Tonight in San Diego, Sean McDonough will be at the microphone for one of baseball's headline events, the All-Star Game (channels 11, 9 at 8:30, pre-game show at 8). As CBS' No. 1 baseball play-by-play man, McDonough has a national stage, and, though he might not command the salary paid some of the stars on display at Jack Murphy Stadium, it's safe to say he's comfortably in six figures.
But it wasn't so long ago that McDonough was glad to pick up an extra few bucks by hitting the road with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. Back then, McDonough would phone in game details and quotes to a Syracuse newspaper for $25.
"Yeah, that was more than I got for doing the actual games," McDonough said recently. "When I was doing the Syracuse Chiefs games back in 1982, I got $14 a game. I used to look forward to road games for the extra money. I got another $14 a game in meal money."
It hasn't exactly been a long, strange trip for McDonough. At 30, after little more than 10 years in broadcasting, he has moved into one of network television sports' top jobs, replacing a Hall of Fame announcer, Jack Buck. In addition, he calls play-by-play on Boston Red Sox telecasts.
And remember the Winter Olympics? McDonough was the guy standing on the luge/bobsled hill wearing that Greg Norman reject of a hat.
This could be called a meteoric rise. But meteors might end up crashing. McDonough is still flying.
"I do think I've come along quickly," he said, "but, on the other hand, I never really thought it's happening too fast."
After graduating from Syracuse University, he moved on to Boston, did work on such things as hockey pre-game shows, and joined ESPN in 1989 for college football and then baseball work.
But the big move came in 1988, when got the Red Sox job.
"I thought there was a lot more pressure in 1988 [than this year] . . . because I was 25 years old then," McDonough said. "I certainly had far fewer credentials. . . . I was replacing somebody popular in Ned Martin. Plus, there was the added pressure of being Will McDonough's son.
"They gave me a one-year contract and said, 'Let's see if you can do it.' I was being very closely scrutinized from Day One."
Part of the scrutiny came from the last name. Will McDonough was a well-known sportswriter for the Boston Globe before adding jobs as NFL rumormeister for CBS and NBC. Maybe some thought the younger McDonough had an unfair advantage because of his dad.
Even if he did, McDonough's performance doesn't speak of someone who got his job through nepotism. On CBS, he and analyst Tim McCarver work as smoothly as veteran infielders turning a double play. In television, the analyst is the star. McDonough won't argue with that.
"In this medium, you're more of a traffic cop," he said. "It can be difficult from an ego standpoint if you think you should do more than that."
Ask McCarver to list McDonough's attributes, and it reads like a recommendation anyone would love taking to a job interview.
"His effortless demeanor. His dry sense of humor," McCarver said. "He's very professional, very prepared. . . . I think the combination of all those things has made him as successful as he's been."