You may not know this from reading my writings, but I like sports. I watch lots of sports. I listen to lots of sports. And I have lots of opinions based on what I listen to, and what I watch. If the play-by-play guy and/or the color analyst is really good, I can sit through a bad game and actually enjoy myself. But if the analyst or play-by-play guy stink, a really good game can be ruined.
Now Houston has been home to major league professional sports franchises since 1960. So while the city might not have the sports broadcasting history as places like New York or Chicago, it does have some. For instance, one of the current voices of those great NFL Films highlight packages, Harry Kalas, started by doing play-by-play for the Houston Astros. Jim Nantz of CBS Sports got his start in Houston.
I thought I would take a few minutes to give you what I consider to be the five best sports broadcasters in the history of Houston sports.
5. Ron Franklin started out doing sports at KHOU, and then at KPRC. You may know him now as one of the voices of ESPN’s college football and college basketball broadcasts – one of the better ones, I may add, probably because he never has to work with the likes of Dick Vitale. But more important, he worked in the radio broadcast booth for the Luv Ya Blue Oilers. Franklin’s style was, and is, simple. Give the facts. Don’t embellish. A pro’s pro with a great voice. It’s just a joy to listen to him broadcast a game.
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4. Bill Brown got his start doing baseball for the Cincinnati Reds in the late-1970s. He moved on to a financial news start-up, then had the tough break of being the guy to replace Gene Elston in the Houston Astros broadcast booth in 1987. But Brownie won the city over by not trying to be Elston. He was just Bill Brown, and Bill Brown, who works only television now, doesn’t describe what you can see. He sets the scene. He calls the play, and he does a great job of setting up his analyst. Best of all, he doesn’t treat the viewer like an idiot. And more important, he’s got a quick wit and knows how to improvise, which is important when analyst Jim Deshaies gets off on some tangent. They don’t get much better than Bill Brown, and luckily, we’ve got him here in Houston.
3. Jim Deshaies was in the baseball record books for a while because of his striking out the first eight batters in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1986. He was the fourth starter on the 1986 Astros playoff team. When Larry Dierker moved from the broadcast booth to the dugout in 1997, Deshaies came into replace him. Things were a bit tough for Deshaies that first year as he didn’t really seem to mesh with lead broadcaster Milo Hamilton. But when Deshaies did the television games with Bill Brown, you could just see the potential. Deshaies moved to television only the next season and he and Brown have been a great team ever since. Deshaies’ trick is simple: you’re a guest at his house, and you’re both watching the game, and he wants to make sure you have a good time. He’ll tell you why Wandy’s breaking pitches aren’t breaking, but if things get out of hand, he’ll go off on a tangent about Mr. Greenjeans, but, somehow, he’ll tie it all into the game you’re watching.
2. Larry Dierker is perhaps, more than any other person, the face of the Houston Astros. He was an Astros ace for over a decade. He worked in ticket sales for a year after retirement. Then he moved into the broadcast in time for the Astros to become good enough to become an actual contender. Dierker has an encyclopedic memory about baseball, and he could come up with a stat or a story off of the top of his head. Dierker loved the game, and he loved his job. He moved down to the dugout to manage for five years, then moved back up to the television booth for a while after that. He probably knows more about baseball than anybody out there, and the Astros really need to put him back on the air.
1. Gene Elston was the original voice of the Houston Astros, and he was the voice for 25 years until he was fired by John McMullen following the 1986 season. Elston was a disciple of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. He spoke in short sentences. He painted beautiful mind pictures. He didn’t shout. He wasn’t a homer. You always knew the score. You always knew the number of outs and the ball/strike count. Elston also understood the difference between television and radio. He knew that you had to talk more on radio, but that on television, the picture would show more than he could ever say, so often, after a great play, he would just shut up and let the crowd and the pictures tell the story. Astros baseball on the radio and television has never recovered from his dismissal, and we are all the poorer because of it. – John Royal