McGRATH: Broadcast beautyis always in earof the listener
BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media August 3, 2013 12:52AM
FILE - In this July 21, 2012, file photo, Tim McCarver greets the crowd before accepting the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting as part of the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. McCarver says he will step down from his position at Fox after this season. (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth, File)
Updated: September 5, 2013 6:37AM
The crowd at Citi Field wanted hometown favorite Matt Harvey freed from a two-on, one-out predicament in the first inning of the All-Star Game last month and groaned when umpire John Hirschbeck called his 1-2 pitch to Chris Davis a ball, though it appeared to catch the inside corner.
‘‘Yadier had to do too much to get that call,’’ Fox TV analyst Tim McCarver immediately observed.
National League catcher Yadier Molina had set up low and away, and he reached back across the plate to backhand Harvey’s breaking ball as it dived toward Davis’ knees.
‘‘Harvey didn’t hit the glove,’’ McCarver explained. ‘‘And when an umpire sees that much movement from the catcher, he’s not going to call a strike.’’
Good insight from a former catcher. You get a lot of that from McCarver. I’ve heard the complaints that he talks too much, that he overstates the obvious while doing so, but I always learn something from a McCarver broadcast, and I’m going to miss him in his retirement.
This rumination on what makes a good baseball broadcaster is prompted, in part, by the reaction to a recent column suggesting Hawk Harrelson is less than ideal at the job. The piece was more critical of an MLB Network film about Hawk than it was of his work in the White Sox’ TV booth, but it poked a hornet’s nest, and Hawk was among those taking umbrage.
It’s a totally subjective judgment. A smart woman I know who watches a lot of baseball must be the only person in this country who doesn’t like Vin Scully. She’s steadfast in her belief that he talks too much.
We tend to favor those who taught us the game. I grew up with Jack Brickhouse, who called games on both sides of town until the Sox parted company with WGN and probably halved their audience by going with a dinky UHF station in 1968.
The ever-cheerful Brickhouse might be ridiculed as a hopeless homer in these cynical times, but a lot of listeners became Cubs fans by virtue of his gift for making bad teams seem interesting. He could inject drama at the appropriate time — I remember him pleading, ‘‘Come on, Moose!’’ as husky left fielder Walt Moryn lumbered in to glove Joe Cunningham’s sinking liner and preserve Don Cardwell’s no-hitter in his Cubs debut in 1960 — but a typical 6-4 loss to the Braves in mid-July could be just as enjoyable with Brickhouse calling it.
He came across as a convivial guy grateful to be enjoying a day at the ballpark. He was good company as he brought us along.
Brickhouse was succeeded, of course, by Harry Caray, whom Tribune Co. shrewdly lured away from the Sox shortly after buying the Cubs in 1981. The statue of Harry that sits outside Wrigley Field symbolizes his role in transforming the Cubs from franchise to phenomenon. But we never got his best stuff as a broadcaster.
That came earlier, when he was the unmistakable voice of the Cardinals boomed throughout the Midwest via 50,000-watt KMOX. He was no-nonsense, pure baseball, acclaimed as one of the best. By the time Caray hit Chicago, that guy was no more. But Harry caught on big, partly because he was so outrageously different from Brickhouse or anyone else who had done baseball here.
Curiosity about what Harry might say next was part of his appeal. (Remember those bizarre conversations with Jimmy Piersall?) Frustrated fans on both sides of town, meanwhile, could identify as he groused about booted ground balls and other offenses to his baseball sensibilities.
Harry was the antithesis of the optimistic, always-upbeat Brickhouse, but it worked for him.
Jack Quinlan is the forgotten man among Chicago’s broadcasting greats, only 38 when he died in a car accident at spring training in 1965. Quinlan already had spent 10 memorable years in the Cubs’ radio booth in a jovial partnership with Lou Boudreau. Think of him as the Pat Hughes of the ’60s: great voice, great eye for detail, great sense of humor that occasionally ventured into sarcasm.
‘‘Nice play, Frank, it’s over your head. Two runs will score.’’ That was one memorable call. And only Quinlan would refer to Ed Bouchee, Moe Thacker and Sammy Drake as the ‘‘heavy artillery’’ in the Cubs’ lineup.
The Cubs were a collective 201 games below .500 during Quinlan’s decade at the microphone and had one winning season — 82-80 in 1963. The broadcasts were always superior to the play on the field.
That’s kind of a recurring theme on the North Side.