This Fourth of July week, I wanted to bring some nationalism to the column, yet maintain its local flavor, so I thought it would be fun to honor our favorite broadcasters with a national monument.
If there were a Mount Rushmore of Chicago TV sports broadcasters, who would be on it?
Talk about a loaded question. Fans are passionate about the games they watch and the announcers they hear. This is bound to stir emotions. So let’s set some ground rules.
I’ve chosen TV broadcasters because TV is still the most popular medium. I could listen to Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes all day, but with all due respect, he’s not on this list.
My criteria are open-ended yet obvious: A broadcaster had to (a) be good at his job and (b) have a profound and lasting effect on the team’s fan base. There’s no need for further definition other than to say you know it when you hear it.
Finally, I mean no disrespect to those who aren’t on this list. This is all in good fun. And your list might be completely different. Please feel free to share it with me, and I’ll follow up with a compilation of your reactions.
Plus, this could be the perfect lead-in to another form of recognition. Imagine a “Mount Hushmore,” where the broadcasters wouldn’t be quite as revered.
Until then, let’s focus on our favorites. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were great and all, but these four men deserve a monument of their own:
He doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. The “Hey hey” signs on the Wrigley Field foul poles and the bust in front of Tribune Tower don’t do him justice. The man deserves his own wing in a museum for all the broadcasting he did. For WGN-TV, he called Cubs games from 1948 — when Ch. 9 went on the air — to 1981, and White Sox games during the same seasons until 1967. He called Bulls games for the station from 1966 to ’73. He also was the voice of the Bears on WGN Radio from 1953 to ’77. He called boxing, wrestling and college sports. Brickhouse was a pioneer, and there’s no debating his place here.
The Will Ferrell/Ryan Dempster parodies of him make me angry. They have never accurately represented what he was all about. He was the voice of the fan, and he told it like he saw it. Granted, he was better at his job with the Cardinals (1945-69) and White Sox (1971-81). Once he became too big for the Sox’ taste, he went to the Cubs (1982-97), and his persona only grew. So did the fan base, largely because of him (and cable TV). His sharpness faded, but his enthusiasm, humor and passion made every Cubs game exciting. They can stop the guest conductors for the seventh-inning stretch. Just let Harry sing forever.
Hawk is in his last season in the booth after starting with the Sox in 1982 and staying on for good in 1990. He’ll be remembered for his catchphrases, personality and over-the-top homerism. But it all works, especially for a team that can’t emerge from the Cubs’ shadow. Hawk’s rants are legendary, whether it was about an umpire (“What are you doing, Brian Gorman?” was a good one in 2005) or a villainous foe (former Brewers manager Phil Garner, for example). He’s opinionated, old-school and a joy to listen to. And he’s synonymous with the Sox, a true measure of a broadcaster’s reach.
My heart wants to put Pat Foley here, but my head says even Foley would defer to Pettit. He called Blackhawks games on WGN-TV from 1961 to ’75, in addition to Cubs and White Sox games. By all accounts, he was an outstanding broadcaster, and he had a big influence on Foley. Pettit’s trademark “A shot and a goal!” was akin to Brickhouse’s “Hey hey!” and Harry’s “Holy cow!” In fact, it became part of the lyrics to “Here Come the Hawks.” Some say his best work was calling Hawks home games on the radio, where he painted a picture in the minds of listeners and stirred their emotions with the tone of his voice.
The next four
These men just miss making the mountain, but they’re worthy of the most honorable of mentions.
Jim Durham: The first — and the best — basketball voice I listened to. I still hear “Rimming, no” and “He shoots the silencer” when I watch a game. He passed away too soon, at 65 in 2012.
Pat Foley: He’s my personal favorite. At his best, words roll off his tongue so smoothly you’d think he was reading a script. And that’s no easy task when the sport is hockey.
Wayne Larrivee: I can include him because of his TV work for the Bulls and Cubs, but he was fantastic calling Bears games. I listen to the Packers sometimes just to hear him.
Steve Stone: How often has he predicted the future analyzing a baseball game? Cubs games with him and Harry were the best. It’s wonderful he was able to stay in town with the Sox.