Midsummer dream :
If the Yankees' Bucky Dent can make the American League All-Star team with a .138 batting average, why can't NBC-TV's Jay Randolph make our first annual all-star review of baseball announcers?
After all, it's only fitting. Baseball has Mike Schmidt, the total player, the booth has Al Michaels, the total announcer. The Mets' Joel Youngblood, a mediocrity, made last year's All-Star team. Why should Don Drysdale be kept off ours?
Herewith, our 1982 guide to the good, the bad and the ugly. Instead, of a grade at the end of each review, we'll give each announcer an adjective.
Howard Cosell (ABC) -- Offers nothing but marquee value. Doesn't stay current with the players and hasn't learned a thing about strategy since they put in the DH rule. So what does he lend the telecast? Self-importance. It's as though ABC is saying, "Forget the event -- listen to Howard." But we're not watching "Battle of the Network Stars." Cosell's new tendency to give us moral philosophy instead of baseball insight (notice all this talk about courage and character lately?) is a bit much. Wearisome.
Bob Costas (NBC) -- One of the bright young chipmunks at the networks, with a chance to become one of the three or four best play-by-play men in all sports if he can avoid the tendency to tell us too much too soon too fast. The best thing about him is his freshness. He can be skeptical without coming across as a smart aleck, which is a difficult trick in TV. Spunky.
Don Drysdale (ABC) -- The stereotype of the jock-turned-announcer. Cliche-ridden, repetitive and long-winded. Doesn't seem to do his homwork, either. The other night he had Gary Matthews going on the disabled list when Garry Maddox was the player injured. And why is he so protective of the baseball establishment? Drysdale's in perfect position to tell us, say, who cheats on pickoff moves and who doesn't, but mum's the word. Protective.
Dick Enberg (NBC) -- You just can't do it much better. Knowledgeable (a former assistant coach at Cal State-Northridge) and opinionated without being strident. Michaels may be a tiny step ahead of him on preparation, but Enberg's schedule may account for that. Enberg's personal warmth and sincerity come through the screen, making you willing to entrust the afternoon to him. Genuine.
Joe Garagiola (NBC) -- Garagiola has sent all his Yogi Berra stories to the archives and no longer mentions the '52 Pirates. He also has learned to shut up when the drama speaks louder than words. Still, it can be a chore to listen to him on play by play. Don't you sense a certain strain between him and Tony Kubek? It's not the pleasant friction, say, of the (Al) McGuire-(Billy) Packer rivalry. Speculation has it that Garagiola will team with Vin Scully next year with Scully on the play by play. Tired.
Keith Jackson (ABC) -- Every time you hear Jackson on baseball, you expect him to say, "Here come them Hawgs out of the chute!" A fine play-by-play man technically, he's become so identified with college football that he seems out of place on the summer game. In point of fact, there's no way he can stay abreast of baseball, gallivanting about the country the way he does. He knows that short to second to first goes 6-4-3, but not much else. Estranged.
Tony Kubek (NBC) -- Far and away the best color man in his sport. Not the least of reasons he succeeds is that his absolute love for the game comes through. Like Enberg, he has mastered the art of expressing opinions firmly but inoffensively. Another plus: he's doesn't rely on trite anecdotes to get through a game. He's an analyst, not a story-teller, and his insights are surprisingly fresh. Rumor has him teaming with Costas next year. Straight.
Tim McCarver (NBC) -- McCarver, who's done several "B" games for NBC, still thinks the "B" stands for buddy system. The other day, he refused to press Pete Rose when Rose evaded a question on when he would retire; later, McCarver dodged a question from Costas on long-term player contracts. Which side is he on? Cliquish.
Al Michaels (ABC) -- The best announcer in baseball, period, end of stroy. He has a perfect voice, he no longer sounds like a Scully clone, and he's so smooth and well-prepared it's almost frightening. Why ABC doesn't give him the marquee over everyone else in its shop is the $64 question. What you have to ask with play-by-play men is, do you feel comfortable listening? With Michaels you do; with Garagiola or Jackson you don't. Impeccable.
Jay Randolph (NBC) -- Here's where the wheels go off the tracks. Randolph, who swings between commentary and play by play, is from the "Another fine play!" school of announcing. There's a certain stuffiness in his tone and delivery. He also makes painfully obvious points, such as the fact that we're watching a replay of the previous batter's swing right now. By the way, did you know pitchers get hurt in the big leagues when they get the ball up high? Stodgy.
Brooks Robinson (WMAR-TV-2) -- Brooks understands the secret of local baseball commentary: he serves as a pipeline between the clubhouse and our living room, feeding us tidbits we can't find in the newspaper. He's become more opinionated recently, even mildly criticizing Earl Weaver's strategy at times. But the longer you listen to his fractured syntax, the stronger the urge to scream. He ought to be smoother by now. Countrified.
Steve Stone (ABC) -- This guy already ranks as semiprecious after only two or three weeks on the air. The retired Orioles pitcher upstages Cosell or Drysdale each time he opens his mouth. He's articulate, insightful and he knows enough to get in and out of a comment in 12 words or less. The one thing he has to watch is a Fran Tarkenton-like tendency to be harsh.A sarcastic remark that can be funny in person comes across as cynical on the air. Bright.
Chuck Thompson (WMAR-TV-2) -- Thompson is the kind of announcer you listen to while wearing your slippers. He's homey and conversational. An Oriole hits a homer and he says, "Hmmm! Ain't the beer cold." He has any number of idiosyncracies -- such as calling players "Mr." -- that wouldn't work on the network but seem just right at the local level. Not as openly one-sided as some other home-town announcers, either. Easy.
Bob Uecker (AB) -- Can't anybody at the networks lay off Yogi? The other night, the camera catches Berra on the phone to the bullpen. "No, Yogi, wrong number! It's 900-976-1313 . . . ," Uecker says, spouting the national sports phone line. Uecker repeated the joke later when Berra was shown talking on the horn again: "5-1, Yog -- Yankees!" The feeling here is the Yogi-is-dumb joke is a cheap shot. Plus, why don't jock announcers stop feeding us false humility about their "woeful" playing careers? Clever.