Jays voice and Frick nominee Dan Shulman recalls his formative days in broadcasting
ESPN analyst Dan Shulman awaits the start of the Maryland and Indiana NCAA college basketball game in College Park, Md., on January 10, 2017. Toronto Blue Jays play-by-play commentator Dan Shulman has been named a nominee for the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Gail Burton
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, December 5, 2023 11:13AM EST
TORONTO -- When Dan Shulman was a first-year mathematics student at the University of Western Ontario, the self-described 'sports nut' thought he might give sports writing a try.
"I wanted to write sports for the Western Gazette, which was a great campus newspaper," Shulman recalled. "I got there and there were like 150 people in line to get in."
Journalism's loss eventually became the broadcasting world's gain.
Walking back to his dorm room, Shulman noticed a "Radio Western" sign on a nearby door and no lineup at all.
The modest radio station -- just 50 watts at the time -- was looking for volunteers. Shulman was interested and soon found himself on the air at CHRW, handling play-by-play duties for a number of varsity sports.
Those formative radio days would set Shulman on a path that eventually led to him becoming one of the top broadcasters in North America and a nominee for the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award.
The honour, presented annually for excellence in baseball broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, will be awarded Wednesday at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville.
Shulman, who calls Toronto Blue Jays games on Sportsnet, is up for the honour along with fellow Canadian Jacques Doucet, a longtime French play-by-play voice for the Montreal Expos and the Blue Jays.
The other nominees include Joe Buck, Joe Castiglione, Gary Cohen, Tom Hamilton, Ernie Johnson Sr., Ken Korach, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper.
"Just to be even considered, much less mentioned in this kind of a group, I'm just deeply honoured," Shulman said in a recent interview.
While at Western, Shulman did not have plans for a broadcasting career. In fact, he paused his radio pursuits in fourth year to focus on academics.
But for those first three years in London, Ont., Shulman cut his teeth calling Mustangs basketball, football and hockey games. He also co-hosted a talk show called "From the Cheap Seats."
"Half the calls were inevitably buddies of mine just messing with me," Shulman said with a laugh. "My roommate would call and say, 'Could you pick up some milk on the way home?' and stuff like that. You could have made a sitcom out of it."
Shulman's first game on the mic was a Western-Windsor football game in 1985. He and another freshman were given colour commentary duties for one half apiece.
The date -- Oct. 5, 1985 -- was memorable to Shulman as it was a big one in Toronto sports history. The Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees that day at Exhibition Stadium to secure their first-ever playoff berth.
A decade later, Shulman would be calling Blue Jays games on TSN. But that was the farthest thing from his mind at the time.
"I was totally doing it just for fun," he said. "Nobody ever said to me, 'Oh you're not half bad.' Nobody ever said a word and I never thought about it. It was just a nice extracurricular thing to do. It kind of gave me a little community.
"I wasn't in a frat or anything like that. This was my community at Western. I loved it."
After graduation, Shulman spent six months working as an actuary, but realized a few months in that the field might not be for him.
He shifted back to broadcasting and started working weekends at CKBB in Barrie, Ont. Shulman handled late-night radio newscasts, weather and traffic reports and general news assignments.
"It was sink or swim," he said. "They threw me in and I guess I swam more than I sank."
In 1991, he moved to CJCL 1430, now known as all-sports radio station Sportsnet 590 The Fan. He also did some work for CTV before getting his first big baseball TV break in 1995 with TSN.
"The magnitude to which my life changed just blows me away still," Shulman said. "Things happen fast. It was a really exciting time."
Shulman, who has also called basketball games throughout his career, also served as a longtime ESPN Radio voice. He called ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball games from 2011-17 and moved into his current position with Sportsnet in 2016.
The 2024 season will be his 30th year calling MLB games.
"I still have as much fun doing it as I ever did," Shulman said.
The Frick winner will be honoured during the July 19-22 Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2023.