Baseball was one of the most beloved sports to listen to on the radio before television took over, and multiple play-by-play announcers contributed to its popularity. This entire list could consist of baseball play-by-play guys. And adding one of them without the other was impossible, so we’re taking the easy way out by giving them their due diligence now. Other than the obvious one who deserves their separate blurb.
Mel Allen, Red Barber, Curt Gowdy, Jack Buck, Jack Brickhouse, Ernie Harwell, Harry Caray, and Harry Kalas are all legends on the mic. And while several of those listed dipped their toes elsewhere, they are most known for calling the pitch-by-pitch action of America’s Pastime. Alas, here are the 10 greatest sports announcers of all time that called multiple sports and stuck with the play-by-play. Maybe we can get to the best color commentators down the line.
10. Jim Nantz
When you hear “hello, friends,” you know you’re in for a treat at Augusta National, the NCAA Tournament, or the gridiron on Sunday. Jim Nantz’s career is like a 20-year infielder who made three All-Star teams and never had a top-five MVP finish. His consistency is worth celebrating, even if his taglines capping a season or a tournament are somewhat cringeworthy.
9. Jim McKay
Jim McKay’s resume includes ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, and the British Open. But the most memorable call of McKay’s illustrious career was during the Munich tragedy of the 1972 Summer Olympics.
McKay informed the masses of what was happening for 14 uninterrupted hours on what was supposed to be his day off. In 1972, social media wasn’t around to alert you of world events in a flash, but McKay was the equivalent of a 14-hour Twitter feed on that heartbreaking September day. What he did was as revolutionary from a journalistic perspective as it was extraordinary.
8. Dick Enberg
You could throw Dick Enberg into any broadcast and not miss a beat. Enberg, a graduate of Central Michigan, headed west to begin his broadcasting career, landing on his feet at KTLA, where he called UCLA basketball games. Starting your broadcasting career calling games for an undefeated team led by Lew Alcindor is about as good as it gets.
Enberg joined NBC sports in 1975 and stayed there until the new millennium, which saw him go to CBS until 2014. Enberg called football, basketball, tennis, boxing, golf, horse racing, and gymnastics during his career. He finished on the baseball diamond, calling games for the San Diego Padres.
7. Brent Musberger
You are looking live at the seventh-best sports announcing of Brent Musberger. The veteran announcer earned his degree at the heralded Medill School of Journalism of Northwestern University, a school many journalists called home.
The first time being in the public light wasn’t favorable for Musberger, criticizing Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Black Power salute of the 1968 Olympics. Nor did his career end on the highest note with the catcalling of Katherine Webb-McCarron during Alabama’s victory over Notre Dame in the BCS Championship game, exiling him to the SEC Network after being the top guy for ESPN/ABC’s college football broadcasts.
Controversies asides, although that may be hard to ignore, Musberger was the voice many football fans associated with the game after the retirement of the next man on this list. And he is the one who coined the phrase “March Madness” when he was on the microphone during the NCAA Tournament for CBS.
6. Keith Jackson
Whoa, Nellie! Keith Jackson dabbled in the NFL, Olympics, NBA, and MLB, but everyone thinks of college football when they hear his name. Besides John Madden, Jackson was the most imitated announcer because of his many trademark phrases.
After the inaugural BCS championship game, he announced his retirement from the booth that saw Tennessee defeat Florida State in 1999. But that retirement was short-lived, returning later that year, albeit on a light schedule. Jackson’s final game was in the booth was calling arguably the greatest college football game ever between USC and Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl. It was a fitting end to a monster of a man from the college football world.
5. Marv Albert
Even if you vaguely watch sports, the odds are you dropped a Marv Albert “Yes! And the foul!” in your life at least once. As an honoree of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Albert is “the voice of basketball” for many fans, especially those that watched the New York Knicks. Albert’s credits include nine NBA Finals, two World Series, and seven Stanley Cup Finals. He may have had more NBA Finals appearances if the Knicks were good or if that other thing we remember from late-night shows of the late 90s didn’t happen.
4. Doc Emerick
Of the four major sports, hockey is the most difficult to call play-by-play. Hockey could get the best of the best tongue-tied between the continuous movement, the small puck, and pronouncing the names. However, that wasn’t the case for Doc Emerick, who flawlessly called the sport for nearly 50 years before retiring in 2020. Marv Albert’s son, Kenny, took over for Emrick as the leading voice for the NHL on NBC. Emrick’s accolades include being an inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame and Sports Illustrated sportscaster of the year in 2017.
3. Howard Cosell
Unlike everyone else who calls the action down the middle without showing allegiance or personality, Howard Cosell relished being the “bad boy” of broadcasting. Whether calling Monday Night Football with Frank Gifford and Don Meredith or calling a heavyweight boxing match, Howard Cosell’s voice and attitude would supply the soundtrack to it.
Cosell’s most remarkable achievement may have been becoming Muhammad Ali’s trusted ally and close friend when Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay. Cosell was one of the first to recognize him as Muhammad Ali while supporting the Olympic salute that Musberger criticized.
2. Al Michaels
One may think that Al Michaels would be one of the best sports handicappers in the field by the way he subtly references lines throughout his broadcast. Instead, Michaels did what he does best, calling the action of the sporting world. Michaels has been calling primetime football games virtually every night football happens since the 1970s. But between his NFL and World Series broadcasts, nothing holds a candle to “The Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. Hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
1. Vin Scully
Vin Scully is the baseball guy who deserves the spotlight because he was the best to do it. All these wonderfully talented broadcasters were outstanding in their way, but they usually worked with a color man to help shoulder the load. Scully needed no such thing, often flying solo in the booth.
Scully’s career has enough highlights that would require an additional thousand words to mention. So, we’ll keep it short and sweet: Vin Scully sits atop the ten greatest sports announcers of all time, and there will never be anyone who comes close to taking his spot. We will miss him dearly.
Check out Pregame for in-depth analysis before making your selections on an NFL Sunday or during baseball’s pennant races. We want everyone to walk away a winner, and our advice is the first step you can take in doing so.