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Masters of the Mic: MLB

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Masters of the Mic
Masters of the Mic
Frank Deford details the connection between a fan and The Voice.
NFL
Dr. Z thinks solid NFL play-by-play announcers are few and far between.
MLB
The gems in the baseball booth stand out like no others, says Tom Verducci.
NBA
Jack McCallum wants an NBA announcer to know when to step back.
NHL
Michael Farber says NHL broadcasters are a matter of personal taste.
College Football
Stewart Mandel weighs in on the current crop of college football announcers.
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Grant Wahl wants those in the college hoops booth to tell him something new.
Tennis
Jon Wertheim is happy with today's roster of tennis broadcasters.
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Chris Lewis reveals his All-Star team of golf announcers.
Best of the Rest
Richard Deitsch fills us in on the top announcers from a variety of sports.

Baseball announcers are a unique breed. They don't have to be very good, they just have to last long enough in the same market to become familiar.

I have no idea, for instance, how fans in Chicago can listen to local broadcasts, but of course, they do. It's further proof that the games are what matter, and soon enough you will watch a great, memorable game or season, and the auditory experience becomes a companion to that memory -- even if the announcer is a shill.

But when you combine great baseball with an announcer who is not a self-promoter, someone who doesn't treat the booth like an open mike night at a low-rate comedy club, someone who actually delivers more information than schtick, you have the ultimate (non-paying) fans' experience.

I can't stand wanna-be comics and cheerleaders who think it's hip to refer to players by nicknames, analysts who simply tell you exactly what you just saw and slackers who don't bother to stay current with what's happening around baseball. There aren't enough good broadcasters to go around, but those gems stand out all the more. Here are the best of the best.

MY TOP PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCERS

1. Ernie Harwell: When Ernie called a game, he had a way of making you think he was sitting on a front porch with a cool, tall glass of lemonade. Nothing forced, nothing hokey. What you heard in his soothing voice was an honest love for baseball, not, as is the case too often with the modern announcer, himself.

2. Red Barber: Folksy and witty, Barber was always an easy listen. He provided great descriptive commentary during a very colorful time and place in the game's history.

3. Harry Caray: Technically, a disaster. But listening to Caray was like listening to a friend call the game. If you didn't laugh at least once during one of his games, you had no pulse. The frequent disappointment in his voice -- "THE 3-2 PITCH TO JODY DAVIS ... popped it up." -- was unmistakable.

4. Bob Costas: Never caught off guard, Costas is always prepared and well informed. He has an unbeatable combination of a smooth delivery and deep baseball knowledge.

5. Curt Gowdy: With a great, distinctive voice, Gowdy captured the excitement of the big moments and did not try to oversell the smaller ones. His ability to set up analyst Tony Kubek was textbook.

MY TOP ANALYSTS

1. Kubek: His candor, for a former player, was refreshing. He brought such enthusiasm that every game sounded like his first.

2. Tim McCarver: Most analysts simply explain in further detail what just happened. McCarver has the keenest sense of anticipation of any announcer, no better exemplified than when he presaged Luis Gonzalez's walkoff bloop hit in the 2001 World Series.

3. Bob Uecker: He could qualify for play-by-play as well. You don't think this guy loves baseball? He's been calling Brewers games for 34 years. Enough said.

4. Jim Palmer: It's rare to have a Hall of Fame player remain in the broadcast booth for so long and continue to be relevant and interesting. (Don Sutton also qualifies. Jim Kaat, a near Hall of Famer, is another gem.) Palmer is fascinating when discussing pitching, and he isn't afraid to throw in opinion with his analysis.

5. Joe Torre: He was brilliant on Angels' telecasts, with a keen eye for detail, the right touch for telling stories and a down-to-earth style. The day he stops managing, he'll instantly become -- if he wants -- the top analyst in the sport.

MY TOP-FIVE CALLS

1. "The Giants Win the Pennant!" Russ Hodges sounds as if he is jumping up and down while repeating his famous line. He made you believe he had to repeat it to believe it actually happened.

2. "I don't believe what I just saw!" Jack Buck said what all us were thinking when a hobbling Kirk Gibson homered off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series.

3. "It is ... Oh! What a catch by Mays! ... Willie Mays just brought this crowd to its feet with a catch which must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people. Boy!" Jack Brickhouse catching all of the improbability of Mays' iconic catch in the 1954 World Series.

4. "Little roller up first base . . . It's behind the bag! It gets through Buckner!" Vin Scully on Boston's worst nightmare in the 1986 World Series.

5. "Williams swings. And there's a long drive to deep right! That ball is going and it is gone! A home run for Ted Williams, in his last time at bat in the major leagues!" Gowdy gives a clean, clear call on the last of Williams' sweet swings.

FIVE GUYS I'D LIKE TO SEE IN THE BOOTH

1. Cal Ripken Jr.: Nobody knows and has a passion for the nuances of the game like Cal. He once gave me a private dissertation on positioning for and taking cutoff throws as a third baseman. I loved it. He's so good that every night you would learn at least three things.

2. Al Leiter: He's already had a guest star run at FOX, displaying his knowledge, enthusiasm and down-to-earth manner.

3. Todd Zeile: Smart, witty and well-rounded, Zeile would make a smooth transition into the broadcast booth. And he has hundreds of ex-teammates to cultivate as sources.

4. Trevor Hoffman: Pitchers seem to make good analysts, if only because so much of the game's strategy goes through the mound. Hoffman is both bright and funny and is never in danger of taking himself too seriously.

5. Tony Clark: It's hard to find someone in the game more respected than Clark. He's a well-spoken clubhouse leader, active union leader and well-traveled veteran.

React: Masters of the Mic -- MLB
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Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.

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