It was announced this week that the contract of Pittsburgh Penguins long time television play-by-play guy Paul Steigerwald, 62, was not being renewed by Root Sports, and that he would be replaced next season by NHL Network broadcaster Steve Mears, 37. While this is not seen as a Bob Prince-type firing by the Penguins (older readers will get the reference), the Pens clearly had no objection to the move. Steigerwald himself wrote a gracious "thank you" column that appeared in the Post-Gazette, and Mario Lemieux has found some cushy landing spot for Steigy in the Pens' front office PR machine, so everyone is happy, and we all wish Mears well in his new gig, although we all know how tough the Pittsburgh audience can be on a new play-by-play guy, regardless of the sport.
I think that the Penguins and Root Sports should be given credit for this move as it represents some forward thinking on their part, and this is especially true when you look at the other sports broadcasting spots in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are one of the five major sports "franchises" on the Pittsburgh sports scene, the other four being the Pirates, Steelers, Pitt Football, and Pitt Basketball. The main play-by-play guy for three of those franchises is Bill Hillgrove, who will turn 77 this coming November. Hillgrove has been doing Steelers games since 1994, Pitt football since 1974, and Pitt basketball since 1969. It is not my intention to make this particular post a hatchet job on any one individual, but let's face it, if you've listened to any of Hillgrove's broadcasts for any one of those three teams in the last ten years or so, it is obvious that he is, well, let's just say way past his prime, and leave it at that.
It has surprised me that neither the Steelers nor Pitt have made any move to replace Hillgrove as The Voice of their franchises. You would think that they would want to bring in a younger, fresher voice, someone who would not say things like "he's tackled by a guy in the Bengals backfield". For his part, why would Hillgrove want to keep doing this at the age of 77? In recent years, Pitt seems like they are grooming Larry Richert to succeed Hillgrove, and he, Richert, is 57 years old, and could be well into his sixties before Hillgrove's hands get pried off of the microphone. If Richert really wants that gig, he must feel like Prince Charles waiting for the Queen to die.
This goes on. Dick Groat, Hillgrove's color analyst on Pitt basketball, will be 87 in November. Pirates color analyst Steve Blass is 75, but at least he doesn't do road games any more. Mike Lange, the Pens radio broadcaster, is 69 and has held that job since 1976. Ray Goss has been doing Duquesne basketball on the radio longer than any of these guys and he is pushing 80 years of age.
These guys seem to have a stronger hold on their jobs that Supreme Court justices or the Pope. It has to be very discouraging for a young guy trying to make it as a play-by-play guy in Pittsburgh.
As I said at the outset, the Penguins are to be given credit for their forward thinking approach here, and I think that the Steelers, Pitt, and, to a lesser extent, the Pirates, need to be taking a similar view at their broadcasting talent.