With the Red Sox just a couple of weeks away from playing the Twins 66 times in 20 days, you are just about guaranteed a Sox, Bruins or Celtics game on TV (usually at least two) every night over the next couple of months. So I figured now was as good a time as any to take a look at the fellas who will be broadcasting the games locally and rank them from best to worst.
Two notes before we start:
1) I separated them into two groups, play-by-play and analysts. Comparing a basketball announcer to a hockey guy is apple and oranges enough, but comparing Jerry Remy to, say, Mike Gorman seems even more convoluted.
2) There are radio broadcasts as well, obviously, for the three teams, but the Powers That Be at WEEI won't let me comment on them. Why? Well, the Red Sox and Celtics are on WEEI and the Bruins are on another sports station (probably you've heard of it). Do I have opinions? Sure I do. But this isn't the place, evidently. Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com or ask me on Twitter @kirkmin and I'll be happy to answer.
Here we go ...
1. Mike Gorman (Comcast, though it'll always be SportsChannel to me)
The absolute gold standard, the Walter Cronkite of local play-by-play guys. I've never heard anyone criticize the way Mike Gorman calls a basketball game. He clearly knows the game, follows the league closely, does his homework, has the voice, all that stuff. So do plenty of others, or at least some others. What separates Gorman is that very rare ability to both a) never make himself the story yet b) still rise to the occasion when that great call is needed. Here's two examples, 26 years apart. Watch both (Bird's game-winner comes around the 5:30 mark) and you'll see what I mean. Never lets the moment overwhelm him, doesn't say too much but not too little, either. Listen to how he calls the Carmelo Anthony miss after the Allen 3-pointer and you'll see what I mean. Other announcers would be flustered after the Allen shot, expecting a timeout or still recovering from a ridiculously scripted "HOW LOUD CAN I GET?" call after the make (Gus Johnson is now an SNL skit of Gus Johnson). Gorman takes his time, notes the Knicks are out of timeouts, and allows the play to breathe all the way to the buzzer.
I'm hugely biased, probably, because I grew up with Gorman (and Gil Santos) calling Bird/Parish/McHale ("Thinking about it … wants it … got it!"). But I think I can recognize slippage -- look at Tim McCarver or John Madden or Dick Stockton or Dan Shaughnessy (how'd that get in here?) -- and I just don't see it with Gorman. He's as good now as he was in 1986, 1996 or five years ago. I'm thankful he never went national (and he could have, on his worst day he's three times the play-by-play announcer Stockton, Brent Musburger or Bob Neal ever were, and they all had national spots) and I'm thankful he was always confident enough in his ability to never feel the need to dip a toe into schtickdom.
Look, he's local, been here forever, you and I know he wants the Celtics to win and he knows that you and I know. But it doesn't get in the way, it's simply never an issue. You can root for a team to win without being a homer, and Gorman has always managed to balance that perfectly. And thank God for it, because Tommy would be completely unsalvageable if partnered with anyone with even a whiff of "us against them." We'll get to Heinsohn in a bit, but to sit next to a guy that believes every referee is out to screw the Celtics every night and not let it affect your performance borders on staggering. Part of it is chemistry and comfort, which makes it easier -- Mike and Tommy clearly have great affection for each other, and the occasional portrayal of Edith to Tommy's Archie over the last 30 years has made for good business -- but to keep Tommy on track (most of the time) might be Gorman's signature triumph as a broadcaster.
The WNBA is unwatchable. We all know this, nothing needs to be added. But if I'm flipping around and I hear Gorman calling a Connecticut Sun game (which he's done the last couple of years) I'll stick around for a few minutes. Mike Gorman can make me watch a WNBA game. There is no greater tribute.
2. Don Orsillo (NESN)
This is Don Orsillo's 12th season as the (or at least a) play-by-play guy for the Sox? Really? Does it seem that long to you?
Maybe I'm wrong (usually I am) and maybe it doesn't really matter, but it strikes me that Orsillo has never been embraced by Red Sox Nation. That's not even a knock, but Orsillo just hasn't made that connection, hasn't entered the "one of us" world. To me, he's a perfectly serviceable play-by-play announcer. He talks too much, yup. He can be vanilla on vanilla with a side of vanilla, true. And the Red Sox could be 2-156 on September 28th and the next negative word from Orsillo would be the first that season. But that seems to be the NESN way. If they wanted an opinionated guy in that seat Sean McDonough would still be there (also money was a factor) next to Remy. But instead they took 70 cents on the McDonough dollar and lived with it. Is a Don Orsillo/Jerry Remy broadcast in the class of McDonough/Remy? Not even close, at its peak McDonough and Remy were the best local team -- any sport -- in my lifetime. Orsillo and Remy are just OK, nothing more and nothing less. Part of it is Remy, who has really slipped the last few years (more on that later). But Orsillo allows Remy to be lazy, encourages the giggles and all the Remy self-promotion. It can be funny at times, but I know it wears on me over the course of 162 games. Still, if you have MLB Extra Innings and have been subjected to other local broadcasts you know that it could be a lot worse. Don Orsillo will never approach greatness, will never be Vin Scully or Mel Allen or Ned Martin or Sean McDonough, but he's safe and competent. Not a ringing endorsement until you think about Chip Caray or Hawk Harrelson in your life for eight months.
3. Jack Edwards (NESN)
Nothing's changed. I'm told he's a very nice guy, and I think he's actually terrific on The Big Show, but I can't shake the idea that I'm watching an act. He's John Sterling, plain and simple. Jack Edwards -- not the Bruins -- is the star of the broadcast, and as a viewer it wears me out. And it's not radio, Jack, feel free to grab some air every 15 minutes or so. For me, just unlistenable because it never feels authentic. It's worked for him -- he's become the voice for all Bruins homers, got a new deal out of the run last year -- and it sure appears I'm alone on this island.
1. Andy Brickley (NESN)
Supporting characters in "The Artist" have more dialogue in one scene than Brickley might have on an entire six-game road trip, but when Edwards does yield the floor he does so to a network-level analyst. Brickley is smart, self-deprecating (an underrated yet almost vital quality to the job), never afraid to criticize the Bruins, quick to the point (though what other choice does he have?) and always relevant. It's a hell of feat to speak (maybe) 20 percent of the time and still save a broadcast, but Brickley pulls it off.
2. Jerry Remy (NESN)
Can still be funny, can still be insightful and is so past the point of being untouchable that he has free rein to say whatever he wants and often does so. Remy will kill an umpire for missing a call that actually helps the Red Sox, which is extraordinarily rare for a local analyst. But he isn't as sharp, focused or energetic as he was even five years ago. Part of it is obviously health-related, but it often feels like Remy is mailing it in. My best guess is that he can stay as long as he wants -- and he's not going anywhere, if only because all of his business interests are so tied to that job -- but in a perfect world I'd like to see Dennis Eckersley at the very least sharing the booth with Orsillo and Remy (though that would mean more of the dreadful Jim Rice in studio with the superb Tom Caron).
3. Tommy Heinsohn (Comcast)
All the referee stuff used to bother me to the point of muting, but I've come to grips with reality. Tommy is Tommy and it's never going to change. The guy will be 78 years old in August -- he's the same age as Gino Cappelletti, but while Gino sounds frail and confused, Tommy is nothing if not robust -- and what you get is as cemented as it gets. And if you can get past the anti-Celtics paranoia and cartoonish homerism, there is always this about Tommy: He's remains as good as anyone at breaking down the game. I'll go back to that same playoff win over the Knicks we talked about earlier. Tommy knew the play the Celtics were going to run for Allen at the end of the game, was correctly blasting Mike D'Antoni for not getting Amar'e Stoudemire shots down the stretch after Stoudemire dominated the game for the first three quarters, also predicted the inbounds alley-oop to Garnett from Rondo on the possession before the Allen 3-pointer. Just sharp stuff, and that's not infrequent but often gets lost in the buffoonery.