We need more homers at the mike
I wrote in this space a couple of weeks ago about how listening to baseball games has evolved from local signals over the transistor to streamed games which can be picked up anywhere by computer.
This isn't limited to baseball. I've been listening to some out-of-town local broadcasts of basketball games.
For years, I've detested "homer" announcers, preferring the straight-down-the-middle approach. It's a style which worked for UT legend John Ward and now does for his protege, Titans' announcer Mike Keith. If you didn't already know the teams they're broadcasting for, you wouldn't necessarily know simply by listening to them.
Ward didn't refer the Vols as "we", nor did he shake pompoms in the booth. I remember in college a fellow student, admitting he was not a UT fan, expressing his respect for Ward's work.
Then there's Eric Hasseltine, voice of the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are down the barrel on my list of teams to follow. But the Predators are no longer playing this spring and, hey, the Griz have got it going on. I'm even willing to take Memphis back from Mississippi [where it's the de facto Magnolia State capital] and put it back in Tennessee.
Hasseltine announces with his heart as much as his voice. He actually makes NBA games sound exciting. Well, maybe I need to listen to his regular-season work to make that judgment call.
In any event, when the self-admitted homer feels the Grizzlies aren't paying well or getting the breaks, he sounds like a fan. During the playoffs, it's often sounded like they were way behind. Then he announces the score and, surprise, Memphis is leading.
If he disagrees with a ref's call, it's, "[Insert name here], YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING". Kind of reminds me of then-Cumberland athletic director Pat Lawson who, while broadcasting a Bulldog road game with Lynn Bogle about a decade ago, got so incensed at a call he ripped his headset off, leaving listeners wondering what was going on.
The other night, Hasseltine got so carried away he said, "Lionel [referring to coach Lionel Hollins], call timeout. Why aren't you calling timeout???
Then, he calmed down and realized a timeout wasn't the best call in that situation and admitted as much.
He does give credit to the other team, which a lot of homers won't do, and tells it like he sees it if the Grizzlies do.
And then there's Jeff Dantzler, the voice of Georgia women's basketball.
I tuned in to listen to the Lady Bulldogs, featuring Wilson Central star Jasmine Hassell, during the NCAA tournament a couple of months ago.
Against California in the region final, Georgia led most of the game, but you would never know it based on Dantzler's call, unless he was actually announcing the score.
"We can't keep them off the board," he cried repeatedly. "We're standing around doing nothing."
Georgia seemed to have the game in hand with a few minutes left in regulation when a cold spell opened the door for Cal to make a late run and take the lead as Lady Bulldog star point guard Jasmine James fouled out.
UGA scored in the closing seconds to force overtime, but Dantzler found the cloud in the silver lining.
"Georgia has scored to tie the game. But JJ IS GONE," he cried, sounding like the 1930s announcer calling the Hindenburg disaster ["Oh, the humanity"]. It sounded like the police needed to put out an APB.
I've grown to appreciate Hasseltine and Dantzler after listening to my fill of ESPN-trained announcers, especially color men, who spout the same cliches written out of the same old manual. Hasseltine and Dantzler sound like the fan sitting next to you in the stands who are the worst critics of their favorite team because they know them so well, having seen them at their best and, more importantly, their worst. In Dantzler's case, he knew what was coming as Georgia lost in overtime.
I understand major network announcers must play it down the middle since they are broadcasting to fans of both teams and to those who are neither. But they used to have their own style. With sad few exceptions [NBC's Sunday Night Football tandem of Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth lead that short list], that's no more.
That's too bad.