Book Review: “You Can’t Make This Up” by Al Michaels

I only knew Al Michaels from his broadcasting days on Monday Night Football; I didn’t know much about his career. From this autobiography, I see a true professional broadcaster who knew what he wanted to be since 8 years old and he was never jaded in his more than fifty years of broadcasting career.

– Always count your blessings: Al considers himself so lucky that his next life may be a night-shift miner in Mongolia.
– It pays to know what you want to do as early stage and start modeling yourself to the best in the industry like he did with Vin Sculley.
– You get to be a pioneer in a growth industry like going from the radio medium to the TV and now the Internet medium.
– The book reads like his play-by-play. Audiobook sounds even better.
– As a parent, we need to be like Al’s parents, exposing the children to all things of interest to the kids so they can be better prepared/dedicated to a career they enjoy. Of course, good eating habits, like eating vegetables, would be good for Al.
– Picked a profession as early as possible and select your colleges accordingly to give you the maximum exposure and practices.
– Game announcers have to be careful in being impartial and yet subtly ruling for his home team. Also, there is a subtlety of matching/syncing the voice with the crowd – no shouting when the crowd is quiet and no whispering when the crowd is creaming. “The game is the melody and the announcer provides the lyrics.” Also, they need to be sensitive to tragedies that happened during the sports events, like car racing.
– So many sports figures, who I’m mostly not familiar with, are described in the book. But you may relate more to the book if you are.

A quick summary:

1. Brooklyn:
Growing up in Brooklyn in 1950, he still remembers Dodgers’ playing in Ebbets Field. And he watched a hockey game in Madison Square Garden. He was exposed to many different sports. He was born to teenager parents, who set good examples to the kids in improving themselves. In his early life, he likes all sports, collected and memorized all baseball cards. He was labeled by his brother as having “manic intensity” or by his own term, “passion with compulsion” about sports, even to the point of role playing with water hose as the microphone, play-by-playing calling his brother’s sports activities.

2. California Kid:
Because of his dad’s promotion, he moved to Los Angeles as a teenager in 1958. Turned out his home was very close to where I grew up as a teenager but different high school. He listened to Vince Sculley’s play-by-play of Dodgers games and became a fan of Kings (Hockey) and LA Rams. He picked ASU for its broadcasting/journalist program and the opportunity to do more than 200 baseball games and wrote his column on the school newspaper. Good preparations.

3. Rascal:
Al was a “rascal” when in ASU like making up a fictitious high-school baseball player and fooled the Phoenix newspaper into publishing it several time, each time more progressively ridiculous. He’s got a good break from Curt Gowdy on his first broadcast opportunity. Al married to his high-school sweetheart in his senior year and kept the marriage to this day. Amazing!

4. Cut by the Lakers:
Al started out recruiting contestants for the “Dating Game” show. Then he was hired to be the “color” man for Lakers next to Chick Hearn, who didn’t want him there. Al’s big break at announcer job for the Hawaii Islanders happened thanks to his father-in-law connection to the owner of the team. He dropped his game show gig and flew to Hawaii.

5. Aloha:
In Hawaii, he did the many play-by-play announcers for the Islanders and doing TV news. He was recommended by Tommy Lasorda, who was managing the minor league team, Spokane Indians. Tommy listened to Al’s work behind the scene after bring kicked out of the game. Al was getting lots of “reps” or experience in his hectic schedule. Then he was recruited to the Cincinnati Reds in 1971.

6. Rose, Bench, Sparky, and the Machine
In Cincinnati, he got to know Pete Rose and intimate in Pete’s gambling habit. Al felt “sad” about Pete’s betting on his own team – a serious conflict of interest. Lots of stories about Cincinnati Reds. Then SF Giants came knocking on Al’s door at the end of 1973.

7. The Giants of Candlestick, and the Wizard of Westwood
Early 1970’s were the transition time from radio broadcasting to TV broadcasting, Al had to change the way he announced the play by play – less is more. At the same time, the TV broadcasting right fee accelerated. At this time, he did both SF Giants and UCLA Basketball games and got to meet John Wooden, the greatest coach of all times. Wooden retired in 1975 after 10 national championships. Al despised Candlestick park like most people in the Bay Area, which he attributed to the poor attendance in those days.

8. Wide, Wide World
In 1976, Al worked between Giants and ABC’s Monday Night Baseball, spending lots of time in the air and eventually parted way with the SF Giants.

9. Do You Believe in Miracles?
One of the most memorable moments in Al’s career is his coverage of the 1980 Winter Olympics, when U.S. beats the Soviets, the favored championship team in Hockey and eventual won the gold medal. “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” his quote. The game was delayed broadcast to the U.S., quite a strange set up in today’s Internet era.

10. Saturdays in the Fall
There is these interesting predictions by Frank Broyles, Al’s co-announcer in one of the Stanford game, that Bill Walsh will be a great coach and this Arkansas attorney general, Bill Clinton may be a US President some day. Both came true.

11. The One and Only
This chapter is about his relationship with Howard Cosell, who drank heavily off camera and sometimes during the games. From Al’s perspective, Howard Cosell was not an easy person to work with.

12. Roone, the Olympics, and the Fight Game
Roone Arledge was Al’s boss during his ABC Sports days. Roone was known to be mysterious and difficult to find (Waldo), a strange leadership style. Al got the Monday Night Football announcer job in 1983, along with O.J. Simpson and Joe Namath.

13. Monday Nights
Al reminisced a few memorable Monday Night Football games. A story about Al Davis’ competitive nature: you’re a friend or enemy, based on his interview with Marcus Allen.

14. Two for the Ages
Here he talked about covering the World Series in 1989 between Aces and Giants when the big earthquake hit. I was in the Bay Area at that time and I remembered distinctive where I was at work.

15. O.J.
Al lived pretty close to the double murder scene in Brentwood on 6/11/1994. Funny that he was trying to get O.J. to play golf and even rang his house that day. O.J. never denied that he killed the two people. Instead, he kept saying, “How can anybody think I did this?” That’s the clue in retrospect. There was a Howard Stern prank played on Peter Jennings during the coverage of the “slow chase.”

16. Diversions
Al mentioned some of his hobbies of horse race including buying this horse called, Barraq. He also talked about his TV acting experience being short-changed in this movie called, BASEketball.

17. Monday Night Transformations
ABC got bought ESPN and placed more emphasis on ESPN so Monday Night Football got left on the waste side. Dennis Miller helped rejuvenated the game.

18. Partners
Al partnered with more than one hundred people over the years. He talked briefly about the memorable ones and the good ones that understand broadcasting and the art of communicating. They understand story lines and flow and perspective, develop a sense of timing and learn how to use their voices and the art of inflection. He talked about John Madden and his fear of flying in planes.

19. Links
He talked about his love for golf and his encounter with Donald Trump and Michael Jordan.

20. A New Home
Al Michaels moved from ABC to NBC and live happily ever after.