I’ve been a Detroit Tigers fan my whole life. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I became, inescapably, begrudgingly and for lack of a better term, hopelessly involved in the team’s inner and outer workings. I started following the farm system, scouting potential Major League trade options, exploring the naunce of salary balancing.
It is not a choice; it’s a spiral. It’s a feedback loop. The more time spent enjoying wins results in more time feeling sorry about losses. Players become as family members. Watching the Tigers play on television is like watching my friends (who I’ve never met) play. There is something regrettable in the super-fan’s attachment to a group of men who have not a care in world for me. When Jose Iglesias and James McCann got into a dugout dust-up earlier this year, watching the replay made my stomach turn. It was like watching my friends fight. Silly, I know.
The closest I’ve ever been to a Detroit Tiger was when Alan Trammel signed my mitt when I was ten, and a couple of years later when my uncle took me to a game against the Twins at Tiger Stadium. We sat behind the home dugout. During the national anthem, Danny Gladden (then a Tiger) was about to insert a giant glob of tobacco into his mouth when he noticed me staring at him. He gave me a scolding look, and gestured that I should’t watch him do what he was about to do. I turned away, and turned back in time just to see him plop the chew in. That’s the only interaction I can recount in all my years as a Tigers fan.
It’s sad, really, that any of it matters.
I have an Old English ‘D’ tattooed on my right arm, above the elbow, and sometimes people ask about it. I proudly tell them I got the ink directly after the Tigers lost 119 games (2003). That year, the year I fell in love, it wasn’t about wins and losses; it was about my discovery of what the Tigers meant to Detroit, and Michigan. It was about the pastime of baseball on the radio and what it became to me. For the first time in my life, sports became more than exercise, more than just healthy competition. It was about place, I realized.
That year, I listened to nearly every game on the radio. Dan Dickerson and Jim Price had taken over for Ernie Harwell, and in their first, god-forsaken season on the radio, the Tigers racked up the second most losses in the history of baseball. But I loved it. I was a college student, so I had little to do during the summer besides lay around in my tiny room with the window open, listening to Dan and Jim crackle through the AM radio. I began arranging my days around the games. I’d have to be home in time. I’d make sure I had everything I needed before the game started: beer, a half a sandwich. From that summer on, nothing would be the same.
In 2015, not much is different. To this day, one of my favorite things to do is sit in a comfortable chair, crack open a cheap beer, and listen to Dan and Jim. Partly it’s my devotion to the Tigers, and partly it’s the charm of Dan and Jim. After listening to every single broadcast team in baseball over the last several years, I can say in honesty that I’m not sure there’s a better combo. Most broadcasters lack the genuine likability, baseball knowledge and overall sense of fun that Dickerson and Price bring to every broadcast.
Critics like to cite Jim Price’s repetition of certain phrases such as “Nice area”, “Art of pitching”, “Yellowhammer”, and “Wow” as grounds for his dismissal. I see it differently. What Price brings as a former player (backup catcher for 1968 Tigers squad) and as an occasional repetitive old man is something missing in baseball broadcasting. Most announcers allow the airwaves to be filled with dead air, only commenting when they feel necessary, and often with a complete lack of charisma. Price, as a color commentator gets it. He understands that radio listeners are a part of a family, and that comfort often comes in the form of familiarity. So, when Price utters “nice area” for the fifth time in the broadcast, we, as Tigers fans are made to feel comfortable by what we know. We know Jim is going to say Saginaw is a “nice area” even if it’s mostly not (I was born and raised there). We know that Miguel Cabrera is not just batting third, he is “The Big Man”, and he’s batting “thirrrrd.”
Dickerson, his play-by-play counterpart, is no less charismatic. Aside Vin Scully, Gary Thorne, and only a handful left in baseball, Dickerson has the voice of a baseball announcer. You could say he was born for radio — for baseball on the radio. Dickerson has a sort of riding effect to his calls. There is a music to it. “Two on, two out in the bottom of the ninth. Tigers trailing by one.” Dickerson has something that cannot be taught — an ability to slightly inflect the parts of sentences that require emphasis. If there is tension at any given point in a Tigers game, Dan Dickerson makes sure you can feel it, and he does it effortlessly.
Sure, I’m biased. I’m a Tigers fan, but there’s something else; I’m a baseball fan. I love baseball with every ounce of my body. When the Tigers are not playing, I am looking for that magic elsewhere. I’m lucky to say that even when the Tigers are losing, it’s a pleasure to be along on the ride with Dickerson and Price. Their chemistry is something that doesn’t come along often.
That chemistry is Dan and Jim’s shining strength. At any moment, either one could erupt in laughter, for any reason. It’s not a haphazard giggle or a he-he type of laughter, it’s the kind of laughter that brightens a room, even through the radio. It comes from the right places. It comes from a sense of comfort. You get the feeling that these two are doing exactly what they should be doing.
It’s not an easy job to take over for Ernie Harwell, one of the greatest broadcasters of all time. But, those things that made Harwell great — Dickerson and Price bring those same sensibilities to the radio: community, tradition, and a pure love of the game.
I might have been a Tigers fan even without the radio, but I can say for sure that it was radio that grabbed me, pulled me in, and hasn’t let go. Radio was a way for me to feel closer to the team. I can’t say for sure that any other broadcast team would have done that. It’s a big part of why I feel the way I do about the Tigers.
The Tigers aren’t doing well this year. They’re 58-61 at the start of the day, and there’s no real indication they’ll go on a streak. Still, they’re 3.5 games out of the wild card, and as long as there’s hope, I’ll be tuning in to listen to Dan and Jim. Even if the Tigers lose tonight against the Rangers, the broadcast will take me through it, and at the end of the game, listening to Dickerson and Price will remind me what baseball really means. It’s not always about glory, sometimes it’s just about our city, our state, our country and the things that make it great. Sometimes it’s just about spending time with good people.
I can say for sure that I’m doing that almost every night at 7:08 PM.