Catching up with Dan Dickerson

Detroit Tigers play-by-play announcer Dan Dickerson was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his much-shorter-than-normal offseason to chat with me. We discussed 2006, the Magglio Ordonez call, and the outlook for 2007.

DTW: 2006 was a special season for everyone involved with or rooting for the Detroit Tigers. Was the season more fun and/or satisfying for you as a lifelong fan of the team or as a member of the organization?
Dan: It’ll be hard to draw a line between the two. Obviously I am fan because I grew up a Tiger fan. I think it probably is the most satisfying because it is your job and you’ve been part of something that’s been a lot of fun, but without a lot of success. And then, if it wasn’t out of nowhere, then it was certainly unexpected tremendous success. So to be a part of the organization, to be a part of watching that team, it was incredibly satisfying and gratifying. It was a lot of fun to be a part of it.

It was amazing to me to see them go from a situation where over the previous two years you’d go into a series and think “they have a chance” to going into every game expecting them to win. And for that to transform that quickly was an incredible thing to watch.

Continue reading Catching up with Dan Dickerson

Interviewing Dan Dickerson – Part 2

Continuing the interview with Tiger play-by-play announcer Dan Dickerson.

Part 1

DTW: How much research are you doing before each game and where are you finding your information?
DD: I love to get my hands on as much information as I can. At heart I’m probably just a complete stathead. I think that’s probably one of the things that got me into the game was the numbers. I played stratomatic baseball as a kid, I think that probably helped cement my love for the game. I love the numbers, I love the stats. I know you can’t do too much of that on a broadcast, but I do think it helps you understand how to evaluate players, how to try and evaluate players anyways, how teams build their rosters.

I like to read as much as I can. I like to read opposing papers and try and get a weeks worth of clips or more, print them out, and try to get a feel for what that team is doing now. Most of the information would come from the internet. Newspapers, websites. The team websites have become more valuable because you get some good feature stories. There’s no end to the baseball websites. If you’d click on My Favorites you’d see quite a few baseball websites I go to. I don’t know if you go to Hardball Times, but I think that has really become an outstanding website.

You can never have enough, and the fascinating part is how does it all fit, and a lot of it doesn’t fit into a broadcast.

DTW: Is the Detroit Tigers Weblog on your list of favorites?
DD: It is
DTW: That’s good to hear
DD: I didn’t go to a lot of those websites because I didn’t really know if it was a lot of guys making comments, and some of those sites are guys just posting stuff that is idiotic stuff. But then I did see your website, and I saw some of the stuff you do. I like some of the historical stuff as well as current stuff.
DTW: What is a typical game day like for you during the season?
DD: If it’s home, usually I’d get down there before 2:30 and 3:00. I like getting down there early, and 3:00 is aout as late as I want to get there for a home game. The clubhouse opens at 3:30, and if you get there early then you’ve got an hour to set your computer up, and start thinking about what you’re going to do that night.

I head down to the clubhouse between 3:30 and 4:00, and work both clubhouses. That’s one of the things I got from Ernie, because as much as I like stats, Ernie was very much people oriented. I think in the early days he introduced me to a lot of the people he knew and opened some doors for me. Just to see him go down to the opposing clubhouse, if not everyday then at least every series. He’d pop his head in the manager’s office, sometimes just to say hi and move along. Other times he’d have a specific target in mind, and if he didn’t know him, he’d introduce himself, or if he did know him he’d just go in and chat. To me it’s just not that easy to walk into a strange clubhouse, introduce yourself, and launch into some specific questions about his career, but I try and make sure I do that.

So I go down show my face, and sometimes strike up a conversation. Sometimes you get on a topic you weren’t expecting, sometimes it’s personal stuff, sometimes it’s baseball stuff. I just think that is one of the most fun parts of the job is that you get to ask the people who know so much about the game. No matter how much you and I think we know, we’ll never know the game at the same level these guys do. They see things in a different way, and to be able to go in and talk to a Carlos Pena, a Craig Monroe, a Brandon Inge about something that happened. Maybe it was a mistake they made but I want to have it in my mind whether it was a mistake that could have been avoided, or something that happened that I didn’t see on the play. Sometimes you’ll find out stuff that you didn’t realize, like “I hitched on the throw because the second baseman wasn’t at the base” or “That ball caught the lip of the infield and shot up into my gut.” The things that aren’t obvious on a replay or aren’t obvious at the time. To me that’s the real value in getting to know these guys, is they’ll tell you things that help you understand what went on in a game or what is going on in their lives as they struggle through a 2-25 slump. To me that’s a lot of fun and I’ll stay down there until 5:00-5:30.

Then I’ll get back up and get the lineups and fill out the lineup card and scribble in some notes by each guy’s name if there is anything that seems like it might fit. I know it seems like the last 2 hours always zoom by. It’s funny, you start righting stuff down and think “what about this” so you look it up in the computer, or “what did he do last year,” just little things that might pop up as your writing down a guys name. I try to keep bios on each player and a print out of the opposing team. You just kind of see what ends up on your paper that day. You talk to opposing broadcasters and get their take on things. You have dinner and you’re ready to go at 7:00pm.

DTW: Your home run call, “Way Back and Gone!” was that something that you rehearsed or did it just evolve naturally?
DD: I think especially for the deep ones it seems to work. It just came out one day. One day I said “Long Gone” [Ernie Harwell’s trademark call] and I was so mortified I made sure I had a different way to say it. When it’s way back you want to give the impression that it’s not one scraping the fence, it just seemed to work one day. I don’t use it every time because not every homer is deep, but if it was a Carlos Pena homer from the second half, it was deserving of that.

I try to vary it, but I guess the more you do it, the more you realize that “Gone” works, like “Score” in hockey. You’re hitting it, you’re punching it, and giving it your signature with your voice and the way you say it. I think a lot of guys say it, and I try not to get too fancy with it. I’ll use different calls from time to time, but when people hear “Gone” they know what’s going on.

DTW: What’s been your most memorable call?
DD: I always think of the Brandon Inge versus Troy Percival[Sunday, August 23rd, 2003]call because it was 2003, and it was a 9 or 10 game losing streak. They had not scored on Troy Percival, only like 2 runs in his career so it was the ultimate mismatch. Bottom of the ninth, down by a run with a man on and Inge hit a home run to win the game. There weren’t many memorable moments that year, but I came out of my seat on that one. There was so much going wrong and for him to hit that home run it was a very joyous moment in a season that hadn’t had many.

A great moment is a great moment. That team was bad, having a terrible season but then they won 5 of 6 to end the season, they were down 8 runs that Saturday and won 9-8, those were great moments. It’s always good to remember that no matter the record a great moment is still a great moment.

DTW: What do you think of the team’s prospects heading into next year?
DD: That’s a great question, I was having lunch with Dan Petry and another guy from the Tigers and were chewing over a lot of the things that could happen. I don’t like the way the free agent signing period has started. I think everybody has to be taken aback by the prices, or maybe not, maybe Dave [Dombrowski] anticipated the prices for closers. It seems like you have to go to plan B where if you’re going to improve you have to do it through trade.

I still think you can build a bullpen at a relatively low cost, outside of a closer. If you look at the White Sox bullpen last year I think I read it was a $3 million dollar bullpen. The guys they had were good and at a relatively low cost.

You’ve got to shore up the rotation. You have to add a veteran arm, or two. I still think there are options out there like a Matt Morris or Paul Byrd. I don’t know what the Tigers think of those two, but at a relatively low cost, I don’t know what that is anymore, you could sign one of those two. Javier Vazquez name is being floated out there as a potential trade. Carl Pavano also, but I guess not as likely. But I think you need to add the veteran arm to the roation with Verlander coming in.

The bullpen still is a question mark but I think it can be built in a low cost way outside of a closer. I don’t know what they’ll do about closer, but I think it is a high priority. I do think you can acquire a starter or bullpen help in a trade. Obviously with Pena and Young both on the roster, there isn’t room for both in the lineup next year. It seems to me one of those could be possible trade bait if you’re willing to pick up some of Dmitri’s salary, or if a team is interested in Pena.

Pena is the real X factor, I think that is the biggest decision. You watch him hit the last two months and think, “Do I really want to get rid of this kind of left handed power?” On the other side he’s only done it for a couple months the last couple seasons in spurts.

I think Jim Leyland is going to have a major impact on this team. Listening to him in the press conference, he seemed to be really anxious to get back to managing and wipe out the short stint in Colorado. I think he wants to prove he still has the fire, and it sounds like it to me. Everything I’ve read about him from his past in Pittsburgh and Florida is that this is a guy who lets you know where you stand, and what the consequences are if you don’t perform the way he expects. Talking with Dan Petry, you want to play for this guy. You want to do your absolute best. This is a guy who knows how to get it out of you. I don’t know how that translates into in terms of wins, but I think he’ll have a major impact.

I’d like to thank Dan Dickerson for being so generous with his time. Dan will be cohosting the Tiger Town radio show with Dan Petry on WXYT1270. The next two editions will air December 8th and December 14th at 7:00pm.

Interviewing Dan Dickerson – Part I

Dan Dickerson had one of the toughest jobs in sports – the guy that replaced Hall of Famer Ernie Harwell. Dickerson does play-by-play of Tiger games with Jim Price. Before becoming the voice of the Tigers Dan held a number of broadcast jobs in Detroit including two years of play-by-play for University of Michigan baseketball, and fill-in play-by-play for Michigan football.

Dan was kind enough to do an interview with DTW. Dan was very generous with his time, so the interview is quite lengthy. Part I is below, and Part II will be posted once it’s transcribed (hopefully in a day or two).

DTW: You grew up in the area (Detroit), when did you become a fan?
DD: I went to my first Tiger game in 1967 at Tiger Stadium. The 1967, 1968 teams really hooked me on baseball. Especially the end of 67, because I was just old enough, I was 8 when it went down to the last out. I do remember watching those last few games and of course the 9-1 start in 1968 and that team just had me hooked on baseball.
DTW: Did you have a favorite player as a kid?
DD: Willie Horton was it, he was. Al Kaline, absolutely, but there was just something about Willie as a kid that just captured my imagination. It looked like he could hit a home run every time he stepped to the plate. I think that really got me going, and I just didn’t miss an at-bat on radio or TV if I could possibly help it. I just thought he’d hit a home run every time.
DTW: Now you find yourself broadcasting for the team you grew up with. When you started off in broadcasting, was it your dream doing play-by-play for the Tigers?
DD: Nope, I never really thought that was a possibility. I remember telling my mom once when I was in my teens, that I was going to replace Brent Musburger someday, that was my dream. The Tiger job to me always seemed out of reach.

I loved sports, and every job I got in radio was news related. I kept trying to get into sports full time and I did for one year in Grand Rapids. When I came to Detroit it was news at WWJ, and part time sports. I was always working to get in sports, but it was just a little bit here and there. Then I did some Lions pre-game and post-game stuff. It was 1995 and it took me 15 years to get a full time sports job and that was a reporter – not play-by-play.

The thought I’d be the Tigers play-by-play guy was out of reach until the late 90’s.

DTW: You did play-by-play for Michigan basketball, how long did you do that?
DD: Two years. What got me into the Tigers booth started in 1995 when I got to WJR. I’d go out to the Silverdome and practice my football play-by-play. Ray Bentley, the former football player came over from Grand Rapids and he wanted to practice his color, so we made tapes together just practicing. I gave the tape to Chuck Swirsky, who was the sports director at WJR. There was a need for a fill-in guy for Michigan football two weeks into the season. He told me you’re the guy. They wanted him to do it, but he said “No, Dan’s ready.” To me that was the biggest break because then I got to be known as a play-by-play guy in Detroit, versus a play-by-play guy doing high school stuff in Grand Rapids.

That was the break that led to Michigan basketball. And those two things combined made me a credible play-by-play person and got me into the Tigers booth.

DTW: Did you have any apprehension following a legend like Ernie Harwell given the reception that Rick Rizzs and Bob Rathbun had received a few years earlier?
DD: Not really, just because I’d been in the booth for 3 years with him. I think if I was coming from out of town it’s almost an impossible task. whether it’s Detroit or any other town where they’ve had a broadcaster for a long time (pity the guy who follows Vin Scully in LA). Unless it’s a local guy, I think that’s important, someone that you know and are familiar with. I didn’t really have that much apprehension. I think Ernie really helped smooth the way for me.
DTW: Not to mention it was completely different circumstances
DD: Yeah, he was going out on his own terms. That’s a big difference
DTW: You’ve broadcast some pretty disappointing seasons. Does the job become more difficult with the team out of contention in August?
DD: Put it this way, I think it would be a lot more fun if they were playing meaningful games in August and September. The first 3 years on the job we had some not good season in 01 and 02, but in 03 when I was doing the job after Ernie I was really wondering what it would be like at the end of the year. That team started 3-25, that number sticks in my head, and there are numbers you can pull out and just keep going. And I wondered what August and September were going to be like. I really found out in 2003 that the job never got old. I can’t think of a day where I dreaded going to the ballpark or having fun on the job.

It really goes back to some advice Ernie gave me early in my career, when in 2001 the Tigers started 9-23, and that was supposed to be a pretty good team with the Juan Gonzalez trade and the deals they made. I said “How do you do this?” This was my team, they are 9-23 and I was down. He said “Remember, every game stands on its own.” That advice was very simple but it really stuck. You might see something you’ve never seen before, you might see a great individual performance, you might see a great game between two bad teams. And it’s true, it sounds so simple and I think all fans realize that, and that’s why you have fans at games. For some reason, just to hear him say that, it really stuck with me and I found it’s true. In 2003 there was always something to look forward to, like a pitcher on another team. I always looked forward to Jeremy Bonderman’s starts because you never knew when he might do what he did in Oakland when they were 1-18. I think 2003 really drove home the point this is the best job you can have, because it never got old.

DTW: Being a big fan of the team before becoming the broadcaster, do you find yourself worrying about being too much of a homer? How do you balance it?
DD: It is a bit of a balance. I think it helped to listen to Ernie all those years, because as a listener I appreciated he always gave a good call to both teams. Obviously the better call was to the Tigers. I think there’s a bit of a fine line in that you don’t want to get too down or too up. I think you can let a little bit of the fan in you out during a broadcast. If there’s a disappointing play or a game ending home run that goes the opposite way, you have to make sure you strike the right tone and not be overly down – or over the top. Although I do think I’ve probably gone over the top a few times.
DTW: But those were really exciting moments (laughing)
DD: (laughing) They were, so I guess they deserved it. But I guess Ernie helped, and I try to think about what I want to hear.
DTW: You’re employed by the team. Does it ever get uncomfortable, or do you find yourself censoring yourself because you’re employed by the team?
DD: Yeah, I think you have to. I think that’s the reality even if you aren’t employed by the team, and my first year I wasn’t. I think that’s the reality of being a play-by-play person is that you do a little bit of self censorship, but it’s not to the detriment of the broadcast I don’t think. I think it means you don’t get into the things like the soap opera kind of stuff that gets in the papers sometimes. It’s legitimate reporting, but it’s not something that I believe needs to be in a broadcast unless it has spilled over and is so obvious. It’s like the elephant in the corner, you have to talk about it at some point. I think Jim and I have found that there are times, and I’ll bounce it off of him “We should probably talk about this today.” We’ll bring it up, acknowledge that it happened, whatever it is, and then just kind of move on from there.

But I think there is some of that, and it’s part of being a play-by-play person. You learn some things being so close to the team that other people might not learn. You learn things in confidence from players that gives you some perspective about what’s going on that you’re not going to use in a broadcast. I think it helps the broadcast because you’ve learned about it and you have the perspective in the back of your brain.

In terms of criticizing the team, as a listener I don’t want to hear a lot of criticism of the team anyways. You can certainly point out they’ve lost 8 out of 10. I don’t hesitate to talk about if their pitching has gone well. I’ll try and point out the stretch they’re in. If it’s going bad I’ll point out the stretch they’re in without dwelling on it too much or repeating and repeating. The game is still there, you have to call the game, but I think you can point out the good and the bad as long as you don’t over do either – especially the bad. I’ve never had anybody from the team say anything to me about “you have to be more positive” or “you’ve got to watch what you say about this.” Hopefully that means I’m walking the line and bringing up both the good and the bad.

Continue Reading Part 2