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Celebrating Masters announcer Jim Nantz, our nation's highest-paid tree

Now is the season of Jim Nantz, the announcer who has mastered the art of disappearing.

Streeter Lecka

1. Jim Nantz opens every broadcast with "Hello, friends," and if you learn one thing by living in a sketchy large city, it is that someone who addresses you as "friend" isn't one and should be avoided. Maybe we just got off on the wrong foot, Jim. You are just trying to be friendly, and I am expecting you to either ask me to attend your megachurch or to distract me while I am robbed on foot by your partner. (In your case, that could be Phil Simms, who would hold the gun backward and accept an expired hotel room key as my "credit card.")

2. Maybe we don't get along for other reasons. You are bland, predictable, and as literal as a Billy Joel song title.

3. Billy Joel, for those unfamiliar with the official suburb-state poet of Long Island's work, was at one point a ridiculously popular performer in the United States who had sex with beautiful women and made scads of filthy American money, though never at the same time. He now looks like Wisconsin athletic director and former coach Barry Alvarez, but at one point Billy Joel was popular enough to serve as our ambassador to the Soviet Union.

That went brilliantly:

In reality, Billy Joel was furious about the Soviet police spotlighting kids who were dancing in the audience, because Western music is decadent, and none more so than Billy Joel's "Sometimes a Fantasy." To put this in context, Slayer's "Reign in Blood" came out the year before Billy Joel went to Russia. Soviets knew nothing about terrifying, society-destroying music, because if Slayer had played the USSR in 1989 you would not be reading this. Dead people cannot use the internet.

4. Jim Nantz and Billy Joel share something in common: they both have more money than you will ever have, and neither is capable of producing a single unit of figurative language. Take "Sometimes a Fantasy," a song about a man having phone sex, which is a fantasy that he doesn't have all the time but only sometimes. Or "Piano Man," a song about a man playing a piano, or "My Life," a song about his life, or "It's Still Rock 'n Roll To Me," a song about how rock 'n roll has changed, but is still recognizable to Billy Joel as rock 'n roll. A song called "The Gall Bladder Song" would not be an experimental suite based on a pentatonic scale Joel lifted from a Schoenberg suite. It would be about Billy Joel's gall bladder, and how a surgeon cut it out of his very literal stomach with a knife.

5. Jim Nantz undoubtedly owns "The Gall Bladder Song" and other imaginary and real Billy Joel songs, and appreciates every single hyper-literal word. Nantz in mid-game/match is nearly invisible, noting events and periodically raising his voice when appropriate. If Gus Johnson is stuck to the rafters after an alley-oop, Nantz will be somewhere three stories below, his shoes not nailed to the floor because Jim Nantz isn't jumping anywhere, much less in those $400 loafers. He calls a tight, anodyne game, light on embellishment and and heavy on nothing. It is like watching a game called by the most intelligent, autotuned announcer computer science could create.

6. It is also as moving or interesting as Deep Blue calling a game. At big moments, the crescendo during which other announcers stamp their imprimaturs on a moment, Nantz instead raises his voice and declares ... what just happened, literally, and often predictably. Jim Nantz has said all of these at huge moments or endings of games:

Hinrich puts up the shot, it's too long, and Syracuse is your national champion!

A Kansas comeback for the history books. Rock, Chalk, championship! Kansas takes the title!

Picked off. Look out! Gets past Manning. And it's Tracy Porter taking it all the way! Touchdown, New Orleans!

Just when everybody says you can't, you can, and UConn has won the national championship!

Florida takes its place in history, back to back and unforgettable!

If Jim Nantz had called the Miracle on Ice, we would have had "The Time the United States scored more goals than the Russians and then advanced to the finals of the 1980 Olympic men's hockey competition." Secretariat would have been described as "a very fast horse" and not "a tremendous machine," and no hobnail boots would ever do anything as impolite as stepping on anyone's face, particularly not in the course of a football game.

7. Nantz calling anything is a degree of perfection: it is airless sports commentary, perfectly hewn to suffocate any trace of memory that might cling like so many barnacles to the hull of the event. I remember Bubba Watson's trigonometrically impossible shot out of the woods to clinch last year's Masters, but have no recollection of what Nantz might have said about the shot. I have watched the Masters every year like the world's most expensive screensaver, a smear of azaleas and pines infested with fist-pumping men in pleated khaki shorts and golfers grimly staring past my shoulder towards some evil bit of landscaping just behind my couch. I cannot remember anything Jim Nantz has ever said without looking it up, either from the Masters or from any other event he has ever covered.

8. This is a kind of compliment. It takes years of effort and study to be as utterly invisible as Jim Nantz the broadcaster is, and yet simultaneously good at your job. Go rewatch the 2013 Super Bowl and you'll hear Nantz, the play-by-play guy, dragging a clearly baffled Phil Simms throughout the broadcast, desperately trying to pull something resembling analysis out of him. Listen to him call a basketball game and marvel at the timing, economy, and accuracy in the delivery.

9. Now try to recall any of this an hour later. Nantz will be gone, his work a sound file on a thumb drive that destroys itself five minutes after play. The list of people calling sports I would rather have calling any event is long: Ian Darke, Verne Lundquist, Sean McDonough, Rece Davis, Gus Johnson, Vin Scully, Robot Keith Jackson (make one of those, science), Wes Durham, Martin Tyler, Marv Albert, Mike Tirico, and even Andres Cantor bellowing away in Spanish all come to mind before JIm Nantz even makes a cameo appearance in casting.

10. You would pay almost all of those announcers for their presence, judiciously spread out over the course of a sporting event. (Gus Johnson is the exception: you pay him to detonate, reassemble himself, and then continue cycling between explosions for the duration of the game.) Whatever Jim Nantz is, he has a niche no other announcer has: you pay him for his present absence, his not-being in a broadcast. That can be a problem in a sport like college basketball where you want a mirror for the game's sudden turns, drops, and stunning reversals.

11. At the Masters, Nantz's cultivated wooden demeanor is ideal: CBS pays him to disappear completely into the backdrop, whispering occasional facts and updates into the viewer's ear. He becomes essentially a highly paid tree, a genuine skill I don't like but can certainly appreciate. This is my phrasing, not Billy Joel's. Joel would write a song about Nantz called "Jim Nantz Does His job Calling Sports," a song about Jim Nantz and how he calls sports for a living. People would pay for it in cash.

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