Dog days of August means sports on the radio and Mr. Spevak’s favorite announcers

Jerry Howorth, outgoing announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jerry Howorth, outgoing announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays. thevarsity.ca

In the heat of August, while I do chores outside, I like to distract myself by listening to engaging personalities on the radio, especially if baseball is involved. For anyone who can relate to that kind of diversion, I have a recommendation and a commendation.

I recommend a book by Toronto baseball announcer Jerry Howarth, and I commend the career of San Francisco sports talk host Gary Radnich.

Both Howarth and Radnich recently retired. Howarth left the radio play-by-play broadcast booth in 2017, after 36 years of announcing Toronto Blue Jays games. Radnich left San Francisco KNBR several weeks ago after hosting sports talk shows with that radio station for more than 25 years.

Howarth retired because he didn’t think his voice was as strong as it used to be, strong enough to do a thoroughly professional job. Radnich, as I see it, was pushed into retirement by his station’s corporate bosses.

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

Both Howarth and Radnich have approaches that put sports into their appropriate perspective — games played by flesh-and-blood people to provide fun and entertainment to others.

Howarth wrote a book about his life as a baseball announcer published earlier this year. “Hello, Friends” is, as the subtitle describes it, a collection of stories from Jerry’s life in baseball. I recommend it to anyone who appreciates the game of baseball, professional broadcasting or simply a good read.

I can refer to Howarth by his first name because I’m a longtime friend of his. Jerry courted and then married the college roommate of Susan Standring (who later became Mrs. John Spevak). I think I would appreciate this book just as much if I hadn’t known him personally.

Jerry’s book is filled with entertaining short baseball stories about players and teams he has known well. He provides an insider’s look at the people who played the game, their personalities and their eccentricities.

Even more than Jerry’s baseball stories, I enjoyed reading about his approach to the game. He writes, for example, “I feel great pride in being the Blue Jays announcer while still maintaining my objectivity in highlighting the game itself. That means calling spectacular plays made by both teams.”

Jerry takes his work seriously. He prepares thoroughly before each game, not only by reading articles and statistics but by talking personally with players, coaches and managers. During the game he translates this preparation into not just accurate but vivid announcing.

“It is paramount to the radio audience,” he writes, for announcers to “paint a picture with words each night so that the audience can see the game in their own mind and feel like they are right there at the ballpark, just by listening.” He also interjects stories about the players and their lives, so his audience can feel as though they know, almost intimately, the people playing the game.

That is the wonder of listing to baseball on the radio, and Jerry shares that approach with great announcers like Jon Miller, Jack Quinlan and Vince Scully. Today, however, I fear that baseball announcing emphasizes too many of the impersonal aspects of the game, including an over-reliance on too many arcane statistics. Baseball is played by people, not robots.

In his book Jerry also talks about the path that led him to baseball announcing, beginning with playing high school sports in the Bay Area and attending college in Santa Clara, then going on to law school in San Francisco, where he met his wife Mary in the law library. Mary has supported Jerry throughout his life while he recognized and then followed his dream to be a major league baseball announcer.

I don’t know Gary Radnich personally, but I feel as though I did. Radnich wasn’t a play-by-play announcer, but he hosted a sports talk show for many years with such an engaging personality that I felt he was a friend.

What made him so appealing to me was his perspective that baseball and other sports are not life-and-death activities but games played by grown-up boys. He didn’t take sports as seriously as so many broadcasters do. Radnich warmly invited listeners to call in, but during their conversations he might ask just as well ask them about their favorite musician as their favorite ballplayer.

Radnich made talking about sports fun. I laughed more listening to him than to any other radio or TV personality, sometimes chuckling, sometimes laughing out loud. I made it a point, when I could, to tune into his show each day.

He’s been replaced by another host who hardly ever laughs and seems to take sports as seriously as politics or religion, which is what the corporation that runs KNBR thinks listeners want. Maybe some do, but I don’t.

I miss Gary and I’ll reminisce often about Jerry, thanks to his book, as I continue to enjoy baseball (and other sports) for the fun of it.

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com.