The World Series is in full swing on Fox—and marks October as *the* single-best month of the year to be a sports fan. Sports are everywhere you look on TV these days: The NBA and NHL just got started, the NFL and college football are both chugging along… it’s an embarrassment of riches. (And of couch time.)
Enjoying sports on TV can depend heavily, though, on who’s calling the game. At their worst, sportscasters can actually detract from the games we love with their lame catchphrases and inane observations. But there are still a few heroes out there: sportscasters who not only don’t make us reach for the mute button, but actually add something to the sports-watching experience.
We salute those heroes today with our starting lineup of TV’s best sportscasters: the ones who bring the game to life, who make us feel like we’re a part of the action, like we’re right there on the field… without all the running and sweating, of course.
P: Al Michaels, NBC
Most famous for his call of the United States’ 1980 Olympic hockey upset of the USSR (“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”), Michaels has covered the world of sports for the past 30 years with quiet authority and a sly wit. Now a fixture in the Sunday Night Football booth, he and new co-host Cris Collinsworth make NBC’s broadcast the best-announced game of the week. We like having a wily veteran like Al on the mound.
C: Charles Barkley, TNT
Blessed and cursed with the loosest lips in sportscasting, NBA Hall of Famer Barkley always makes it interesting as co-host of TNT’s Inside the NBA. His harsh commentary and controversial statements often land him (and his network) in hot water… but it’s refreshing to hear a commentator speak with such what-you-gonna-do-about-it candor. We can’t wait to hear him argue balls and strikes with the home plate ump.
1B: Rich Eisen, NFL Network
Eisen cut his teeth as one of the snarky hosts of ESPN’s SportsCenter during its mid-1990s heyday. And now as the face of the six-year-old NFL Network, he brings a welcome bit of humor to the sometimes-too-serious sport of football. His bone-dry wit makes the network’s daily news show NFL Total Access a must-watch for pigskin junkies.
2B: Marv Albert, TNT
Okay, it may be hard to forget what we know about old Marv’s… indiscretions. But the sultan of swish is still one of the best play-by-play guys covering the NBA today. His decades-long passion for the game is infectious, and his trademark “Yessss!” makes even an average regular-season game feel like vintage NBA.
SS: Bob Costas, NBC
With nearly three decades of sports broadcasting under his belt, Costas is like the Forrest Gump of sports: If you look closely during any big sports moment, be it baseball, basketball, football, or the Olympics, you’ll probably see the diminutive Costas lurking in the background. We don’t mind, though: He offers a thoughtful, big-picture perspective on sports, but he’s not above mixing it up with his co-hosts. Sorry, Bob, but we couldn’t resist sticking you at SHORTstop.
3B: Jon Miller, ESPN
Baseball is a peaceful, leisurely sport. (Some might say “boring,” but those people just don’t get it.) And the great baseball announcers know how to fit in with the deliberate pace of the game. Miller’s one of the best at this: His folksy old-country-road drawl recalls the immortal Vin Scully, and makes every game on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball feel like a lazy summer night at the local ballpark.
LF: Mike Emrick, NBC/Versus
After a few years in exile, pro hockey is slowly but surely crawling back into the sports spotlight—and Emrick’s helping it get there. “Doc”’s encyclopedic knowledge of the game is a highlight of the NHL coverage on NBC and Versus, and invites casual hockey fans (i.e. most of us) back into the game. Thanks, Doc: We’re glad to be back.
CF: Jeff Van Gundy, ABC
Former Knicks and Rockets coach Van Gundy transitioned into broadcasting in 2007, and quickly became one of the freshest voices on the NBA landscape. His coach’s eye gives him unmatched insight into the game, and he’s surprisingly funny—you know, for a coach. Van Gundy has expressed a desire to return to coaching… but we think the NBA’s much better off with him in the booth.
RF: Cris Collinsworth, NBC/Showtime
John Madden left some massive shoes to fill when he left NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth this year. But Collinsworth has earned the title of TV’s next gridiron guru. This former Bengals receiver has been one of the sharpest NFL analysts for years on various outlets, including Showtime’s Inside the NFL. And his work in the booth is similarly top-notch: His keen eye for detail gives us the inside perspective of an ex-jock, but he’s not afraid to call out a player on-air for a dumb decision. We don’t know how he does it, but Collinsworth somehow makes watching football even better.
Think our lineup is not fair, but foul? Have a favorite sportscaster we forgot to mention? Kick some dirt on us in the Comments.