By Andrew Kahn
Gary Cohen and Ron Darling were sifting through a box of baseball cards. One would come across a notable player and tell a story about him. The other would sort through his handful, wait his turn, then talk about a player he’d come across. It went back and forth like this for 20 minutes or so. Cohen is a longtime baseball fanatic; Darling pitched in the majors for 13 seasons. Their baseball card discussion is notable only because they are the television announcers for the New York Mets and it took place during a live broadcast.
Cohen, the play by play man, along with analysts Darling and Keith Hernandez, keep viewers entertained even when the Mets do not. The impromptu baseball card chat—where the cards came from is a mystery—took place during the final innings of a blowout loss last month. Cameras didn’t miss a pitch and, as basketball analyst Bill Walton likes to say, viewers can see what’s happening. We don’t need the announcers to describe every on-field moment. We wouldn’t want them to.
Articulating what makes a broadcaster, or a broadcast team, effective is difficult. Tune into a game and you’ll quickly discern whether the talent is talented or not. Gary, Keith, and Ron—yes, I’m on a first-name basis with them—have “it.” Gary, his partners readily admit, keeps the machine humming. He’s a pro who also works college basketball games. If the game is tense, Gary won’t stray. There are 162 games, though, and many are not tense. So when Keith talks Civil War history or Ron discusses condiments, fans welcome the distraction. A three-man booth often feels crowded, but not with this trio.*
*Sometimes it’s just a duo. Gary works nightly but Ron, who also calls games for TBS, and Keith, who complains about extra-inning games and would not survive a full schedule, do not.
Baseball fans have a special relationship with their announcers. In teasing this story, I heard from fans all over the country who, for the most part, enjoy their home team crew. Most NBA and NHL teams have their own TV networks and, therefore, regular announcers, but those sports play half as many games as baseball and their fast-paced action doesn’t lend itself to off-topic commentary (the aforementioned Walton would disagree). The NFL season is even shorter and fans never know which crew they’ll get.
Since moving out of the SportsNet New York (SNY) market, I’ve come to cherish the MLB.TV single-team package in which I can watch the Mets and choose whether I want the home or away team feed. I dislike ESPN’s Sunday night games because I’m subjected to a national crew that may be talented but lacks that personal connection. That hometown announcers can’t call playoff games is frustrating, though that’s been a problem for Mets fans only recently.
At the risk of getting too sentimental, because my wife works nights, the Mets’ crew has become my summer-time companions. In certain situations I know exactly what they’ll say (Gary: “He struck him out!” after a big K); other times I have no idea. That, more than anything, is what makes them so good.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn