Vin Scully retired last year, which immediately reduced the population of sports announcers whom no one seems to hate from one to zero.
For everyone else, it can be tough out there, even for the most accomplished among them. That includes Fox’s Joe Buck, who on one hand is at the top of the profession and on the other has been catching grief from viewers for 20 years.
“I could do a seminar on it, I really could, because I think about it a lot,” he said of the phenomenon of announcer hate, minus the unpublishable word he used as an adjective before “seminar.”
His exasperation is understandable, and widespread in the business.
Fans are famous for their opinions and eagerness to share them, which is part of the fun of sports. But in the social media era, that eagerness at times runs amok, and announcers often get hit even harder than the athletes they chronicle.
“I think what’s new in recent years is the fact that [viewers] now feel the need to share that not only with America, but to share that with the person who’s actually calling the game,” Beth Mowins said with a laugh.
On Sept. 11, Mowins will become the first woman to call a nationally televised NFL game, for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Criticism on Twitter is inevitable.
“I try as best I can to find the people that want to have a conversation and have kind of taken on the idea that I have no time for negative people with negative attitudes,” she said. “Life’s just too short for that.”
Some announcers have more detractors than others and some are just better than others, as in any profession. Also, there is simple personal preference.
Doc Emrick of NBC is almost universally acclaimed as a hockey play-by-play man. Almost. Some think his rapid-fire descriptions are more suited to radio. Hey, to each his or her own.
What is more frustrating to many is the seemingly irrational venom sports voices often inspire.
“I think it’s fashionable for people to get on announcers,” said Ron Darling of SNY and Turner, who generates far less criticism than most. “You can find a dent in anything that’s on . . . I think there are a growing legion of fans that want to point out announcers’ pitfalls.”
Some of the earliest successful sports blogs in the last decade focused on media matters, including Deadspin, Fire Joe Morgan and the aptly named Awful Announcing.
Ben Koo, the current editor-in-chief of Awful Announcing, theorized that the discontent is driven in part by lack of choice. People opt in to watch scripted shows based on the style of program they enjoy.
Sports watching (and listening) is dictated by the sport or team a fan wants to watch. You don’t get to pick which announcers are part of the package.
“The announcers, people really don’t sign up for them,” Koo said. “So when you feel like the experience is being lessened by the announcers or it’s subpar to what you were expecting, I think people become a lot more vocal . . . You had a quality level in mind and you feel subjectively that it’s not being achieved.”
There are two common theories regarding announcer hate.
The first is that while fans understand they cannot hit baseballs as far as Aaron Judge or catch footballs the way Odell Beckham Jr. does, they believe they could sit in a booth and describe such moments.
“It’s the whole idea of a quote-unquote stuffed suit,” Buck said. “Anybody can stuff a suit. But I’ve had people in the music business, I’ve had people in acting, who will come sit in the booth and they put a headset on and they walk out of there like, ‘Oh, my God, I had no idea how many moving pieces there are in the booth.’
“You can go to class all day. You can be in your basement. You can do a game off of TV. But until you’re in there and your opinion has to come right now and it’s a live, new game . . . it’s a different world.”
The paradox is the more announcers make it sound easy, the easier viewers assume it is.
“We are in some ways relatable,” Mowins said, “because if I’m doing my job well, I’m having some of the same conversations, hopefully, and the same passion as the men and women that are sitting at home on their couch or sitting on that bar stool or postgame at the tailgate.”
Said Mets radio announcer Howie Rose: “I think when we do what we do, and hopefully do it well, it sounds to the uninitiated and uninformed as though, ‘Hey, that sounds pretty easy. You just go sit down, watch the game, talk about it,’ without taking into account all that goes into it.”
The other dynamic often at play is one that affects national announcers more than local ones.
Many fans are accustomed to local voices who tailor coverage to the home team. When they hear play-it-down-the-middle national announcers, they often perceive bias.
“Think of Tony Romo,” Darling said of the former Cowboys quarterback and new CBS analyst. “Tony Romo just got the job. So there are going to be [fans of] 31 teams that are going to hate him as a broadcaster. They’ll hate him. There’s one city that loves him: Dallas.”
Curt Gowdy Jr., SNY’s executive producer and son of the late, iconic announcer said, “I remember when I was a kid growing up and my dad was doing Red Sox games, everybody in New England loved to hear his voice, thought he was part of their family. I think the same thing happens with [SNY’s] Gary Cohen. I think the same thing happens with Howie Rose.
“Then suddenly someone parachutes in on a national telecast and they go, ‘Wait a minute, they’re not familiar with the players, they’re not familiar with the story lines.’ ”
Buck, who used to call St. Louis Cardinals games locally, said, “Nobody makes the false claim that local announcing is unbiased. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. You’re screaming and yelling when your team hits a home run, you’re monotone and almost defiant when the other team hits a home run, and that’s how fans want to hear it.”
Buck said a related factor is that fans are more knowledgeable than ever thanks to the endless flow of information and more opinionated than ever thanks to the endless access to debate.
“I think it’s kind of fanned the flame of, ‘I know and you don’t and you’re a moron, and you’re a stupid talking head and a stiff in a suit, and not only do you not like my team, but you’re dumb,’ ” he said.
“In some cases they’re probably right. If I do a game with the Bengals on a random Sunday, their fans know way more about the Cincinnati Bengals than I do. But we’re not there to reverse the flow of the Nile. We’re just there doing a game. I think people take it a wee bit too seriously.”
That people do, and like all public figures in 2017, sports announcers have little choice but to accept that reality.
“There’s a lot of hate out there in the world, and it permeates every aspect of our society,” Cohen said. “Why should we be immune? . . . You can’t allow any of that to affect your state of mind, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s kind of like what you say about athletes in New York: You’re better off not paying attention to what they’re saying.”
More often than not, when an announcer’s name trends in social media, it’s not because people loved what they heard. It’s more about mockery or disdain. During the CBS broadcasts of “Thursday Night Football” last season, it was not uncommon to see Phil Simms trending on Twitter.
Or it’s about the burning need of some to point out an announcer’s mistake. When Buck called Brooks Koepka’s current girlfriend by his ex-girlfriend’s name at the U.S. Open in mid-June, many a website turned it into a headline.
“I just think people, if they don’t agree with you and if they don’t like what you’re saying, they now have a place to go,” Yankees radio announcer Suzyn Waldman said. “‘I don’t like her voice, I don’t like her accent, I don’t like the way she talks.’ . . . I just think everything is so personal now.”
Said Buck: “It becomes a game online: Who can insult more than the next guy?”
There is no avoiding it, so sites such as Koo’s embrace it.
“I think it’s probably a necessary evil of the sports media industry where you’re going to wade into waters where you’re not seen positively by viewers,” Koo said.
“Sports fans want to know how what they’re obsessed about is covered, and so there is commentary there; people have an interest there . . . People want to see how they consume sports continue to improve, and if not, they want to have things they dislike called out. So we generally kind of serve both those purposes.”