Commentary and Notes

Halby’s Morsels: When a brash Tim McCarver dissed Jack Buck on-air; Aikman, Collinsworth, Joe Buck +

In 1963, It was the beginning of the end for Mel Allen who lost his voice on NBC's Dodgers-Yanks World Series telecast and Vin Scully was forced to take over.

The Bucks, Aikman, Collinsworth and more

Joe and Jack Buck

Joe Buck’s autobiography Lucky Bastard is so good that it made the New York Times bestseller list. I hope to get a chance to review it. I couldn’t put it down, it’s that entertaining. (Joe, the son of famed broadcaster Jack Buck was born out of wedlock, therein Bastard in the book’s title.)

Like many sons, Joe’s hero was his dad, an absolute institution in St. Louis where he was beloved for his Cardinals broadcasts and much more. Jack also did the NFL on both CBS Radio and CBS Television. For that matter, I believe Jack is the only broadcaster to do play-by-play of a Super Bowl on both network television (1970 for CBS) and radio (many on CBS Radio).  

Joe talks about how Jack covered baseball for CBS Television when it had the rights in 1991. His color commentator was Tim McCarver, considered at the time, the fair haired  baseball commentator on network television.

But McCarver gave Jack a hard time. According to Joe, when the camera was fixed on a flag in the outfield, Jack said, “You can see the wind blowing to left field.” At that point, McCarver said, “I have to correct you, Jack. You can’t see the wind. You can see the effect of the wind.” Watching the telecast, Joe started thinking to himself. “That McCarver, he’s being a dick.” Sounds to me like McCarver is a bit pedantic.

Last night, Joe and Troy Aikman called the Bengals’ 34-23 home win over the Baltimore Ravens. Aikman, who is generally all-business and will hardly be mistaken for a quipster, brought up Cris Collinsworth’s name. The ex UCLA and Cowboys quarterback said that Cris is probably on his couch at home watching the telecast. Cris starred as a wide-receiver for the Bengals.

The quick little exchange between the two somehow led them to guess that Al Michaels is watching the game while eating dinner at the Palm. Michaels is a man of routine. If he’s out at dinner and isn’t in Dallas yet for the Sunday nighter between the Giants and Cowboys, he was likely at his favorite dining spot, Toscana in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles.

Collinsworth lives in Cincinnati where he began his broadcast career doing a talk show on WLW Radio. Cris, Buck and Aikman are no strangers. They worked together in a three man booth for Fox in the early 2000s.

Talking of Collinsworth, did you know that after his playing career he earned his JD from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law? His wife Holly is also a lawyer. Cris’ late dad, Abe Collinsworth, played college basketball for Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats and was a member of the 1958 national title team, known as the “Fiddling Five.”

In the book, Joe talks about the attributes of both Aikman and Collinsworth. He suggests that Collinsworth might make a statement on a broadcast so that it’s memorable. Aikman, he says, wouldn’t do so. Buck adds that Collinsworth is capable of doing play-by-play like former players Pat Summerall, Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford. Yes, while Dan was a commentator, he did some college football play-by-play for ABC.

It should be noted that Dan Fouts too, while known as a commentator, did some play-by-play on pre-season NFL telecasts. Dan’s dad Bob Fouts is in the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame and actually did play-by-play himself on 49ers radio broadcasts.

Incidentally, Joe Buck’s first ever NFL broadcast for Fox was, believe it or not, his first ever football call of any sort, college or pro! Talk about taking a chance!

 

Flashback: 55 years ago: 1963, World Series on NBC; Yankees vs. Dodgers

For the Bombers, it was their fourth straight Fall Classic. They had beaten the Giants the preceding year in seven games. Back then, as you know, all World series games were played during the day. The first night game was an experiment in 1971 when one of the games between the Pirates and Orioles was played under the lights.

The two announcers in ’63 were arguably the two best announcers to ever inhabit a baseball booth at the same time, Vin Scully and Mel Allen. In those years, the networks, in this case NBC, didn’t have stables of baseball announcers. NBC did the World Series but didn’t do any regular season games. The team announcers generally split the play-by-play on Fall Classic broadcasts.

The Dodgers and Yankees had a glorious history playing one another. While in Brooklyn, in the 40s and 50s, the two teams faced off seven times in the WS.

In 1963, the Dodger were in the process of sweeping the Yanks. They were up 3-0 in games and at home. It was Whitey Ford vs. Sandy Koufax, a rematch of game one at Yankee Stadium There were no color commentators. The announcers simply split the innings. In game 4, Scully did the first 4½ innings. Allen began the next 4½ before he lost his voice. It was the beginning of the end for the gigantic Allen. He fell from grace. Scully had to step in and finish the game.

Dick Young in the New York Daily News wrote that Allen, who was so associated with the Bronxites, suffered from “psychosomatic laryngitis,” postulating that the Yankees’ voice choked, witnessing the butchery and demise of his beloved club. George Vecsey in a New York Times column years later would describe Allen as “a bachelor who seemed to live for the Yankees.”

As written on this site by historian Curt Smith, it appeared that Allen, who dominated the national sports airwaves in the 50s and early 60s, was constantly in demand to do speeches and broadcast all sorts of events. To cope, he was prescribed medication by a Dr. Feelgood. It slowed down his speech pattern, his quickness and perhaps effected his voice. Dr. Feelgood eventually lost his license. All this vexed Allen’s career.

Mel was back with the Yanks the following year, 1964, but the baseball world was shocked when he was fired by the club after the season. He was also not asked to do the World Series that Fall against the Cardinals. Phil Rizzuto did instead. Allen was considered unreliable.

Ex-players doing NFL radio play-by-play with no prior experience

What’s happening to NFL radio play-by-play? Teams and stations are hiring announcers with little or no radio experience.

It started with former receiver Dave Logan in Denver, who played for nine seasons in the league. He provided color before getting the play-by-play gig in ’96. He did some coaching and knows the game cold. Logan gives listeners a broad sense of game description, cutting his calls in a wide swath, down and distance with lots of why and how the play developed. It almost minimizes a need for color commentator Rick Lewis.

Seattle similarly promoted an inexperienced Steve Raible, the former wide receiver, from the commentator’s chair to play-by-play in 2004.  Jimmy Cefalo also had no radio play-by-play experience to my knowledge when he was placed in that role by the Dolphins in 2005. This year, after Jim Henderson retired, the New Orleans Saints brought in the inexperienced former tackle Zach Strief to do radio play-by-play.

When providing decent coverage of down and distance, these gents present different sets of qualities, not the traditional crisp play calling, sharp pronunciations, necessary voice intonations or proper word clipping. It’s definitely different!

Random thoughts:

The Mount Rushmore quartet of extemporizing – recording a spot, in a prescribed time without consulting a note or a stopwatch; Howard Cosell, Vin Scully, Bob Costas and Brent Musburger. They’d generally do it in one take!

The talented and longtime voice of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Paul Keels, has penned a book on the Buckeyes, If these Walls Could Talk. It has insightful stories collected from within. Keels is among the best play-by-play voices in America. He paints a colorful picture on radio. In the book, Keels shares memories and anecdotes worth reading.

 

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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

Great stuff as usual! I read Joe Buck’s book. I often have been critical of his work, and I still can be, but beyond being incredibly interesting and entertaining, the book clarified for me WHY he broadcasts the way he does, his caution, and the undercurrent, to me, that in anything he does in broadcasting, he wants to be careful not to hurt his father’s legacy. Their relationship was truly lovely. On ad-libbing, I agree, but I suspect a runner-up would be Jim McKay, if only for that horrible day in Munich. Dierdorf also did play-by-play for CBS, and in… Read more »