Generally speaking these ex-athletes provide a nice balance with their usually overly dramatic and sometimes clueless partners, providing insight that only someone with experience in that particular sport can give.
In the best cases the ex-athlete will add that little extra something to a broadcast that can help the average fan at home better understand what it is they're seeing and why the subtle nuances of sport are so important.
Many times however the untrained, vocabulary-less jock-in-a-tie will drag their professionally trained cohort down leaving them to sort out the jumbled mess of a production that, while at times amusing, is usually enough for people to turn off the sound or change the channel altogether.
Here now a quick look at three former players who I think have made an effortless transition from the field to the booth and three that need to go enjoy their millions and leave the rest of us in peace.
- Troy Aikman - Far and away the best football player turned broadcaster, it took Aikman just a single season before he had ascended to the top spot as part of the lead broadcast team at Fox alongside Emmy Award winner Joe Buck.
One of the rare ex-athletes who can at times actually carry a broadcast when the better-suited-for-baseball Buck finds himself without anything interesting to say. Aikman is the one guy I look forward to hearing from every Sunday as he is the perfect blend of quality delivery and deep knowledge base.
- Orel Hershiser - Once one of the toughest pitchers in baseball, Hershiser has carried his studied and professional approach on the mound over into the broadcast booth where he currently works as an analyst for ESPN.
Known during his playing days for always being prepared, Hershiser clearly the brings the same attitude to his work as an announcer as he always seems to have that little nugget of information that the casual fan will undoubtedly learn something from. He's steady, reliable and professional and a treat to listen to whether he's covering the stars in the big leagues or the kids at the Little League World Series.
- Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow - I'll admit it, this is a homer pick from me, but I don't really care. Known to San Francisco Giants fans simply as "Kruk and Kuip" these two ex-ballplayers form what for my money is the best broadcast team in all of baseball. And it's not even close, meat.
From Kruk's "Eliminator" to Kuip's now (in)famous home run call, this duo is the total package when it comes to doing baseball. They're funny, insightful, passionate and professional. No over-the-top homerism's or annoying schtick here, just two good baseball men who deliver quality broadcast after quality broadcast. It's a shame more people don't get the chance to listen to them, but to be honest as a Giants fan it's kind of nice to have something this good all to myself.
Honorable Mention - Tom Jackson (ESPN), Patrick McEnroe (CBS, ESPN), Mark Jackson (ESPN), Daryl Johnston (Fox), Nick Faldo (CBS, Golf Channel, ESPN), Jay Bilas (ESPN), Gary McCord (CBS), David Feherty (CBS)
- Emmitt Smith - One of the all-time greatest football players and one hell of a dancer, Smith has surprisingly fallen flat on his face as a studio analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Countdown.
There's no questioning his credentials, but more often than not his analysis is a difficult to understand mish-mash of words that unfortunately at times paint him as unintelligent. While that is certainly not the case, his obvious lack of broadcasting savvy makes him downright difficult to watch.
- Eric Young - The Mayor of Souvenir City, Young made his mark in the big leagues as a guy who was dependable and flexible, playing both the infield and outfield at the highest level. These days fans of ESPN's Baseball Tonight are forced to watch him commit error after error on the set of the popular show.
While I could have picked from several of Baseball Tonight's analysts (Orestes Desdrade, Eduardo Perez, Fernando Vina) it's Young who takes the cake with an uncanny ability to muck up highlight after highlight with his non-existent sense of timing and smoothness.
- Bill Walton - Passionate, check. Intelligent, check. Knowledgeable, double-check. Annoying as all get out, oh hell yes. Walton is the rare athlete turned broadcaster who somehow manages to deliver interesting information that would in most cases enhance a broadcast, but instead manages to make me want to pull my nose hairs out one by one.
No one rambles quite like Walton who routinely forces those brave enough to interview him to cut him off mid-sentence in order to move the show forward. He knows his stuff and his love for the game is astounding, but when I'd rather smash my finger in a car door than listen to someone carry on as Walton does, something is terribly wrong.
(Dis)Honorable Mention - Keyshawn Johnson (ESPN), Rick Sutcliffe (ESPN), Brian Baldinger (Fox), Mark May (ESPN, ABC), Lanny Wadkins (CBS), Ron Santo (Cubs Radio), Mark Grace (FSN Arizona)