January 29, 2009
Admit it. As you've sat around watching a ballgame and heard yet another announcer try to shoehorn yet another awkward phrase into the game, you've wondered, how hard could announcing be? Sitting around talking sports for four hours? That's easy! Heck, we do that all the time at the wing joint for free!
Announcing is indeed easy to do, but extraordinarily hard to do well. You're broadcasting to an audience of millions, and you have to be both prepared and quick on your feet. The best sports announcers are storytellers, knowledgeable enough to add the perfect note to on-field action but also wise enough to know when to shut up and let the game do the talking. Guys like Vin Scully, Al Michaels and Keith Jackson are so good that you'll tune into a meaningless midseason game just to hear their voices. Yahoo! Sports has documented the top 50 of all time right here.
But then there are ... the other guys. Guys (and ladies, let's not be sexist) who seem to forget that we're not tuning in to the Super Bowl or the World Series to hear their voices. Guys who lose all perspective and decide it's their place to lecture us. Guys who use the ballgames as their personal soapboxes and slogan testing grounds. Guys who make you glad there's a mute button. Guys who, unfortunately, stand like snide bouncers to block our access to the greatest games in sports.
Now, let's be clear; we're not talking about announcers who simply lose track of the situation or horribly mispronounce athletes' names. No, we're focusing on the announcers whose entire public persona makes us want to kick a hole in our HDs. Deep breath, people, as we call out the culprits:
1. Billy Packer: The man who annually managed to turn the most exciting three weeks in sports, the NCAA tournament, into a visit to your cranky grandfather's house. Griped and moaned about everything from women in sports to mid-major invitations (this, just before George Mason reached the Final Four). All credit goes to coaches; all blame goes to players. Thankfully put out to pasture with Bobby Knight. Boy, there's a joyful combo, huh?
2. Chris Berman: The first of the truly cartoonish sports announcers, and still the worst. Has completely lost sight of the fact that he's the mouthpiece, not the attraction. His nicknaming habit, his "back-back-back," his chummy "look! I'm hanging with jocks!" repartee on set -- it all went stale in the ‘90s, and yet he still trots it out, week after numbing week. Go, Berman, and take Leather with you.
3. Joe Morgan: Stubbornly refuses to admit that there's anything to the game of baseball more important than "heart." Laughs off statistics as irrelevant. Still carries grudges from his playing days. Like Bill Walton and other ex-jocks, views every player in comparison to his era -- and strangely enough, nobody ever comes close. Inspired one of the great sports blogs of this decade, but has unfortunately outlasted it.
4. Tony Kornheiser: His schtick is that he's a regular joe in the booth there with Mike Tirico and Ron "Na-tion-al Foot-ball Leeeeague" Jaworski. And that schtick, frankly, stinks. I could hear schlubs talking about, say, how well their fantasy teams are doing if I go to the local sports bar. I like "Monday Night Football" when there's a real possibility the announcers might get into an on-air fistfight, and I can't see that ever happening -- or lasting very long -- when Kornheiser's involved.
5. Dick Vitale: A cartoon character, but less credible -- and more annoying -- than Spongebob Squarepants. Never saw a recruiting violation he couldn't ignore. Shameless Duke homer; the evidence is indisputable.
6. Bill Walton: Alternates between gooey praises of his era and unhinged criticism ("That's HOOOORRIBLE") of anyone who doesn't, in his mind, measure up to Magic and Bird -- in other words, everybody. Carries a lot of bitterness around for an ex-hippie Deadhead.
7. Mike Patrick: A hyperbolic announcer who occasionally veers from praising or burying a team -- there's no middle ground -- to veer off on an unconnected rant. The most famous of these, of course, is his absentminded musing on Britney Spears during overtime of a Georgia-Alabama game. Tip for you, Mike: when even the dog can tell you've written your "off-the-cuff" one-liners days before, it's time to switch up your flow.
8. Tim McCarver: This is an entry on a list about the worst announcers in sports. See, when you're making a list, you break it down into different categories and put spaces between the entries, so people can tell it's a list. Like this entry about Tim McCarver, Fox baseball analyst. McCarver analyzes baseball for Fox. And while he's analyzing baseball for the Fox network, he offers stunning behind-the-scenes insight, just like you're getting in this entry here. Which is part of a larger list.
9. Joe Buck: Alternating between dull and sanctimonious, Buck is a crotchety curmudgeon trapped in a younger man's body. When he's not draining the life out of the greatest moments in modern sports, he's lecturing us on the sad state of the NFL. Summed up in this fine moment of offense at Randy Moss:
10. Bob Costas, post-2000: A once-brilliant announcer who has devolved into caricature. Like Buck and the tweedy Bryant Gumbel, apparently sees it has his sworn duty to protect the sanctity of sport from the filthy tide of 21st century progress -- including, you know, those nasty sports blogs. One of those announcers who would love sports so much more if there were no unruly fans, surly athletes or double-dealing owners to muck it all up.
And the rest of the bunch:
11. Stuart Scott: Tired as this side of the pillow.
12. Tony Siragusa: A burly, sweaty, mouthy ex-jock? Why, who wouldn't want to hear from him?
13. Gus Johnson: Only when he's screaming five minutes into an ordinary game.
14. Paul Maguire: Always sounds like he's about to ask you to buy the next round, and he'll "get ya back next time."
15. Stephen A. Smith: Wants so, so badly to be the story, not cover it.
16. Troy Aikman: Like Robin Williams, you don't notice until later that he didn't actually say anything.
17. John Sterling: Catch-phrases flop to the ground like beached marlin; "Thaaaaaa Yankees win!" is the worst victory cry ever.
18. Thom Brennaman: Loves him some Tebow.
19. John Madden: Only when he's in worship-Favre mode.
20. Emmitt Smith: Is thoroughly masticated to receive this honor.
21. Johnny Miller
22. Lee Corso
23. Jim Gray
24. Merril Hoge
25. Digger Phelps
26. Tiki Barber
27. Darren Pang
28. Dick Stockton
29. Dick Enberg
30. Darrell Waltrip
31. Kelly Tilghman
32. Mike Francesa
33. Steve Phillips
34. Pam Ward
35. Shannon Sharpe
36. Skip Bayless
37. Warren Sapp
38. Lamar Thomas
39. Paul Allen
40. Ken Harrelson
41. Magic Johnson
42. Chip Caray
43. Dave Mishkin
44. Joe Theismann
45. Dan Dierdorf
46. John Kruk
47. Jenn Sterger
48. Larry Merchant
49. Michael Kay
50. Lou Holtz
The selection of the 50 worst announcers in sports is, of course, a highly subjective matter, and your mileage will almost certainly vary. Please list your own additions, deletions and adjustments to the rankings below.