Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hats Off...Hats Inducted

This Sunday, July 31st the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York will put up the plaques of two of the games greatest. Two players that played the game the right way and got every drip of talent out of their bodies…Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg.

It’s funny to me that I sometimes can judge my own life on the guys that I’ve grown up watching and rooting for. I started becoming obsessed with baseball in 1985 and have never skipped a beat with staying up to date on the game that brings generations together. I remember as a young kid watching games and seeing Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg. Around the same time my Grandpa got me started collecting baseball cards – so what does a 9 or 10 year old do with himself when it gets dark outside or on rainy days? He sits in his bedroom and reads his baseball cards. I memorized stats and places of birth and anything they could fit on those cards. Boggs and Sandberg were already All-Stars who in their own ways were leaving a large mark on the game that I was becoming infatuated with.

I collected both of their rookie cards - 1983 Topps, Donruss and Fleer…I still have eight Sandberg and six Boggs. I remember teasing my Dad that the Phillies (his favorite team) were so stupid for trading the best second basemen in baseball – having been a college second basemen himself, he agreed. I remember watching them both play. Sandberg for the Cubbies and Boggs for the BoSox.

I remember vividly in 1989 when Ryno and Andre Dawson took the Cubs on their backs in the months of August and September as they pulled away from my favorite team, the Mets, and won the NL East division title. Till my last living breath I’ll never forget seeing Wade Boggs holding his chin up with his hands after the last out of the 1986 World Series when the Mets defeated the Sox in Game 7. Two nights earlier Boggs had seemingly locked up Boston’s first World Series since 1918 when he scored in the top of the 10th inning to pad the Red Sox lead to 5-3. I’ll never forget when I came home from school and popped on ESPN and saw that Ryno was retiring in 1994. I remember thinking, “He’s only 34 years old.” I figured he’d be around for another four or five seasons. It wasn’t too long before that when I was appalled that Wade Boggs, a fixture of the Boston Red Sox, had signed a contract with the hated New York Yankees. He would spend five years in New York and helped them win the World Series in 1996 before finishing his career up in his hometown with the Devil Rays. I was equally surprised when I came home from school again and heard the news that Sandberg was coming back to play with the Cubbies for the 1996 season. He only would last for two seasons but the Cubs Nation was thrilled to see him play again, I’m sure.

Boggs was voted in by 91.9% of the possible voters and he deserved it. Wade was a 12-time All-Star and 2-time AL Gold Glove third baseman. He had incredible bat control and a great eye. Boggs won five AL batting titles (83, 85-88), strung together seven consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits, and earned 100 walks in four straight seasons. With his great ability to get on base, Boggs often batted leadoff, and scored at least 100 runs every season from 1983 to 1989 leading the AL three times. Boggs retired with a lofty .328 batting average after the 1999 season and is the only member of the 3,000 Hit Club to have reached the plateau with a home run.

The first #23 of Chicago played the game with graceful defense, very good speed around the sacks and a tremendous capability for power. Ryne Sandberg is right near the top of the list of greats at second base. He was a 10-time NL All-Star and as the NL’s Most Valuable Player in 1984, Sandberg led the Chicago Cubs to their first postseason appearance since 1945. His terrific range and strong arm, led to nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards at second base, and helped him lead NL second basemen in assists seven times. He led the NL in fielding percentage and total chances four times each. As a hitter Sandberg launched 282 career home runs, and in 1990 he became the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby in 1922 to hit 40 homers in a single-season while leading the NL. Ryno was very underrated for his speed and stole 344 bases in his career while also leading the NL in runs scored in 1984, 1989 and 1990.

Two legends of the game will forever have their plagues enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Congratulations guys and thanks for making kids everywhere grow up watching you both while falling in love with this great game.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Voices of Sports

Inevitably when I watch a sporting event a few things happen. I sit there and try to dissect what each team and the players are doing. 2-2 count with a runner on first base and one out…the runner is probably going – the catcher should call for a fastball to get a chance to nail him trying to steal. 18 seconds left and one time out remaining and the offense is on the 30 yard line with 2nd down. Run a quick pass, if it’s incomplete you have 3rd down and the clock is stopped, if you hit for eleven yards you call time out and kick the game winning field goal. That’s how my mind works. But one other thing that I’ve always thought much about since I was a kid was the announcers. A good announcer can make a sporting event for the viewers. If a play-by-play announcer is boring or doesn’t know the delicate details of the sport than he loses interest in many viewers. There’s a fine line between an average announcer and a great one…Here are my top ten best sports announcers still around today.

#10 Jim Lampley
Bar none the best boxing commentator in the business. I can’t remember watching a big boxing match without hearing Jim Lampley’s voice calling the action inside the squared circle. His voice is great and his intelligence of the sport is even better. Little known fact is that Lampley has been doing sports broadcasting since the early 70s.

#9 Pat Summerall
I had to put Summerall on this list…he’s one of my favorite football voices. I remember growing up and how excited I was to hear this every Sunday during football season, “Hello everyone this Pat Summerall along with John Madden.” His voice, perfect. He knew exactly when to stop giving the play-by-play and let his color man (mostly John Madden) jump in with his own commentary. He’s an NFL legendary announcer.

#8 Mike Patrick
It’s hard to find a better voice for college basketball. All of those Duke-UNC games or Indiana-Michigan games that I grew up watching…and Mike Patrick was behind the microphone for ESPN. He has teamed for years with Dick Vitale and always lent his wisdom as well as his excitement to the already excitable Vitale. Patrick also is a great football voice, working for as long as I can remember as the lead for Sunday Night Game of the Week.

#7 Vin Scully
“Little roller up along first – Behind the BAG! It Gets THROUGH BUCKNER…HERE COMES KNIGHT AND THE METS WIN IT!!!” That one sentence will forever ring through my ears. It makes me smile every time I think about Vin Scully yelling it into his microphone on that cold October night in 1986. He had already been an accomplished baseball voice at that point, and continues to call great games. This longtime Dodger announcer stayed faithful to the team when they moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958 and has remained their announcer.

#6 Joe Buck
Some people don’t like Joe Buck – I think he’s great. His deep voice and precise call of the game make him one of the best in the business. I’ve heard his Hall of Fame father call baseball games before he died and thought he was very good…but the younger Buck blows his dad away. Fox Sports made a brilliant move when they got Joe Buck to do both Major League Baseball and the NFL. The best part about Joe Buck is his age – we’ve got a lot more of him to hear.

#5 Marv Albert
People can say what they want about what Marv Albert did almost a decade ago with that woman…I’m not really interested in that, that’s his business. All I care about is that Albert is the best NBA announcer that I’ve ever listened to. He started out as the main man for the New York Knicks and then moved on to do all of the Nationally televised games across the country. Who in this era will ever forget Albert saying, “YES!” on a big basket or the famous, “A spectacular move by Michael Jordan!” He’s at the top of his ranks – and in terms of basketball there’s nobody better.

#4 Keith Jackson
"Whoa Nelly!" Keith Jackson has been known for covering college football on ABC for over 30 years. I remember watching the game back in the late 90s when he said he would be retiring…and his college partner Bob Griese said, “College football will never be the same.” Well sure enough, Jackson was back the next season and is still doing his thing. He’s awesome and watching a college football game that he does is a tremendous experience.

#3 Gary Thorne
“Hello everybody I’m Gary Thorne…” Wow, what a delight to have grown up as a kid a watching the New York Mets and New York Rangers and getting the opportunity to listen to a master. His voice so defining and perfect to listen to. Being a hockey announcer he needed to learn the great skill of being very exact with every call…his baseball announcing was made that much better because of that talent. He’s been the main voice of the NHL for years and still does quite a few Major League Baseball games on ESPN. A true great that many times is over-looked…but not here.

#2 Jon Miller
Over the last few decades no other baseball announcer has taken the game to higher levels. Jon Miller and his partner, Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Morgan have been together for fifteen years as the dynamic duo of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Miller’s baritone voice is so recognizable around baseball that many video games nowadays use him as the voice for the game. You can hear the passion for the sport in his voice and his knowledge is second to none.

#1 Al Michaels
“Five seconds left…Do you believe in MIRACELS – YESSS!” That was the start of Al Michaels legendary broadcasting career at the 1980 Winter Olympics but what has followed is even greater. To date, Michaels is the only play-by-play announcer to cover the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and the Olympics.
Since1986 Michaels has been the lead anchor of ABC’s Monday Night Football. I’ll never forget sitting down to watch Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants when Michaels said, "I'll tell you what, I think we're having an earth--!" Audio was restored minutes later and Michaels started off by trying to make light of the chaotic situation by quipping that it was "the greatest open in the history of television, bar none!"
He’s smart, energetic and the best sports announcer of our time. A true legend of the mic.