Saturday, May 8, 2010

Phil & Paul

Sports Illustrated has a list of the top 20 sportscasters of all time at its website. It’s a solid, if predictable, collection … mostly old baseball men. Wisconsinites will wonder how Bob Uecker didn’t make the list. (I would suggest it’s because he spends too much time talking about things other than baseball.) As a transplanted Pennsylvanian, I wonder how the list omitted Bob Prince and Harry Kalas. Harry Caray made it, again proving that in America it’s more important to be well-known than legitimately talented. I once heard the man refer to Rafael Palmeiro as “Ralph Palermo,” and did he ever actually sing all of the words to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game?”

The SI list is meant for American audiences. Somewhere in Brazil there’s probably a great play-by-play man who makes soccer seem interesting despite overwhelming visual evidence to the contrary. You’ll never hear about him. And I can’t pretend to be surprised that Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen didn’t make the SI list, despite greatness that should be apparent to every cycling fan.

Yes, Phil has his Harry Caray moments, mistaking one rider for another, consistently applying a Catalan lisp to every Spaniard whether the rider actually be from Catalunya or not, and sometimes even lisping the names of non-Spaniards (it’s Alessandro Ballan, not Alethandro). Yes, Paul does that goofy parroting thing where he starts every sentence with the last few words of whatever Phil just said. But they know their stuff and they have an amazing wealth of cycling history at their fingertips. As broadcasting partners they’re completely comfortable together and that makes us comfortable as we watch.

Bob Roll can be fun from time to time, but too often it feels like he’s forcing the "Bobke" persona, his possibly-stoned, Jack Kerouac-cum-Jeff Spicoli alter ego. Paul, by contrast, is a little too dry and stiff on his own. It’s got to be Phil and Paul. Be honest: don’t you feel cheated when you tune into a cycling broadcast and it’s anybody else?

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