ONE LOCAL WRITER described it as Meryl Streep headlining an off-Broadway musical. After calling NFL games for 42 years, as well as 26 Wimbledons, 23 French Opens, 14 NCAA men's basketball championships, 10 Super Bowls, nine Rose Bowls, four Olympic Games and plenty of other events for CBS, ESPN and NBC, Dick Enberg jumped at the chance in late 2009 to take a job as the lead television voice of his hometown San Diego Padres. "To be the announcer where you live is a very special opportunity," says Enberg, now 80.
Supporters of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Michigan Wolverines are also enjoying the professional autumn for two well-known broadcasters. Tim McCarver called a record 24 World Series for CBS, Fox and ABC through 2013 before taking on a part-time role in April '14 on Fox Sports Midwest's Cardinals broadcasts. And later that fall former Michigan All-America Dan Dierdorf returned to his alma mater to be the lead radio analyst for Wolverines football games after working for 28 years as an NFL analyst for ABC and CBS.
Having a broadcaster with national bona fides in a local market, even in the twilight of his or her career, gives a broadcast a big-game feel. Enberg says there is as much pressure calling Padres games for the local Fox Sports affiliate as national games, partly because he sees his audience walking around town. "Part of my job now is to promote what is on the front of that uniform—San Diego," says Enberg (left), who has lived there since 1983. "We have a great city, and in the course of a broadcast I can not only report the game but also talk about charities or the opera."
"It's the adventurer leaving his cave, working and learning, and then retreating to his cave," says McCarver (right) of coming back to a local market. "I'm still the same broadcaster—just a lot more experienced and a lot better than I was back in 1980 when I started doing it."
McCarver, who says he never intended to retire after leaving his national gig, is scheduled to do 40 games in 2015—the Cardinals let him make his schedule—including 22 road games. Enberg calls 130 to 135 games per season and gets to pick his days off. "The most dramatic difference is that as a network broadcaster, you go into a game with no bias and you try to be diligent in terms of offering equal commentary for both sides," says Enberg. "As long as you did your work well, you did not care who won or lost, whereas for a local announcer it is quite different. You care whether your team wins, and you carry those wins and losses seriously."
So do your bosses. In 2010, Enberg's first year with the Padres, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp made a diving catch late in the game, prompting Enberg to exclaim, "What a catch!" He soon found himself sitting with management.
"They said, 'We are getting calls from our audience saying you cared too much about how the Dodgers beat the Padres, like you almost wanted them to win.' I said, 'That's ridiculous.' They said, 'Maybe you should not have as much emotion when the other team does well.' I said, 'That's baseball. That's the way I was taught.' So they said, 'Well, let's put it this way: When the Padres hit a home run, why don't you use your call, Touch 'em all! And when the other team hits a home run, just say they hit a home run or use another piece of vernacular.' I said, 'O.K., I can do that.'"
McCarver, a native of Memphis, is nevertheless enjoying a homecoming too. He made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 1959 and played 12 of his 21 seasons with St. Louis.
"I started my career with the Cardinals, and now I'm going to end with the Cardinals," says McCarver. "It's truly a wonderful thing."
Even in the twilight of his career, a broadcaster with big-game bona fides can give a local game a national feel.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MARY KATE HENRY: SCOTT WACHTER/SAN DIEGO PADRES (ENBERG); SCOTT ROVAK/ST. LOUIS CARDINALS