The best and worst of L.A. sports media 2019: Play by play guys don’t play mind games

In one of the last times we were able to flip on NBCSN and catch the “Dan Patrick Show” simulcast this week before the thing disappeared into the AT&T/Turner universe, the host opened the show with a bit that went:
“I always wanted to do an honest broadcast (of a live sporting event). Just so you say what you really think when you do a game.
“ ‘This guy is overpaid and we can’t get out from underneath his contract …’
“ ‘This soft-tossing lefty gives up home runs like I take breaths.’
“The honest announcer. I always wanted to do that.”
Honestly, that could work in L.A. That once-upon-a-time occurrence was expected with broadcasts like Vin Scully, Chick Hearn or Tom Kelly.
Who might do it today?
How about …

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black 1BRIAN SIEMAN/Clippers radio
There’s nothing wrong with the Clippers logically giving him the TV chair once Ralph Lawler’s 40 year runs ends this summer. We’re on the same page as Clippers fans sites. But there is a selfish wish that Sieman would remain the one-man show on radio, a medium that gives him a unique platform to provide listeners with not just the game description, but become his own colorman, self-deprecating but full of inner-banter that no one else could pull off. Would this work on TV? Why not, but his play-by-play work on radio is so sharp and colorful, the visual medium wouldn’t allow that. It’s why Vin Scully’s natural draw to move to the TV side was prefect for those programming the event, but it was a net-minus to the consumers.

black 2JOE DAVIS/Dodgers TV
This transition from the Scully Era to what Davis brings – and it’s not just as a set-up man for Orel Hershiser, but that’s the new way of the TV booth for the team – can’t be fully appreciated until enough want to make the effort to sign up for SportsNet LA. The 10 games that many get of Davis on the KTLA occasional simulcasts is enough of a taste. We’re at a point to when he does go on assignment for Fox Sports – it could be football, baseball or basketball – it’s clearly noted. By the way, how cool was it that his brother was part of an Oscar-worthy recognition?

black 3ALEX FAUST/Kings TV
The endorsement by Alex Trebek to someday replace him as a game-show host shouldn’t jeopardize young Faust’s future as a caller of Kings’ mishaps, or his sidegig with NBCSN (he was doing a Ducks’ game this week … geesh). Sure, we miss Bob Miller. And we can use an injection of Snoop Dogg once in a while. But we’ve come to appreciate the talents of this not-yet-30-year-old. If there is some constructive criticism to offer from Kings fans — it’s OK to break down some impartiality that you’d do on a national broadcast and at least make the viewers feel you’re feeling their pain.

black 4JOHN IRELAND/Lakers radio
His “How do you like them apples?” call of the Lakers’ improbable victory at Boston last month may already be the year’s best, for those giving out awards for such things. It demonstrates his focus on being accurate, enthusiastic and punctuate a proper moment. And he had the platform to talk about it the next day. He’ll always have infectious energy, which should help prop his partner more often than not. (Anyone else think he and Brian Sieman could brothers?) He’s also big with the kids.

black 5JOSH LEWIN/UCLA football and basketball radio
If we’ve got this straight, the Swiss Army knife of local broadcasting has this gig in Westwood nailed down, could be doing stuff for the Padres in the future, was doing stuff for the Chargers and Mets, and somehow the Dodgers passed on him when needing a fill-in for the coming season and took Tim Neverett instead when he was let go by the Red Sox, which seemed to open up a slew of jobs in Boston that included adding Lewin to the defending World Series championships’ radio rotation. On top of all that, Lewin has started his campaign to help those, like him, who battle with anxiety and depression issues called okaytogether.com. That alone is worth a No. 1 spot on anyone’s list.

black 6NICK NICKSON/Kings audio
Sorry, but we’ve been lapse in making a concerted effort to fiddle around with this app thing. But we have no doubt that, through this change in medium, and because of his Hockey Hall of Fame career already stamped, Nickson has many strong seasons left to bring Kings fans into a new era of audio delivery.

black 7BILL MACDONALD/Lakers TV
We will content that Billy Mac’s natural calling is that of a sports studio show host. You can’t blame him for jumping on this gig a few seasons ago when it strangely came open (see: Dedes, Spero, decides to leave) and the team had him as a No. 1 backup ever since he called the Kobe Bryant 81-point game (there’s all kinds of great stories about that one). We’ll always be in his corner and enjoy the listen.

black 8SAM FARBER/High school football TV
When the guard starts changing, Farber will be next up on any major opening in the pro sports playing field. He’s done his due diligence, and makes the Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket high school games sound nationally important. He does the same on any other event he’s covering. It’s just a matter of time. Meanwhile, you can also catch him on Spectrum SportsNet’s Lakers’ G-League calls.

black 9GHIZAL HASAN/Cal State Northridge sports
The same can be said here as with Farber, and with Hasan, his dry humor comes across well. For all the boxes he checks off, his moment to hit it bigger will always be the next step. We keep rooting for guys like Hasan. And David Caldwell. And Steve Quis. And Trent Rush. And Jesse Kass.

black 10JB LONG/Rams radio
A professional call that gets full stereo-quality modulation when you pick up the games on 93.1 Jack/KCBS-FM. Calling a Super Bowl already ain’t a bad thing to have on the resume either.

Honorable mention: Dave Denholm, LAFC radio; Rick Monday, Dodgers radio; Ross Porter, Cal State Northridge baseball; Ted Enberg; USC baseball; John Ahlers, Ducks TV; Steve Carroll, Ducks radio; David Caldwell, high school football/basketball TV; Spero Dedes, Chargers exhibition TV; Randy Rosenbloom, high school TV; Joe Tutino, Galaxy TV;  Al Epstein, Pepperdine sports audiostream; Jesse Kass, Loyola Marymount basketball KXLU-FM

 

A BRIEF INTERMISSION

RALPH LAWLER, Clippers TV and radio
A classy move by the Basketball Hall of Fame to give him the Curt Gowdy Award later this year. We made a case for it happening last December, and it’s nice to think we may have helped a bit in the cause.
A few months before that, when we caught wind last summer that he was going to announce his retirement but waited for him to do it on his own terms rather than spoil it, we wondered how he might be remembered the pantheon of L.A. play-by-play men. A Mt. Rushmore candidate? Probably not, even if you expand the faceplate to five deep. Not based on his resume, but more on having too many in front of him. All in all, Lawler gave the game joy and fun, for a team that had the worst possible owner, and most predictably deflating outcome every night. His career shouldn’t be defined by the product he tried to sell – in fact, it made it all the more impressive.
A toast to Ralph, to what he brought, to how he created the career of Bill Walton, and to a char he now leaves open for endless possibilities by a forward thinking owner. And guys make mistakes. It’s also a matter of how they apologize for it.

FRANCISCO X. RIVIERA/Kings Spanish-language radio
When you’re talking about inserting the Spanish language into a French-Canadian-born sport, the Kings have stepped it up with giving Riviera a 10-game package, with the hope of doing more in the coming seasons. Our piece on him says most of it.

TIM NEVERETT/Dodgers radio
First impression, simply from the first few innings of a spring game he did with Rick Monday from Arizona on Thursday: Spectacularly average.

 

 

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Red 1CHARLEY STEINER/Dodgers radio/TV
The phrase known on social media as getting “Steinered.”
It means a listener is given reason to believe something happened during a Dodgers game, based on the radio call, when in fact, almost the opposite is accurate.
The most correct thing we’ve heard from the soon-to-be 70-year-old, who starts his 15th season with the franchise, is this nugget: “And Maeda has both hands on top of his head, as if to (long pause) press his head in frustration.”
It resonates because it’s what listeners do as well. Hence, a Kenta Maeda reference is still fresh.
A few months ago, we got some prime real estate to explain during the last World Series why he’s been in a problematic professional ineffective position. It probably didn’t directly lead to Steiner having his schedule cut back for 2019, but we like to think we helped push the idea. He has allies in the front office taking care of him. His well-known disposition of not playing well with others doesn’t even factor into any assessment, but it doesn’t help his case.
Our annually lowered expectations have come to this:  The next time he accurately calls a home run, or a routine pop up, will be the first. Uber refuses to let him call a long drive anymore. Just a couple a year would help.

It’s obvious that he’s focused so much on making calls that can be used as post-game audio clips and perhaps on the MLB Network recaps, he needs an extra few moments now to collect himself at the expense of immediacy. If he has the time to duck the score in once every couple innings, huge  bonus. We also have this vision of him (based on our sources) in the booth, with his press guide open, reading off information as he tries to fill time between pitches. Radio is a story-telling medium. The story here is amusing himself doesn’t cut it any more, as if it ever did.

One last bit: It’s noted that Steiner often tries to make rye jokes out of poor situations, which W.C. Fields made a living out of, but Steiner has not quite reached Fields of Dream status. Until then, we can only dream of when he’ll finally be allowed to work fulltime at his Bradley University School of Broadcasting, a place he’s made a sizeable donation to for that honor, and we can all remember when he was a fun-loving ESPN SportsCenter anchor leading people to freedom. Bradley is a nice landing spot for him, actually. It was pointed out last off season that Steiner gave a reporter at the student paper an audience with him to expound on his philosophy of the craft at the annual Charley Steiner Sports Communication Symposium, “the highlight of the semester for Sports Communication Students,” according to the piece written.
When the reporter asked Steiner about fans today who criticize sports play-by-play announcers for their mistakes, he surmised that it’s social media that creates a concoction of criticism, an “echo chamber” of sorts and questioned why fans would even go after such revered broadcasters. He’s a firm believer in the moral of “respect your elders. … Even if I had Twitter back then, I don’t think I’d use it,” Steiner said.
We’re not even sure what that means, except its simple to deflect and point the criticism onto the critics. We respect all you’ve accomplished, actually. We lose respect when there’s ignoring the obvious solutions.

red 2TERRY SMITH/Angels radio
At least he tries. Sadly, he just lacks any personality, vitality or memorable moments. He instead sounds like the fill-in mortician at the funeral home trying to sell you an expensive casket. He’ll always be our baseball version of Smithers. If ignorance is bliss, he’s the happiest person on earth.

red 3VICTOR ROJAS/Angels TV
No. No, no. Nope. Not again.
Rojas is like sitting at a red light and the car in front of you won’t move up two feet so that you can get into the left-turn lane before the light changes.
Rojas is proof that light travels faster than sound, which is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
Rojas is also an example, still, of when someone thinks he affects a broadcast as a no-hitter is in progress.
No.
No, no.

red 4MATT “MONEY” SMITH/Chargers radio
We still will bet a lot of money on this working out. For all that he does for the franchise since it moved, having him replace Josh Levin as the team’s radio voice in exchange for someone in town who could do more personal appearances may not be a tradeoff that’s paying off at this point. Give it time. There have been a few instances of guys over the years who started in this Bottom 5 slot and progressed each year to making it into the Top 10.

red 5PETE ARBOGAST/USC football radio
The alternative choice is to leave him out of either list all together. But the fact USC has decided not to expand his work and having him do basketball on top of football when the opportunity came up. Twice. It’s not as if Jordan Moore was the best chose to replacing the departing (and former Top 10 member) Chris Fisher. There’s something more to it.

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