Monday, January 5, 2015

Review: You Can't Make This Up (2014)

By Al Michaels with L. Jon Wertheim

One of Al Michaels' best qualities as a broadcaster is that he is durable. No, that isn't a comparison to tires. It's that he has lasted.

Michaels first popped up in the national spotlight in the early 1970s as the voice of the Cincinnati Reds, when he did a little work on the World Series. A few years later he landed with ABC, and Michaels has been with us ever since.

Don't discount the skill about being durable at this level. Those who are on the air all the time sometimes become overexposed and become targets. The obvious comparison is Curt Gowdy, who did a variety of sports over the years and did them very well. But after a few decades on the job, people (viewers and network executives both, I would guess) tired of his work and it was on to semiretirement.

That hasn't happened to Michaels. It's not a surprise then, that a book by Michaels about his broadcasting career would be interesting and pleasant. "You Can't Make This Up" follows that description perfectly.

Michaels split his childhood between New York and Los Angeles, almost staying with the Dodgers who also moved in the Fifties. He went to college at Arizona State, and paid his usual dues looking for broadcasting work. Check that - there was nothing usual about working for Chuck Barris briefly. Yes, Michaels searched for contestants for "The Dating Game" at one point in his life.

But eventually, he landed a sportscasting job in Hawaii, where he picked up a ton of experience, and then moved on to the Reds and San Francisco Giants. It was on to ABC from there, where he had the signature moment of his career. Michaels found himself announcing hockey in Lake Placid at the 1980 Olympics, which didn't figure to be much of an assignment. Then came the march of the United States team, and Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles?" moment right after the win over the Soviet Union. The announcer's story of those Games and that game still delivers goosebumps.

From there it was on to baseball and football for the most part, usually on Monday nights but eventually on Sunday nights. Michaels has become part of the furniture over the years, having done so many big games. He's worked with great analysts and seen many memorable moments. It's fun to go along for the ride in a manner of speaking.

Michaels delivers the story in a good-hearted manner too. Only a few people get carved up a bit. Michaels didn't know Howard Cosell until the late 1970s, when the latter had started a transformation into a bitter, angry man. It's tough to blame Michaels for not wanting to work with Cosell at that stage. Boomer Esiason and an ESPN executive named Mark Shapiro are about the only others who don't come off too well.

The pages fly by here, as Michaels mixes some of his own life with encounters with some stars. It's all quite entertaining, exactly as you'd expect. "You Can't Make This Up" is like having a nice, long conversation with Michaels, in which you know you're going to have a good time.

Four stars

Learn more about this book.

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