It’s baseball season and that means the return of those summertime poets; those who have for generations created verbal tapestries of diamonds unseen by their listeners. Once, I aspired to be one of those poets. This is a tribute to those great voices who brought the games to life in a day before ESPN and Fox Sports network. Their artistry, often muffled through a transistor radio hidden underneath a bedtime pillow, drew me to the games in a way that today’s overhyped, overexposed media can never dream of.
Marty Brennaman holds the top spot on my list as he continues to bring games to life just as he did when I was a child. It’s not Marty’s voice that has made him a Hall of Famer, but his style. His vivid game descriptions are matched by his ability to strongly criticize the home team when need be. Marty’s rants about former-Red Lenny Harris’s numerous boneheaded errors still ring in my ears. Marty also has a “down home” style with his Carolina roots that has endeared himself to Reds fans, many of whom share Brennaman’s country roots. His insertion of “that’s a great big ole have mercy” on puzzling or outstanding plays is one of his many signature lines. Of course Marty’s concluding “And this one belongs to Reds” has brought a smile to the face of Reds fans for 40 years.
Marty’s long-time partner, the beloved Joe Nuxhall, belongs on this list as well. While Marty called the game as he saw it, both good and bad, the “old lefthander” was the prototypical “homer.” I’ll never forget his shouting, “Get outta here, Get outta here” in the background while Marty was calling a home run. Joe was the perfect complement to Marty. A native Cincinnatian (Hamilton counts) and a former Red, Joe was the face of half a century of Reds baseball. He played with Pinson and Big Klu and teamed in the broadcast booth with Waite Hoyt. With Marty and Joe together, often I wished for a rain delay so I could hear those two spin more yarns about the great game.
Outside of baseball, no other voice is etched in my memory like that of the great Cawood Ledford. Cawood’s career spanned the entirety of Kentucky basketball greatness, from the beginning of Rupp’s dynasty to the Pitino-era Unforgettables team. His last game call was Christian Laettner’s famous jumper that defeated UK in the 1992 regional finals, possibly the greatest game ever played. There was no flash to Ledford’s calls, no “Yes” of Marv Albert, or exuberance of Gus Johnson. Ledford was a painter with words. Unlike his baseball colleagues, who were able to work at a more pastoral pace, Ledford described the game of basketball, and fast-paced Kentucky basketball at that. The listener never missed a beat with Cawood’s calls. Ledford’s voice linked generations of Kentucky fans together.
Finally, I’d like to pay homage to Howard Cosell, the lone television broadcaster I’d include in this elite company. Even though Howard toiled in a visual medium, his erudite approach to the game both entertained and educated his audience. Cosell’s trademark “tell it like it is” style was no false claim. He never shied away from discussing controversial subjects or from giving his unvarnished opinion. And unlike today’s “in your face” journalists who seem to be wanting to punish their subjects, Howard was able to ask the tough questions and make the uncomfortable pronouncements without being rude or hostile to the athlete. His work on ABC’s Monday Night Football was classic, as he commented on the action and provided perfect counterpoint to the well-spoken Frank Gifford and the homespun Don Meredith. Cosell was the consummate professional journalist.
These voices will be forever linked to the games I love. They are voices that elicit memories of summers sitting on the porch with my step-father, or huddled under a blanket in the winter. They brought the games to life in an era without 24 hour cable sports or streaming video. I am grateful for their part in connecting me with these games I so dearly love.