Search for Dan McLaughlin’s replacement heats up, but could he eventually return to Cardinals broadcasts?

Search for Dan McLaughlin’s replacement heats up, but could he eventually return to Cardinals broadcasts?

The search is on for Dan McLaughlin’s replacement as the television voice of the Cardinals, a position former Cards broadcaster and now prominent national sportscaster Joe Buck has called the top TV local baseball job in the country.

Candidates from far and wide are being considered by officials from Cardinals telecaster Bally Sports Midwest. They, with input from the team, are making the decision that is expected to be finalized by the end of the month. Interviews have been taking place this week, as the list of candidates is being whittled. Sources also said that notices have been sent to those who now are not under consideration.

And while the opening is drawing a lot of interest, there are a couple factors that anyone who would give up a good job in which they are entrenched must consider.

One is the shaky financial status of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s regional sports networks (including BSM locally), something that Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III said this week is “concerning to us all and all of sports.” The Cardinals TV broadcasters are employed by Sinclair, whereas the club’s radio announcers work for the team.

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Another factor is the long-term status of McLaughlin. The sides parted ways by “mutual decision” last month, after his 24 years in the booth, because of his third drunken driving charge in a little more than 12 years. The latest carried a felony charge for being a “persistent” offender.

That third strike certainly is an awful situation, but McLaughlin had built a lot of good will over the years with hard work and talent. In fact, he recently was named the Missouri sportscaster of the year for 2022 by the National Sports Media Association.

His career blossomed at the time when the emphasis on local MLB broadcasts was shifting from radio to television. Just as Mike Shannon, Jack Buck, Harry Caray and France Laux had been the broadcaster Cardinals fans had identified with in previous generations, McLaughlin provided the team’s soundtrack for many of the club’s current fans. Dan had been The Man for those under 30 who grew up on TV.

Comeback path?

Could a rehabilitated McLaughlin, who is 48 and will want to work again, return in several years? Who knows? Maybe he already will have caught on elsewhere by then.

But what is known is that Cardinals viewership levels certainly have been stellar with McLaughlin in the booth. While ratings have dropped in recent seasons compared to what they were a decade earlier, that just corresponds with the overall decline in TV watching as people have changed their viewing habits.

In an apples-to-apples comparison, BSM has had the best local rating of all MLB teams in the country for the last two seasons, and four times of the last five. The Cards have been in the top four for 23 consecutive seasons — all with McLaughlin involved.

Of course the team has been competitive for most those years, creating interest. But if there would be a significant fall over multiple seasons to come, TV executives would look for remedies.

Let’s emphasize that no one with BSM or the Cardinals has brought up this possibility to “Media Views,” and McLaughlin politely declined to be interviewed. But after nearly 35 years of covering sports media, we know television loves good stories. And a triumphant return of a rehabilitated favorite son to many, especially if there has been a viewership dip, could be a “storyline” that’s hard to ignore.

Track record

There is precedent with the Cardinals replacing an announcer who was doing a good job with a personal favorite. That was the case when Wayne Hagin was fired from the radio team after the 2005 season to make room for John Rooney (who continues to perform at a high level). The team then was moving those broadcasts from KMOX (1120 AM) to KTRS (550 AM) and Rooney had previous ties with then-KTRS general manager Tim Dorsey.

“There’s nothing that Wayne did that he had control over that led to this,” team president Mark Lamping said then. “Everything Wayne had control over, he did exceptionally well. We believe that John Rooney and Mike Shannon are a better broadcast team than Wayne Hagin and Mike Shannon, no disrespect to Wayne at all.”

Hagin had been in the booth for three years, taking over after Jack Buck had died.

Hagin “did much more than what we expected,” Lamping said. “Sometimes bad things just happen to good people.”

Lamping no longer is with the team, but the top of the ownership group is the same — and the broadcasts have returned to KMOX.

There also could be another path back for McLaughlin.

Early in his career he did some Cardinals games on radio, and in fact 21 years ago had to make a choice — calling the Birds on TV or radio. It was an enviable position to be in for a 27-year-old, and he picked television even though it paid less at the time. It turned out to be the right decision.

But he was welcomed back to the radio booth last season to join the crew for several games BSM did not show, in order to prepare him to broadcast the team in the postseason for the first time. There is no local TV in the playoffs, so he had been shut out until getting some of the radio work last October.

Rooney is headed into his 18th season in the booth, second in the lead role following Shannon’s retirement, and will be 68 when the coming season begins. Although he has no pending retirement plans, some day eventually will be his last one in that role. The others in the booth who do play-by-play, Ricky Horton and Mike Claiborne, also are in their 60s. So logically there will be some turnover in the coming years.

But more immediate is the hiring of a lead TV broadcaster, something DeWitt III touched on at a session with the media at the team’s recent Winter Warm-up events. He indicated that a St. Louis background would be helpful, but not necessary, for the successful candidate.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the only factor when you look at it,” DeWitt III said. “There are some great outside candidates who have done some great stuff. Baseball play-by-play folks, guys, and women who have done other sports who are interested. Some of them have St. Louis connections. That’s part of the mix.”

St. Louis is a very provincial area, with a lot of people who are suspicious of outsiders. To wit: The tiresome “what high school did you go to?” question that often is asked. But look at this alphabetical list of some of the most prominent St. Louis sportscasters of the last half century, all of whom are not from the area:

Clearly, one can excel in this market even if they don’t have local roots. However, with a team as tradition-laden as the Cardinals, a strong knowledge of — and appreciation of — that history is a must in order to have credibility with a rabid fan base.

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses the late, great Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood (born this day in 1938), who made history off the field with a historic and lonely fight. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to former Cardinal Gibson Alba! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat.

Benjamin Hochman

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