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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Broadcast News: Southside Style
by Hal Vickery

Odds and ends, bits and pieces….

● Another long week of winter has passed. The bad news is that pitchers and catchers haven’t reported yet. The good news is that the various MLB clubs have begun shipping their equipment to Florida and Arizona in anticipation of that glorious day when spring training begins.

We can only hope that the weather in Tucson is a lot better than it has been here. Road crews around northern Illinois are reporting that their salt is running low. This is not very heartening, but it is understandable since many cities and towns in this part of the state are reporting that snow for the season is approaching record levels.

Our gutters were a victim of the last snow and ice event. The snow on the roof of our house hung over them. When it fell off or evaporated, the gutters were all bent out of whack. If baseball doesn’t begin soon, that may not be the only thing that ends up being out of whack. Can you say cabin fever?

● It’s hard to believe that opening day is only a month-and-a-half away, especially when the temperature outside your house is 0°F. The way this winter has been, perhaps those attending opening day should come wearing parkas and show shoes. If the weather is too cold, perhaps the Sox could turn the hoses on the aisles in the stands. The water would freeze, and people could ski. The upper deck could be used for ski jumping. Are you reading this Brooks?

● The Sox announced this past week that Ken “Hawk” Harrelson had signed on to remain as the Sox television play-by-play announcer through 2011. That’s another three years of Hawkisms, which in my view is not a bad thing. Overall, I like Hawk’s play-by-play. You have to admit, like him or not, he’s colorful…at least when the Sox are winning. Unfortunately when they are having a bad season, it’s another story. Last year, watching games was almost unbearable.

As it turned out, the pairing of Hawk with Steve Stone for a few games turned out to be inspired. Some people complain about Stone’s sing-song delivery, but if you get beyond that and listen to his analysis, you quickly find out he’s the best in the business. His ability to predict what pitchers or batters is uncanny. Stone is obviously a student of the game. He knows what he’s talking about.

Unfortunately I doubt that Stone will ever get the TV analyst’s seat. For whatever reason the Sox just don’t seem to care about the quality of their broadcast teams. I don’t know what it is about Hawk, but he makes Darrin Jackson worse in the booth, as anyone who has heard DJ when he was doing the Game of the Week for Fox can attest. He sounded like a different broadcaster.

● The truly terrible part of the Sox broadcasting package, though isn’t TV. It’s the radio side that is in urgent need of a transfusion. People complain about Chris Singleton…a lot. So do I. However, people who have heard Singleton conduct an interview, as he has done a couple of times, at Windy City Sox Fans luncheons, can attest that when you get him talking baseball, he is very knowledgeable. A couple of years ago when he interviewed Ozzie Guillen at a luncheon, I was taken aback. He didn’t sound like the same guy who made me wince every time he opened his mouth on The Score’s broadcasts.

It has become quite apparent that the problem in the radio booth isn’t Singleton. The problem is Ed Farmer. He may be the worst play-by-play announcer I’ve ever heard. I used to enjoy his game analysis when he worked with John Rooney, even though in terms of delivery Farmer has even more of a monotone than Steve Stone.

As a play-by-play announcer, though, Farmer apparently never read the book. There are lapses where the listener has no idea what is going on in the game. He rarely gives the score. A batter can go from stepping to the plate to a 3-2 count while Farmer is talking about his latest round of golf. If the sign of a good radio broadcaster is his ability to paint a picture of the game, one can only describes the picture Farmer paints as abstract art.

● Which leads me to “the one that got away.” Actually the Sox didn’t let him get away. He just found a better job a year before John Rooney decided to move to St. Louis. I’m talking about Dave Wills, currently one of the play-by-play announcers for the newly renamed Tampa Bay Rays.

Wills made a name for himself in Chicago as the host of the Sox pre-game and post-game shows when they were on ESPN-1000. He took no nonsense from the callers, and he wore his disdain for the Chicago Cute and Cuddlies and “The Shrine” on his sleeve. These are always good attributes for a person to endear himself to Sox fans.

This was no act. Wills grew up in Oak Lawn and has been a Sox fan all his life. I first encountered Wills when he was doing play-by-play for the Kane County Cougars. He was good even then. He was good enough to do play-by-play for the Sox on weekends in the ‘90s when John Rooney had a commitment to do Fox’s Game of the Week.

I’ve tried to catch several Devil Rays broadcasts over the past few years to keep up with Wills. He’s good. He’s very good. He’s certainly better than Ed Farmer. Obviously nothing can be done for the 2008 season, but when the season is over, the Sox need to cut their losses and get a play-by-play guy who knows what he’s doing. It has become painfully obvious that Farmer doesn’t.

We can only hope that Farmer realizes this. I wouldn’t mind seeing him back doing analysis, assuming his ego can take the “demotion.” If he won’t do it, I’d even give Singleton a chance, as long as he’s working with somebody like Wills, who knows what he’s doing.

Wills has served a very nice apprenticeship with the Rays. The 2009 season is the time he should be offered the job that he is a natural for, radio play-by-play for the Sox.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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