments with Hansen.

But he was unjustifiably suspended for two broadcasts by athletic director, Gary Barta.  

If the AD is decried, he deserves it. It’s the wrong thing to do unless there’s lots more to the story than meets the eye. This whole thing should have been handled behind closed doors. The school unnecessarily made a mountain of a molehill, and did so at everyone’s expense, Coach Fran McCaffrey, the athletic office, the player and the announcer. 

Do the administrators at Iowa expect their announcer to uphold willing blindness? If this happened in New York, Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, Bob Raissman of the Daily News and Neil Best of Newsday would likely run the athletic director out of town.

The one thing that could happen is that Dolphin will become a folk hero, more popular than ever. He’s already won some hearts of Iowa fans. In fact, one booster attempted to purchase $12,000 of ad time on the Iowa radio broadcasts, running spots that criticize the athletic office for its action taken against Dolphin. But the rightsholder, Learfield, turned down the dough and the spot.

The late Jim Zabel was an Iowa legend. He called Hawkeyes football and basketball for five decades. Even Jim had questionable thoughts and assessments. It’s natural. The last time I looked, we’re living in the greatest country on earth. This is America and we’re free to think openly. 

**

Vin Scully gets George Bush Award from the College Baseball Foundation

America lost a good man and a war hero, George H. W. Bush. Our profound condolences to the Bush family. 

In the aftermath of his death last Friday night, a box score appeared in several publications of a 1947 baseball game between Bush’s Yale team and Vin Scully’s Fordham team. Vin was an outfielder for the Rams and the future president a Yale first baseman. Little did either of them know then where their careers would head.

Success and public service didn’t run in the Bush family, it galloped. His father, Prescott Bush, was a banker and a U. S. senator from Connecticut. His paternal grandfather, Samuel Prescott Bush was a banker who served as an adviser to President Herbert Hoover. Bush 41 was the child of success and carried on in the family’s tradition. For Scully, raised by an Irish mother and an English step father, there were no political connections. 

Many moons after partaking on opposing teams in college, Scully and Bush played golf at Cypress. A photo of the two gents was taken at the tee. Bush, an inveterate note writer, signed the picture and presented it to the beloved Dodgers announcer. “To Vin Scully, the Fordham Flash…well..uh.” The Fordham Flash was of course the famously talented, future major leaguer Frankie Frisch. By the way, did you know that the celebrated football coach, Vince Lombardi also went to Fordham?

**

With college basketball upon us, I’m reminded that fifty years ago this past January, the late Dick Enberg called what was then dubbed, the Game of the Century. At a packed Astrodome in Houston, Elvin Hayes and the University of Houston ended the 47 game winning streak of Lew Alcindor (he changed his name  to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971) and UCLA. The highly anticipated showdown, played on a Saturday night, was televised nationally by TVS, a non-line national network, In other words, TVS cleared television stations, market by market to form national distribution. It was a decade before the advent of cable. In 1968, the three traditional networks, CBS, NBC and ABC rejected any entreaties by the NCAA to even televise the NCAA Tournament.

Because the television broadcast of the  UCLA-Houston game earned great acclaim and 52,000 fans elbowed their way into the huge dome, the Alcindor-Hayes showdown is often viewed as epochal; an event that triggered interest by the television networks to cover college basketball. And believe me, back then, the trio of networks were a monolithic powerhouse. Imagine, no cable, streaming, satellite distribution or Smartphones; just over the air television.

It should be noted that CBS did televise the NIT beginning in the mid-1960s when it was still in some circles more appealing than the NCAA Tournament. Opening college basketball to network television propelled the growth of the game over the next five decades.

For Enberg it was a defining assignment. He showed his magnificent announcing wares. His warm voice, human interest profiling and contagious enthusiasm were uplifting, he seemed to find the right word for every moment. The following year, he landed the Angels radio and television gig, did Los Angeles Rams football and before you knew it, he was a network star. In time, Enberg became the lead voice at NBC Sports where he called Final Fours, post-season baseball, Olympics and Super Bowls. He always seemed to put a touching and engaging ribbon on every championship occasion.

A couple months after the Astrodome showdown, Houston and UCLA played in the semi-finals of the 1968 NCAA Tournament. This time, UCLA rocked the Cougars 101-69 and then beat North Carolina for the title. Alcindor had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Hayes 10 points and 5 rebounds. It was the last year that the Final Four was on a non-line network, SNI. The play-by-play broadcaster for the Final Four was the late Bill Flemming who covered a half dozen Final Fours in the 60s. By 1969, NBC jumped in and Curt Gowdy was the play caller.

**

If you’re wondering, two former broadcasters now essentially retired from broadcasting, Eddie Doucette, known for his years with the Milwaukee Bucks and Mel Proctor, for his years with the Wizards and Orioles, are living in the San Diego area. As Dick Enberg intoned during an intersection of a Chargers telecast and a magnificent shot of the San Diego Harbor, “Someone has to live here.” Yes, a beautiful city and Enberg himself lived there until his untimely death last December 21st, a couple weeks short of his 83d birthday.

***

Gus Johnson can be a bit unrestrained. I applaud his enthusiasm but he can grate. So last Saturday, I muted the sound on the telecast and dialed up the network radio broadcast of the Big Ten title game, called by Greg Papa who’s nothing short of superb. He called Oakland Raiders games until the current season when he was succeeded by Brent Musburger. In his years doing the NFL, Papa was right up there with Merrill Reese, Gene Deckerhoff and a couple select others as the NFL’s best radio play-by-play voices.

***

I also enjoy the Jets’ Bob Wischusen on NFL radiocasts. Unlike his neighboring cohort Bob Papa who does Giants, Wishcusen broadcasts with heart. I have no issues with Papa’s fine description, he’s on it, but his lack of passion renders his broadcasts as emotionally lifeless. People’s personalities are what they are. Papa’s golf work though is truly excellent!

**

What I found while looking for something else; a Bleacher Report dated March 13, 2012 on how John Sterling was not appreciated by his colleagues in Atlanta when he called Braves games.

John Sterling Was Belittled by Atlanta’s Broadcasters and by Himself

 

 

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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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Tom Nankival
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Tom Nankival

David, as a faithful Hawkeye fan and a friend of Gary Dolphin, I can tell you that the overreaction has more to do with the thin skin of a coach that is on the hot seat (deservedly so) than what Dolph said. If said coach didn’t like what accidentally went out over the air, he sure as hell wouldn’t like what’s being said in millions of Hawkeye homes across the country.

Michael Green
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Michael Green

Great stuff!

Vin also had the distinction of being a neighbor–not the same block, but close–of Ronald Reagan, and he did an interview with him for CBS Sports just after the 1980s election. It’s on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTDVagVYGpY.

I’m given to understand that Charley Steiner, who worked with Sterling for a few years before the Dodgers came calling, was no happier than the Braves trio were with their situation.