Figuring out how to replace legendary broadcasters Vin Scully, Dick Enberg
Here is a question with no earthly answer:
How do you replace Vin Scully?
“Well, it does sound daunting when you put it that way,” says Tigers radio broadcaster Dan Dickerson. “I always say I was the guy who followed Ernie Harwell. Nobody replaces Ernie. That’s probably how the guy who follows Vin will think about it. Nobody replaces Vin Scully.”
“Likability is what keeps us employed,” says Brian Anderson, the television voice of the Brewers and a broadcaster for Turner Sports and CBS Sports. “Starting a broadcasting job in any local market is a challenge no matter who you are replacing, but following a legend is the most difficult process in our business.”
What about following two legends? That’s the employment scenario upon the conclusion of the 2016 MLB season as Scully told reporters in August that while he would return for his 67th season of calling baseball in 2016, he would step down after that. Then last week another iconic sports broadcasting voice, Dick Enberg, who has been calling Padres games since 2009 for Fox Sports San Diego, said he will said he will step down as the team’s primary television announcer after the 2016 season.
“Look, you have to be respectful of the incredible careers they have had but also confident in your ability to do the job at a high level,” said CBS Sports broadcaster Ian Eagle. “No matter who your predecessor is, you have to do it your way. The difference in this scenario is there will never be another Vin Scully and there will never be another Dick Enberg. Don’t try to recreate their legacy.”
Fox Sports broadcaster Joe Buck said he experienced something similar when he, Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth took over for Pat Summerall and John Madden as Fox’s lead NFL announcing team in 2002. “I fell into the trap of trying to sound like Pat Summerall,” Buck said. “I think it’s what led to a lot of the criticism I faced years ago which is hard to shake. Basically, I was doing a Pat Summerall impersonation. Well, there is only one Pat Summerall. You think I would have fallen into that trap following my dad [Jack Buck, as a Cardinals baseball broadcaster], but I’m proud of how I handled that at a much younger age than the way I personally handled taking over for Pat.”
One advantage for Buck in baseball was that he had worked with his father for a decade on air before Jack stepped down fulltime in 2001.
“What I would say is be your own man,” Buck said. “You have to realize that you are hired because the bosses like the work you are doing and they can see the potential for growth. They are not hiring you because the think you can do a great Vin Scully or Dick Enberg impersonation. That’s not why you are there. Also, the people doing the hiring have to be patient–so do the listeners–and realize that this is a long-term process. Whatever the initial, emotional, knee-jerk fan response from the people who are predisposed to doing that stuff, they can’t be swayed by that. Hopefully, the people in charge have enough sense to make the pick and go with that person. It can’t be like Roman times were there is a thumb up or thumb down and everyone cheers or boos.”
Dickerson was a local sportscaster in Detroit in the early 1990s when Harwell was forced out. Harwell was initially replaced by Rick Rizzs and Bob Rathbun, both of whom were brought in from out of town, and Dickerson recalled it was very tough for Rizzs and Rathburn because they had a different style than Harwell and also had to deal with the circumstance of Harwell being forced into retirement.
“They were behind the eight ball at the start, and it was a tough three years for them,” Dickerson said. Rizzs is now the radio voice of the Mariners while Rathburn is the TV voice of the NBA’s Hawks.
When Harwell stepped down at end the of 2002 season, Dickerson had already been the middle innings caller for Detroit for a number of years. Also, Harwell had announced during spring training that year he was retiring at the end of that season and that reduced the pressure. So did something else:
The Tigers were historically bad that year. They finished 55-106.
“That team started 3-25 and by mid-summer there were nights we thought we could thank each individual listener by the end of the broadcast,” Dickerson said. “That’s how it felt. I felt very much under the spotlight because of how bad the team was.”
In 1994 Eagle replaced Spencer Ross, a quality broadcaster but not a legendary figure in the market, as the lead radio of then New Jersey Nets. Eagle said that because of the scarcity of pro sports broadcasting jobs, you have to be open to taking any job, even one that comes with the daunting task of replacing Scully.
“The Dodgers job is a national job,” Eagle said. “It’s an iconic job and the broadcaster who has been in that chair has redefined the job. He’s created a lexicon and glossary of terms of how to do baseball play-by-play. If you look at it as trying to replace Vin Scully, you won’t sleep at night. If you look at it as this is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I feel that I’m prepared and ready to take on this challenge, then you have a chance to be successful.”
So what will happen? Most people in the business believe the Dodgers will bring in at least one broadcaster from outside their current ranks. Longtime Los Angeles Daily News sports media reporter Tom Hoffarth said a potential candidate list would include Don Orsillo, Matt Vasgerian, Dan Shulman, Rich Waltz and the current group of Dodgers broadcasters including Charley Steiner and Rick Monday. I’d also throw in Fox’s Joe Davis as a darkhorse. Anderson is one of the best young baseball voices but he’s committed to staying Milwaukee.
The Padres job, it must be said, comes with far less pressure and expectations than the Dodgers gig given Scully’s singular greatness and that Enberg has only been in the market for six years. ESPN's Gordon Edes reported on Sunday that the Padres will soon announce that Orsillo has been added to their broadcast team as the ultimate successor to Enberg. Edes said there will be a Fox network component to the new job as well.This would be a terrific move for the broadcaster and market given Orsillo is national-caliber broadcaster and his humorous style would play off Grant. Orsillo, as written here and many other places, was given a raw deal by NESN and Red Sox management who opted not to re-sign him over mealy-mouthed claims of “re-energize” its broadcast. At last count, a petition to reinstate Orsillo had been signed by more than 62,000 people.
“Those two jobs are not the same,” Anderson said. “Dick Enberg has certainly earned his place among the network broadcasting elite but he's only been a team broadcaster in the San Diego market for a few years. My advice there would be to have fun with it. Be quick on your feet while not losing sight of the game and be willing to laugh and defer to one of the funniest and most entertaining team analysts in the game, Mark Grant.
“LA is a different story. Nothing compares to replacing Vin Scully. There has never been anyone better and there will never be anyone better. Vin Scully ruined it for the rest of us forever! That said, someone has to do it. My advice: Pray the team wins. Remind everyone that [analysts] Orel Hershiser and Nomar [Garciaparra] are the ones replacing Mr. Scully and stay off Twitter. All you can do in LA is survive and advance, game-to-game, week-to-week, month-to-month. Trust the outstanding crew and their expansive production, focus on the day to day job, be a great teammate and operate with complete humility, understanding and respect for the awkwardness of Dodgers baseball without Vin Scully.”
Buck smartly noted that Scully works alone and the person hired to follow Scully will likely not. Thus, the broadcast will change. One of the hallmarks of a Scully broadcast is his storytelling, culled from an ocean of research he has on each player. If that person attempts a similar style, the Dodgers must provide he or she with the same kind of research help Scully had. “People in Dodger Land are used to a game being done that way,” Buck said. It’s a very unique style of baseball broadcast.”
When I asked the broadcasters how they would approach the challenge of replacing Scully, Anderson offered the most interesting response.
“I would not ask for security in year one.” Anderson said. “The only way to truly 'win' in these circumstances is to completely surrender the need for stability. I would ask for a one-year deal. I would not move my family. I would try to be as little of a distraction as possible. Do very little press, no branding/PR strategy, surround yourself in the booth with people you know and trust, walk the stadium, show up at as many players’, sponsors’ and season-ticket holder events as possible. Basically, take a one-year trial approach. Hopefully you prove to be a worthy hire and all parties agree to proceed.”
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the most notable stories of the week in sports media
1. In an effort to get Holly Sonders reps as an NFL sideline reporter, Fox Sports management has pulled assignments from veteran NFL reporters Laura Okmin and Jennifer Hale. It’s a discouraging move for Hale and Okmin as well as viewers who want sideline reporters with years of experience and NFL contacts. Sonders worked the Bucs-Texans game in Houston game on Sunday, a game that was originally assigned to Okmin, and reportedly has five or so additional NFL sideline assignments heading forward, including three originally assigned to Hale. Fox Sports confirmed prior to the announcement that Sonders was working Sunday’s game but did not provide further comment on Hale and Okmin losing games after originally stating they would. It is believed NFL games were part of the deal Sonders signed with the network (along with golf responsibilities) when she moved from The Golf Channel in 2014.
Sonders might turn out to be a capable NFL reporter–and I’m not a viewer who would judge her rough U.S. Open assignment as some precursor for how she’ll be on the NFL sidelines–but I am viewer who thinks broadcasters and reporters should get assigned things on merit. I feel for Okmin and Hale here and in the words of Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows when it comes to comparing how often this happens to men versus women in the business.
Contacted last Wednesday by SI.com, Okmin declined comment on any forced assignment changes. She ended up spending part of the weekend at the University of Kansas to run a boot camp for women who want to enter the sports media business. Okmin and Celeste Gehring, a vice president of events & field production for Fox Sports, are the co-founders of GAL-vanize which offer bootcamps, workshops and coaching for women in sports broadcasting.
1a. Pregame shows are filled with unbearable amount of Bro-laughter between ex-playing and coaching bros but Fox NFL Sunday had a great exchange between studio analyst and ex-Cowboys coach Jimmie Johnson and game analyst and former Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman. The result was something actually worthy of laughter for viewers:
After Johnson referenced Cowboys owner Jerry Jones proclaiming that current Dallas quarterback Brandon Weeden threw the prettiest ball Jones had ever seen, Johnson asked Aikman, “How that’d make you feel?”
Said Aikman: “Well, not too good. Playing quarterback in this league goes beyond just throwing a nice pass. Brandon Weeden has got to make good decisions under duress, and how well he does that today is going to determine how much success he ultimately has.”
Aikman then followed with an equally sharp line.
Said Aikman: “I think Jerry was taking a shot at me, but Jimmy, you are accustomed to those shots.”
1b. The football-airing networks have a long history of assigning interviews to staffers with a connection to the subject. As a rule, it’s a disservice for viewers, and I write that acknowledging that most NFL pregame sit-down features rarely produce newsworthy quotes. On Sunday night, for Football Night In America, studio analyst Tony Dungy interviewed Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, who worked on Dungy’s coaching staff for a decade prior to Dungy’s retirement. Sports television producers will tell you that athletes and coaches often want a familiar interviewer for these kind of interviews–and that’s true–but rarely will a subject turn down an interview because of interviewer.
Here’s what happens: The viewer ends up getting an interview between two friends and former colleagues and not an interviewer who can engage with the subject with some independence. It’s also as much about what someone such as Dungy won’t ask Caldwell because he has intimate details of Caldwell that most interviewers would not. Lastly, it puts Dungy in a place he shouldn’t want to be in, even with the fun of interviewing a friend. But this kind of interviewing on NFL pregame shows is not going to change anytime soon and one wonders if ESPN will take a similar tack when the Cowboys play Washington on Dec. 7. ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden, of course, is the brother of Washington coach Jay Gruden.
1c. NFL Network’s NFL GameDay First staffer Shaun O’Hara was like many NFL pregame analysts on Sunday. He gave the Eagles little chance versus the Jets. Said O’Hara: “Even with the Pope in town, I do not know if they have a chance or prayer against Todd Bowles’ defense…I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Mark Sanchez in the second half.” Final score: Eagles 24, Jets 17.
1d. Departing Speaker of the House John Boehner, a guest on CBS’s Face The Nation Sunday, compared getting things done in Washington, D.C. to the offense of former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes.
2. Kudos to YES Network producers, editors and on-air talent for the quality work they did honoring Yogi Berra last Wednesday including a live, three-hour “Yogi Berra Remembered” special featuring YES anchors Bob Lorenz, Jack Curry and David Cone in Stamford, Ct., and Yankee TV voice Michael Kay doing several live hits from the Rogers Center. The network also hustled to get live interviews with Don Larsen, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, Al Kaline, Tony Pena, David Wells, Bucky Dent, Mel Stottlemyre, Goose Gossage, Joe Girardi, and current players including Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann. YES will televise Berra’s funeral live at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
2a. ESPN Radio finally officially announced that Bomani Jones will take over the 4-7 p.m. ET spot in its lineup, a spot previously held by The Dan LeBatard Show. Of course that opened up the spot previously held by Jones and ESPN Radio announced last Thursday that Jorge Sedano and Jen Lada will co-host a new show Jen and Jorge that will air weekday evenings from 9-11 p.m. ET beginning Monday. Lada came to Bristol with a promise of being on Colin Cowherd’s show before he abruptly made public that he was heading to Fox Sports. The 7-9 p.m. ET slot on ESPN Radio will now be filled by Jalen Rose and David Jacoby, who currently co-host the popular Grantland podcast, Jalen & Jacoby.
2b. The producer for the upcoming Sedano and Lada show is Michelle Smallmon, who arrived at ESPN Radio in mid-July from ESPN’s St. Louis radio affiliate. Smallmon produced some of Sedano’s shows prior to the Lada announcement and I asked her how a producer could help a new team find chemistry:
“Chemistry isn’t something that can be manufactured, and it takes time to develop,” she said. “It’s just like bringing free agents to a new sports team, things don’t just click overnight. It takes a little while to get familiar with your new surroundings and your new teammates. One of the most important parts of my job, especially now, is to structure the show in a way that allows my hosts to be comfortable and strike up a natural rapport with one another. I like to think in this situation a producer is what we often refer to in sports as a ‘good clubhouse player.’ I’m responsible for helping us gel. I take all of our ideas and blend them together to find out what works, and what our audience responds to. I want to make our show a fun and collaborative experience. A big part of that is trust as well.”
It’s still fairly rare see a sports-talk show hosted by a man and woman given the numbers of women sports opinionists both locally and nationally are not high. How, if at all, is producing a sports-talk show hosted by a man and women different than a show hosted by a man or two men?
“From a content standpoint, there are virtually no differences,” Smallmon said. “Before it was decided that Jorge would be paired with Jen, we worked with a wide range of co-hosts, both male and female and our approach has been the same each and every show, discuss the top sports stories of the day, dissect the games and have fun along the way. The audience demands great content regardless of who is behind the mic, and it’s a producer’s job to make sure the talent is prepared to provide that content to them. I first broke into the business about seven years ago and even since then I think there has been tremendous growth in regards to the acceptance of women on-air. Women are filling all sorts of prominent roles in this field, from hosting/reporting to play-by-play broadcasting. Radio is an interesting case study, because it’s a very transparent medium.”
2c. We will soon find out if there is a market on cable television for e-sports. Turner Sports and WME | IMG have partnered to create an eSports competitive gaming league that will air exclusively on TBS and other Turner-related digital extensions. It’s a clear effort to grab the growing young, male demo interested in competitive gaming–an estimated 32 million people in the U.S. The televised gaming events will air Friday nights on TBS (from Turner’s Atlanta studios) over 10 consecutive weeks, with two 10-week seasons in 2016 including playoffs. Both tournaments will include teams facing off while playing Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Digital coverage will include live daily competitive gaming content distributed Tuesday through Friday during each tournament week, as well as a live digital companion experience on Friday nights offered simultaneously with the TBS presentation. Last April, ESPN2 televised competitors playing Heroes of the Storm, which drew mixed reviews and a 0.1 rating.
3. Welcome to the 20th episode of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch. In this podcast, which is published weekly, I interview members of the sports media about their work, and interesting people about the sports media.
This week’s guests are FS1 anchor Mike Hill and New York Times best-selling author and former Daily News sports writer Wayne Coffey. In the episode, Hill discusses the differences of working at Fox Sports versus ESPN (where he worked for a decade), how he prepares for FS1’s America’s Pregame (which he hosts), being told by a staffer at ESPN when he first started that his delivery was “too urban” and how that impacted him for years, branching out beyond sports, and much more.
Coffey discusses being laid off by the Daily News after 30 years, how the newspaper removed his email access an hour after letting him go, the state of the newspaper business, how he approaches writing books with prominent subjects (he’s done books with R.A. Dickey and Mariano Rivera, he’s currently working on one with Carli Lloyd, and has a book coming out in October with Urban Meyer titled Above The Line: Lessons In Leadership And Life From A Championship Season) and what he wants to do in the future.
Hill, on how he perceived he was interpreted at ESPN:
“I always felt like some people at the other network (ESPN) kind of took my personality off-air and felt like, ‘Oh, he’s dangerous. He might take that on air,’ and I think that really held me back. As a matter of fact, I know it did because I was told that several times when I was there. And I was also told several times–and I am not trying to come down too hard although maybe I am sitting on your black couch right now–but I was told several times when I was there that ‘you know what, well, because you are “urban.”’ I was told this by a person who was in charge of their talent department. He said, ‘Mike, the reason you are not moving up and you are not going anywhere here is because you are too urban and we already got one of those.’ I really didn’t know what the hell to say, to be honest with you. I mean like, really? Man, I was in shock. People will deny things like that but when you are told that, you are afraid to be yourself."
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and you can view all of SI's podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at @RichardDeitsch.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• Via Chicago Magazine: The Last Years Of Ernie Banks.
• SI’s Tom Verducci on Yogi Berra.
• If you have not read this piece by Dave McKenna on Kevin Johnson and the serious allegations against him, I'd do so.
• Via SI’s David Gardner: How a fight between college-bound basketball stars damaged lives forever.
• SI’s Alan Shipnuck on the end of an SI tradition.
• The New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton on Yogi Berra.
• Rick Maese on Ethiopian runners who fled to the U.S. to escape torture and false imprisonment at home.
• Sportsnet’s (Canada) Arden Zwelling on the week that turned the season around for the Blue Jays.
• Via Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star: The night Kansas City baseball came back to life.
• Vice’s E.K. Hudson on a female wrestler in the Middle East aiming for the WWE.
• From ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenberg: The audacity of Peyton Manning.
• From SB Nation's Jeremy Collins: Football, Love, and Remembering Paul Oliver.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• Via The New Yorker: How far would you go to avenge the death of a sibling? Patrick Radden Keefe’s remarkable story about the obsessive, three-decade quest of Ken Dornstein.
• From Chicago Tribune reporter Matt Walberg: What I've learned about grief in the 9 years since my son's death.
• Grantland’s Rembert Browne’s Journey to Drink Hip-Hop's Most Notorious Blue Liquor.
• Read this 1974 profile of Joe Biden by Kitty Kelley. It’s incredible to read in 2015 given some of the quotes.
• The Billionaire, the Picassos and a $30 Million Gift to Shame a Middleman.
• When it came to starting a career and buying a home, Generation X had very bad timing.
• Via The Washington Post: An Illustrated History of the Popemobile.
• Whitey and Me: My Black Mass Moment, by Time’s Robert Sullivan.
• From John Woodrow Cox of The Washington Post: How a 10-year-old learns that she has HIV.
• From BBC Radio: 60 years of reporting the stories behind the headlines.
• The most expensive place in the world to live.
5. The Bill Simmons Podcast (formerly known as the B.S. Report) will launch on October 1 and will include two new podcasts that day and two new podcasts on Oct. 2. The Boston Globe’s Finn also reported that Simmons will release three podcasts per week over the first six months of his HBO employment, and those podcasts will be found on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Spotify, and a web page will eventually be created as a landing spot. On Saturday, a two-minute tease Simmons released to hype his podcast was already ranked No. 1 on audio podcasts for all of iTunes.
As for whether Simmons will have ESPN guests on his podcast, an ESPN spokesperson told SI.com two weeks ago that such requests would be considered on a case-by-case basis. “This is for both his TV show and podcast,” the ESPN spokesperson said. “We cooperate with many non-ESPN TV shows and we also separately have a radio guest policy that applies to podcasts too.”
5a. Very troubling to read about the threats sent to Chicago-based sports reporter Julie DiCaro off her commentary on the Patrick Kane case.
5b. Poynter’s Ed Sherman spoke with Flip Bondy and Coffey, two of the Daily News sports writers who were laid off (foolishly) by the paper.
5c. Sports Illustrated has launched a film division including the debut of the 12-minute short on Brett Favre in retirement.
5d. Rogers Sportsnet said last week’s Yankees at Blue Jays series was the most-watched in the company’s history. The series had a three-game average audience of 1.9 million people.
5e. A great ad here from MLB Network hyping the postseason.
5f. Speaking of David Jacoby (Item 2b), his wife, Joie Jacoby, directed a short film for ESPN Films on Jennifer Bricker, a gymnast born without legs who learned at age 16 that Romanian-born gymnast Dominique Moceanu, one of the members of the U.S.’s 1996 gold-winning Olympic gymnast team, was her biological sister. Great work.
5g. Great column by ESPN's Gordon Edes on Orsillo's final game at Fenway.
5h. ESPN said on Sunday that Curt Schilling would return to ESPN for its postseason coverage. But Schilling will work in the studio as opposed to the game broadcast of the AL Wild Card Game. His spot has been taking by Jessica Mendoza.
5i. From SI's Ben Baskin: An in-depth look at how Ian Eagle prepares for a game.
5j. This is beautiful writing by my colleague Rich O’Brien on a very sad occasion, the death of his close friend, Merrell Noden, a terrific writer and man of honor.