With baseball’s lengthy regular season stretching from April to October, it’s not uncommon for fans to have the game on every night. Naturally, with 162 games, the broadcasters themselves become an enormous part of the fan experience.
The hyper-local model which defines Major League Baseball also means that most fans have little idea what other local broadcasts are like outside their baseball bubble. Luckily MLB Advanced Media are the owners of what is probably the most comprehensive live streaming service on the planet, and I took a tour of all 30 commentary teams.
Here then, are how I rated the various commentary teams, starting with the best …
1) New York Mets
Commentary team: Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling
This piece is about listening and learning about other broadcasts, but Mets games are what I hear day in and day out, and yes, I am biased. After hearing 29 others the Mets television trio stand out as superior. Game-caller Gary Cohen is a Mets fan who grew up in Shea Stadium’s upper deck, knows just about everything there is to know about the franchise and delivers daily with a steady and stellar cadence. Keith Hernandez is capable of saying anything at anytime, in addition to providing extensive analysis, while often getting way too excited about a play made by another team: he’s the opposite of a homer. Ron Darling complements Keith’s hitting knowledge with his pitching wherewithal. Until Bill Webb passed away in March, the broadcast was supported by arguably the best live sports director in sports history.
2) Houston Astros
Commentary team: Todd Kalas and Geoff Blum
Blum hit the game winning home run in Game 3 of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox, against the Astros! Kalas is baseball royalty as the son of Hall-of-Fame Astros and Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas. There’s more than just a touch of dad’s soothing voice in his delivery while Blum does well with his low-key analysis. Kalas provides both formal and off the cuff descriptions of a ballgame, turning up the enthusiasm at the right times, something that not everybody does: he’s an A-list voice the Astros are lucky to have.
3) Baltimore Orioles
Commentary team: Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer, or Jim Hunter and Mike Bordick
Thorne is an all-time great broadcaster who, for my money at least, used to be one of the best NHL game callers going. Palmer is baseball royalty and knows it: a hall of fame hurler who is the answer to my favorite trivia question, “Who is the only pitcher to win World Series games in three decades?”. Meanwhile, Thorne is better at going zero to 60 than anyone in the business, which is heard via a Manny Machado RBI knock as I listen. MASN are a super-high production value outfit, which is not in any way standard around MLB.
4) Oakland Athletics
Commentary team: Ray Fosse and Glen Kuiper
Fosse: the man, the mustache, the analyst. The Keith Hernandez of the west coast who comes with two rings won with the Swingin’ A’s of the 1970s and 27 years on radio and TV. Kuiper is the younger brother of Duane, who works Giants games. Fosse and Kuiper are remarkably straight and extremely crisp in their game call, considering they’re covering a franchise with its fair share of gimmicks. Short story: the chemistry is there, along with first-rate quality.
5) San Francisco Giants
Commentary team: Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper, Jon Miller and Dave Fleming with Jeremy Affeldt and Javy Lopez filling in
Before the Giants started winning rings, their broadcasts were where fans found stability: their “core four” have spent close to 50 years combined rotating between radio and television booths. When I watched, the team was Kiper and Krukow, a former starter whose appearances have been limited by inclusion body myositis. The hurlers’ famed “Kruktionary” is still going strong, a lexicon of go-to lines that includes “grab some pine, meat.” If the warmth of this broadcast can be felt by an outsider listening in, imagine how Giants fans feel when they tune in.
6) Pittsburgh Pirates
Commentary team: Greg Brown and Bob Walk, plus a rotating cast
If you’ve heard “raise the Jolly Roger” on highlights shows, that’s Brown, a veteran game caller celebrating a Pittsburgh win. Walk spent over 10 years as a solid starter in the Bucos rotation, then stuck around as an analyst starting in 1994. For a group with a gimmicky call, I was expecting a quirkier broadcast. Not the case, at least when I listened: it’s a relaxed, patient approach to game calling. Buccos reliever Wade Leblanc strikes out Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, and it’s all matter of fact. There’s a peep of homering when Gregory Polanco’s RBI single is greeted with “that’s the Polcano swing he’s been missing,”, but I’ll forgive them because it’s mostly measured broadcast that works well.
7) Miami Marlins
Commentary team: Rich Waltz and Todd Hollandsworth
Hollandsworth played outfield on eight MLB teams and is in his first season with play-caller Waltz who has been with Miami for 13 years. Waltz seems to have something going with Hollandsworth, which is saying something considering their short broadcasting marriage: they bounce off each seamlessly, and the director helps by lining up a montage of four straight breaking pitches immediately after Marcell Ozuna knocks in Ichiro against the Cubs. They’re on their toes in Miami and the whole broadcast benefits.
8) St Louis Cardinals
Commentary team: Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky, Ricky Horton, Tim McCarver and Jim Edmonds
The 75-year-old McCarver is still calling over 40 games a season and is still detested by masses. When he was working World Series games, his “big game voice” meant you were watching high stakes baseball. That was a good thing. Against the Cubs he wrongly predicts Jon Lester won’t throw to first before picking off the runner. Then he makes a case to keep Mike Leake in the ballgame before Kyle Schwarber hits a grand slam. That will keep the haters hating for a while longer. Oh, and by the way, McLaughlin is pretty darn good.
9) San Diego Padres
Commentary team: Don Orsillo and Mark Grant, mostly
What San Diego fans have lacked on the field over the years, they’ve made up in broadcasting talent, having once enjoyed Dick Enberg and Jerry Coleman in their booths. The Red Sox controversially chose not to bring Orsillo back after 15 seasons, but the veteran landed gently in San Diego. Analyst Grant isn’t quite as synonymous with San Diego as, say, Ron Burgundy, but after 22 years in America’s finest city, it’s close. Knowledgeable and colorful, the pair aren’t thinning the club’s strong broadcast legacy.
10) Minnesota Twins
Commentary team: Dick Bremer, Bert Blyleven and sometimes Roy Smalley
Blyleven is a Dutch-born hall-of-fame hurler and owner of the greatest t-shirt of all time (I hope he still has it), while Bremer has been the lead play-caller for 34 seasons, and is as steady as they come with a soothing TV voice that lacks the robotic, forced strength some younger voices project.
11) Philadelphia Phillies
Commentary team: Tom McCarthy and John Kruk
It’s hard to believe that John Kruk didn’t always have a beer belly but I just checked and it’s true. The former Phills outfielder provides color along with play-by-play man Tom McCarthy who has been around Philly for a decade, on and off. It’s a scoreless game in the seventh inning against the Red Sox and Kruk is talking about how he’s never seen a single Star Wars film, but that he has seen Dumb and Dumber and Sound of Music, which is interesting color around a tight game. An inning later, still scoreless, and it’s a review of the Phillie Phanatic’s performance of the Riverdance on top of the dugout. That’s what the broadcast looks and sounds like in a season where the Phillies look like 100 game losers. I’ve got no problem with it.
12) Chicago White Sox
Commentary team: Steve Stone and Jason Benetti, special appearances from Ken “Hawk” Harrelson
Long-time Sox voice Harrelson announced he is retiring with a limited schedule after 2018, so the man who brought us “you can put it on the board …YES!” in addition to multiple other broadcasting gems, is almost completely out of the scene, like it or not. That leaves young Benetti as the play-by-play man and former pitcher Steve Stone to provide the color. Stone tells us when you score against a bad team in the first inning there’s a chance you won’t relinquish the lead: stunning analysis. Benetti however is a real find: at 33, he has the confidence and a tremendous voice, which thankfully he’s not trying to do much with. What’s more, Benetti was born with cerebral palsy, rising above a multitude of challenges to realize a childhood dream.
13) Boston Red Sox
Commentary team: Jerry Remy and Dave O’Brien, with Dennis Eckersley and Steve Lyons
Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, Remy spent seven years in a Red Sox uniform before joining the Sox booth in 1988. Since then, a mix of health and family issues have brought several absences, and now his lung cancer has returned. Dave O’Brien, a dependable if not slightly mechanical game-caller, may be known to fans outside the United States for his calling of the global television feed of the World Series. Remmy’s analysis is reasonably crisp, but more importantly, fans seem to care about him. If you can handle nine innings of a Boston accent, you’ll discover an above average broadcast.
14) Los Angeles Angels
Commentary team: Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza
Rojas trivia: he was the very first face to appear on the MLB Network when it launched in 2009. Gubicza won a World Series with the 1985 Royals as a starting pitcher. Some good honest analysis on the road team: Rojas points out the Astros improved patience at the plate this season. They do talk a lot but have the goods to work in their large SoCal market.
15) Cincinnati Reds
Commentary team: Thom Brennaman and Chris Welsh
Thom, a chip of the old block, that block being the Ford Frick award winning broadcaster Marty who calls the Reds on radio, and Welsh, a former journeyman pitcher with 22 years in the can as Cincinnati’s chief analyst. They may show their Reds affiliation a little too much but provide decent chat.
16) Cleveland Indians
Commentary team: Matt Underwood and Rick Manning
Rick Manning played center field for nine dire seasons in Cleveland between 1975-1983, but may be better known for a possible wife swap with Dennis Eckersley. Matt Underwood is a local boy done good, spending 18 of his years calling Cleveland’s games without a single wife swap. Some bright, energetic play calling by Underwood, with plenty of barstool banter/analysis in between. Sound doesn’t usually get attention but you can hear bat drops, cameras snapping away and the thud as Mike Clevinger drills Baltimore’s Craig Gentry: it’s a boost for a decent broadcast.
17) Seattle Mariners
Commentary team: Dave Sims and Mike Blowers
Dave Sims is an ex-talk New York City-based radio host living the dream as the TV voice of the Mariners. Color-man Mike Blowers, a West German born ex-big leaguer known for one ridiculously accurate prediction. They have good chemistry with a folksy approach: they’re on a first name basis with players on the home team. They’re not straight shooters, but they’re not circus clowns either.
18) Colorado Rockies
Commentary team: Drew Goodman and Jeff Huson and sometimes Ryan Spilborghs
Goodman has 15 years with the Rox, and has been around covering NFL and NBA games for over two decades. Jeff Huson suited up as a player for over a dozen seasons on seven teams. Huson is excited about an Antonio Sanzatela fastball, so fired up he can’t wait for his partner to finish the call and steps all over him: that’s a no-no. Goodman calls his partner “Huey”: it’s a friendly approach inside a broadcast bouncing with casual banter. They get away with it, mostly because Goodman has a quality network voice.
19) Arizona Diamondbacks
Commentary team: Steve Berthiaume and Bob Brenly
Berthiaume is a baseball geek who carries at least 70 full baseball games on his iTunes. Brenly won a World Series as D-Backs manager, but I’ll always remember him for catching Terry Mulholland’s glove at first base to nail Keith Hernandez. Anyway, Berthiaume thinks Brenly should dye his hair blonde like Enrique Hernandez, but Brenly doesn’t think he can get away with it. Their joking aside, the analysis is strong from the ex-catcher while Berthiaume pushes an artificial enthusiasm that may come from his SportsCenter days. They’re not great, but they’re totally fine.
20) Kansas City Royals
Commentary team: Rex Hudler and Ryan Lefebvre, sometimes Steve Physioc
Hudler was one of those excitable, scrappy David Eckstein type players. These days he’s known for his “Hudisms”, such as “what a great natural drug ice is.” Lefebvre is the game-calling son of Jim, who managed and played for 14 seasons. Straight away, Hudler breaks a cardinal rule, stepping on a play call when Houston’s Brian McCann goes deep of KC’s Jason Vargas. Hudler makes up for it with some worthy analysis on how difficult the corners are to play at “The K”. That comes after managing to not interrupt a fine call by Lefebvre on an RBI double by Cheslor Cuthbert: excellent recovery!
21) New York Yankees
Commentary team: Michael Kay or Ken Singleton and a rotating parade of analysts
Kay is a Bronx born Fordham graduate, as was Vin Scully (don’t get any ideas). The game I tune into is against the White Sox, and has John Flaherty as the analyst. The former catcher says that former Yankees he spoke with on Old Timer’s Day believe it’s impossible to get umpires to call inside strikes, one of the many reasons offense is up and Aaron Judge has been so successful. Like other broadcasters around baseball, Kay gets quite excited when his team scores but Kay is most definitely in the upper echelon of big league homers.
22) Chicago Cubs
Commentary team: Len Kasper and Jim Deshais
Harry Caray and Ron Santo they are not, but somebody likes this duo because they dotted a three-year deal this past winter. Deshais is an ex-hurler who began life as an analyst in Houston before moving north. Kasper had stops in Miami and Milwaukee before landing in Wrigley. When Ian Happ homers against Miami, we see the Cubs’ bullpen dancing in the dark. That leads to Bruce Springsteen, which leads to Courtney Cox, before the pair also manage to squeeze The Kinks into the conversation: it’s quite an achievement really. Still, you’d expect a higher overall level from a crown jewel franchise.
23) Milwaukee Brewers
Commentary team: Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder
When you think Brewers broadcasting, you think of Bob Uecker of movie Major League and Miller Lite beer commercial fame. While Uek has been doing radio for 47 years, Bill Schroeder has called the second-most games in franchise history. Anderson has been in Milwaukee for a decade. A short sample of a game v the Pirates reveals that Schroeder’s salt and pepper mustache is the most interesting thing coming out of the booth. They’re not awful, just extremely generic. If they were abysmal the duo would be a more compelling listen: radio is clearly the way to go in Milwaukee.
24) Los Angeles Dodgers
Commentary team: Joe Davis and a host of others, none of whom are Vin Scully
It’s going to be a while before any evaluation of Dodgers broadcasters fails to mention Vin Scully, whose absence from LA’s both for the first time since the franchise moved west will take some serious getting used to. In writing this I’ve already had to stop and listen to Scully’s tale of the snake and the rabbit, not once, but twice. Davis has the most impossible job in the history of broadcasting: he’s fine, with a super strong cliche TV voice that’s a little vanilla. My father, a Dodgers fan and Scully loyalist, says that the kid is a bit of a homer. Many baseball fans will need at least a decade or so to recover from Scully’s departure.
25) Toronto Blue Jays
Commentary team: Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler
Martinez once interrupted his post-playing broadcasting career with a stint in the Jays dugout: it didn’t go well. Analyst Tabler won a World Series in Toronto as a player in 1992. Martinez is a rare breed: an ex-player who became a game caller. In a game against the White Sox he turns on the enthusiasm for back-to-back Chicago home runs, which is also rare amongst home team broadcasters. He’s a polarizing figure in the north, some find him endearing, others dislike his voice, which is not your standard TV type. Tabler is low energy and soft on the analysis, repeating that the White Sox have hit a pair of homers with little other description.
26) Texas Rangers
Commentary team: Dave Raymond and CJ Nitkowski/Tom Grieve
Raymond is a former minor leaguer once traded for case of crab cakes and a pound of shrimp. My game featured Grieve as the color man: a former Texas player and GM. Raymond doesn’t have a classic “radio” voice which leads to a free-flowing, less formal, conversational call. Rangers reliever Jose Leclerc comes on and walks three but the team don’t really recognize the dangerous wildness of the reliever who almost hits Seattle’s Jean Segura in the head. Overall, low on the gimmicks, and, at least when I tuned in, common sense.
27) Washington Nationals
Commentary team: Bob Carpenter and FP Santangelo
Funny that a team that has done virtually nothing to recognize its Montreal heritage should have a former Expos utility man in Santangelo as their color commentator. Bob Carpenter is the game-caller, he’s been in place since their second season in the US capitol. When I watch, the Nats are down 6-0, but Carpenter reminds us that it’s still “very very early” which is a total shill move.
28) Atlanta Braves
Commentary team: Chip Caray, Joe Simpson and guests including Tom Glavine
Broadcasting baseball is the family business: three generations of game calling began with Harry, then on to Skip and now Chip. All three called a game together back in 1991. Simpson’s 11-year career with four teams was followed by 25 years in the booth. Baseball fans jumped for joy when Caray was removed from TBS playoff broadcasts, but for Braves fans he’s a way of life. Chip gets a little too excited about Teheran pitching around an infield hit, but some Braves fans have heard much worse.
29) Detroit Tigers
Commentary team: Mario Impemba and Rod Allen, with Kirk Gibson filling in
Kirk Gibson, yes, that Kirk Gibson. His 1988 World Series Game 1 home run resulted in one of Vin Scully’s famous calls, but playing a central part of baseball broadcasting history didn’t rub off on Gibson, whose opening monologue is monotone. “Gibby” reads quickly from the prompter, is flat as a pancake and looks uninterested. Game caller Mario Impemba does the best he can under the circumstances, but it’s all a bit awkward.
30) Tampa Bay Rays
Commentary team: Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson
Staats has been around: he’s called for the Rays since their inception in 1998 and has also worked Astros, Cubs and Yankees games. Brian Anderson spent 13 seasons in the bigs, winning a World Series with Arizona in 1998. Despite four decades in baseball, there’s little charm to the calls from Staats’, who sounds more like a local newscaster who happens to be calling a game. Anderson is ambitious, attacking analysis rather than letting it come to him, always filling in any downtime: it makes for jumpy listening.