The Gold Standard for Play by Play Announcers

We all have our personal opinions of what makes a great play-by-play announcer.

Some people believe if they don’t intrude on the game that means they are doing a good job (similar to offensive lineman). Others have a higher standard, expecting the voice from the booth to grow the game beyond the combatants on the field.

And some just want to be entertained… so they seek out Gus Johnson wherever he is.

Forgetting our personal tastes for a second, I’ve always wanted to know what play-by-play announcers think of each other. To help me with the first leg of this task I sought out veteran NHL and college hockey announcer Doug McLeod to find out his personal holy grail of announcers, and find out what really burns him up.

[bctt tweet=”The Gold Standard for Play by Play Announcers #sportsbiz”]

The Best of the Best in Play by Play

(in no particular order)

best play by play announcer mike doc emrick Mike Emrick

Emrick is the best hockey announcer in the business. He’s also an excellent football announcer, although we rarely get to hear him do it. I like “Doc” because he not only injects infectious enthusiasm into the call but is a master wordsmith. Which makes sense, given that he holds a PhD in English. He is also one of the nicest people in the business.


play by play announcer jon millerJon Miller

I’m a great fan of Jon Miller’s baseball play-by-play. Jon somehow manages to stay very quiet and low-key until the time is right and then explode when the moment calls for it. An excellent storyteller, as a baseball announcer must be.


play by play announcer kevin harlanKevin Harlan

Harlan is another favorite, on both TV and radio. Not every announcer is strong in both media but Kevin excels at basketball, football, pretty much everything I’ve heard. Another literate, yet exciting voice.


play by play announcer joe buckJoe Buck

Buck is, in many ways, the perfect TV baseball announcer. He knows how to let a picture breathe and when to add the description it needs. He doesn’t sound like his old man but who cares? Joe is very much his own talent. Which brings me to…


play by play announcer jack buckJack Buck

Sadly gone now, Jack commanded a terrific baritone voice and had a wonderful mind to go along with it. A true gentleman, too.



play by play announcer vin scullyVin Scully

The King. I’ve hadĀ  the honorĀ of sitting in the booth with Vin during a baseball game as he weaves the story of that game — and many others. As you may know,

Vin doesn’t use a color man. It isn’t a matter of ego, it’s just that no one can touch his marvelous way with words and wonderful recounting of baseball stories.

Very rarely do I turn on a game and say to myself, “Oh, cool — that’s who has the call.” I always do with these guys.

Personal Play by Play Announcer Pet Peeves

I have a long list, this is but a few:

  • Announcers who rarely use players’ first names
  • Homers – I consider a homer as basically a liar, which doesn’t help you at all professionally and harms your credibility when you do commercials
  • Mispronounced names – it is your job to know these details, if you don’t you are failing.
  • Screamers
  • Announcers who never show emotion (come on — it’s a GAME!)
  • Announcers who contribute nothing to the broadcast other than names and descriptions (What’s the importance of this game? Who are the make-or-break players? What’s happened with it recently? What’s up with the other team?)
  • Radio announcers who don’t provide the score and time remaining A LOT. The audience can’t see the clock from their car!

I could go on. Bottom line: be prepared, paint the entire picture, get the facts right.

Who are your favorite play-by-play voices and do you have any pet peeves that drive you nuts?

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for &

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

And if you want to know where our privacy policy is before you submit your comments below, it's right here.


  1. I posted on your ‘5 Athletes You Wished You’d Seen Perform Live’ article and wanted to give you a international flavour again.

    Bill McClaren – was a rugby commentator from Scotland. Known as “The Voice of Rugby”, words just seemed to roll off the tip of his tongue with his fantastic Scottish accent. Here’s a link to some of his work & a documentary is also on this YouTube channel.

    John Motson – an English football (soccer for my American cousins) commentator. Has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game and again words just roll off the tongue with him.

    Murray Walker – “The Voice of Formula 1”. English commentator who is famous for his ‘Go,Go,Go’ quote and was a joy to listen to for his passion as seen in this short clip

    • Andrew – good to see you again! I will watch all of these videos, I am a huge futbol fan and I am familiar with Motson, the other two not so much… so I’ll listen to the youtube clips, thanks for sharing! — Brian

    • Sounds good! Let me know what you think.

  2. Ay, caramba!

    Please tell me you at least considered Andres Cantor… be honest!

    • Hank thanks for writing in – This wasn’t my list this was the list of Doug MacLeod longtime NHL & MLB play by play announcer…but since you told me to be honest, if I was making a list I think Cantor would be in the honorable mentions but not in the top ten. But that’s just me…his goal call is iconic, I just personally think it’s kind of schticky. – Brian

    • Thanks for the honesty! Schticky seems about right, but then again I can’t understand any other word he says. He sure *sounds* like a great play by play announcer… words fire off his tongue like the rounds from Rambo’s M60.

    • Ha! Understanding what is being said is way over-rated. – brian

    • Fred Landis says

      Where do you put Chick Hearn on your list? Talk about somone who does not need a color man. he provides every detail from his days doing the simulcast. Who could ever forget his one liners and metaphors? He and Vinnie were and are the toast of LA and toughest shoes to fill.

    • Fred – thanks for writing in. Chick Hearn was a great play by play guy, always thought he and Stu Lantz made a great team, and I’m a Celtics fan! He did TV like it was radio, like you said probably from his simulcast experience. Very detailed. – Brian

  3. Bob Cole …period end of story oh baby !!

  4. You say you don’t like screamers, yet you put Doc. Do you even watch hockey?

  5. Nothing beats Mike Emrick. I fell in love with hockey because of him! Exciting, emotional, eloquent, exceptional!
    Keith Jackson runs a distant second for college football….period.
    I’m right and anyone who disagrees is wrong!

  6. If I had to pick 3 great announcers, they’d all be NHL. Mike Emrick, Jim Hughson, and the great Gary Thorne.

  7. MY lord……..are there any comments from fans over 55?????