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Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Sean McDonough

McDonough is a big-time announcer. He has certainly carved out a niche for himself with a style that, to me, is all his own.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster - Sean McDonough

He’s one of the more versatile play-by-play announcers around. Sean McDonough has been working professionally since 1982. He was the play-by-play announcer for the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League and hasn’t stopped since. McDonough has seemingly called every sport imaginable. Last year he went back to an NHL booth, being named the lead broadcaster for ESPN’s coverage of hockey. He’s getting ready for year two. 

A native of Boston, McDonough graduated cum laude from Syracuse University in 1984 with a degree in broadcast journalism. In May 2007, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Southern Vermont College in recognition of his career, community service and personal achievements. He was also the Commencement Speaker at the graduation ceremony.

McDonough was named to the Hall of Fame for WAER in 2014, Syracuse University’s noncommercial radio station where he began his sports broadcasting career as a student. The Sports Media Center at Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications also honored McDonough with the Marty Glickman Award in 2016. He received the highest alumni honor given out by Syracuse, ‘The George Arents Award’, the highest alumni honor bestowed by Syracuse University in 2019. McDonough was selected for induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Quite a resume. 

ROAD TO ESPN/NHL

In 1988, McDonough started broadcasting Boston Red Sox games on television. He teamed there with the late Jerry Remy. McDonough stayed with the Red Sox through the 2004 season and was not brought back. He was replaced by Don Orsillo. McDonough blamed his firing on his salary and his candor regarding the team. Interestingly enough, he would return to the Red Sox in 2019, doing 30 some odd games as a part-time radio play-by-play announcer. 

Concurrent to his work with the Red Sox, McDonough worked varying assignments for CBS Sports starting in 1990. At CBS, he called college basketball, working 10 NCAA Tournaments, college football, the NFL, US Open Tennis, the Winter Olympics and contributed to the Masters coverage. 

In 1992, he took over as the lead voice of CBS’s Major League Baseball telecasts. He was only 30 years old and became the youngest person to call a national broadcast of the World Series. Strangely enough, that record would be broken 4-years later by Joe Buck, who would replace McDonough in the booth. 

While on the baseball coverage, McDonough had several memorable calls. Perhaps the most famous was in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates. When Atlanta’s Francisco Cabrera came up with the game winning hit.

‘Line-drive and a base-hit! Justice has scored the tying run, Bream to the plate…and he is SAFE! Safe at the plate! The Braves go to the World Series! The unlikeliest of heroes wins the National League Championship Series for the Atlanta Braves. Francisco Cabrera, who had only ten at-bats in the major leagues during the regular season, singled through the left side, scoring Sid Bream from second base with the winning run. Bream, who’s had five knee operations in his lifetime, just beat the tag from his ex-mate Mike LaValliere and Atlanta pulls out Game 7 with three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. This place is bedlam. There will be no second nightmare for Bobby Cox. Final score in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series: The Braves 3 and the Pirates 2.’

He also called the final play of the subsequent 1992 World Series, in which the Blue Jays became the first non-American based team to win the Major League Baseball’s world championship: 

“Nixon bunts! Timlin on it! Throws to first . . . For the first time in history, the world championship banner will fly north of the border! The Toronto Blue Jays are baseball’s best in 1992!”

A year later, McDonough called Joe Carter’s dramatic 1993 World Series ending home run off Mitch Williams of the Phillies: 

“Well-hit down the left-field line! Way back and GONE! Joe Carter with a three-run homer! The winners and still world champions, the Toronto Blue Jays!”

Since 2000, McDonough has worked for ESPN/ABC, working again, pretty much every sport that the network has broadcast rights to. College hoops, College football, US Open golf, British Open golf, Monday Night Football and now the NHL on ESPN/ABC. Before last year, McDonough hadn’t called an NHL game since 2004. 

BACK TO THE ICE

McDonough grew up a hockey fan and relished his role as a play-by-play announcer the first time ESPN had the NHL contract. He goes way back with the sport and seemed to really miss it when not calling hockey.

“It was really the first thing I did when I got out of Syracuse University and started at NESN (New England Sports Network). My first assignment was college hockey, and I did a lot of NHL back in the day. I was hoping that we’d get it back.” he recently told The Athletic. “I’ve told this story before, but I was in the stands at the TD Garden in 2019 watching the Bruins play the Blues in Game 7. I looked over where Mike Emrick was and said to my buddies, ‘Boy, it would be great to do this someday.’ The atmosphere is just incredible.”

McDonough had to reacclimate himself to the game itself, which wasn’t the same one he covered before. “One of the things that stood out to me immediately is the game is a lot faster than it was 17 or 18 years ago, which was the last time I was doing the NHL,” McDonough told The Athletic. “You used to be able to put your head down and look for a note or if you weren’t quite sure of what number a player was, you could look down and the guy was probably still lugging the puck through the neutral zone. You don’t have time to do any of that now. If you don’t show up to the game having all the names and numbers completely memorized and you have to look down, you’re in trouble because the puck is going to go somewhere else very quickly, and it may wind up in the net while you’re looking down. I have an appreciation for how good hockey broadcasters are because it’s not easy.”

McDonough worked at it and re-watched some games to see how he could interact with Ray Ferraro more, especially when the latter was at ice level and the former at the top of the stadium. He and Ferraro developed an excellent chemistry as the season wore on and they were clicking on all cylinders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Final. 

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

McDonough is a big-time announcer. He has certainly carved out a niche for himself with a style that, to me, is all his own. There’s something about his cadence and delivery that makes him stand out. He has a distinctive voice that lends itself to big games. McDonough is unique, in a good way, in how he presents big moments in big games. It’s hard to put into words how he ramps up from description to excitement without missing a beat. It’s different but it works and has done so for a long time. 

Versatility is a word thrown around a lot in the broadcasting industry. There are very few announcers around that have called Monday Night Football, the World Series and the Stanley Cup Final. Think about all the milestone moments he’s had the pleasure of calling. Think also about how many of those moments came in different sports and stages. 

It’s a tribute to an announcer that has risen to the occasion for many a big event. McDonough doesn’t get the notoriety that perhaps he deserves. Whether or not his opinionated style has hurt him at times, there is no arguing he is among the best to ever do what he does. 

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