A select few sportscasters transcend the games they cover

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 27, 2002

Jim English

Sports Columnist

Last week, sports fans across the country mourned the death of long-time St. Louis Cardinals’ broadcaster Jack Buck.

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Although many people, like myself, did not become familiar with him until Mark McGwire embarked on his home run record chase, Buck had long been regarded as one of the best in his field. It was not until a recent retrospective of his career that I realized he made the historic call of Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homer against the Oakland A’s in the World Series. His classic "I don’t believe what I just saw…" is as much a part of that moment in baseball history as the vision of Gibson’s limping, fist-pumping trot around the bases.

So why was Jack Buck considered a great sportscaster? For that matter, why is anybody? What separates the great ones from the ones who merely pass on the information?

It got me thinking about who my personal favorites are, and why they are my favorites. Some of these you will likely nod in agreement with, and some you will no doubt scoff at. But if nothing else, it may give you opportunity to fondly recall some of your own favorites, most of whom we take for granted, but who, in many cases have elevated their chosen profession to an art form.

BOB COSTAS – For pure versatility and flexibility, Costas may actually be my overall favorite. From basketball to figure skating, he seems equally as comfortable. He obviously does an amazing amount of research on any subject he is to tackle, but without coming across as pompous and full of himself (Bill Walton, are you taking notes?).

DICK ENBERG – In my opinion, his true gift lies not so much in play-by-play or color commentary, which he does extremely well. What sets Enberg apart to me are those short "in-between" personal interest pieces that he does from time to time, usually during a golf, tennis, or basketball tournament. No one else can turn such a mundane assignment as describing a golf course into such a sculpture of words.

KEITH JACKSON – Simply the best when it comes to college football. While many TV commentators tend to get in the way of the action, prompting many to turn the volume down in favor of the radio broadcast, I couldn’t imagine doing that during a Keith Jackson broadcast. Part of his endearing persona is his natural use of colorful metaphors, such as his description of the Miami Hurricanes’ futile attempts to block Alabama’s pass rush as "akin to trying to climb a cactus". Kudos to Gatorade for picking the perfect pitch man for their most recent TV ad.

VIN SCULLY and JOE GARAGIOLA – Often times, it is a team effort that makes a broadcast either great or irritating, and these two, in my lifetime at least, set the standard. Never interrupting each other, never bickering (Bill Walton and Snapper Jones, pay attention), each one’s strengths perfectly complimenting the other’s. Many who grew up with "Baseball’s Game of the Week" wonder if they will ever see a duo who can compare to Vin and Joe’s mastery.

RALPH BLACK – Though it may seem to some of you as merely a promotion of a local personality, this is my list of favorites, and Ralph is honestly one of my favorite to listen to. He embodies many of the characteristics that cause many of his more famous counterparts to be considered great. He possesses that distinctive, unmistakable voice, like Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, Skip Carrey and others. Just as Jackson has his trademark "Whoa Nellie" and Enberg his "Oh My" (which often seems a bit contrived), Ralph has his "Holy Mackerel" and "Man, Oh Man". He has become as much an integral part of Troy State athletics as Jim Fyffe is at Auburn and Larry Munson at Georgia and his warm personality really comes through in his broadcasts.

Many of the greatest moments in sports history are inseparably linked in our memories to the classic calls made by the broadcasters who were there, describing them as they unfolded. Al Michaels’ "Do you believe in miracles…YES!!"; Larry Munson’s "Run, Lindsey…"; Howard Cosell’s "Down goes Fraziah! Down goes Fraziah!" Truly great sports broadcasters can often be just as much a part of sports history as the actual events themselves.