MCGRATH: Hawks broadcaster Pat Foley’s longevity a blessing, but that’s not always the case
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media April 20, 2013 7:56PM
Chicago Blackhawks Vs Nashville Predators."GAMEFACE" Pat Foley night 30 years of the Chicago Blackhawks voice. Friday April 18, 2013 I Photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: May 22, 2013 7:05AM
The cheers for Pat Foley were loud and lusty at the United Center on Friday, when the Blackhawks saluted their TV voice for 30 years of distinguished service.
Thirty years in one place signifies remarkable acceptance in a fickle, demanding business, but Foley remains a pro’s pro and an easy listen in an ideal partnership with the wise and informative Eddie Olczyk. Radio teammates John Wiedeman and Troy Murray are of comparable quality.
The outcry that greeted Foley’s dismissal seven years ago was indicative of his popularity, but the previous Hawks regime was too stubborn and clueless to admit a mistake. As a succession of hamstrung general managers, overmatched coaches and underachieving players came and went, Foley remained a link to respectability. His firing convinced a disgusted, dwindling fan base that a once-proud organization truly had lost its way — and its mind.
Accordingly, the Rocky Wirtz-John McDonough-Jay Blunk team made bringing Foley back a priority upon taking over. Along with home games on TV and an olive branch to their disenfranchised legends, the move provided instant credibility. A Stanley Cup in Year 3, after a 49-year drought, also helped some. Foley’s ‘‘Niemi says no!’’ was the signature call of a Cup campaign that still produces spine-tingling roars whenever highlights are shown on United Center video boards.
As Foley was being feted, I found myself thinking of broadcasting icon Pat Summerall, whose death last week was overshadowed by bombs in Boston and tragedy in Texas.
Summerall’s appealing baritone was the voice of the NFL for 34 years, first with CBS, then with Fox. He gained additional exposure as CBS’ main man at Masters golf and U.S. Open tennis. But he never wore on viewers because he stayed in the background and let the competition tell the story. He was there to amplify; for analysis, he deferred to his partners.
John Madden became a broadcasting phenomenon and an international celebrity sitting next to Summerall. Tom Brookshier almost become coherent.
Summerall-like longevity is difficult to achieve these days. Anyone with a computer is a potential critic, and snarky websites (such as Deadspin) offer a forum for their gripes.
Jim Nantz, in his second decade as CBS’ Voice of Everything, is a popular target among snarksters who find his unctuous solemnity a bit contrived.
Point taken. I used to like Nantz, but everything he does now is overdramatized and Supreme Court-serious. Before Adam Scott’s victory last week, an Aussie golfer never had won the Masters. With three showing up among the top five during second-round play, Nantz declared, ‘‘Australia yearns for a green jacket.’’
Really? The whole country? Will they all get to wear it?
Longevity is an asset to a broadcaster’s bank balance, but it’s an evolving threat to his job security. Tim McCarver can’t leave the Fox baseball booth soon enough for some critics, but I’m not among them. McCarver and Tony Kubek were the first baseball analysts to break from yarn-spinning and really explain what was happening before them. They were knowledgeable, credible and informative. McCarver talks a lot and can sound preachy, but I still learn something from every game he works.
Speaking of preachy, Hawk Harrelson is in trouble again, this time with the sabermetrics crowd for a rant decrying advanced statistics’ pervasive influence on his game. Hawk suggested that some good baseball people have lost their jobs because of sabermetrics and that an overreliance on numbers is driving ‘‘instincts’’ out of the game.
I suspect — hope — he was referring to a scout’s instincts. Sometimes a scout will see something in a kid that identifies him as a ballplayer, even though the radar gun, the stopwatch or his physical dimensions suggest otherwise. I can’t imagine an outfielder getting a bad jump on a ball because he’s worried about his VORP dropping if he doesn’t catch it.
But who knows with Hawk? His insistence on speaking in self-assured absolutes wears on listeners more than his homerism, his Yaz worship or his disdain for umpires. During a Cubs-White Sox game last season, he declared Cooperstown ‘‘full of hitters who couldn’t hit a breaking ball,’’ which sounds silly anywhere but in Hawk’s world.
It’s too early too tell whether his chairman-ordered rapprochement with Steve Stone is taking hold. They do seem to be making an effort to converse rather than speak on parallel tracks.
Similarly, it’s too soon to say how Jim Deshaies is faring as Bob Brenly’s successor in the Cubs’ TV booth, though one thing is for certain: Deshaies, Brenly or anybody else would be challenged to make this season sound interesting.