New York Mets' Announcers Are A First-place Team

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Nothing really gets past the New York Mets' television announcers. Consider what transpired during their April 6 broadcast of the Mets' encounter with the Atlanta Braves.

To less imaginative professionals, it was merely the sixth game of a seemingly endless 162-game season. But this entertaining, informative trio -- made up of play-by-play man Gary Cohen, 49, and analysts Keith Hernandez, 54, and Ron Darling, 47 -- found a way to make it memorable for me, a demanding and knowledgeable baseball fan.

The visiting New Yorkers, listless at the plate on that Sunday afternoon, finally scored a run in the ninth inning to cut Atlanta's lead to 3-1. To the Mets' energized announcers, Braves' relief pitcher Rafael Soriano looked like he was on the verge of losing his poise.

"The 'Tighten-Up!'" declared Darling, referring to a long-forgotten 1968 hit by an obscure singing group.

"Archie Bell?" replied a startled Cohen, invoking the name of that group's lead singer.

Not to be outdone, Hernandez added that Bell was the brother of Rickey Bell, a onetime running back at the University of Southern California. At that point, Cohen and Darling all but gave up their impromptu trivia battle. Hernandez had won.

It took the announcers less time to have this snappy exchange than it did for you to read about it here.

"A game lasts for three hours, with about eight minutes of action," Cohen quipped. "You prepare as much as you can."

Gifted storytellers

That sort of ongoing dialogue in the broadcasting booth underscores why the Mets' loyal fans and many critics say that the team has the best announcers in baseball.

The trio will broadcast about 125 games this season on the SNY cable network, which is owned by the Mets, Time Warner and Comcast . Now in their third season together, the announcers are knowledgeable and personable. Their camaraderie and expertise go a long way in explaining why SNY won an Emmy for its Mets coverage in 2007.

"They don't hold anything back," Cohen said of his broadcasting partners. "They will say what they think."

They also bring a solid work ethic to the table, according to Curt Gowdy Jr., SNY's senior vice president of production and executive producer.

Broadcasters "have to be committed" to the job, Gowdy said. "We will demand as much as their manager demanded when they were playing."

(Gowdy knows a few things about what makes a great baseball broadcaster. His late father, Curt Gowdy, was one of the best when he worked for NBC, now owned by General Electric .)

Mets' fans are demanding in their own right, too. They've had their hearts broken many times. In the playoffs two years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals handed an upset to the heavily favored Mets.

Then, last year, the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games to play, one of the most shocking collapses in baseball history. "Every day was Lucy and Charlie Brown," Darling said with a shrug.

Chemistry maestros

But every spring, a team gets a clean slate. So on one sunny April afternoon at the start of the 2008 season, I headed out to Shea Stadium, which has been home to the Mets since 1964 and will soon close to make way for the new, adjacent Citi Field, to interview Cohen, Hernandez and Darling.

In particular, Darling and Hernandez occupy a special place in the hearts of longtime Met fans. Darling was a star pitcher on the team during its glory days in the 1980s. His teammate Hernandez, probably the most admired player in team history besides Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, was a star first baseman and renowned clutch hitter.

In some circles, Hernandez is almost as famous for his hilarious appearances on "Seinfeld," when he courted Elaine and befriended Jerry.

I asked Darling what he thought when he saw Hernandez acting on the show. "That's Keith kissing Elaine! We were all jealous," he aid with a laugh.

Hernandez told me: "On 'Seinfeld,' I was ... absolutely paranoid ... petrified. Jerry said, 'You hit in front of 50,000 people! There's only 200 people [in the studio audience]. What are you nervous about?'"

It can also be challenging for a baseball player to make the awkward transition to the broadcasting booth.

"It was hard for me to separate myself and come to terms that I was a member of the media and not a player," Hernandez said. "It's much more difficult to play [baseball]. I don't have to get up and have to get a base hit to win the game any more."

All three announcers -- supplemented by occasional appearances from the beloved Ralph Kiner, one of the team's original announcers dating back to their first season in 1962, and the ubiquitous, ever-resourceful Kevin Burkhardt on the field -- try to make their telecasts informative, but very conversational.

"These guys are the best at what they do," said Cohen. "They work so hard at it and they're not afraid to be who they are. We can be critical at times, but at all times we're honest. That's all anybody can ask."

: Who is your favorite baseball announcer?

: "In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser is ABC" by Tom Shales (Washington Post, April 17). He writes: "When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates' debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News [owned by Walt Disney ], which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances." .

to my recent columns on Katie Couric and Larry King:

"Katie is a non-entity in our news-junkie home, simply because she isn't believable or relevant. Double so for Larry King, who has lost not only some of his fastball, but pretty much the whole arsenal. He asks the same dumb questions of everyone, never listens to his guests' answers, and is a pain in the neck."

-- Alex Jones

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By Jon Friedman
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