- Which national play-by-play commentators are the best in the game?
We live in a great era for play-by-play voices. The list of quality game-callers is deep and sports broadcasting has become far more inclusive than ever as evidenced by women (Tiffany Greene, Beth Mowins, Kate Scott, etc…) regularly getting play-by-play assignments that have traditionally been the domain of men only.
Given the quality of talent among play-by-play voices, I thought it would be a fun parlor game to list the 25 best working play-by-play broadcasters in the business. This list is entirely subjective. It is entirely based on my likes when it comes to professionalism, preparation and quality of broadcast. I expect to be told on social media that the list sucks.
Some quick caveats: I did not include announcers working on sports television outside of the United States. If I did broadcasters such as Galvão Bueno, Bob Cole and Martin Tyler would be on the list. (Update: Andrés Cantor of Telemundo would definitely be on my Top 25 below. This was a total screwup on my part. I initially listed Cantor under broadcasters who work outside the U.S but he indeed calls games from inside the U.S. even if many of the teams he calls are non-U.S. teams.) I stayed away from broadcasters who are locally based, such as the fabulous Gary Cohen (New York Mets), Pat Hughes (Chicago Cubs), Jon Miller (San Francisco Giants) and Merrill Reese (Philadelphia Eagles). There are also a ton of quality broadcasters who did not make my Top 25 who would easily make other lists, such as Marv Albert (a likely Top 10 for someone else), Adam Amin, Jason Benetti, Tim Brando, Bob Costas, Joe Davis, Dave Flemming, Dan Hicks, Matt Vasgersian, Ted Robinson, Bob Wischusen and on and on.
But the goal was to come up with a Top 25. So herewith your 2017 list.
25. Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports
I don’t care that he’s retired from college football. He’s on my list so I can give him the option of coming back. Plus, he's still doing college basketball.
24. Beth Mowins, ESPN
The signature voice of the popular Women’s World Series coverage (viewership is around 2 million), one of the best-ever calling women’s basketball and as expected, her NFL work on CBS and ESPN has been strong.
23. Phil Liggett, NBC Sports
The soundtrack for the Tour de France in the United States. He and the equally-terrific Paul Sherwen have called the race together for 32 years.
22. Mary Carillo, The Tennis Channel and NBC Sports
A play-by-play caller who is unafraid to deliver truths while calling a match. Carillo treats broadcasting with a journalistic bent.
21. Arlo White, NBC Sports
For those of us who love the Premier League, White is a treat each weekend.
20. Jim Lampley, HBO Sports
The gold standard for boxing broadcasters.
19. Kevin Burkhardt, Fox Sports
Great to see a grinder keep moving up in the business. Also, a quality studio host.
18. Sean McDonough, ESPN
People have short memories: He and Chris Spielman once formed college football’s best listen.
17. Brad Nessler, CBS
He’s been a seamless fit as the lead voice of the most important college football conference.
16. Dave Pasch, ESPN
An underrated voice who provides quality calls in both college basketball and college football. Plus, he handles Bill Walton.
15. Kenny Albert, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, MSG Networks
Albert’s multi-sport versatility is very impressive and always provides a professional broadcast no matter the sport.
14. Chris Fowler, ESPN
The best tennis match caller working today. There are better on college football but he’s improved each year at that gig, too.
13. Gus Johnson, Fox Sports
Nobody does late-game excitement better than Johnson, who has long showed versatility between college football, college basketball and the NBA.
12. Dan Shulman, ESPN
One of the best national baseball voices around and a quality college basketball voice.
11. Jim Nantz, CBS Sports
A great big event golf voice and his technical skill in helping Tony Romo emerge this year should not go unnoticed.
10. Joe Buck, Fox Sports
Perennially underrated as a baseball voice and he’s self-deprecating on the mic, which is welcome.
9. Kevin Harlan, CBS, Turner Sports, and Westwood One
Morphs easily between audio (calling the NFL) and television (calling the NBA). Pure quality and great pipes.
8. Ian Darke, ESPN
Just an absolutely pleasure to listen to for U.S. soccer fans since he came Stateside. Darke has elevated the call of the U.S. national teams to a place it had not been prior to his assignment.
7. Joe Tessitore, ESPN
In my opinion, Tessitore, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe form the best college football group today. He’s also an excellent blow-by-blow caller in boxing.
6. Brian Anderson, CBS Sports, Turner Sports and Fox Sports Wisconsin (Brewers)
This isn’t too high for him. Smart broadcasting marks know the kind of quality Anderson brings on baseball, college basketball and the NBA.
5. Mike Tirico, NBC Sports
The most versatile play by play voice of his generation: Tirico has called primetime NFL games, NBA Finals (on radio), college basketball, major college football including Notre Dame, golf and tennis.
4. Ian Eagle, CBS Sports, Westwood One, Tennis Channel, YES Network
One of the best at infusing humor in a broadcast, an Eagle broadcast is always informative and entertaining.
3. Mike Breen, ESPN/ABC and MSG Networks
Along with being one of the best NBA voices in history, Breen shares the mic with his analysts (ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson and Walt Frazier on MSG) as selflessly as any top play-by-play voice.
2. Al Michaels, NBC Sports
Still the gold standard for the NFL—and still going strong at age 72. He’ll call his 10th Super Bowl on Feb. 4, 2018.
1. Mike Emrick, NBC Sports
Traveling through an alphabet soup of employers (including NBC, CBS, Fox, MSG, VERSUS, TNT, OLN, CSTV, SportsChannel Philadelphia, PRISM and Fox Sports Net) during his five-decade Hall of Fame broadcasting career, Emrick has cemented himself as the announcer most associated with the NHL in America. But his skills go well beyond merely his sport. No working sports broadcaster does frantic better than Emrick, who turned 70 on Aug. 1. He’s also a magnificent wordsmith. We will not see his kind again soon when he leaves.
“My role is to be a conduit between the skill of the players and the understanding of the fans," Emrick once told me. "I'm just more or less someone who can describe something, and hopefully with passion.”