Pittsburgh Pirates Broadcasters Always Entertain


It was a burgeoning trend last year, and now it’s a Twitter phenomenon among Pittsburghers.

I’m talking about #RaiseTheJollyRoger, or its younger cousin #RaiseIt, a pair of hashtags that have been popping up after Pirates victories on the popular microblogging site. Thankfully, the wins have been coming more frequently as of late, so the swashbuckling meme has reached the viral stage.

But while Twitter has made the expression a new postgame tradition for Bucco fans, the origin of “Raise the Jolly Roger” dates back several years, when Pirates play-by-play broadcaster Greg Brown first started uttering it.

For a while it seems like Brown’s phrase would never gain relevance among the fan base, but the 2011 team brought the excitement needed to help it that catch on.

Personally, I’m glad Brown’s creativity is getting some publicity, because in my opinion he and the rest of the Pirates’ five-man broadcast team are one of the more entertaining groups in sports. They may not be the most sabermetrically-inclined guys in the world, but Brown, along with fellow Bucco broadcast veterans Steve Blass and Bob Walk plus relative newcomers Tim Neverett and John Wehner, always keep it fun.

For so many years (and hopefully those years are over), no one in baseball – and maybe all of pro sports – had less to work with than the Pirates’ broadcasters. Despite the weight of 19 straight losing seasons, the five have consistently lightened the mood on both TV and the radio with a refreshing irreverence.

Maybe that attitude has been necessary to ward off excessive frustration or even insanity, and you’d expect professionals to adapt to the situation and respond accordingly, but I still feel that this group has handled the Pirates’ two decades in the wilderness better than most would have.

Of course, any discussion of recent Pirates announcers would be woefully incomplete without a tip of the cap to Lanny Frattare. Lanny was the “Voice of the Pirates” through the 1980s, ’90s and the better part of the previous decade before retiring after the 2008 season.

As Frattare admitted, the losing got to be too much at more than one point, and he has discussed his bouts with depression that couldn’t have been helped by the Pirates’ hopeless plight for much of his time behind the mic. From my perspective, I got the impression that Lanny wasn’t having too much fun in the later years of his lengthy run, although big moments would still trigger his favorite phrases of “Go ball, get outta here” and “There was noooo doubt about it!”

Following Frattare’s retirement, the Pirates were short a beloved voice but created a better fit for the rest of the broadcast crew with the arrival of the jovial Neverett in 2009. In addition, the team has continued its practice of shuffling its play-by-play men and analysts back and forth between TV and radio, a practice I think keeps the on-air dynamic fresh and organic.

Each broadcaster brings their own unique attributes to the team. Brown is passionate and enjoyably excitable, which contrasts with the pleasant straightforwardness of Neverett. On the analysis side, the folksy and friendly Walk joins with Blass’ delightful zaniness and the technical knowledge of Wehner.

Yes, they lean toward a traditional approach to baseball, but if we’re judging broadcasters on whether you’d like to spend a few hours with them, it’s difficult to do better than the Bucs’ boys.

It can be challenging to consistently balance fun with passion, but this group of Jolly Rogers pulls it off more often than not.