Calling a horse race is the trickiest form of the sports-announcing art. If you doubt that, ask Bud Greenspan, author of this week's recapitulation (page 40) of Clem McCarthy's famous Preakness blooper of 1947, who has daydreamed about race announcing, and Chick Anderson, the CBS sports broadcaster, who has done it. Both are experts on McCarthy's dilemma.
Greenspan, who for years broadcast sports on radio, has never called a horse race, though he spent many a frustrating evening at Yonkers (N.Y.) Raceway, practicing and waiting to step into the breech for WHN's regular caller, Marty Glickman. He never did. Today Greenspan makes his own sports documentaries.
Anderson, the CBS announcer at Triple Crown races for the last three years, is the successor to McCarthy as the best-known race broadcaster in America. When he was asked what makes the calling of a horse race such a vexatious task, he said, "Other announcers have spotters and color men to help, but the race announcer is all alone." He added, questionably: "And horse racing is the fastest sport in the world.
"I've made errors," he concedes, "but never in a big race. In McCarthy's case, he was a victim of circumstance. What happened to him could have happened to anybody."
The announcer's best friend in a horse race, claim critics, is the all-embracing cliché. Next is color. Explains Anderson: "You have to memorize the colors of the jockey's silks. Often you have to learn to distinguish between slight differences in shade or design. And, of course, the more horses there are the greater potential for a mix-up." Gray horses are always popular with race callers, and large fields are anathema. This year's Derby, he says, was very tough to call.
Greenspan had no firsthand knowledge on which to draw for his piece on Clem McCarthy, but he spent six years with WHN, whose sports announcers included at one time or another Red Barber, Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy and McCarthy himself. Greenspan was WHN's pre-and post-game announcer on the old Brooklyn Dodger and Giant football shows.
Since leaving broadcasting, he has produced some memorable sports films, one of which—Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin—won three Emmy nominations. He has also made the film version of the book The Glory of Their Times. And he has two new films in the can: A Couple of Days in the Life of Charley Boswell, about the famed blind golfer, and The Ethiopians, about that nation's marathon runners. He will show the latter to Emperor Haile Selassie later this month.
Greenspan explains in his article how he unraveled the mystery of McCarthy's wrong call at the Preakness, but he doesn't mention that he and his film editing machine are at work on a couple of other sports mysteries—notably, the baton drop by the German 400-meter relay team in the 1936 Olympics and Roy Riegels' wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl.
Maybe one of these days he'll clear up the mystery of why your wife always serves dinner just before the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl.
GREENSPAN AND MAGIC FILM EDITOR