Daily Herald
Nothing but A's, B's for our baseball announcers
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 9/25/2008 3:57 PM

Being still bullish on the White Sox, I have to insist, why shouldn't the best baseball summer ever in Chicago produce the highest grades ever for our baseball announcers?

I'm throwing out the grading curve at the end of this glorious baseball summer, and I make no apology for that.

It's got to be easier to broadcast a winning team's games than to make a loser seem interesting - whether the winning is expected or, better yet, a surprise - and our local TV and radio crews benefited from that.

Almost to a person, these crews sounded better than ever. Although the possibility still exists for an implosion on the South Side this weekend, for the season as a whole I'm showering out the A's and B's.

Great job, class. So without further ado:

Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, Cubs, WGN Channel 9, WCIU Channel 26, Comcast SportsNet Chicago: They just keep getting better. Kasper has settled in for what looks like a long career culminating with the Ford Frick Award along about the year 2040. Brenly has grown more offhand in his humor and observant in his insights, and as an ex-catcher has been a key to appreciating the play of Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto.

I have only one bit of advice to Kasper: Don't read anyone's advice, not in newspapers nor in blogs. I've heard some people complain about him not being passionate enough - ridiculous - so that I think he overcompensates sometimes, as with his slightly over-the-top call of Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter. Simply trust yourself, be genuine and rock on. Grade: A

Pat Hughes and Ron Santo, Cubs, WGN 720-AM: I have to admit, Sunday's game, after Saturday's clincher, was a joy to listen to. It was Pat & Ron in afterglow, as if lounging in the easy, effortless, whimsical, wacky mode of losing years past.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not sure that isn't them at their best. The stress of winning - and of having actual competitive baseball to analyze - sometimes seems to weigh on Santo. But for pitch-perfect calls, check out Hughes on both Zambrano's no-hitter and Saturday's clincher, both of which were punctuated by Santo shouting "Yes!" in way that seemed to go beyond language to some sort of transcendent speaking in baseball tongues. Grade: A-

Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and Darrin Jackson, White Sox, Channel 9, Channel 26, CSNC: Dan Bernstein calls this team "bipolar" for the way Hawk reflects the Sox' fortunes from moment to moment, and rightfully so. Hawk is Santo with a Southern flair for language. Yet Hawk never went into a sustained funk and left DJ high and dry, as sometimes occurred in lean years.

The Sox were competitive throughout, Hawk was involved if sometimes morose and DJ was more informed than ever. As I wrote last week, they've developed into a very fine duo over the years, and as much as I welcome Steve Stone's return to TV, I'll be sorry in a way to see Hawk and DJ split up. Grade: A-

Steve Stone and Ed Farmer, WSCR 670-AM: As I've written already, Stone made Farmer focus, got him to concentrate on the pitching and really made him a serviceable play-by-play man. Witness their barely veiled disgust over Javier Vazquez's performance Tuesday night. Because of his Evergreen Park monotone and lack of verbal elegance - the very qualities that make him such a South Side staple - Farmer will never be great at describing the game. But this year he was good enough, and there were times - I'm thinking of one afternoon when Ozzie Guillen was spoiling for a fight with the home-plate ump and Farmer was calling it like a heavyweight bout - when he actually built up the drama in a tangible way. As for Stone, he remains head of the class, even teamed with this lab partner. Grade: B+

With the Sox making changes, I'm going to be sorry to see this class go. They got the best out of their abilities - and out of their teams. They helped make this the best baseball summer ever.

In the air

Remotely interesting: The first round of the baseball playoffs next week will be carried on TBS and will not air on any local broadcast outlets. Same goes for the American League championship series, carried this year on TBS. Fox WFLD Channel 32 will air the National League championship series and, of course, the World Series.

WGN Channel 9 celebrates the end of the baseball season with the overview "Cubs and Sox: All Access" at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by "All-Time Chicago Team" at 2. ... Comcast SportsNet Chicago plans a "Windy City Playoff Preview" - and let's make that a double, shall we? - with hosts Pat Boyle and Mark Schanowski and analysts Bill Melton and Dan Plesac at 7 p.m. Monday. Charlie Schumacher is joining CSNC as senior news director, leaving Channel 9 where he was assistant news director. He replaces Joe Riley, who recently left for the Golf Channel.

End of the dial: Don't forget to vote daily for the Ford C. Frick Award finalists at baseballhall.org. Pat Hughes of WGN 720-AM and Steve Stone of WSCR 670-AM are my picks to click, but the Score's Ed Farmer, Sox TV play-by-play man Ken Harrelson and, of course, Ron Santo are also on the ballot.

This week's Sports Illustrated has a cover story on the Cubs by the great Gary Smith, but it might just be the worst thing he's ever written, trafficking in every bubbleheaded, hedonistic cliché about Cubs fans.

tcox@dailyherald.com