By Steve Williams
Mick Gillispie, Tennessee Smokies baseball broadcaster since 2007, is on deck for a major league gig. After all, he was selected the Ballpark Digest’s Minor League Broadcaster of the Year for 2017.
That’s No. 1 among hundreds of others who do what he does across the country. A tremendous honor!
But there’s no guarantee he’ll get that call up.
Becoming an announcer in the big leagues may be tougher than becoming a big league manager. There’s not much turnover among the folks who describe the action, while skippers often get the axe in one city and reappear in another.
Being good isn’t always good enough, and Mick knows that. Yet, he is determined to get there.
“My goal is to get to the major leagues. Plain and simple,” Gillispie said when I interviewed him in the U.S. Cellular Broadcast Center at Smokies Stadium prior to Tennessee’s Southern League Double-A game against the Biloxi Shuckers Saturday night, Aug. 11.
“I want to see if my style of doing a baseball game would work at a major market. I know it would … I just hope that happens, because there are so many things in my business that are out of my control.”
Mick said he’s not good at rubbing elbows with prominent and influential insiders.
“I try, but I’m just not good at it,” he said, laughing heartily. “It’s not like calling a double.”
Gillispie, however, has built some equity in the Smokies’ parent club Chicago Cubs’ organization, having worked his seventh spring training this year, teaming with Len Kasper for the radio broadcast on Cubs.com. Kasper is the Cubs’ television voice in the regular season.
Pat Hughes, 63, is currently Chicago’s radio play-by-play guy and has been in that position since 1996. Gillispie was asked if he sees himself as an heir apparent someday.
“I’d be ready for it,” he answered confidently. “It’s a consistency thing, a work thing, a luck thing, too. You’ve got to be lucky.”
In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy Mick’s broadcasts here in East Tennessee like many fans of the Tennessee Smokies do.
Gillispie is not what is referred to as a “cookie cutter” broadcaster, a term used to describe many announcers in this generation who sound so much alike.
He has a style of his own, much like a previous generation of great announcers. The fact he grew up in Baltimore listening to Hall of Famers Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller call the Orioles’ games in the 1980s and ’90s contributed to his approach.
I enjoy how Mick intertwines his broadcasts with storytelling and sometimes interesting conversations with guests who drop by his booth.
I like how he uses colors and descriptions to paint vivid pictures in the minds of his listeners … “the pitcher peers over his tan leather glove for the signal from the catcher” … “the stadium candles are now in full effect.”
One Sunday afternoon, the clouds overhead looked like “Grand Maw’s mashed potatoes,” announced Mick.
“Well, they were actually like my great-grandmother’s mashed potatoes,” clarified Gillispie, remembering trips to “Maw and Daddy John’s house.
“I didn’t get to go there a lot, but when I did go, it was always blue skies and white clouds.”
Gillispie also does a good job of staying even keel through the long season, not getting too high after a win or too low after a loss.
“Chuck Thompson would always go through a game that was a tough loss and make it sound like there’s hope tomorrow,” he recalled, “and that’s what I try to portray as well.”
Like many announcers, Mick also has a signature catchphrase he uses after a win … “Whatta ya say!”
It’s an old family expression he inherited.
“My grandfather,” said Mick, “answered the phone everyday with ‘Whatta ya say.’ My dad did it. My uncle does it. My cousins do it. I said I would love to incorporate that into my nightly broadcasts someway.”
In addition to announcing the Smokies, Gillispie wears several other broadcasting hats. During the offseason, he works for the SEC Network, mostly at UT. He also hosts the Alabama football pregame and postgame radio shows on the Crimson Tide’s flagship station. And he’s broadcasted Tuscaloosa County High School’s football games since 2009.
Mick’s ties to Alabama are a story of its own. While enrolled at the University of Maryland, he attended a semester at Alabama in a national college exchange program and ended up transferring and graduating there.
“It was way more affordable,” explained Gillispie. “I really loved it and wanted to finish school there. The people were really nice.”
Gillispie and his wife Stephanie and 6-year-old son Jaichner (Jake) live in Knoxville.
“I love East Tennessee,” said Mick. “I’ve grown to really love this area. I’ve become a fan of the people here and their support for our team and how intelligent they are. They know the game.”
Many of those fans also know Mick probably won’t be on deck much longer.