As Harry Caray often says, "it might be.... It could be...."
It is 1908, and a steamship filled with European immigrants enters fog-shrouded New York Harbor. Standing at the rail is Cristoforo Carabina from Sicily, a robust young man who has led the passengers in their daily stretching exercises. He looks at the Statue of Liberty looming in the mist and exclaims, "Sacra mucca!" A few minutes later, as the ship docks at Ellis Island, the guy with funny hair standing next to Carabina, Nathan Aufrichtig from Krakow, Poland, shouts, "Tak!"
And with their arrival, sports broadcasting is changed forever.
O.K., so maybe it didn't happen that way. But just think. The offspring of those two men, the Carabinas (now the Carays) and the Aufrichtigs (the Alberts) now hold 11% of all sportscasting jobs in the U.S. All right, that's an exaggeration, too. Officially, there are three Harry Carays (the original, his son Skip and his son Chip) and four hairy Alberts (brothers Marv, Al and Steve and Marv's son Kenny) doing play-by-play for various teams and networks. Unofficially, though, there are millions of them out there, because Harry (Holy cow!) Caray and Marv (Yes!) Albert are inarguably America's two most imitated sportscasters.
What's more, the Carays and the Alberts have made nepotism so cool that there are, at last count, 13 different father-and-son combinations in the business, not to mention a few brother acts. And like so much fiber-optic cable, they all connect to one another.
Harry Caray does play-by-play for the Chicago Cubs, as does Thorn Brennaman, the son of Cincinnati Red broadcaster Marty Brennaman and the stepson of Derrek Dickey, an analyst for University of Cincinnati basketball games, who—this is Thom, now—got his start doing Red games as a replacement for Jay Randolph Sr., who will do the Florida Marlins for the Sunshine Network and Miami's WBFS and whose son, Jay Randolph Jr., covers sports for KASP in St. Louis. Skip Caray (Harry II) does the Atlanta Braves for Turner Broadcasting, which also employs Gary Bender, whose son Trey does sports for KSCB in Liberal, Kans.; Bob Neal, whose son Dave is a sports reporter for WTXL-TV in Tallahassee, Fla.; and Ernie Johnson Jr., whose father, Ernie Johnson Sr., worked with Skip and now docs Brave games with Chip Caray (Harry III). Chip also does play-by-play for the Orlando Magic, and when Orlando plays Denver, he's working the same game as Nugget broadcaster Al Albert, brother of Steve, who does the Golden State Warriors, and Marv, who does, well, everything.
Because Marv calls New York Ranger games on radio, he will cross paths this season with Minnesota North Star announcer Al Shaver, whose son, Wally (the Little) Shaver, used to do University of Minnesota hockey; Tampa Bay Lightning play-by-play man John Kelly, who is the son of the late St. Louis Blue broadcaster Dan Kelly; not to mention his own son Kenny Albert, who does play-by-play for the Washington Capitals. For NBC, his primary employer, Marv has worked with Joe Garagiola, whose son, Steve Garagiola, used to do TV sports in Detroit; Jay Randolph Sr., who...oh, sorry, we already did him; and Will McDonough, the sportswriter and NFL telecaster whose son Sean McDonough has done, among other things, Boston Red Sox play-by-play for WSBK, college basketball for ESPN and baseball for CBS since graduating from Syracuse University, where he ran into Todd Kalas, the son of Philadelphia Phillie broadcaster Harry Kalas, who—this is Todd, now—was hired by the New York Mets to do their pre-and post-game radio shows after he worked for the Triple A Louisville Redbirds, who had hired him to replace Joe Buck, who now does St. Louis Cardinal radio with his father, Jack Buck, who worked for many years with—ta da!—Harry Caray.
Even if you didn't catch all of that—and we're not sure we caught all of it—the message is clear. Sports fans are awash in heir waves. (As opposed to Marv's rumored hair weave.)
On Sunday, May 3, 1992, a sports fan with a satellite dish could have watched Harry Caray doing the Cubs, Skip Caray doing the Braves, Harry Kalas doing the Phillies, Marty Brennaman doing the Reds, Sean McDonough doing the Red Sox, Ernie Johnson Jr. doing TNT's NBA show and Marv Albert doing Game 5 of the New York Knick-Detroit Piston playoff series on NBC. The viewer would not have wanted to jump around too much, though, lest he or she miss perhaps the greatest moment in the history of sports television. During a break in the second quarter of the Knick-Piston game, NBC showed a simple exterior shot of the Madison Square Garden marquee. But there in the foreground, for some reason, was a bulldog dressed in a leather jacket, leather hat and sunglasses, with a cigarette dangling from his lip. After a moment of silence, Albert said to his partner, Mike Fratello, "Mike, always so troubling when a dog smokes."
While it is widely assumed that Skip Caray was the first sportscaster to follow in his father's voiceprint, Canadian hockey fans know that recently retired Toronto Maple Leaf broadcaster Bill Hewitt is the pioneer, being the son of the late, legendary Foster Hewitt, who did hockey games in Canada from the 1920s to the '70s. But the paternal trend didn't really pick up steam until the late '80s. Why all of a sudden so many Chips, Thorns and Treys off the old block?
(Note to the reader: We are about to embark on a short treatise that attempts to explain this phenomenon. We will try hard not to make it dry, because we do not want to be John Andariese to your Marv Albert. Aficionados of Knick telecasts know that Andariese occasionally goes off on a tangent, which Marv cuts off by saying, "That's fascinating, John, but we are very busy right now.")
There are many reasons for the rise of the sons, No. 1 being—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—nepotism. In many cases, fathers did open doors for their kids. But as Skip Caray notes, "Nepotism gets you only so far in this business." Indeed, the quality of the second generation is almost as impressive as the quantity. The kids learned well, and we can only thank our lucky stars that Ron Luciano didn't have a son.
Says NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, "I live in St. Louis, so I listen to Jack Buck and Joe Buck all the time. I don't hear a father and son broadcasting a Cardinal game, I hear a great veteran announcer and one of the best young play-by-play men in the business."
Nepotism cuts both ways. If you were the program director of a station, or the head of broadcasting for a club, wouldn't you want the son of Skip Caray, not so much for his name value as for the bloodline? Wouldn't you want the son of a man who once asked the San Diego Chicken, "Why did you cross the road?"
Which brings us to reason No. 2: genetics. According to Dr. Diane Paul-Brown, a prominent speech pathologist, a person's voice is determined by such hereditary factors as body type, the size of the voice box and the shape of the pharynx. Still, DNA is no guarantee that you'll have your parent's voice. Todd Kalas has his father's deep timbre, but Skip Caray sounds more like Jack Buck than Harry Caray, and Sean McDonough is a dead ringer for Bob Costas.
So while nature has something to do with the baby boom, nurture, or second nature, is an even stronger reason (No. 3). These kids grew up listening to their fathers on the radio or on TV. For someone like Joe Buck or Todd Kalas or Thorn Brennaman, dad's bedtime story was a bang-bang play at the plate in the fourth.
Harry Caray, in point of fact, used to interrupt his Cardinal broadcast every night at 8:30 to say, "Good night, Skip." This became something of an embarrassment to Skip when he took up football at Webster Groves High School outside of St. Louis. "Just before the snap," recalls Skip, "the big guy across the line from me would always snarl, 'Good night, Skip.' "
Skip's former partner, Ernie Johnson Sr., used to send messages to his kids, too. Says Ernie Jr., "I remember one time my dad was in Montreal doing a Braves game, and he said, 'I would like to pass this French saying along to my son Ernie: Mean de Ion. That means, Cut the grass.' "
For these offspring, the so-called big time is no big deal. As Thorn Brennaman says, "Because you grow up with your father in the business, it doesn't seem like a big deal to get behind the mike. I mean, the guy may be watched by millions, but he's also the guy who walks around the house in his underwear."
Sigmund Freud, whose daughter, Anna, followed him into his business, could also do analysis on this prodigious crop. Reason No. 4: Catching pops. The sons are pursuing their fathers' careers to pursue their often absent fathers, many of whom are divorced. "It's an occupational hazard," says Harry Kalas, who is separated from his wife.
In some cases the second generation has found an Oedipus Rx. Says Thorn Brennaman, "Now that my father and I are in the same business, our relationship has never been better." His father concurs. "We talk on the phone all of the time now," says Marty. "It's a great compliment to a father when his son takes up the same profession. But proud as I am of Thorn as a broadcaster, I'm even prouder of him as a person.
"All the kids in the business now—Thorn, Todd Kalas, Chip Caray—have their heads on straight even though their home lives might not have been ideal. Their mothers deserve a lot of credit. Being around the game helped, too."
The game, whether it be baseball or basketball or hockey, is a powerful and positive attraction. "I grew up hanging out with Stan Musial and Marty Marion," says Skip Caray, "and Chip grew up around Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro. What kid wouldn't want to prolong a life like that?" The fifth and final reason, then, is simple: It's a wonderful life.
I look at all these kids, and do you know what I see?" asks Ernie Johnson Sr. "I see the love of the game drifting down to the next generation."
And, no doubt, this won't be the last generation. Says Costas, "I'm not sure I would want six-year-old Keith Costas to become a sportscaster, but something frightening just happened. Keith looked up from his Nintendo baseball game and said, 'Dad, I'm going with a weak-hitting lineup. But it's slick-fielding.' "
"If only they had named me Flip."
Harry Caray, 73, is standing by the batting cage at Shea Stadium before a late-September Met-Cub game, talking about Skip and Chip. He is also showing Cub catcher Rick Wilkins his Nicole Miller baseball tie, the pattern of which carries Harry's unmistakable face.
"You'd think they'd ask a man's permission before they put his face on neckwear," Harry says.
Harry didn't know his parents very well. His father, Cristoforo Carabina, died when he was an infant, and his mother when he was 10. Passed from foster home to foster home in St. Louis, Harry didn't have a happy childhood, but he did love baseball. The weak-hitting but slick-fielding young Carabina didn't amount to much as a ballplayer, but he called a good game from the bleachers of Sportsman's Park, so when he was 23, he applied for a job at radio station KMOX. Even though Harry had no experience, the manager referred him to a station in Joliet, Ill. From there he went to Kalamazoo, Mich., and in 1944 KMOX brought him back. Soon he was doing Cardinal games, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Actually, they should sing the rest, to the tune of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Harry, as baseball fans know, is the maestro of the seventh-inning stretch. He is also famous for "Holy cow!"; and his home run call—"It might be.... It could be.... It is!"—has earned such renown that he is in the broadcasters' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Harry is much more than those shticks. For one thing, he can be brutally honest on the air. For another, he can be just plain brutal.
HARRY: [Dodger outfielder] Mike Marshall just got back from Los Angeles, where he was getting cocaine for his injured foot.
PARTNER STEVE STONE: That's novocaine, Harry.
It would take pages to recite every story of Harry's 48-year career, so the following three will have to suffice.
The first tale, no doubt apocryphal, takes place in 1945 at Sportsman's Park, where the rookie play-by-play man is describing a routine infield play in terms so dramatic that it sends shivers down the spines of his listeners. Dizzy Dean, doing a rival play-by-play from an adjacent booth, leans into Caray's booth and says, "Are we broadcasting the same game?"
The second story takes place one night during the '50s, across the street from the Chase-Park Plaza hotel in St. Louis. Harry gets into his car about 3 a.m. and finds it won't start. He calls the auto club. While he waits for help to arrive, two robbers pull up, point guns at him and demand his money. Harry blurts out, "Holy cow!"
"Hey, aren't you Harry Caray?" asks one of the robbers.
The gunmen then talk baseball with Harry for about 15 minutes, and they forget to rob him.
Then there was the time, in the early '60s, when Harry was in Memphis to do one of the weekly St. Louis Hawk basketball games that were played there while the Hawks considered whether to change cities. The afternoon of the game, the phone in his hotel room rang, and Harry picked it up.
"Harry," said the voice, "this is Elvis."
"Hi, Elvis," said Harry, figuring that it was just another fan and that Elvis was a popular name in Tennessee.
"Been listening to you for years," said the voice. "How are the Cardinals gonna be this season?"
"I think we're going to be O.K.," Harry replied. "We've got a good ball club."
"You don't even know who I am, do you?" the voice said finally.
"Elvis," said Harry.
"This is Elvis Presley," said the voice. "How long will it take you to come down to the street and see for yourself?"
Ten minutes later Caray was downstairs, and sure enough, a Cadillac pulled up with Elvis inside it. He took Harry to Graceland for the afternoon, dropped him off at the game and picked him up afterward. That night, Harry and Elvis shot the breeze, drank beer and ate ribs.
Until he had a stroke in February 1987, Harry had never missed a day's work, despite a Hall of Foam nightlife. He ended up missing only 32 Cub games that season, and WGN replaced him with an impressive succession of celebrities: Bill Murray, Jim Belushi, George Wendt, George Will, Mike Royko, Pat Summer-all, Dick Enberg, Brent Musburger, Bob Costas. If Elvis had been alive, he probably would have done a game, too. But the honor of replacing Harry Caray meant the most to Harry Caray II.
Skip was so emotional the day he was to do the Cub game, April 16, that he had the cabdriver stop a quarter mile from Wrigley Field so he could walk and compose himself. Everything went fine until the seventh inning. Said Skip, "In the bottom of the seventh, Steve [Stone] engaged me in animated conversation for quite a while before I realized he was trying to take my mind off things while they played a tape of my dad singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. That was the only time I came close to losing it."
Skip actually got into broadcasting because Harry tricked him into it. Here's how Harry tells it:
"This is 1954, now, and sons were beginning to rebel against their fathers. I knew if I pushed Skip, who was in high school at the time, he wouldn't go into the business. So I set this thing up with Robert Hyland, the general manager of KMOX. We created a high school sports show for Saturdays from 5:15 to 5:30 p.m. Then Bob called Skip to ask him if he knew anybody at Webster Groves High who might be able to do something like that. Skip gave him a few names, but Bob knocked each one down for one reason or another. Finally, he said, 'Skip, would you mind doing the show this Saturday?'
"Skip did a splendid job, of course, and I called him right after the show to congratulate him. Then all my friends called him. On Monday, Bob Hyland called, but instead of praising Skip—this is still all my idea—he asked Skip if he could think of anyone else who might want to do the show. When Skip said he couldn't, Bob said, 'Well, I have some contacts over at Kirkwood High.' Kirkwood being the archrival to Webster Groves, that was too much for Skip. He said, 'Mr. Hyland, did you hear my show? Did you like it?'
"And that's how I planted the broadcast bug in Skip. And now he's got Chip, and I'm the happiest man in the world."
After graduating from the University of Missouri, Skip did play-by-play for the Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League and then went on to Atlanta, which was home to the Cardinals' Triple A affiliate, the Crackers. When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Skip auditioned for their play-by-play job—and didn't get it. He ended up going back to St. Louis, where he did St. Louis University basketball games with Jack Buck, Harry's baseball partner, and University of Missouri football games with Harry. Skip also did the last year of the St. Louis Hawks. When they moved to Atlanta in 1968, Skip went with them, eager to get out of Harry's shadow. Ted Turner, who owned the Braves as well as the Hawks, asked Skip to add the baseball games to his schedule in 1976, and he has been doing them ever since.
In this family history the apple fell as far away from the tree as Atlanta is from St. Louis. While Harry is raucous, coarse and over the top, Harry II is droll, witty and under the table. (Once, toward the end of a sloppy Brave tilt, Skip told TBS viewers, "It's only fitting that a Jerry Lewis movie follows this game.") But the two Carays do have one thing in common.
"My dad always told me to be honest on the air," says Skip. "And that's the one thing I've tried to impart to Chip."
Skip didn't particularly want Chip to be a sportscaster; he wanted him to be a lawyer. "When I was 18, I had pretty much made up my mind," says Chip, who went to the University of Georgia. "In fact, I made it up the night that Bob Watson hit a big homer for the Braves off Steve Howe in 1983. That night, they replayed my dad's call of the homer on the news, and it gave me goose bumps. I thought to myself, I want to do that someday."
Harry III paid his dues in Panama City, Fla., and Greensboro, N.C., before the Orlando Magic hired him in 1989 to do its play-by-play. "He's going to be the best of us," says Harry. "He's got Skip's sense of humor and my personality. And fortunately, he's much better looking than either one of us."
Chip has also done a number of Brave games with his father. "We work very well together," says Skip. "I've been with Pete Van Wieren for 17 years, and every once in a while we step on one another's lines. But Chip and I never interrupt each other. And it didn't happen with Harry when we did Missouri football games. Funny thing, isn't it?"
The three Carays have worked the same game just once: Braves versus Cubs, Wrigley Field, May 13, 1991. They were together on camera for a brief lead-in to TBS's telecast that day, and the exchange showed the Carays' honesty, humor and professionalism:
SKIP: This is something, huh?
HARRY: It certainly is. This is the thrill of my life.... If the good Lord said to me right now, "Harry, this is your last moment on earth," I'd die a happy man.
SKIP: We don't want that to happen. Chip, what are the pitching matchups for today's game?
CHIP: Well, the Braves will have their big lefthander, Tom Glavine, going today against the Cubs' Shawn Boskie.
HARRY: That's all?
SKIP: That's it.
Then all three laughed in unison.
Al Albert is complaining. "After a while, you get tired of the questions. 'How's Marv doing?' 'What's Marv really like?' 'How much money does Marv make?' Finally, I say, 'Dad, I don't know.' "
Welcome to the Catskills of sportscasting.
"What is the deal with Marv's age?" asks Steve Albert, 40. "If he's 45, like he says, then I must be 14. Any day now, I'll pass him."
"We have a deep, dark family secret," says Marv Albert. "Al and Steve are both able to play the accordion."
Even 75-year-old Max Albert, their father, can get into the act. "My wife, Alida, may she rest in peace, we would take her to the biggest Knick or Ranger playoff game that Marv was doing, and she would take her knitting. After the game she would go up to Marv and say, 'Your hair looked nice tonight.' "
But seriously, folks, this is a very close family. Al may be in Denver doing the Nuggets and boxing for USA Network, Steve may be in San Francisco doing the Warriors and boxing for Showtime, Marv may be in New York doing the Rangers, the Knicks, NFL football, NBA basketball and boxing for NBC, and Max may be sitting in Cliffside Park, N.J., or Coconut Creek, Fla., keeping tabs on his sons, not to mention his grandson, but in a way, they are all still in their Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, backyard. "Even now, I can see them playing in the yard," says Max, who back then was grocer Max Aufrichtig, son of Nathan Aufrichtig. "Beautiful grass, except for the patches where Marv and Al took turns pitching and hitting. Because he was the youngest, poor Steve was always the catcher."
In later years, when interviewers asked the Alberts if their father was in the business, they would invariably reply, "No, but our mother was. She used to do the Memphis Tarns for Charles O. Finley in the old ABA." What made this funny to them was that Alida, who died in February 1990, knew nothing about sports. In fact, she tried desperately to broaden the kids' horizons by signing them up for lessons—art, tap dance, piano, accordion. None of them took, however, because the Aufrichtig kinder were mad for sports. "We were like the forerunners of ESPN," says Al. "We played every sport, and whatever sport we played, we announced at the same time. We even staged the Hamster Olympics, starring our hamsters, Ambrose and Zachary."
As far back as the third grade at P.S. 195, Marv wanted to be a sportscaster. He even had his own station—WMPA, the call letters standing for Marvin Philip Aufrichtig. He was a ball boy for the New York Knicks and an office boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was president of both the Jim Baechtold Fan Club (Baechtold being his favorite Knick) and the Brooklyn branch of the Solly Hemus Fan Club (Hemus being an infielder for the Cardinals who had once been nice to Marv). He practiced his play-by-play in an Ebbets Field employees' booth that was unfortunately near the box of owner Walter O'Malley, who had him banished to a distant section. When Marv was in junior high, he was picked by young radio announcer Howard Cosell to appear on his show All-League Clubhouse, for which Marv interviewed such sports notables as Jackie Robinson and Bobby Thomson. The Aufrichtig family gathered around the radio in the living room to hear Marv ask his questions.
(I'm just trying to set the scene here, Mr. Albert. Was the radio a Zenith, a Philco or what?
"Philco, schmilko, whatever you want to write is fine with me. Who's gonna know?")
After Marv went to Syracuse University to pursue his broadcasting career, the family decided for his sake to change its name, since Aufrichtig was something of a mouthful. Steve recalls telling his grade-school teacher, "Miss Shaughnessy, I have a new name. It's Albert."
In January 1963, Marv received his first big break. Marty Glickman, the Knick broadcaster for whom Marv kept statistics, couldn't do a game in Boston because he was stuck in a snowstorm in Paris, so Marv, 20 at the time, got the call. When Marv got to Boston Garden, though, the security guard wouldn't let him and Al, his 14-year-old statistician, through the press gate. Yeah, right, you kids are doing the Knick game. Knick general manager Eddie Donovan had to be summoned 45 minutes before game time to rescue them.
Marv's career took off, as he would say, in spec-tac-u-lar fashion. Thanks to his distinctive style and herculean work ethic, he was soon a household name, at least in the New York metropolitan area. "Yes!"—an affectation Marv had borrowed from NBA referee Sid Borgia—became the call on every New York basketball court. Ranger fans, too, began to mimic Marv: "Kick save—and a beauty."
At one stage of his career, Marv was thought to be merely a New York guy, but NBC Sports changed that in the '80s, giving him more assignments in a variety of sports. At his peak work load he was doing the Knicks and the Rangers, boxing, football and pregame baseball for NBC, as well as sports at six and lion weekdays for WNBC-TV in New York. It wasn't unusual for him to do four games in 36 hours. As if that weren't enough, he would often appear on Late Night with David Letterman, calling elevator races or presenting his Albert Achievement Awards. During Letterman's viewer-mail segment one night, a viewer asked, "What happens when a guest cancels?" Whereupon Letterman left the studio to show people the small room in which he kept Marv Albert.
As we said at the top of the show, there are millions of people who do Marv Albert impersonations. "Billy Crystal is very good," says Marv. "Costas, Bill Cosby, Roy Firestone all do good Marv Alberts. Bill Parcells does a sur-pri-singly good me." But there is still only one Marv.
Even now, it's hard to explain his appeal. He could never have gotten past those media consultants who tell stations which broadcasters will boost their ratings. "When God asked me if I wanted a good voice or good hair," says Marv, "I chose hair." Hair, schmair. Too many sportscasters have gotten by on their looks or their voices. It's nice to have Everyman in the booth, especially when he's able to blend the significance of an event with humor and honesty.
The Yes! man is anything but. Oh, Marv can be too facetious, as when he ticked off Whitey Herzog in 1986 by asking the then Cardinal manager if he was interested in succeeding Bart Giamatti as president of Yale. But the bottom line is this: Nobody takes sportscasting as seriously as Marv does, yet nobody seems to have as much fun doing it.
And that goes back to Manhattan Beach and the Hamster Olympics. Is it any wonder that Marv's brothers dogged his steps? As a junior at Ohio University, Al performed the dual role of hockey announcer and reserve goalie, which Max says was quite a sight. The next year Al was the starting goalie. After graduation he had a brief stint in the nets for the International Hockey League's Toledo Blades, then caught on as a play-by-play man with the New York Islanders and the ABA's New York Nets. Meanwhile, Steve went to Kent State, where he organized a hockey team just to call its games.
Like all good brothers, the Alberts have shared. For a while, Marv did sports for WNBC weeknights at 11 and Al did them at six. Steve did sports for WNBC's Live at Five, and he and Al once alternated at WWOR-TV. Steve has replaced Al with both the Nets and the Islanders. "When Al was with the Nets, he had stomach trouble," says Steve. "When I took over, sure enough, I began having a bad stomach. I told him, 'I inherited your stomach trouble.' He said, 'No, you inherited the Nets.' For Showtime boxing, Steve now works with Marv's longtime NBC partner, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco. (Which brings to mind Marv's classic description of Pacheco on Letterman: "The Fight Doctor. Not the sort of physician you would like at the bedside of a loved one.")
There was one Net-Knick game in the mid-'80s for which all three brothers were working different broadcasts: Marv for the Knicks, Steve for the Nets and Al for USA Network. "At one point, I could hear all our voices going at once," says Al. "I half expected Alida to yell upstairs for us to shut the door."
These days the brothers don't see that much of each other, spread out as they are. "Marv is so huge now, he hardly has time for us," says Al. "Seriously, though, he has been great. He couldn't have done more for us. But there was a time a few years ago when I actually thought of changing my name to get out of his shadow. How does Al Costas sound?"
And now there's one more Albert: Kenny. "He cut his first audition tape at six," says his father. "And just like me, he had his own radio station. WKGA—Kenneth Gary Albert. Whenever an athlete came over to the house, Kenny held him hostage. Sometimes in the bathroom."
Kenny is only 24, but his rèsumè is already a hockey rink long. He was doing college and high school football games when he was at Schreiber High School in Port Washington, N.Y. Then, at NYU, while broadcasting games and playing on the club hockey team and doing stats for his dad, he subbed on New York Islander radio broadcasts. Says Uncle Al, "Kenny got Steve's voice, my wit and Marv's work ethic. If I'm doing a Nugget game in Landover, he still wants to do my stats."
Upon graduation from NYU, Kenny worked two seasons with the AHL's Baltimore Skipjacks, and last summer he was hired to do the Capitals. A few weeks ago Kenny broadcast something called the American Athletic Games One-On-One Contest from New York's Central Park for SportsChannel.
He did sound like Steve, trying to pump life into the rather lackluster final. He also sounded as if he and his partner had been doing it forever, even though his partner, former NBA referee Earl Strom, has some 40 years on him.
"That's nice exposure for Kenny," says Marv. "The funny thing is, I got one of my first national breaks doing ABC's NBA one-on-one tournament in the early '70s. I think Barry Clemens beat Geoff Petrie, so we didn't attract the cream of the crop. Anyway, like father, like son."
Like father, like son. A few years ago Kenny was subbing on a radio broadcast of an Islander game, and the clock stopped at 7:11. The 20-year-old play-by-play boy asked his color man, Bob Nystrom, "Does 7:11 mean anything to you, Bob?" Of course, it did. Nystrom scored the goal that gave the Islanders their first Stanley Cup, in 1980, at 7:11 of overtime.
Joe Buck, 23, says one of his earliest memories is of sitting in the second row of a broadcast booth. "I'm four years old, and suddenly I knock over a cup of soda, and it spills all over my dad, Mike Shannon and Bob Starr. I can still see the looks on their faces."
On the day he turned 18—April 25, 1987—Joe was again sitting in the second row of the booth. His father had taken him to New York as a birthday present, and in the fifth inning of a Met-Cardinal game, he gave Joe a surprise gift.
Says Joe, "Suddenly I heard my dad tell his listeners, 'And now for the play-by-play, Joe Buck.' Then he and Mike Shannon stood up and left the booth. I was terrified, but I had no choice. There was nobody else there to call the game. I was terrible."
"You did just fine," says Jack.
The two Bucks are sitting in the Phillies' media dining room before an autumnal Sunday doubleheader. Of all the fathers and sons, they are the only two who work together regularly. Jack also has two daughters in TV news, one in St. Louis and one in Chicago, but as he says, "I have five kids who didn't go into the business, and I'm just as proud of them."
Jack has been doing the Cardinals off and on since 1954. He is a man of surpassing intelligence and urbane wit—the best sports dinner speaker in the business—but even though he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he has never really gotten his due. CBS used him as the play-by-play man for the first two years of its sporadic coverage of major league baseball, then replaced him this year with another broadcaster's son, Sean McDonough.
Back when Jack started in broadcasting in 1950, there weren't that many jobs, and the competition was fierce. "I was sitting in the office of WOSU, the station at Ohio State, typing away on something, when I overheard this guy talking about an opening at the station in Columbus. I really didn't pay attention to what he was saying until he warned me, 'You didn't hear that.' Well, that piqued my interest, so that night I called the radio station's manager from the gas station where I was pumping gas. He asked me what time I could come in the next day; I asked what time he got in; he said 8 a.m.; I said I'd be there; and the next night I was on the air. Who knows what would have happened to me if that guy hadn't tried to warn me off?"
Jack made things a little easier for Joe, but what's a father for if he can't help out his son? Joe was pretty much handed a job with the Louisville Redbirds while he was still attending Indiana University, and when Jack couldn't do the Cardinals, the club often called on Joe to substitute for him. Two years ago KMOX sports director Jack Buck hired Joe Buck full-time.
If any broadcaster deserves to be bitter about his fate, it's Jim Kelch. He has been the Louisville Redbirds' No. 1 announcer for four years, but in the last two years he has seen two sons of broadcasters, Joe Buck and Todd Kalas, pass him by on their way to the majors.
"I'm not bitter," says Kelch. "Joe and Todd are friends whom I respect as broadcasters. If they weren't good, I might be bitter. Maybe if my last name were Buck or Kalas, I'd be in the majors. But I know I'm good, and my time will come." To give Kelch a boost, Jack Buck called on him to do Cardinal play-by-play for a few games this summer.
Now here it is, the second-to-last Sunday of the season, and the Bucks have a doubleheader to do. Try as they might, neither Jack, who works the first three innings with Shannon, nor Joe, who comes on in the fourth, can brighten up the rather dreary first game between the Phils and the Cards. Then, in the eighth, Jack sits down next to Joe, and as if on cue, the sun comes out. Phillie outfielder Stan Javier, son of the old Cardinal infielder Julian Javier, steps up to bat, and Jack says, "Stan had a good day at the plate yesterday," and Joe says, without pause, "But he's having a bad day in the field today."
Just below the booth, a Phil lie fan starts screaming something. Jack tells his listeners, "As you can probably hear, a leather-lunged old-timer is having a quarrel with himself. Apparently, something happened to him along the line."
Joe throws Jack a smile and says, " 'Something happened to him along the line.' I like that."
These guys are good. Pass it on.
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