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Dan Dickerson on teaching play-by-play at MSU, pace of play in baseball, and the 2019 Tigers

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Russ White
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Dan Dickerson

Detroit Tigers radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Dickerson is a busy man from mid-February through October. So how does he spend part of his offseason? Teaching what he does to MSU students who hope to follow in his footsteps.

“I love it. Every time I drive onto campus, it just energizes me,” says Dickerson. “My wife, Lori Ann, teaches in MSU’s Department of Journalism and has been here for a long time. So I've been coming up for years helping to teach her class once in a while. But now, for the last three years, I've actually taught a class I call Play-By-Play 101. It has an official name, but that's what I call it. It's been a lot of fun. I can only do a short six-week course before I head down to spring training. But it's been very fun for me to try to teach what I do.

“I teach the radio style of play-by-play. There are more opportunities in television. But I feel it’s important to first get the radio style down, which forces you to use your eyes to look at everything at the ballpark, at the field, at the venue, to describe as well as you can. You can always cut back your commentary on TV. But I think it’s important to get the basics down.”

While there are many ways in addition to traditional terrestrial radio broadcasts to hear Dan’s work, it’s still important to describe the action to listeners.

“I think radio is still very much a powerful medium and people are listening. It's in different ways now. It's on your phone. It's on your laptop. It's on satellite radio. But people are still listening in large numbers. So how has it changed for me? Not a lot. Because the basic task is always the same. This is what I emphasize to my students. Your guiding principle is does the listener have a clear understanding of what just happened?

“That's something that Ernie Harwell said to me very early in my career that put me at ease because I had never done baseball play-by-play and I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’ He said, ‘Just remember, does the listener have a clear understanding of what just happened? And then everything flows from that.’ Everything else is kind of style. But if that's your guiding principle and you really work hard at that and you can get more and more descriptive, then that's always going to be the starting point. And then it gets into the preparation and the stats. But you have to make sure you use the stats in the right way. So we try to cover all that. It's a lot.”

As the 2019 season dawns, we’re hearing more and more about pace of play and pitch clocks for Major League Baseball.

““If you really look at the last 40 years and how long the games were 40 years ago and compare that to how long they are now, it's really only a difference of about 25 to 30 minutes. If you take out the added one minute for commercials, 18 times, that's 18 half-innings, really, the games are maybe 15 minutes longer now, which surprised me. I would've said almost an hour longer. Length of games, to me, is not the issue. Pace of play is important and so is how often the ball is put in play. I do think that matters.

“But I think you have to be very careful when you talk about some of the things that they're talking about. Moving the mound back? No. Absolutely not. Lowering the mound? Be careful what you wish for. When you start tinkering with the mound, where the mound is, shrinking the strike zone, what are we trying to address here? We're trying to address one thing, strikeouts. And yet, if you look at the last three years, run scoring is up. How many people would've guessed that? Nobody. But they're trying to address, ‘Well, there are more strikeouts because guys are throwing harder.’ But you know what? These guys have proven they can hit a 98-mile-an-hour fastball. It's just that the style of hitting now is they're trying to drive it to the gaps, and that's going to result in more strikeouts.

“I don't know what the solution is. I do think more balls need to be put in play. And yet, I still think at the end of the game when you have a power hitter against a power arm, it's still exciting. I think it's very exciting when you get that power arm trying to close it out and you have a power bat at the plate and the crowd's going crazy. That's okay if that's a strikeout instead of a ground ball to short. Baseball is talking about a lot of things. They've got to be careful what they wish for because sometimes the unintended consequences really do end up making the game worse.”

As for the 2019 Detroit Tigers

I’m optimistic. I'll tell you why. When you're hoping for good health from key players, that can be risky. I understand that. But what is the upside? Because everybody knows this team has lost 98 games the last two years. What are the possibilities with this team? Here's what I see. A healthy Miguel Cabrera and Michael Fulmer is not out of the realm of possibility. Michael Fulmer still threw 97 last year. I don't think he ever found his slider. He's still an ace level pitcher. Miguel Cabrera has struggled with health. There's no question about it. But if he's in that lineup, it just changes the whole look of the line up. They scored 630 runs last year. With a healthy Cabrera and Nick Castellanos, who they didn't trade away, this offense could improve immediately by 100 runs. That's getting back to league average.

What if Daniel Norris can stay healthy? That's not, to me, a huge if, even though I know he's been hurt the last couple of years because it's not arm-related. It's been the groin injury. I think he's finally figured that out. That is still a number two or three starter with a lot of upside. Rick Anderson gets very kind of quietly excited about Daniel Norris. So you have Norris, Boyd, and Fulmer, the three you've heard about for a long time. That's the beginnings of a pretty good rotation. Jordan Zimmermann, I still think is solid at the back-end.

The bullpen can be better because of Drew VerHagen, Alcantara, and the way that Stumpf finished last year. Joe Jimenez is a closer in waiting. Greene is not as bad as we saw last year. The stuff was good. I'm not quite sure what was going on with all those home runs. This has the makings of being a decent bullpen.

And then, on the hitting side of the equation, Christin Stewart excites me. That's a power bat. You're going to see some long home runs off that bat. He's a rookie. You’ll see some struggles. But that's 25 or 30 home run power. Candelario at third base has a good glove. He can be better, but he also showed that he can be a pretty good hitter. He struggled down the stretch, but there's upside there.

So I don't know. These are the kind of things that get me excited. JaCoby Jones, how many people know this guy saved more runs defensively than any major league outfielder last year? Some know that, but that doesn't get publicized a whole lot. JaCoby Jones isn't a potential fourth. He's a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. In that ballpark, that's the most valuable defensive position. So all these things kind of get me excited for the year. Which is to say, there is an upside there that I'm not sure everybody sees or is talking about because you hear, ‘Well, they're going to be bad again this year.’ Okay, I get that. But what's the upside? If a few things go right, it could be an interesting season. I really believe that.

MSU Today airs Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870.

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