Tigers’ radio team makes it difficult to tune in

Dan Dickerson is the play-by-play radio broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.

Dan Dickerson is the play-by-play radio broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.

I am this close…(imagine thumb and forefinger about an inch apart)…from taking a baseball bat to my car radio.

I’ve been in my car a lot recently and it’s given me the opportunity to listen to Detroit Tigers’ games for a change. As you’ll learn, I mean “opportunity” as in: we have an “opportunity” to get a root canal. It’s like someone’s invading a hole in my head and inflicting pain.

That’s what it’s like to listen to the Detroit radio broadcast team of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price. It’s brutal.

It saddens me to say that because I — like millions of others from Michigan — grew up listening to ballgames on the radio. Ernie & Paul, Paul & Ernie, they were a duo unsurpassed in the game. Ernie Harwell with his gentlemanly southern charm and Paul Carey blessed with a baritone that shook your toes and earned him the nickname “The Voice of God.”

Dickerson and Price sound pleasant enough, it’s not their timbre or any speech impediment that earns them terrible grades. It’s how they do their games and what they say. I confess I never realized how bad our radio team was until I started listening to them more often this season. I’m currently constructing a device that will allow me to strap a 36-inch television on the hood of my Jeep Cherokee to end the nightmare that is listening to Dickerson/Price while on the roadway. Drivers beware, but I feel it’s worth the risk.

Dickerson has a very good voice — it’s commanding and professional. He’s obviously a broadcasting professional based on his delivery. But his game-calling philosophy is annoying and his constant chattering about everything other than what’s happening on the field is infuriating. I mean I’m shaking my fists at the baseball gods out my window here, people.

Those of us who grew up listing to Mr. Harwell were spoiled, and no one is ever going to be as great as Ernie. I don’t expect that. But, there are basic principles in game-calling that Dickerson ignores. On radio it’s important to provide a “reset” frequently to let the listener know the status of the game. For example:

“2-and-2 count on Jackson, Tigers lead 4-3, one out in the sixth with nobody on base.”

That’s a game reset, and we listeners don’t need it every pitch, but we need it every batter. That’s because we can’t SEE the field or a scoreboard when we’re listening on the radio. Apparently Dickerson has not been illuminate don this fact. Though I’m sure he’s a nice man, he’s really ignorant as to what his primary job is as a radio play-by-play man: to tell us the situation and describe the play on the field. Dickerson fails on both counts.

Here’s an actual sequence that occurred in a game broadcast earlier this week:

Dickerson:  Jim, he’s working on that breaking ball and he just can’t seem to find the consistency. Against left-handers he’s falling behind and going deep into counts, it’s a problem that started last season and though he’s had stretches, like an earlier start this season in Cleveland, he can’t seem to figure it out.

Price:  You can see it the second time around the order, and he’s trying to figure it out, has been working with Jonesy in the bullpen between starts, but it’s not there and the numbers show it. He’s not where he’s been in previous seasons. we know he has the power arm, but it’s that art of pitching, we talk about it all the time.

If there’s one thing you need to know about Jim Price, it’s that he loves to talk about “the art of pitching.” I mean he LOVES it. Like polar bears like fresh fish and like hobos like ham sandwiches, Price adores talking about the art of pitching and using the phrase “art of pitching” He often pairs it with the phrase “power arm.”

Okay, so imagine that sequence above and imagine you’re listening to the game. Now extend it about two minutes and consider this: while Dan and Jimmy are playing amateur pitching coach/psychologist, there’s a game going on. I have actually heard Dickerson chatter on and on while two pitches were delivered and he hasn’t told us what the pitches were. He’ll just “catch us up” by suddenly halting his monologue with “2-and-0 on Martinez [if he bothers to tell us who's at the plate at all].”

And that’s the problem with Dickerson, the biggest problem anyway — he thinks his job is to impress us with information about every batter, pitcher, and team — and telling us the game situation and describing what’s happened on the field in any detail, well that’s an interruption of what he thinks he’s supposed to.

When you listen to Dan Dickerson call the Tigers’ game here’s what you get: Dickerson telling you what he knows about baseball while he occasionally interjects the pitches and what happens on the field.

Talk, talk, talk, talk… ohbytheway a home run for Cabrera… talk talk talk. 

To say it’s annoying and frustrating is a major understatement. A typical play-by-play man will announce each batter, usually telling you what they’ve done that game, and then proceed to work you through the at-bat. He will describe the defensive layout and tell you when the pitcher is going to deliver the ball. All of those things help frame the game and convey information, but they also serve to build drama. Dickerson rarely if ever does that.

Dickerson loves to amaze listeners with his knowledge of other teams, even when they aren’t playing the Tigers. During a recent game, Dickerson ran us down the out-of-town scoreboard in the middle of the inning. I think there was a runner on first or a runner on first and second and Max Scherzer was on the mound. Here’s how it went:

Dickerson: The Astros are leading the Rays 2-0 in Tampa. Boy, the Astros, who won all of 51 games last season and have lost 100 games three straight season, they are young, but they have some talent and they have won 34 games already this season. Their pitching staff with those young starters: Keuchel, Cosart, McHugh, they are all in their early 20s, and Houston is getting those kids to learn on the fly in the major leagues. It’s Cosart on the mound tonight.

Mind you, this is only a portion of the long monologue from Dickerson as he careened through the out-of-town scoreboard. I only took notes on some of it. It went on game after game after game, Dickerson droning on about other teams, their recent success/failures, and so on. Meanwhile, back on the baseball field, a baseball game was taking place involving the Detroit Tigers. As the listener, I wasn’t sure who was at the plate facing Scherzer, I knew he had thrown at least one pitch (because I could hear the smack of the mitt), but I had no idea what was happening. The game — which should have been taking center stage — was a sideshow to The Dan Dickerson Baseball Show. Jim Price usually grunts or says deeply meaningful nuggets like “Yes” or “That’s right.”

Anyone who listens to Dickerson for very long will realize that he values his friendships with members of the other team’s media and clubhouses. He frequently sprinkles his broadcast with gems like “While we were in Minnesota, we were told that Kubel has been struggling to get around on the high pitch from lefties.” Understand of course that he usually tells us this when we’re not playing Minnesota.

Price is a former Detroit catcher. We know that because he tells his listeners 4-5 times a game. For a man who played exactly 261 career major league games and never had a full-time job, Price feels his catching exploits are worthy enough to interject them every other inning. Now look, I never played high school baseball. I couldn’t hit the fastball, the curveball, the kickball. So I have nothing on Mr. Price’s athletic accomplishments, and normally I don’t care whether a broadcaster had a long career or a short career or whatever. If he can analyze the game, he can analyze the game and add value to a broadcast. Joe Garagiola was a scrub catcher and Bob Uecker was too, but they were both great broadcasters. No, the annoying thing about Price is that he interjects his catching “wisdom” at the wrong time and rarely tells us anything interesting about playing the game. Even worse, Price feels it’s necessary to make one or two “catcher” jokes each broadcast. Seriously, he does this. For example:

Dickerson: Avila asks home plate umpire Jerry Layne to remove that baseball from the game, he sees something there.

Price: Well, he does, and catchers see it all, Dan. We know the catcher is the smartest player on the field, we know that of course. [continues to expand on this joke until Dickerson fakes a laugh]

Oh yes, Jim. You are a former catcher and when you point out that catchers are smart or strong or important, it’s ironic because you were a catcher! Har har hardy har har.

Oh and another thing about Price that many others have pointed out to me: it frequently sounds as if he’s eating something while he’s broadcasting. I went back and listened to specifically look for this and sure enough he does. It seems like he’s sucking on a Popsicle most of the time, or maybe scarfing down a kielbasa. YUMMMM.

But I could live with Price’s quirks (one last quibble with Jim: he sometimes talks too fast, especially when doing the plugs for sponsors. He fails to use inflection, which results in whateverhessayingjustrunningtogether) if that’s all there was that was wrong with this radio team. There are many “color men” who are strange or unnecessary. But Dickerson’s failings as a play-by-play man are too egregious to pass muster. Here’s another sequence that actually happened in the Texas series:

[There's a runner on base and the Tigers are in a tie game, it's the middle innings but Dickerson doesn't tell us this, because that would be too informative]

Dickerson: There’s a grounder, the throw across and it pulls the first baseman. Martinez is out. No, now he’s being called safe. [LOOOONG PAUSE] That ball was hit to Beltre and he threw the ball high and wide and it was dropped by Pena. Martinez is safe on an error.

What was he watching? How does he not tell us WHERE the groundball was hit immediately, and what happened at first CORRECTLY the first time? It’s radio, you can pause a millisecond and wait to see what the umpire at first calls. Instead, Dickerson just uses his verbal shorthand and fails to call the play correctly the first time. He does this usually once every few games. He actually does.

If I could have a three wishes, I’d use two of them in the typical way (revenge against my enemies and all-encompassing wealth and power), but the third, the third wish, I’d use that to give Dan Dickerson the gift of description. He really has no idea how to describe something in an explicit way, which is really THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF HIS JOB. he’s like pone of those annoying friends who starts conversations in the middle of a story and expects us to understand what the hell he’s talking about.

There’s a drive and he dives and it’s caught out there deep on the warning track. what a play! 

WHERE was that drive and WHO hit it? And WHO caught it WHERE? And HOW many guys were on base?!? And what’s the score?

[Driving off the road into a ditch]

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.