TIgers radio play-by-play announcer Dan DIckerson was kind enough to take a few minutes Saturday to talk to Bless You Boys about how he approaches his job as a broadcaster, why he loves baseball and how he got his start in the major leagues. We finish up by talking about how he thinks the season might shake out for the team.
If you haven't already read Part 1, you'll want to check that out, too.
By the way, this afternoon's game announced by Dickerson and Jim Price will be a free online webcast provided by at Tigers.com. So be sure to check that out if you haven't picked up your own version of Gameday Audio yet.
Bless You Boys: What’s a typical game day like?
Dan Dickerson: First day of a series, you’re always trying to work ahead. But there’s only so much you can work away the previous series. That’s when you’re building your bios. The first day tends to be a long day. You build a bio for each player, make sure you have your clips. I used to build my own clips based on the home team newspaper. The MLB.com website is good. Teams will also email their clips. You can get caught up for the last week for what a team has been up to.
I do my series notes, two pages, maybe three, whatever sticks. Kind of a reminder to myself because the series blend into one another. I do recent history, past history, how the tigers play in this ballpark. Daily notes, anything that sticks. Usually a couple of pages of notes involving the two teams, any trends with the Tigers. All of that leads up to going to the ballpark.
You get there depending what city you’re in 2:30, maybe 3:30. I do an interview on the road, Jim Leyland at home. You have a conversation with the players or coaches. It’s a lovely game. I have access to the experts every day. I can ask about a strategy from last night, a particular player that (pitching coach) Rick Knapp or (hitting coach) Lloyd McClendon likes. They’re always going to look at the game differently than I will. I never played above Pony League! That’s why it’s fun to talk to Brandon Inge about an at-bat the night before. You’re reminded about how hard it is to play this game.
People see a popup and they go, "Oh for God sakes." You talk to him and he said he missed that pitch and he holds his fingers up a quarter of an inch part. If it wasn't a good at bat, Brandon will tell you that was a horseshit at bat, that it wasn’t a good at bat. They tell you if they squared it up and just missed it. Things like that from their eyes, their perspective is good to know. Whether it’s a play they didn’t make in the field or an at bat. Maybe they just didn’t put a good at-bat. You can watch what you want from the booth or monitor, but talking with them -- that’s what I enjoy. Jim Leyland, that’s just a blast. To me the way he looks at a game is so far above and beyond how I'll ever look at a game, to pick his brain every day on The Manager's Show is a joy.
You see what sticks during a game. You do all this prep and the game pulls you along and you didn’t really need all of it. The beauty for me is how the pieces come together during a broadcast. Some days you got some great stuff but you never use it. Other days you just hope to pull it out. Every year I tweak it. The great thing is, I can talk about whatever I want to talk about! If I want to go off on a tangent I can, and Jim (Price) is usually right there with me. It’s a lot of fun.
What’s it like working with Jim Price [who played backup catcher for the Tigers in the late 60s and early 70s, for those who don't listen to many broadcasts]?
He’s great. He’s great. Having a former player in the booth to me is so valuable. I think he understands that batter-pitcher match-up very well. He can see when a hitter is off balance by what the pitcher has.
Or take Brennan Boesch. We were talking about him (over the weekend). Jim feels lik the swing is not as fluid. You’re not trying to judge Brennan Boesch on his spring at bats, knowing he didn’t finish the year well last season. Jim puts it, it’s kind of a muscle swing. I don’t see that necessarily. Even though (Boesch) is 9 for 27, Jim is looking for something more from Brennan to make the team.
He talks about late movement a lot. He just sees the movement on pitches. Right away he can bring that into a broadcast. To me that is enormously helpful. If a Tigers pitcher or one on another team is doing something, he can say he’s not going to be around long in the game.
He likes to have fun. I know I can throw just about anything ta him he’ll have an answer, or make something up.
You got your start doing Tigers play-by-play in a pretty special way -- with Ernie Harwell at the close of Tiger Stadium. Could you tell us a bit about that?
It really was an amazing start. Our relationship had gone back to the 1980s when I met him while a reporter in Grand Rapids. I remember interviewing him. He was on the veterans committee at the time. I had a nice interview with him. Our paths crossed a few times before I moved to Detroit.
When I moved to Detroit I practiced my play-by-play. We all felt we knew Ernie. I remember calling him up and asking if he’d listen to my baseball play-by-play. He said, "Sure why don’t you come over to my house?" I drove over to his house and we sat at his kitchen table. He listened with a very practiced ear. Things like, "You don’t have to say down and low, the pitch was low. It’s just one word, but it’s a little tighter, a little better." He taught me to work with two different colors on my scorecard. To this day I use red for anybody who reaches base, blue for everthing else. That way, you can see how everything was bunched together, or wasn’t bunched together.
During the baseball season, we did the pregame and postgame for the Tigers. So we were at the ballpark every night. The last game at Tiger Stadium was just a huge deal. We did coverage from 6 to midnight that day. A few weeks before, he called me into his office and said, when Jim Price goes downstairs would you like to join Ernie Harwell in the booth the last three innings? I said, sure what am I supposed to do? "Just sit with Ernie and keep him company."
For a moment I thought I was going to get an inning of play-by-play. I thought Jim might leave after the fifth inning, but I was told a few days before that Jim was staying through six innings. So the day comes, and the booth is just tiny. I wanted to be in the booth the whole game so I'd know what they were talking about. I’m standing next to Howard Stitzel [the engineer for the Tigers broadcasts for more than 50 years] behind Ernie. When Jim was on the air, [Ernie]’d get up and stretch his legs. So he got up during one of Jim’s innings and said, "So what’s the plan here?"
I’m like, well, uhm I’m supposed to join you in the top of the seventh and join you until the end of the game. He said ‘You want to do an inning" and it's Ernie's last game at Tiger Stadium so I initially said no. And he asks again. "Do you want to do an inning? So I go, yeah. "I’ll do the top of the 7th and introduce you the bottom of the seventh and top of the eighth," he said.
There wasn’t a lot of byplay between Ernie and Paul Carey,or Ernie and Jim. What always stuck out with me is how much Ernie conversed with me during my inning to make me look as good as possible. He was natural. It flowed. He didn’t interrupt my play by play. It was real effort to make me look good. I think he helped and made me feel comfortable. I had a couple of highlight moments and watched that magical bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth when all those flashbulbs were going off. It was unbelievable that vantage point.
So that one inning I’m convinced helped get me into the booth. [Tigers owner] Mike ilitch was right next door. He looked in and said "Was that you on the air?" He clearly heard it. I think Ernie went to bat for me the next season when they were deciding what they wanted to do.
It was just one inning but I won’t forget it. It certainly helped.
What was it like working with Ernie given that you grew up in Detroit?
You understood why he sounded so good over what, 8000 games? He always sounded good. You understood why. He loved the people in the game. He came up in a different era. They call him them the story tellers. That was a good description. They focused on the people aspect of the game. I think that was a good reminder for me always.
He introduced me to so many people, opened doors. He'd always go to the visiting clubhouse and say, "Hi, I'm Ernie Harwell," like they didn’t know who he was. But that was him. Sportspages.com was big back then. Look at the friendship he formed with (Mariners outfielder) Ichiro. He was fascinated by what he read about Ichiro and formed a friendship with him. Ichiro gave him a glove.
That passion, you understood why he stayed fresh. He looked forward to the people he’d see at the ballpark. That last game in Toronto, he sounded like he always had. He loved life. To be in the booth for three years with him, I think the transition was certainly easier than the last time (in the early 90s). So that certainly was a help as well.
Finally, from what you've seen so far what’s your outlook for this season?
You get a feel, going in. I don’t think my opinion usually ever changes during the spring. I think coming in, I look at this as a team that is in the 88-win range. Last year I had them 83-84 wins, that's what I wrote down before the season. The last two years, they kind of played .500 and 10 games over. Once you’re 10-15 games over, that’s a more serious contender. I think that’s the big step that gets you toward 90 wins. They’re right on the cusp of that right now. I think they’re capable of getting into the 90s.
I kind of look at Phil Coke and Brad Penny as holding the key, and I think both are up to the task. I think the questions still have to be answered. Can Coke make that transition from the bullpen? I think that answer is yes. Can he stay healthy? I think it’s legitimate question since he wasn’t pitching 200 innings the last two years. By all accounts he’d done what it takes to be healthy and get in shape.
I’m pretty darn confident in those top three [Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello]. All of a sudden, if you can get 55-60 starts out of Penny and Coke -- I’d even put the number at 50 -- I think it's going to be a very good year.
Andy Oliver adds to the mix, because every team needs at least six starters. I think Andy Oliver is reassuring everyone when the time come he’s going to be ready.
Look at how far they've come. A year ago they were sorting out Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson. We’re so far beyond that now. I think it’s a much more settled picture. I think this is going to be a much more productive staff.
They gave up 740 runs the last two years. You’ve got to get that number under 700 to be a playoff team. I think the staff is capable of doing that.
How do you feel about the upgrades to the offense this offseason?
Your 3-4-5 hitters [Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez] are all similar. They all make contact. None of them are high strikeout guys. Maybe not big walk guys, but they all have track records for hitting with men on base. It changes year to year, but I think they’ve got a lot of consistency, hit for average, extra bases, home run power in Cabrera’s case.
Having more consistent 3-4-5 guy takes some pressure off some other guys. The bottom third of the order was not good last year. Brandon [Inge] is a little healthier. I’m really intrigued to see [Ryan] Raburn over a full season. I think there’s some balance across the lineup. A switch hitter like Martinez is huge. I think Carlos Guillen can play a big role. How much you can count on a guy hurt the last few years, I don’t know. I don’t think hes’ going to be ready at the start, but I like the balance top to bottom.
I think there’s a lot of nice pieces. Would they like to have one more left-handed batter? Probably. I still think they’ve got enough they can hold their own. They have to bet better against right handed starters. They have to be better against teams that start righties.
So, once again, thanks to Dan Dickerson for his time Saturday. It was a real fun conversation and hopefully it made for some good reading, too! Remember to check out Tigers.com for today's webcast of the game.