The passing of long-time New York Yankee “announcer” Bob Sheppard, a legendary voice in the Bronx for almost 60 years, triggered emotional memories for many sports fans. He was not a play-by-play announcer, but rather the individual who introduced the players as they came to bat. He started in New York in the early 1950s and continued until just a few years ago, when he was 96, I think it was.
Now, generally speaking, the game-day public address announcers don’t have the same cache or fan base that long-time play-by-play guys do. It’s just the nature of the job. Fans identify with the radio or TV guys who bring you the action, home or away, every game, every season, year after year. That’s why we older hockey fans miss a Foster Hewitt, a Danny Gallivan and those great voices when they’re gone. They were part of our lives, familiar voices from simpler times.
Detroit baseball fans felt that way recently when their beloved long-time broadcaster Ernie Harwell died. I was raised near Detroit, so I remember Harwell, of course, though some of my earliest baseball memories were of listening to “Dizzy” Dean and “Pee Wee” Reese, both former greats, doing baseball games on Saturday and Sunday afternoons on TV in the late 1950s in their laid-back (and in Dizzy’s case, not always grammatically perfect), conversational style.
The public address announcer has always had a very different job. Just the facts, basicaly. Nowadays, however, rather than simple announcements, the job has seemingly become to try to excite the fans (witness the ridiculously loud introductions before NBA basketball games- which sound the same in every city- or when a goal is scored in hockey). The announcers yell, presumably to generate passion in a fan base that otherwise might be sitting on their hands, I suppose.
I much preferred things in the old days, when announcers just announced. My favorite was Paul Morris, who manned the mike for the Maple Leafs from 1964 until the day they moved to the Air Canada Center in the late 1990s.
Back in the early 1980s I had the opportunity to interview him during my broadcast days, and it was a treat to chat with him. He never tried to overshadow the game, or the event. In the ‘60s, he would intone, in a very flat delivery, “Toronto goal scored by number 14 (pause) Keon. Assist (pause) number 7 (pause) Horton and number 10 (pause) Armstrong. The time (pause) 15.34”…
That was it.
In later years, his tone never changed but he did have to move with the times, a bit. He would use the full names of the players who either scored a goal or earned an assist, and he would repeat the information a second time.
Interestingly, the way he “announced” goals never changed, whether the Leafs scored, or the opposition scored a game-winning goal in overtime. It was always the same pitch and inflection. Every time. There was no home-town boosterism.
Very professional. Distinctive. Classy.
I miss that.