Opinion: Two plays and the curious hole in Dan Dickerson’s play-by-play game

Dan Dickerson is a beloved play-by-play man on Detroit Tigers radio broadcasts. He may not be as beloved as Ernie Harwell was, but Dickerson clearly has come to be embraced by Tiger fans.

There are good reasons for this. Dickerson comes across as a genuinely nice guy who clearly loves being involved with Tiger baseball, and is truly grateful for the opportunity he's received to do what he does for a living.

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I am sure he is every bit the quality guy he appears to be.

But the rave reviews of Dickerson's performance doing radio play-by-play tend to gloss over a gaping hole in his game: He often doesn't tell you what happened.

Dan Dickerson

You're Our Only Set of Eyes, Dan

Radio is a particular type of medium for baseball. It is the only medium that involves no visuals whatsoever. You can't see the action itself. You can't see any graphics or text letting you know what's going on. Your only way to keep up is for Dan to tell you – and I mean to tell you everything. Where did the throw go? Was the runner safe or out? Was it a ball or a strike? What's the count? How many outs? What's the score?

Play-by-play announcers on the radio have to tell us this, in detail, very specifically, all the time. If they don't, listeners get lost.

Too often, Dickerson gets caught up in his reactions to plays and forgets to give us the basic information. Some of this is simply the fan in him. A hitter will tag a ball and Dan will exclaim, “Line drive . . . WOW!” So we know something exciting happened. But it's hit-or-miss whether, when Dan calms down, he tells us if the ball was caught or if the runner was safe.

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He does the same thing on balls and strikes. He will tell us a pitch arrived “at the bottom of the zone” or that it “paints the corner” and assume we know what that means in terms of what the umpire called. We don't know, and frequently he doesn't tell us: Was it called a ball or a strike?

Two What-the-Heck Moments

Two recent plays illustrate the point. On April 14, the Tigers went 11 innings during a Friday night home game against the San Francisco Giants. The Giants had scored a run in the top of the 11th and led 5-4 as the Tigers came to bat in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Kriedler was the Manfred runner at second base to start the inning.

Zach McKinstry led off the inning with a grounder to second baseman David Villar, who instead of taking the conventional safe out at first, tried to throw Kriedler out at third. That brought an eruption from Dickerson:

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“Villar throws to third! OH MAN! Why would he make the throw to third, Jimmy?”

Dickerson and Jim Price emoted for some time about the huge risk Villar took in making the throw to third, and only after a minute or so did they casually mention that Krieder was safe at third.

To them, it was probably obvious. If Kriedler had been out, they would have said so right way, so we could extrapolate from their commentary about the high-risk nature of Villar's throw that Kriedler must have been safe.

But it's not our job to extrapolate. It's their job to tell us.

Dickerson's treatment of a play in the Tigers' May 6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals was even more confusing.

With two out and runners on first (Javier Baez) and second (Riley Greene), Spencer Torkelson singled to left. Dickerson did a fine job of telling us that Greene had raced home to tie the game at 5-5, but then he told us this, “The throw is cut off and Baez is out at second.”

Wait a minute. Baez is out at second?

How did that happen? Did the cutoff man notice that Baez was slow in advancing to second on the apparent base hit into left field and get the ball to second for a rare outfield-originated force play? Because if that happened, the force play would have ended the inning and Greene's run wouldn't have counted.

Dickerson explained no further how Baez managed to get thrown out at second and went to commercial. Upon returning from commercial, he merely repeated the same information – that Greene had scored but that Baez had been “out at second” to end the inning.

I was in the car listening to this, and it wasn't until I got home and found a video highlight of the play that I understood: Baez had taken too big a turn rounding second when the throw was coming home, and was thrown out trying to get back to second.

That, of course, is not a force play and doesn't negate the run. Now I understood. But I had to search out video to get a full sense of what happened, because – as is far too often the case – Dan Dickerson didn't tell us.

Basics First

Dickerson is smooth in his delivery and comes across as a pleasant guy you would enjoy having a conversation. But he gets far too caught up in his analysis of players and trends – not to mention his own emotions about the game – to be consistent in giving us the most basic information about what's happening on the field. It's become a game within our family, when we're listening on the radio, to try to glean from what we heard what actually happened on a play.

These are flaws that Dickerson can and should correct. I don't know if they've ever been pointed out to him. Maybe someone will show him this article.

He is a very professional and appealing broadcaster in many ways, and I appreciate the fact that he doesn't force-feed us a contrived home run call or anything of the sort. But he needs to get better at telling us what's actually happening.

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