By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Sep 15, 2006 at 5:20 AM
I’ve got a friend named Irv Brodsky, even though I don’t know if he’s alive or not anymore.

But Brodsky was the closest associate of Roone Arledge, the man who brought sports to television or television to sports. One day, Brodsky and I were stuck in a bar in Augusta, Ga., while it was raining during a practice day of the Masters. Brodsky was a big deal in ABC Sports and even though CBS had the Masters, Brodsky was there, as he put it, "scouting talent."  He said he was working hard to find good color men for his network.

After the fourth or fifth cocktail, we began to talk about color men in television.

Brodsky called color men the "star in the constellation" of a broadcast booth. He said the play-by-play announcer may have the biggest job, but the color guy had the most high-profile job and the one that had the biggest impact on the quality of the broadcast and the number of people who watched. "They got two jobs," he said. "They have to explain things and they have to make the audience like the way they explain things."

The month of September is, perhaps, the best month of the year for watching sports on television. This year, you’ve got pennant races in baseball, the start of college and pro football, the U. S. Open tennis tournament and the Ryder Cup in golf, to name a few.

I, of course, intend to watch every minute of everything I can. I even watched the mixed-double finals in the Open. Not only do you get a lot of sports, you get a lot of color men, or analysts or whatever you want to call them. Anyone who doesn’t do play-by-play is in the category. And I’ve been thinking about who I like, who I don’t and why.

Let’s start at the bottom, which is crowded with ex-players, ex-coaches and an occasional outsider who somehow thinks yelling, bombast or shock is the way to help viewers understand what’s going on. People like Dick Vitale and the trio of Bradshaw/Long/Johnson on Fox, have taken producers’ advice to "give it some energy" to unheard of and unhealthy levels. Sterling Sharpe, a wonderful wide receiver who refused to talk when he was with the Packers, should have continued that habit in private life.

Also floating around the bottom is perhaps the biggest name in this category, John Madden. Madden is the master of the obvious. When you see a runner start out right and cut back against the grain, while carrying the ball in his left hand, you can bet that Madden will say, "He started out right and cut back against the grain while he’s got that ball in his left hand." This guy should gracefully retire, but comedian Frank Caliendo would have to come up with somebody else to make look like the jerk he is.

Then you’ve got the funnymen, led by Gary McCord on golf and this year’s addition to the Monday Night Football booth, Tony Kornheiser. The biggest problem with this is that sports are not inherently funny. They are a lot of things, but funny is not really one of them. So the humor of people like Kornheiser is forced, which is a nice way of saying that it isn’t funny. You can just see the suits saying, "Let’s put Kornheiser in the booth and tell him to be funny." Didn’t the world learn anything from Dennis Miller?

Bob Uecker is an exception to this rule, but if you listen it becomes clear that Uecker’s humor is almost exclusively about himself, not the sport or the athletes. That’s the difference and why he ranks among the very best. Uecker also knows as much about comedic timing as Woody Allen.

Something has to be said about the color women of this world. Lesley Visser started it probably two decades ago on CBS, and women have made absolutely no progress in sports. There are no women doing play-by-play on nationally televised sports. And in the major sports, they are almost exclusively limited to the role of "sideline reporter." Michelle Tafoya, Andrea Kramer and Suzy Kolber are all good, but have no chance to do anything special. Sports on TV are run by guys who think sports are for guys. Someday, some guy with guts will give a woman a play-by-play job and the lid will be off this particular garbage can. Watch out for Jen Lada, a local at Channel 6. If the jockstrap ceiling ever crumbles, she could be a big deal. Let’s hope she won’t take the bait of sideline reporter. When was the last time a sideline reporter ever said anything that wasn’t packaged before the game?  The answer to that question is never.

While most of the rest of the world of color men fall into the take it or leave it category, there are some who stand out.

In football, Chris Collinsworth is one of the very best. He’s smart, opinionated, a little funny and very, very hip to the athletes of today.  Another great analyst in football is Troy Aikman, who understands the game the way only a smart quarterback can and isn’t afraid to be critical of either strategy or performance.

In basketball, Charles Barkley stands out. He’s got humor, but more than that, he has a wonderful sense for telling you what to expect the rest of the way. His mastery of the world of adjustment would probably make him a great coach. Someone who has become a good color man is Jon McGlocklin of the Bucks. I never thought I’d say it. Once you forget about his partisanship, he really has a nice way of explaining the game and telling you something you don’t know. When he started, he was closer to Madden and now he’s closer to Aikman.

In baseball there’s Joe Morgan and then there’s everyone else. Morgan is so smart and does so much homework that he could probably fill both play-by-play and analyst roles all by himself. Plus, he seems like a really nice guy.

Having said all that, there are two analysts who, I think, are head and shoulders above all of the others -- John McEnroe in tennis and Johnny Miller in golf.

They both have impeccable credentials as athletes who played their sport at the very highest levels over a long period of time. They both have mastered the English language. They both have a natural sense of humor. They both have strong opinions. They both know the behind the scenes machinations of their sport. And they both have the support of their networks to tell viewers the truth.

That’s the biggest job of the analyst. Tell us the truth.
Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.