Triple Threat Broadcaster Enberg, Dead at 82

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I can’t open this piece with my usual “Here’s how I see baseball,” because I have no choice but to veer off topic for a day.

No jaunty jokes, they can wait.

I don’t want to write them, and if you were a great admirer of one of the sports world’s best broadcasters, as I was, you don’t want to read them.

Dick Enberg’s passing in the small hours of this morning effects more than baseball fans, though he broadcast for both the Angels and Padres.
I first heard his voice on TV in 1971, and never listened live as he broadcast a baseball game.

He was so much more than a baseball broadcaster.   He had a voice known instantly by fans of many sports across the land.
When he was breaking in, athletes who played 3 sports were called “triple threats” and at the microphone he became a triple threat broadcaster at the highest level.
He died a member of the baseball, football and basketball halls of fame in Cooperstown, Akron and Springfield, respectively. That alone would be a century of work for most men.  But Dick Enberg had so much more to offer.

I thought he was exceptional at broadcasting boxing on TV. On the local level He called the fights at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles during the sixties, before Jim Healey became a local icon calling those weekly bouts.
After joining NBC Enberg called world championship fights when the best were doing the job-Howard Cosell and Chris Schenkel on ABC, Barry Tompkins on HBO among others. His blow-by-blow career ended prematurely when NBC hired a less talented boxing man, Marv Albert.  But if there was a sports broadcaster who could repeatedly reinvent himself, the Michigan-born Enberg was that man.  The only major sport he never touched was hockey.  Among fringe sports he called tennis, golf and horse racing.

if Dick Enberg truly took a sport up from nothing and brought it to the highest heights, that sport was college basketball. When he called his first NCAA final in 1961, Cincinnati faced Ohio State and outside of Ohio nobody noticed.  By the time he called his last NCAA game, the tournament had a trademarked name-March Madness, and workplace productivity ground to a halt as countless cubicle dwellers studied their brackets rather than their typewriters or later their computer screens.

I first heard Enberg’s voice in two forums that had nothing to do with the many awards he won later.
I heard him as the host of a sports quiz show called “Sports Challenge” which ran from 1971–79 but is forgotten now. He would moderate as two panels of former athletes tried to answer sports questions.  Before a question would be asked, a film clip would be shown.  In a lucky few cases, the audio came from an actual game broadcast.  Guileless boy that I was, I thought the audio clips were all authentic.  That was my favorite part, not the athletes answering the questions.

Then a toy came out which I just simply had to have for Christmas.  I don’t remember what year, but I knew I was hearing Enberg’s voice on the commercial.The toy was a game, made by Mattel called “Talking Football.” Two players faced each other across a large board and moved a game piece.  The part that grabbed me was, there were tiny records you inserted into a device called “The Sportscaster.”  Each record featured, say five or six different outcomes for a certain kind of play.  Records would be called “long pass,” “short pass,” kickoff, and so forth.  The game piece moved from play 1 to play 20 in each quarter.  And the voice describing each play was that of Dick Enberg.  Preparing to write this piece, I wondered if Enberg’s spot as the voice of that game would be mentioned. It was, though the game was only available for one brief holiday season.  When I inevitably broke mine, that was quite literally the end of the ball game.
Like the Mets’ Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Murphy and NBC news icon Chet Huntley, Enberg’s retirement was terribly short.  He called it a career just a year ago.  On his final weekend with the Padres he briefly joined Dodgers’ icon Vin Scully for whom 2016 would also be his final year at the mic.

I can only end this piece with the line Enberg used for a man hitting a home run: “Touch ’em all!”


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