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Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Greatest Baseball Announcer Ever


The Greatest Baseball Announcer Ever

Who was the greatest baseball announcer ever?  Why do I ask?  No reason, sometimes I just wax nostalgic.  You non-baseball fans, don’t go away, this is actually an interesting story even for non-fans.

There have been many great baseball announcers through the years.  In NYC there was Mel Allen and Red Barber.  This year In LA, the great Vin Scully is finishing his last year of broadcasting at the age of 88. Perhaps even more famous and beloved was Harry Caray who announced for the Saint Louis Cardinals from 1945-69 and for the Chicago Cubs from 1971 -99.

Mel Allen was known for his signature home run call “going, going, gone.”  Red Barber was famous for his calm demeanor and his cry of “Oh Doctor” after an exciting play.  Vin Scully is known for his unique voice and his colorful play-by-play descriptions.  Harry Caray was renowned for leading the stands in singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch.

So who was the greatest baseball announcer ever? 

None of the above. 

The greatest announcer ever was Les Keiter, most noted for calling boxing matches and football, basketball and hockey in NYC.

What makes Les Keiter the greatest baseball announcer ever?

In 1958 the Giants and the Dodgers left New York for San Francisco and LA.  Millions of NY fans who were also die hard Yankee haters had no way to listen to or root for their favorite team.  Except for Les Keiter. 

From 1958 -60 Les Keiter broadcast SF Giant baseball games to NY fans.  What made his broadcasts so great was he called the games not live, but from a delayed ticker tape in his studio.  His broadcasts were so well done that most fans did not know it was a re-creation and not live.

Les Keiter would see on tape only “Mays flies out.” From this information on a ticker tape he would make the call.  He would make up the balls and strikes, paint a story of the pitcher stepping off the mound, going to a rosin bag, throwing over to first to check a runner and then the pitch…with a stick on a block of wood simulating the crack of the bat, Mays would hit the ball. “There’s a long drive to deep left field” (turn up crowd noise) “Ashburn goes back to the wall and…he makes the catch…Willie just got under that one a bit.”

Keiter would call a whole game this way, recreating all the aspects of a game, time outs, foul balls, close calls, crowd noise and all.  You would feel like he was there calling it as he saw it.  All the while the only thing he had to recreate a game was a minimal teletype print of what happened…Alou strikes outMota walksMays hits home run.

I believe the first days of baseball broadcast on radio were also done not live, but read from teletype; but nobody could turn black and white short-hand print into an exciting baseball broadcast like Les Keiter, the greatest baseball announcer ever.

17 comments:

  1. He had to have known the game and the players very well to be able to do that so convincingly.

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  2. Not a sports fan, but my Dad listened to baseball every Sunday afternoon until he fell asleep. This was an interesting story and I vaguely remember my Dad talking about it.

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  3. Wow! What an imagination and fabulous storytelling ability!

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  4. Not my wheelhouse, but still interesting.

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  5. I didn't know about this at all. Makes sense though. You did what you had to do to get the job done.

    Have a fabulous day Cranky. ☺

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  6. As I recall recreating baseball games from teletypes was how Ronald Reagan got his start in broadcasting

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  7. that's very cool and creative.

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  8. One of the weekly shows I miss most was the (?)Friday mornings on 'Morning Edition' with Bob Edwards, the weekly talk he had with Red. They were priceless, both seemed to admire the other, Red had a 'fatherly' attitude to Bob. It was fun to listen to, Red was such a source of history of the game.
    Nice column, Joeh.

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  9. I don't understand anything about sports, but I do understand what he did would take special skills!

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  10. Okay. I concede that Les Keiter was greater than Harry Caray. But only because he improvised.

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  11. I've heard of these re-creations. That takes one helluva imagination.

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  12. I did not know his about Les Keiter and found the history wonderful, of course! I think you need to add Jack Buck, father of Joe Buck, who took over when Caray left to go to the Cubs. I bet that was one heck of a transition--from being hated to being loved. Cardinals fans, probably not so difficult to loathe.

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  13. I started with Curt Gowdy on WHDH in Boston, then had Ken Coleman and Ned Martin and Jim Woods, among others. I've been blessed with some fantastic baseball announcers, as a Red Sox fan.

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  14. In my very early days in radio I worked with a guy named Terry Dean who did the same thing as Les Keiter. One of his highlights was when his information got bogged down and he would have the game delayed for "a dog running onto the field." I don't think Terry ever made it to a Big League market though so he had to be content with such teams as the Minot Mallards.

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  15. I think most announcers of a certain, uh, antiquity, did the recreated broadcasts from ticker tape for road games. Ernie Harwell (who us Michganders regard as the Greatest Baseball Announcer of All Time, and no disrespect to Les Keitel) described the process in his autobiography - some of them would even smack a pencil on the table to simulate the sound of the crack of the bat. . . I don't know when it became common for announcers to travel with the team for live broadcasts of road games. . .

    I was in Chicago for a few years in the 70s, and Harry Caray was doing White Sox games in those days. . .

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