Mount Rushmore: Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Women You Jerked Off To When You Were 14?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Christina Applegate, Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Jennifer Aniston, and Madonna, but that’s neither here nor there.

Today, I’m going a little bit outside the box – maybe just right next to the box – and I’m gonna talk about some of the local sports announcers.

The Greats …

Maybe every major city with a bunch of bigtime sports teams feels this way, but I think Seattle has been particularly blessed to have some of the best play-by-play guys in the history of the business.  Obviously, because they worked in Seattle, they get overshadowed by more nationally renown guys like Vin Scully, Marv Albert, Harry Caray, Chick Hearn, Pat Summerall, Keith Jackson, and so on and so forth.  But, I would argue that some of the guys I’ve got on my Mount Rushmore are equally as talented as those hall of famers, and would’ve flourished on a national stage had they gotten the opportunity.

At the top of the heap, I don’t think there’s any question about it:  Dave Niehaus.

He worked for the California Angels from 1969-1976 with Dick Enberg, before the Seattle Mariners poached him for their inaugural season in 1977.  He headed up Mariners broadcasts through the 2010 season before his untimely death that offseason.

Dave was the absolute greatest.  Oftentimes, he was the main reason to even tune in to a Mariners broadcast!  The way he painted a picture over the radio enlightened as it entertained.  If you’re even a casual fan of the M’s, you’re aware of his iconic calls and catchphrases; he’s second to none.  And, deservedly, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.  Ultimately, he called over 5,000 Mariners games, and each one was a delight for his involvement if nothing else.

Next on the Mountain, we’ve got Kevin Calabro.

While Dave is the best, KC is probably my personal favorite.  He voiced the Supersonics broadcasts from 1987 through their demise in 2008.

I think KC’s greatest attribute is that he could always match the action on the court, which for many of those Sonics teams in the early-to-mid 90s, was as action-packed as you could get!  The games themselves were exciting, but KC’s calls brought them to another level.  You were nothing if not entertained every time you turned on the game.  When the Sonics were on a national station like TNT or NBC, I’d frequently listen to the radio broadcast because who was going to top the duo of Kevin Calabro and Marques Johnson (who, not for nothing, make up the greatest play-by-play/color commentator team in the history of sports broadcasting)?

Third on my list is actually the whole reason for wanting to write this blog post:  Bob Rondeau.

We got some bittersweet news this year, that the Washington Huskies are going to lose Mr. Rondeau to retirement.  Obviously, he’s been with the school for 37 years, broadcasting both football and men’s basketball games as long as I’ve been a fan, so he deserves to go out on his terms and enjoy his life, but we’re all going to lose a true titan of the industry, and someone who could’ve EASILY gone another 10-15 years or more if he so desired.

As I’ve gotten older, and as I generally take things like this for granted, I haven’t had a chance to listen to games on the radio as much as I used to.  But, whenever I do, I find myself not really missing the fact that I’m not watching it on television.  As a fan, I don’t think there’s a higher compliment you can pay a play-by-play man than to say I feel a tremendous comfort level whenever I listen to Rondeau call a game.  For me, he’s probably my most trusted personality in sports journalism.  Yes, he’s employed by the Huskies, but he’s also going to tell you how it is, even if it’s not in the most flattering light for the program.  And it’s never in a way that makes you feel like he’s bashing the school or the players; it’s more like someone who expects better and wants better, but when something goes wrong, he’s just a disappointed parent or something.  I dunno, it’s hard to explain.  Obviously, there’s no greater phrase to the human ear than when Rondeau says deeply and richly into the microphone:  “Touchdown Washington!”

Finally, I know I’m going to catch some Hell for the final choice in my local sports announcer Mount Rushmore, but I should remind you that it’s MY mountain and not yours.  Anyway, I’m going with Steve Raible.

Here’s the deal, I’m no spring chicken, but I’m also too young to remember the likes of the Sonics’ Bob Blackburn or the Seahawks’ Pete Gross.  Obviously, if you ask someone who got to listen to those guys, I’m sure they’d put them in here over a couple of my choices, but what can you do?  I don’t have that attachment.

For me, this final spot came down to Steve Raible and Rick Rizzs, and indeed it was a tough call.  Unlike a lot of Mariners fans/haters out there, I very much enjoy what Rizzs brings to the table.  Is he a Mariners homer?  You betcha!  But, you know what?  He’s also, like, the world’s nicest guy, so it’s not like he’s some phony over there shilling for a paycheck.  He’s just a genuine, happy individual, and I can’t think of a better match for him than to work for the Mariners, a team so frustrating and loathesome at times it’s too much to stomach.  Rizzs helps the medicine go down, and I’ll be honest, he’s been remarkable in the wake of Dave’s passing in 2010.  If we didn’t have Rizzs to soften that transition – aka, if we went straight from Niehaus to Sims with no buffer or alternative – I don’t know where I’d be as a fan right now.

Anyway, getting back to Raible, he was an original Seahawks player, drafted in the 2nd round in 1976, and played 6 seasons for the team.  He joined the broadcast team with the aforementioned Pete Gross in 1982 and has been a local institution ever since (also as a news anchor for KIRO 7).  Raible’s stock has obviously risen heavily since he took over play-by-play duties, as the fortunes of the Seahawks themselves have skyrocketed.  It’s always a joy to go back and listen to his highlight calls after a game, as he brings tons of energy and enthusiasm to the game.  His pairing with Warren Moon is the best broadcast pairing we’ve got going in the Seattle market right now.

So, that’s it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Throw out your Mount Rushmores and your rankings in the comments.

Dave Sims Is Kinda The Worst

I should point out that I don’t know the man personally, so let’s just get that out of the way.  He could be a cool dude, or he could be a total prick, I would have no idea.  I’m sure, as a human being, he’s fine.  Seems to get along with people, seems to have some stories of conversations he’s had with various people in the sports world.  You probably don’t get to do what he does for a living by being a complete asshole.

So, this is strictly a critique of Dave Sims, Broadcaster.  And, more specifically:  Dave Sims, Broadcaster of Mariners Games on Root Sports.

On the radio, I actually don’t mind his work.  I’ve heard him call Sunday Night Football on the radio and he’s actually pretty good.  I’ve heard him give interviews on the radio and found him engaging and forthright.  Whereas on Root Sports, he’s an employee of the Seattle Mariners, and as such has to give a Glass Half Full spin on any analysis he’s giving; but on the radio (usually in the off-season), he’s more free to speak his mind and tell it (roughly) like it is.  Surprisingly, it’s refreshing to hear Dave Sims give an interview away from the Seattle Mariners Cocoon of Sunshine.

But, on those Root Sports broadcast … ye gods!

I tend to have a real problem when it comes to sports talking heads.  Game broadcasters, talk radio hosts, television analysts:  once I get it in my head that someone sucks, or is annoying, or just a dumb piece of shit who constantly spouts misinformation like it’s fact, unwittingly belaboring a point based on nonsense … I can’t bring myself to listen to them without wanting to physically hurt someone or something around me.

It’s not a large list of broadcasters, but it’s definitely growing:

  • Skip Bayless
  • Stephen A. Smith
  • Tim McCarver
  • Mel Kiper
  • Dick Fain
  • Trent Dilfer (about half the time)
  • Dave Sims

You’ll never find me watching First Take.  Until he retired from the Fox broadcast, you’d never find me watching them cover a baseball game with McCarver in the booth.  I can sit through the NFL draft, but any other time of year where ESPN features Mel Kiper or Trent Dilfer, I’m turning the channel.  I’ve already gone over the whole problem with local sports radio ad nauseum.  But, there’s a problem when it comes to the Mariners’ Root Sports broadcasts:  you can’t just mute them and play the radio coverage because they don’t sync up.

So, I’m forced to sit through three hours of Dave Sims whenever I manage to sit down and watch a full Mariners broadcast.  It’s brutal.  He laughs uncontrollably over the dumbest shit.  He talks over Mike Blowers (who is a consummate pro and a pleasure to have on the broadcast team).  He has no ability whatsoever to let a scene breathe, instead opting to fill as much time as possible with inane chatter, as if society itself would crumble if we’re deprived of hearing Dave Sims’ voice for longer than three seconds.  If the offense is struggling (which is always), it sounds as if Dave Sims couldn’t be more uninterested in what’s going on.  He’s constantly losing his mind over fly ball outs, as if he’s either been fooled into thinking they’re home runs, or he’s trying to fool the viewer into thinking they’re home runs to generate false excitement (either way makes him equally terrible).  And this year more than any other, he’s been forgetting names, calling people by the wrong names, and giving us calls like this, which are total embarrassments to the organization.  I listened to that call live and heard what he was blathering about prior to the home run … and it STILL doesn’t make any sense when you know all the context!

What really brings it home isn’t his need for perfect pronunciation of obscure Latino names, or the fact that he was tasked with effectively replacing a legend in Dave Niehaus, or his dumb hats that they’re trying to make a thing with annual Safeco give-aways.  It was a 4-game series down in Texas, I believe.  Back in April.  For whatever reason, Dave Sims was gone for those games, so they had Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith filling in for him.  And they were EASILY the four best Mariners broadcasts I’ve heard in the last 8 years, since Dave Sims came to town in 2007.

I’m a huge fan of Rizzs; in my eyes, he can do no wrong.  If there was a Nice Guy Award, he’d be the reigning winner for the last 30-some-odd years probably.  I never really understood why he was phased out of the television side of things in the first place, but I have to admit that it’s a treat to have him on the radio.  I have a hard time engaging with radio broadcasts of any sporting event, so 100/100 times I will watch the thing on TV if I have the option.  But, with Mariners games, whenever I get the chance, I’ll find myself just listening to the game on the radio.  Cut out the headache.

Aaron Goldsmith is a recent hire of the Mariners, who took over as the full-time partner of Rick Rizzs on the radio in 2013.  He’s pretty good on the radio, and has a nice rapport with Rizzs, but he was TRULY a revelation when he was doing those two games with Mike Blowers down in Texas.

I’m sure Sims and Blowers have a fine working relationship.  I’m sure, when they’re on the road, they probably have meals together, maybe go out for the occasional beer.  I’m sure they’re able to swap stories and attend barbecues at one another’s homes every now and again.  I can’t remember what they were like when they first started broadcasting together, but I do know that Blowers was relatively new to the profession, and I’m sure he’s done a lot of growing since then.  I’d even wager he’s learned a lot by working with Dave Sims all these years.  Blowers definitely strikes me as more comfortable on the air than he was at first, able to laugh and joke around more as well.  As a pairing, they’re fine.  I can’t point to any real glaring holes in their professional repartee.

But, I’ll tell you what, Blowers and Goldsmith?  For whatever reason, they worked together like peanut butter and jelly.  Peas and carrots.  Hamburgers and French Fries (LAY OFF ME, I’M STARVING!!!).  The point is, they seemed to fit so naturally together, I actually found myself enjoying what turned out to be mostly losing baseball games.  Goldsmith had some good behind-the-scenes stories to tell.  He asked interesting questions of Mike Blowers, who in turn gave interesting answers and insights we don’t normally get when he’s doing a game with Sims.  Maybe it was just the fact that Blowers was working with someone new (Blowers was also particularly elegant in his commentary when he did a dual-simulcast with the Colorado Rockies announcers back in Spring Training that was broadcast on Root Sports), but to me, it felt like the wave of the future.  Aaron Goldsmith and Mike Blowers should be the full time television announcers of Seattle Mariners games, and they should be given that charge sooner rather than later.

The biggest gripe I have with Dave Sims is the biggest gripe I have with flamboyant NBA referees and hard-ass MLB umpires:  he makes every game all about himself.  It’s The Dave Sims Show! … featuring the Seattle Mariners (and Mike Blowers sometimes).  Good announcers – like good refs and umps – allow you to lose yourself in the action, forgetting they’re even a part of the game.  Bad announcers keep pounding you over the head with their presence, because in their vanity they can’t help but scream out:  I EXIST!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

When Goldsmith and Blowers were at the helm, I was able to lose myself in the games they announced.  With Dave Sims, I can only sit there and long for commercial breaks.  The annoying EQC ads for upcoming has-beens in concert and the non-stop AT&T sleeping baby bullshit.  THAT is better than Dave Sims, which really says it all.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 83

I love Ron Fairly, okay? There, I said it. I miss that gruff, repetitive bastard. I miss that gruff, repetitive bastard. Well, for anyone around a radio this weekend, he’s been doing games with Rick Rizzs what with Dave Niehaus being on vacation this week. For the most part, I don’t have a problem with the rotation of guys the Mariners use to announce their games on television and radio. I even understand why they have Niehaus only going 3 innings on TV before doing the rest on radio. What I kinda don’t understand is why Dave Sims was brought in to do the other 6 television innings, when they already had (and still do have) a perfectly capable and likeable guy in Rick Rizzs – who’s been demoted for a few seasons now to being exclusively radio. It’s not that I dislike Dave Sims – or really have much of an opinion at all about Dave Sims – it’s just that Rizzs is the man! And, in lieu of Ron Fairly leaving the team at the end of 2006, we brought in Mike Blowers – another guy I don’t really have much of an opinion about. The best compliment I can give Blowers is that he’s not Tim McCarver – the most annoying man in the history of Men Talking On Television. So, I guess I better refrain from ever complaining about Blowers or Sims or anyone else. No, I’m not worried about Tim McCarver slumming it up following the Mariners around all season. But, you never know who’ll be the NEXT Tim McCarver … ye gods, that’s a frightening thought (I imagine it would sound a lot like Dave Valle)

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 9

And “do it again next Monday against Baltimore” he did! Douglas Fister, my boy! Reminds me of a young Bob Wolcott, he does! Yesterday he had a no-hitter through 6 innings until Dave Sims did his damnedest to jinx him by talking about the no-hitter through 6 innings. Dammit Sims! The first rule of broadcasting a No-Hitter is you don’t talk about a No-Hitter! Check out the line on my boy Fister: 7IP, 3H, 1ER, 1BB, 3K; 1.42 ERA on the year. There was one point yesterday – I think it was the 3rd inning – where he threw NOTHING but strikes! I’m serious; there was 1 ball called by the umpire, but that was a discrace: it was right in the middle of the plate! I think he was just so shocked that the inning was about to end with nothing but strikes being thrown that he totally choked on that call. Anyway, Fister is no Felix, but the man has pinpoint accuracy on his side! His fastball may top out at 89 and he may throw it 80% of the time, but if he can hit his spots – inside, outside, up, down – I mean, not for nothing, but Greg Maddux wasn’t all that overpowering either. This is that kind of accuracy that I was seeing last night. Maddux Shit. Just awesome. And, on a disasterous side note: after I went to bed, Franklin Gutierrez may have pulled a groin. For those of you not following baseball, Gutierrez has pretty much been the MVP of baseball. His On-Base percentage is damn near .500! He’s probably responsible for 5 of the Mariners’ 7 wins right now. If we lose him for any kind of stretch, we are DONE. As it is, we need all the hitting we can get. I don’t think I have to tell you what having Eric Byrnes in your everyday lineup will do to my ability to NOT have a stroke every time I watch the Mariners.