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No other announcer understood the poetic nuances of baseball better than legendary sportscaster Ernie Harwell.

By April Siese
August 19, 2014
Ernie Harwell
Opening Poem

No other announcer understood the poetic nuances of baseball better than legendary sportscaster Ernie Harwell, whose dizzying 42-year run (we'll just ignore 1992, when Harwell briefly defected to the Angels due to a debacle Michigan listeners still can't make sense of) with the Detroit Tigers was punctuated with poetry and the type of witticisms that gave us such gems as the capitalist-centric window shopping of striking out paired with the steal of a deal that is the “two for the price of one” double play. Harwell was conscientious and anachronistic, quick to quote players as much as he was to cite Tennyson and a host of poets, including himself. His pivotal “Definition of Baseball” caters to every fan's nostalgia with the type of reverence that firmly re-establishes the sport as America's pastime.

Dizzy Dean
Country Grammar

You know that (most likely) fake meme going around of Shane at Walmart, giving curious customers directions to the nearest Albertson's when all they needed to do is walk ten feet down aisle two and just grab some dog food? Legendary pitcher-turned-sportscaster Dizzy Dean was that renegade badass on a national scale, instructing fans to switch over to the better games when even his own colorful play-by-play calls couldn't keep a lopsided game afloat. Dean was refreshingly honest about his rather modest roots and made no bones about pursuing baseball far harder than his studies. English teachers with nothing better to do (it was the dawn of televised broadcasts and there were, like, negative two channels to choose from) wrote incessant letters calling out Dean for his erroneous grammar but for die-hard fans like Peanuts' Charles Schulz, who's paid homage in his comics, Dizzy Dean's pseudo-Shakespearian inventions of words like “slud” made him a poetic, prescient commentator.

Mel Allen
American Classic

The complicated history associated with Mel Allen and the Yankees has, to this day, kept baseball fans' heads spinning and tongues wagging with theories as to why one of baseball's greatest commentators was fired by an organization whose fans adored him so much that they'd practically forced him to call World Series games even without a pinstripe presence on the field. Allen was the voice of 22 World Series, 24 All-Star Games, and narrated the original This Week in Baseball from its inaugural episode in 1977 until his death in 1996. Allen was fired by the Yankees in 1964, ending a reign of 25 years with the Yankees in which he'd coined the nickname “Joltin' Joe” for Joe DiMaggio and was a beacon of hope to an ailing Lou Gehrig, who avidly listened to Allen's play-by-play calling. Allen was eventually brought back in 1976, where fans could hear his “how about that?” catchphrase once more.

Dave Niehaus

As the Mariners' original announcer and partial team owner, Dave Niehaus was heavily invested in the fate of Seattle's expansion team and ensuring its legacy. Niehaus certainly cemented his own during his 33 years with the team, allegedly coining the nicknames for Ken Griffey, Jr. and Franklin Gutierrez as well as peppering his broadcasts with such stellar catchphrases as “swung on and belted” to denote homers and the ridiculous “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma, it is grand salami time!” for the ultimate in scoring plays, the grand slam. Niehaus' passion for the game and dedication to the region netted him some stellar accolades that include a spot in Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Slugfest, where his announcing chops helped take then N64 game to the next level and even a song by Macklemore. Yet another catchphrase from Niehaus, “My Oh My” captures Niehaus' legendary calling of “The Double” and giving fans across the country an unexpected case of the feels. “My Oh My” indeed.

Jack Buck
The Victor

Before Joe Buck was teaching an entire nation where their TV remotes' mute button happens to be, Jack Buck was actually doing something spectacular in the commentators' booth. The far superior Buck, Jack was a fixture with the St. Louis Cardinals for nearly half a century. His positive “It's a winner!” catchphrase was a catchall for clutch plays, rallies, and game-winning moments that made the Cardinals' roller coaster ride of a trajectory from Runnin' Redbirds to a team in turmoil all the more exciting. To Buck, baseball was the great unifier, a sentiment especially felt during the reading of his famous “For America” poem recited mere days after 9/11. Sadly in ailing health, Buck maintained composure and delivered an address that, at the least was indicative of his compelling career in broadcasting and clearly one of the most iconic speeches ever delivered at a professional sporting event. “For America” wasn't the first time Buck had regaled on a national stage: the broadcaster called 18 Super Bowls and 11 World Series. He was everywhere in football and a true treasure to both the NFL and MLB.

Harry Caray
Boozin' Baseball

The man who practically invented and invited the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the middle of the seventh inning, Harry Caray was as much of a homer as they come (though an actually good one and not just within the context of Chicagoland; sorry, Hawk Harrelson) and known by his exuberant calls of “Holy Cow!” and “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” when they actually pulled one out and didn't make calling a game one of the more difficult undertakings of Caray's career. Many know him more through the absurdist eyes of Will Ferrell a la SNL and, given his meticulously detailed 1972 diary in which it was revealed that he'd spent over half the year at multiple bars every night, Ferrell may not have been that far off. Still, Caray knew how to captivate an audience with an earnest style befitting of a professional wrestling announcer more than a man of baseball. And, really, that's what made him the only voice you wanted to hear throughout season after season of sorry Cubs baseball in which “they keep drawing an average of a million-three a year, and, when the season's over and they've won their usual seventy-one games, you feel that those fans deserve a medal.”

Bill King
Incredulous in Style

Perhaps one of the coolest renaissance men of contemporary broadcasting, Bill King was quite literally my childhood; the voice of oh-so-many great moments in Bay Area sports for over four decades. He was one of the few who could effortlessly switch from Warriors basketball to Raiders football to A's baseball and offer up erudite knowledge in all fields. Like the great Harry Caray, King's catchphrase was one of incredulity: “Holy Toledo!” That phrase took A's fans through the whirlwind moments of the Billy Martin regime, just past the Bash Bros' overpowered reign, and into the upheaval of Moneyball. King was a very visual broadcaster and consummate reporter whose overpreparedness wowed his peers and colleagues. It even caught the eye of the Raiders' curmudgeon head honcho Al Davis. It is because of his dedication to Bay Area sports that the broadcasting booth at the Coliseum is named in his honor. And, yes, after years of reading a weathered cardboard sign begging the A's for a Bill King bobblehead, a talking one was made available to 2003 season ticket holders.

Harry Kalas
Great Expectations

Beloved Phillies sportscaster Harry Kalas came out swinging when he made his debut with the organization in 1971, just six years after starting his career calling baseball games in Houston. Kalas came on the scene has a replacement for Astros announcer Al “Mr. Radio Baseball” Helfer and had even bigger shoes to fill once he got to Philadelphia, where he was set to replace Philly fixture Bill Campbell. Kalas proved to be a formidable replacement for both, honing his craft by way of genuine Phanaticism and an unparalleled connection with Phillies fans. Kalas' catchphrase of “Swing and a long drive” before the announcement of a home run was music to fans' ears. So too was his love of Frank Sinatra's “High Hopes”, which he delighted in singing on multiple occasions.

Russ Hodges
Song and Dance

Imagine, if you will, my childhood shock when I learned about the "Shot Heard Round the World "in elementary school. I could not believe that baseball had been around during the American Revolutionary War or that Bobby Thomson was that old and yet still alive! When you're 9-years-old and already a Giants fanatic, your general concept of the world tends to err more on the side of baseball than historical civic events. Still, Thomson's fateful shot that catapulted the Giants into the 1951 World Series was a marker of baseball and broadcasting history through serendipitous means. It was Russ Hodges' frantic cries of “Giants win the pennant!” that forever stick out in my mind as well as the masses, though at the time, Hodges was simply a local radio announcer. The legendary sportscaster would go on to move with the Giants from New York to San Francisco and further gift fans with the home run catchphrase of “Bye Bye, Baby” further immortalized in a promotional song for radio station KSFO. An instrumental version of the tune is used to this day in Giants telecasts.

Vin Scully

It doesn't matter how you feel about the Dodgers organization or anything associated with it: The undisputed voice of baseball for over six and a half decades is Vin Scully. Scully has been with the Dodgers since before their move to the west coast and even still holds the title for youngest broadcaster to call a World Series. A 25-year-old Scully held a nation captive during the 1953 World Series in which the Dodgers fell to the Yankees in a heated six-game series. Though his most easily recognizable catchphrase may be in calling a home run with simply “forget it,” Scully is iconic, unforgettable, and still stands as the sharpest mind in baseball. He can spin a yarn into a patchwork of baseball's history in the time it takes to get a Dodger dog and a beer before the dreaded 7th inning alcohol cutoff. Using a combination of index cards, media guides and scorecards more in line with a college student cramming for a massive final than a day at the ballpark, Scully is able to trace those narrative threads from the sports' beginnings to its current all-stars. Though his broadcasting schedule has sadly been reduced, Scully still greets fans with a friendly “It's time for Dodgers baseball!” and will continue to do so into the 2015 season.

Honorable Mention: Gary Thorne
Spic 'n Span, Thank You Ma'am

Unpopular opinion time, y'all. Gather round, sharpen your comment pitchforks, and sign into some fun when I tell you that I truly believe the Orioles' Gary Thorne is the present day people's commentator. As The Rock represented the masses during Attitude-era WWF, so Thorne says what every fan is thinking when they tune into a Baltimore game. Who hasn't made the joke that their respective team's general manager is making a call for pizza to be delivered rather than a pitcher to begin warming up? With a garish mix of pop culture humor and actual, you know, baseball announcing, Thorne has endeared himself to fans far and wide starting his career first with former AAA team the Maine Guides before moving onto the Mets and, soon after, the Orioles where he's been serving up shade and sportscasting since 2007. Thorne is so topical he's got damn near no catchphrases to show for, but has been honored (along with his fellow O's commentators) with a tumblr page and a Twitter handle: @DrunkGaryThorne.

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