Analysis of the Mets announcers: The historical edition

The following article is the final part of a three-part series analyzing the Mets announcers, and is a joint effort by Charlie Hangley, Jim O’Malley and myself.  The sections on Tim McCarver and Ralph Kiner were written by Jim, Charlie contributed the parts about Lindsey Nelson, Steve Albert, Steve LaMarr and Lorn Brown.  I wrote the sections on Bob Murphy and Fran Healey.  I also compiled all of the contributions and edited them together.  For the other articles in this series click here and here.

You could not have grown up a baseball fan on Long Island and not known that Channel 11 belonged to the Yankees and Channel 9 belonged to the Mets.  Phil Rizzuto belonged to the Yankees but Ralph Kiner belonged to the Mets.

Teamed up with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, he’s been with the Mets since the beginning.  He always had a story about one of the game’s greats and could always put something that was happening in the game you were watching into historical perspective.  He taught us Baseball History.  It really didn’t matter that sometimes he wouldn’t get the new player’s name right.  He knew who had done it before: Minnie Minoso or Hoyt Wilhelm. After a while, these players were part of what you knew about the game too.

His signature phrase when a homerun was hit was “Going, going, gone…goodbye!”.  When the Mets won, he’d return for the post-game show called “Kiner’s Korner”.  And we’d watch the “happy recap”.  It didn’t matter that sometimes he wouldn’t get his thought completely out.  He didn’t work off a script; he would just read his scorecard and talk about the game.

Even though I only was able to listen to Bob Murphy call Mets games on WFAN for the final three years of his career, he is the reason why I am pursuing a career in sports broadcasting.  The combination of Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen was perhaps the best announcer duo in the major leagues.  Murphy’s smooth and easy delivery and seemingly infinite knowledge of the Mets made even the most mundane games seem important and compelling.  For an 8-year-old me, there was no greater pleasure than turning the radio on in my room to stealthily listen to Murphy call the last few innings of a game after my bed time.

Lindsey Nelson, the third member of the original Mets broadcasting team, was more than a collection of loud sport coats.  Lindsey was a pro’s pro.  He was hired as the “national” (i.e. “recognizable”) voice the Mets needed, to go with the baseball-centric Bob Murphy and requisite ex-jock Ralph Kiner.  Nelson had a distinctive voice and was familiar to anyone who ever listened to or watched a Cotton Bowl game in the 50’s & 60’s.  He was hard-working, researching his subjects thoroughly and embracing every assignment as the privilege it was to be calling it.  Most would say that THE distinctive voice of the Mets belonged to Murphy.  You won’t get an argument from me, but for the first 17 seasons of the Mets’ existence (1962-78), the Mets’ ID was Lindsey Nelson.

Lindsey left the Mets at about the same time everybody else — Tom Seaver, Dave Kingman, Rusty Staub, most of their fans — did, taking over the play-by-play of the San Francisco Giants.  His replacement was a junior member of the broadcasting Royal Family, Steve Albert.  Albert was eager, excitable and tried to be clever.  It didn’t really work:  I found him to be mostly annoying during his four seasons behind the mic, his voice and inflections were a pale imitation of big brother Marv.

At about this time, the decision was made to move Murphy to the radio side full-time and pair him with Steve LaMarr, whose tenure I enjoyed immensely.  His voice was kind of a lower case Vin Scully, his delivery just as smooth.  I could never understand why they didn’t hang onto him.  Meanwhile, joining Kiner on the TV side was the clueless Lorn Brown.  The running joke in ’82 went something like this:  “The answer is ‘ball 3.’  What’s the question?”  “What — according to Lorn Brown — do you call a ball in the dirt on a 1-2 pitch?”  That should be all you need to know about the egregious Mr. Brown.

Luckily for the fans, Brown did not last long in this role.

Tim McCarver came to the Mets just as they were re-emerging as a power house team in the eighties.  His distinctive diagnosis of the game and precise descriptions of what a player or manager was attempting to do was an education in itself.  He spoke to us about the inside game.  What was Davey Johnson trying to do?  Why was Keith Hernandez positioning himself there? Why was Gary Carter calling for a specific series of pitches?  He didn’t just call the players, he tried to tell you why something was going to happen next because of what happened before.

Couple all this with some excruciatingly bad puns and you get a distinctive personality.  An example was how he explained how the shortstop and the second baseman were communicating to each other if the runner at first attempted to steal: if Wally Backman formed and “o” with this mouth and that meant Rafael Santana “you” covered the bag and if Backman closed his lips that meant that he “me” would cover the bag.  From that point on, you could watch them and know what was going to happen.

Sometimes he might have gone on a bit too long but because the Mets were so good, it didn’t matter too much.  He was explaining how some of the best players in the game were playing the game.

A year after McCarver joined the Mets announcing crew, Fran Healy began his 21-year tenure as a color commentator.  How he lasted that long, I will never know.  His coarse, froggy voice led one commenter on Ultimate Mets Database to say, “Not only is he the worst announcer in Mets history, he may be the worst in baseball history. His voice has the effect of a fork on a chalkboard, only sometimes it is a lot worse.”  While that may be a bit harsh, Healy was almost universally hated by the fan base, and rarely – if ever – offered actually intelligent analysis of what was going on.

In a moment that perfectly summed up his abilities as a commentator, he once suggested that if there was nobody covering second base on a steal attempt, that the catcher should throw the ball into centerfield.  The only entertaining part about Healy was the obvious tension between him and Keith Hernandez in the waning years of Healy’s employment with the Mets.  Luckily for the eardrums, and sanity, of Mets fans everywhere, Healy was not brought over to SNY, where the Mets’ crew of Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Hernandez has blossomed into one of the best in the bigs.

Follow Joe Vasile on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and Charlie Hangley at @CharlieHangley.

8 comments for “Analysis of the Mets announcers: The historical edition

  1. March 25, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Healy’s most famous call is probably also his most unfortunate. During the game on September 21, 2001 — the first sporting event held in New York City after the 9/11 tragedy — Mike Piazza hit a go-ahead, 2-run homer vs. the Braves. On an already emotional night, the packed house went nuts. Healy’s call? “Shea Stadium just EXPLODED!” Oy…

    • Joe Vasile
      March 25, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      That is a poor choice of words if I’ve ever heard one. If you go to the Ultimate Mets Database page for Fran Healy and read the comments, there’s some real gems in there.

  2. kjs
    March 25, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Nelson was so cool. My friend and I snuck into the press area/broadcast booth at Shea at about 1130 am andfelt we achieved nirvanna. In comes Lindsey Nelson, early for work on a Sunday. He gave a wry smile and said, “Hello, Boys,”both stern and affectionate. Red-faced, but in awe, we backed out. Take me back to youth, hope, and when we reigned! Miss you, Mister Nelson…and the whole great tv radiocrew back then.

    • Joe Vasile
      March 25, 2013 at 11:44 pm

      How on earth did you sneak into the press area at Shea?

      • kjs
        March 26, 2013 at 10:16 pm

        Who knows. It was 1970. We were 11 and 12. It was a different world then. So diffferent that at 53 I feel obsolete. And of course, rue the Mets under the Wilpons.

  3. March 26, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Lorn Brown had to be the worst announcer Mets ever had followed by Fran Healy. I still think Gary Cohen should be doing radio and Howie Rose should be doing TV. We still have the best radio and tv crews in baseball.

    • kjs
      March 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      The chemistry of GKR keep the tv ratings going. I wartch just bfor them in sordid losses…

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