Monday, September 12, 2005

In Praise of Chris Schenkel

By Mitchell

I'd like to take a moment from the more "important" things we face to praise Chris Schenkel, the all-time great sportscaster who died yesterday at the age of 82.

Many of you out there may find it hard to believe that there was a time when sportscasters didn't sound like rejects from MTV or standups auditioning for their own sitcom on Comedy Central. They were there to do one thing - tell the listeners and viewers what was going on - and they did it well.

Chris Schenkel was one of those broadcasters - men like Curt Gowdy, Pat Summerall, Jim McKay, Lindsay Nelson, Vin Scully or Keith Jackson. Whenever you heard Chris Schenkel's voice coming from the TV, you knew you were listening to the big game. The obit talks about his "easygoing baritone," and it was true. Schenkel added to the game, augmenting the action on the field rather than overshadowing it.

My youth is replete with memories of Chris Schenkel's voice on Saturday afternoons, broadcasting college football with Bud Wilkenson or doing professional bowling with Nelson Burton, Jr. There were Sunday afternoons when Schenkel teamed with Jack Twyman and Bill Russell to bring us pro basketball before it descended to the ghetto. He covered the Olympics, U.S. Open golf, and heavyweight championship fights. He told us what was happening, got excited at all the right times, gave the game the sense of drama it deserved, and in the process made us feel like we were watching the game with him.

There aren't many announcers like that any more. There are some good ones - Jon Miller, Bob Costas, Dick Enberg - but they're part of a dying breed. The gimmick now is to be large and loud, to make people forget that the game on TV often isn't worth watching. They have to be entertaining, rather than allowing the game to speak for itself.

I always liked Chris Schenkel. One of the eulogists in the obit called him a "true gentleman," and that's always the impression he gave those of us who listened to him. Fortunately, his voice lives on thanks to ESPN Classic and the DVD market. But despite that, and even though he hadn't been on live TV for some time, I'm going to miss him. R.I.P.

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