Compiling a list of the 10 greatest moments in baseball broadcasting on TV is preposterous, presumptuous and of questionable journalistic merit. But those are only some of the reasons for doing it.
The biggest is it's fun. And nobody can call up later and say, "Hey, buddy, you were wrong about number seven." This is an exercise in subjectivity. Right and wrong are out the window.
Some of the entries reflect nothing but my own prejudice. But to give this poll a veneer of respectability, we asked some of television's best broadcasters for their ideas, too. What follows is a collection of baseball broadcast memories, in no particular order:
1. Dodger Kirk Gibson's bottom-of-the-9th homer to win the first game of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland A's tops everyone's list. It should. Consider how the stage was set. For most of the game, the injured Gibson is nowhere to be seen, not even on the bench. Then he's on the bench. Then out he comes with a bat and the crowd stirs. He hobbles to the plate and swings on one leg at fastballs he obviously can't handle, against Dennis Eckersley, the game's best reliever. Then he catches a slider and lofts it into the seats.
Broadcaster Vin Scully calls it the most theatrical home run he's ever seen. "An English writer, Bernard Darwin, talked about the back of the beyond," says Scully. "That's where Gibson came from to hit that homer, the back of the beyond."
2. The Bill Buckner Incident in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series only proves the age-old axiom that one viewer's great moment is another's root canal.
Red Sox fans will never forget the sight of Buckner bending his arthritic body trying to snare Mookie Wilson's grounder. The Sox were one out away from their first Series win since 1918 and, as it has so often in the past, victory simply rolled away. The New York Mets won the game, and later the Series.
"It was more than exciting; it was astonishing," says NBC's Bob Costas, who was watching from the Boston clubhouse. "Even someone who wasn't rooting for either team could feel excitement for the Mets and pain for the Red Sox."
3. Sometimes small moments can be great, too. NBC's Marv Albert was on the field after the same game, waiting to interview Ray Knight, who scored the winning run.
The field was pandemonium. Knight's wife, pro golfer Nancy Lopez, was standing to one side, crying. Seconds before air time, Knight leaned to Albert and said, "Hold me up, I feel like I'm going to faint."
Says Albert, "Knight was so shaken by the excitement that I literally had to hold him up during the interview."
4. Another epic Red Sox moment was Carlton Fisk's homer in the 12th inning of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
But just as astonishing was NBC's reaction shot, showing Fisk bunny-hopping down the first-base line, using body English to keep the ball fair. Costas says that bit of film was significant in broadcasting history because it changed the way directors shoot dramatic events.
"After that it became standard procedure to cut to homers and big moments that way-with the reaction shot of the batter, cutting to the pitcher as he follows the ball, showing the dugout reaction," says Costas. "Remember the shots of Lasorda after Kirk Gibson's homer? All that started with Fisk."
5. For broadcaster Harry Caray, greatness usually involves his beloved Cubs. So it figures that Caray's great moments are 1984 and 1989, when the Cubs won the National League East. Both years Chicago was eliminated in the playoffs.
"That's the closest the Cubs have come to winning a pennant in 46 years," bellows the irrepressible Caray. "That's pretty special, don't you think?" If Harry says it's so, it's so.
6. When stacked against home runs, pitching performances usually are a distant second for fans. But two in particular are unforgettable. The first is Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 Series. Sure, the film is black and white, and grainy, and the players seem tiny and far away, but as Caray says, "Pitching a perfect game in the Series is the most impossible feat in baseball." Scully agrees.
7. Another is Bob Gibson's 17 strikeouts in the first game of the 1968 World Series against Detroit. The Cardinals' right-hander finished the season with a phenomenal 1.12 ERA, yet that accomplishment was overshadowed by Tiger pitcher Denny McLain's 31 wins.
Gibson's performance, which was against McLain, was a statement. Mets broadcaster Tim McCarver, who played for the Carndinals in that game, calls it the most exciting game he has ever seen or broadcast. "Gibson was simply incredible," says McCarver.
8. The name Reggie Jackson must appear here. But not for his three-homer game for the Yankees in the 1977 Series. A more satisfying Jackson moment came in the 1978 Series, when Dodger pitcher Bob Welch struck him out to end the second game.