Chicago sports fans have a connection with their teams’ announcers that’s built on a kindred spirit of “We’re in this together.”
But over the years, our local announcers have become national voices. With Marquee Sports Network hiring Jon Sciambi last week, the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks all have a TV announcer working for a national network, too. (The Bears only have local preseason broadcasts because of the NFL’s TV deals.)
Sciambi will continue to call the MLB playoffs and college basketball for ESPN, in addition to some regular-season baseball games. Sox voice Jason Benetti calls college basketball and football for ESPN. New Bulls play-by-play voice Adam Amin calls MLB, NFL and college basketball for Fox. Blackhawks analyst Eddie Olczyk is a longtime hockey – and horse racing – voice for NBC.
They aren’t just our guys; they’re everyone’s guys.
What’s the significance? Only that Chicago is in a new golden age of sports broadcasting.
That isn’t to say national announcers are better announcers. But working for ESPN or Fox does come with a certain cachet, and our announcers aren’t exactly buried on their network’s depth chart.
Olczyk is NBC’s top hockey analyst, and his Blackhawks partner, Pat Foley, would tell you he’s the best sports analyst of them all. Benetti will call any game ESPN gives him, and they give him plenty. Amin just completed his first season on Fox’s No. 3 NFL crew. Sciambi has been the voice of “Sunday Night Baseball” on ESPN Radio.
It’s hard to argue with the networks’ thinking. Olczyk, 54, is the gold standard of analysts, providing quick, concise, in-depth analysis that only the trained eye can provide. He can explain the genesis of a goal before the team is done celebrating, no easy task in a game that fast. He also has a great sense of humor, and it’s evident he and Foley enjoy each other’s company on the broadcast.
Benetti, 37, is great in the Sox’ booth, but baseball might not even be his best sport to call. He’s fantastic on basketball, and when Amin had a couple of conflicts recently with his Bulls schedule, Benetti filled in and the broadcast didn’t miss a beat. It feels like he could fill in for anyone and do well. After all, it takes someone special to navigate a broadcast with Bill Walton beside you.
But the Sox are his priority, and his pairing with Steve Stone, still one of the best analysts on TV, has drawn national acclaim. Fangraphs recently released the results of its fan voting for MLB TV booths, and Benetti-Stone ranked No. 2, behind the Mets’ crew of Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. (For the record, the Cubs’ now-defunct Len Kasper-Jim Deshaies booth ranked fourth.)
Amin, 34, is new to the scene but not the town. He grew up in the western suburbs and has been a lifelong Bulls fan. He has hit the ground running with a strong, exciting call, and he has meshed well with Stacey King, a fine analyst in his own right. A competitive team certainly has helped the broadcast, but Amin has been doing this long enough that he’ll be prepared for the inevitable stinker.
In the minds of viewers, Amin, Benetti and Olczyk are helped by their local ties. Benetti grew up in Homewood and went to Homewood-Flossmoor. Olczyk is a Chicago native, went to Brother Rice and was the Hawks’ first-round pick in the 1984 draft. Like Amin, they were fans of their teams before becoming their broadcasters.
But Chicago fans should know that fandom isn’t a prerequisite for a good broadcaster. Sciambi, 50, will remind them. Even though he’s from New York, he has called enough Cubs games and knows enough Cubs alumni to understand the culture. He’s entertaining and smart, and viewers should have a smooth transition to him from Kasper. Sciambi will form a fine partnership with the popular Deshaies.
The last time Chicago sports TV had this strong of a cast was in the 1990s. Harry Caray and Stone called the Cubs; “Hawk” and “Wimpy” (Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek) called the Sox; Wayne Larrivee, Tom Dore and Johnny “Red” Kerr called the Bulls (Larrivee on WGN, Dore on cable); and Foley and Dale Tallon called the Hawks.
Chicago doesn’t have many celebrities, so we look to our athletes and announcers. Those guys might as well have been the Rat Pack. They overflowed with personality, and they could call a great game, too. It didn’t hurt that the Sox were competitive in the ’90s, that the Bulls owned the decade in the NBA and that the Hawks regularly made the playoffs. The Cubs regularly lost, but that didn’t seem to hurt them on superstation WGN.
Now we have a new group of stars. Obviously, Foley and Olczyk have been at this awhile. They came together in 2008. But Benetti joined Stone in 2016, Amin is in his first season with King and Sciambi hasn’t even called a game yet.
It’s the beginning of a new era in Chicago sports broadcasting, and it’s going to be a good one.