New York has had its share of great announcers, goofy announcers, pro’s pro announcers and just plain bad announcers. For this list I’m going to use the late ’60s/early ’70s as the cutoff date. Mel Allen and Red Barber were legends, but they weren’t my legends. I’ve also cheated. In some cases I’ve listed announcing teams and in others, just an individual. So here is my top-10 best announcers/teams of the last 40 years. And no, you won’t find Suzyn Waldman, John Sterling or Fran Healy on this list.
10. Jim Kaat: The 16-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star pitcher was stuck in a booth with a hodgepodge of Yankee shills from 1994–2006 (and a one-year stint in 1986). Always classy, he stood out by telling it like it is, and had a humble, non-shtick way about him.
9. Mike Breen: New York native Breen is smooth and knows his basketball. Often partnered with the ridiculously rhyming Walt Frazier, he brings us back to earth with his pro’s pro play-by-play chops.
8. Mike Emrick: Do the Devils count as New York? Close enough for this list. “Doc” Emrick is one of hockey’s best announcers, let alone New York’s. He was with the Devils for their first year, 1982-’83, when they moved from Colorado. He then left for Philadelphia but came back, and has now been the voice of the Devils for the last 15 years. Though he may get just a little too excited at times, he always finds just the right word to use. Even if you can’t stand the Devils, don’t hold that against this hockey broadcasting great.
7. Bill Chadwick/Jim Gordon: They were together on WOR channel 9 from 1973-’81. Bill “The Big Whistle” Chadwick (he would make it onto this list for that nickname alone) was a New York native and one of the all-time great referees. He invented the hand signals refs use after calling a penalty. He was blind in one eye due to an early hockey-playing incident, leading to him becoming a ref. Yes, a one-eyed referee. His excitement and passion fit perfectly with Jim Gordon’s steady, understated play-by-play style.
6. Howie Rose: This walking encyclopedia of Mets knowledge has been calling Amazin’s games on TV or radio since 1995. He hails from Bayside, Queens, and grew up a Mets fan, which makes him one of the biggest experts on the Mets around. He can regale us with stories about Ron Hunt, Wayne Garrett or Chris Donnels without missing a beat. He’s also done radio play-by-play for the Rangers (“Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!”) and is now heard on the TV side of Islanders broadcasts. When I die, I want the doctor at my deathbed to turn to my wife and say, “Jeff’s dead . . . Put it in the books!”
5. Phil Rizzuto/Frank Messer/Bill White: From 1971 to 1985 they called games on WPIX channel 11. Messer was the classic play-by-play man. White, a seven-time Gold Glove first baseman, was the first African-American to do play-by-play regularly for a team. He also became the first African-American in baseball to be a league commissioner, when he helmed the NL. He could play either the straight man or the comic foil for Phil Rizzuto. And what more can you say about the Scooter? Holy cow! The Money Store. Leaving games early to get over the George Washington Bridge to get home to Cora. Reading birthday announcements over the air. Wasn’t Watching. Calling all his partners by their last name (or just calling them a huckleberry). You can’t teach what he did in broadcasting school.
4. Gary Cohen/Ron Darling/Keith Hernandez: This is only the third year together for this trio, but they’re already the best team in baseball. They have a natural chemistry that comes across the airwaves, with nothing being forced. And they actually criticize the home team. They’d never be able to work for George Steinbrenner. Cohen is a lot like Howie Rose, a lifetime Mets fan with the perfect play-by-play voice. Darling is the well-spoken intellectual ex-pitcher (is that an oxymoron?). And Hernandez is the wild card. When he sticks to baseball, he’s as knowledgeable as anyone around (and he knows it). But he’s just as entertaining when he goes off on one of his tangents. He won the 1979 MVP. He can talk about anything he wants. If they stay together 10 or 15 years, they could be at the top of this list.
3. Sam Rosen/John Davidson: They were partners for 21 years (1986-’87 to 2006-’07), and sounded like they were having a great time. JD had that Canadian accent, high-pitched cackle and his signature “Oh baby!” When they first started working together, Davidson thought Rosen was a little to sedate and composed, and commented on it, so when the Rangers scored their next goal, Sam leaped out his chair and yelled, “It’s a power-play goal!” What started as a sarcastic response ended up being his catchphrase. And what Ranger fan will ever forget these Sam Rosen words: “The waiting is over. The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup champions! And this one will last a lifetime!”
2. Bob Murphy/Ralph Kiner/Lindsey Nelson: From 1962 to 1978, nobody did it better than these three. Rotating between WOR channel 9 and the radio, this team was with the Mets from the beginning. Along with Casey Stengel they were the first stars of the Mets. There were Kiner’s Korner, happy recaps and ugly sports jackets. Kiner had his malapropisms, but was living, breathing baseball history. Murphy had the voice that spawned a million imitators (“flyball to deeeeep left field”). And Nelson was an old-time Southern gentleman broadcaster. He would leave after the ’78 season, while Murphy and Kiner stayed on with the Mets for decades, solidifying their legendary status.
1. Marv Albert: He is so good we forget all about the biting and the hair weaves. He was the voice of the Knicks from 1967 to 2004 (after getting his start as their ballboy) and was with the Rangers from ’65 to ’95. After getting fired for telling what he thought about the dreadful Knicks, he’s moved on to the Nets. With his Albert Achievement Awards on Letterman, his sharp sense of humor and his unique voice, he’s carved out a place for himself in New York broadcasting history. And he’s the leader of a family dynasty. His two brothers, Steve and Al, and son Kenny are all longtime announcers. Marv is the best. Yessss!