Longtime sports broadcaster Dick Enberg has reunited with his first love this year: baseball play-by-play. Enberg, 75, accepted a multiyear offer to become the San Diego Padres' full-time TV voice for Cox Communications Channel 4. He is the Padres' point man home and away for 109 games, calling all nine innings with analysts Mark Grant or Tony Gwynn, with pauses only for network TV tennis duty at Wimbledon and the upcoming U.S. Open.
Enberg, who has lived in the San Diego area since 1983, became a fixture to Southern California sports fans in the 1960s and '70s as the radio voice of Angels baseball and Rams football, and the late-night TV voice of UCLA basketball. His national profile skyrocketed when he called the historic 1968 UCLA-Houston game in the Astrodome, when No. 2 Houston upset the defending champion and No. 1-ranked Bruins in front of a record crowd of 52,693, then the largest crowd to see a college basketball game.
He was hired by NBC Sports in 1975 and spent 25 years covering college basketball as part of a popular trio with Al McGuire and Billy Packer, plus the NFL (seven Super Bowls), college football (eight Rose Bowls), Major League Baseball, the NBA, golf, boxing, horse racing and the Olympics. Enberg also was host of the syndicated game show "Sports Challenge."
He joined CBS 10 years ago and ESPN in 2004, handling tennis and college basketball. Because of his new baseball commitment, Enberg called his last college basketball game for CBS in the 2010 NCAA tournament. Enberg has won 13 Emmy Awards, is a nine-time National Sportscaster of the Year and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Always a teacher at heart, he earned a doctorate from Indiana in health education, and he served as a professor and assistant baseball coach at Cal State Northridge (then San Fernando Valley State College) in the early 1960s.
Enberg sat down at the Padres' team hotel in Pasadena this week to discuss his career with former Times staff writer Jeff Fellenzer, now an adjunct professor teaching "Sports, Business, Media" at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
What made you want to return to baseball at age 75, working a full schedule of games?
The opportunity. Baseball is the best announcer game, the game that I first enjoyed playing, and the game I had a passion for. I enjoyed my time thoroughly with the Angels, even though many of those seasons weren't very exciting and they rarely had a winning team. But I've been a fan all my life, and living in San Diego for half of my adult life, I would watch as many Padre games as I could. When baseball season came along, I was a Padre fan. It was my connection to the game I love. There were times through the various ownerships, we had what I would call flirtations. But it just seemed totally impossible for me to give up all of my network responsibilities to do baseball — for 200 days a year, counting spring training. As much as I love calling baseball games, I didn't see it. But I've never lost my lust for the game. When the new ownership of the Padres, with [Chief Executive] Jeff Moorad and [President/Chief Operating Officer] Tom Garfinkel, came into power last year, they wanted to make some changes. Tom came to meet me and within 10 minutes asked whether I'd ever come back and do baseball again. I gave him the same answer I gave 25 years ago, "Yeah, someday, maybe I'd like to finish it up and do baseball again." But he came well prepared, already had some ideas in mind, and he didn't want to take me away from doing Wimbledon. Now, that sounded a little more serious.
Did you ever consider a return to the Angels, where you worked from 1969 to 1978?
As much as I loved doing the Angels — and Gene Autry hired me to do 40 games during the 25th anniversary season in 1985 — the distance between San Diego and Anaheim made it difficult. The only possibility for me to return to baseball was in my hometown. I love San Diego; it's a wonderful city. I'm a sports ambassador to the city, not only reporting the team's progress and the games, but within those telecasts I like being able to incorporate little nuggets about our city that reflect our concern, our interest, our humor, our history. The other day, there was an item in the paper that it had been the coldest July in San Diego in 77 years. We had only four sunny days in all of July. But here was a beautiful, sunny Sunday, the first day of August, and it was easy to segue in and out of that item during the broadcast. I can ball-and-strike it, and 6-4-3, but ultimately it's painting this entire canvas, not only about the team and the individuals involved, but telling the story of our city. The advantage of being in San Diego over, let's say, Anaheim or Los Angeles, you can still get your arms around our city. It's small enough that it doesn't overwhelm you by its size.
Why the full schedule of games this season and not a part-time arrangement?