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Is Tony Schiavone the most underrated play-by-play man of all time?
Tony Schiavone is currently the play-by-play voice of the Atlanta Braves’ AAA farm team, the Gwinnett Braves, but for many years Tony was a fixture at ringside for Jim Crockett Promotions, WCW, and, for a brief time, WWE. Tony was also one of my most enjoyable broadcast partners back in the ’80s and early ’90s. ( PHOTOS) Contrary to what many online gossip mongers would have you believe, Tony and I got along well, but to say that wrestling politics didn’t take a toll on our relationship would be inaccurate.
I first met Tony when Jim Crockett Promotions and Bill Watts’ UWF co-promoted the Jim Crockett, Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament in New Orleans at the Super Dome in 1986. We had much in common since both of were major sports fans — Tony with baseball and me with football.
When Crockett purchased the UWF from Watts in 1987, Tony and I became co-workers, but within the old school world of wrestling it was generally whispered that I was there to “take Tony’s spot” or “Tony wants you gone.” Same can be said for the wrestlers involved in the acquisition. Instead of this business deal being a game changer, it became a game ender due to mismanagement and other factors — but that’s another story for another day.
Tony and David Crockett had their established TBS gig, but soon after I came to work for Crockett, I was added to make it a three-man broadcast team. The whispers continued. I can’t honestly say that the three of us truly ever developed much chemistry, but we dealt with it as best we could.
At the same time, for syndicated TV production, Tony and David did the “A” show, which was called Worldwide Wrestling while Bob Caudle and I did the “B” show entitled NWA Pro Wrestling. There was a competition between the two teams, but I’d describe it as healthy. Egocentrically, I felt that Bob and I were the better duo. I’m sure that Tony and David felt that they were the better team.
On April 27, 1988, Tony and I worked our most significant event together for Crockett and TBS. The first Clash of the Champions, which went head to head versus WrestleMania IV, emanated from Greensboro, North Carolina and is most remembered for World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair and Sting battling to a 45-minute draw in a match that catapulted Sting to national prominence. Looking back at that bout — which is included in WWE’s recent “Best of WCW Clash of the Champions” release — I felt like Tony and I had a strong broadcast and our team had chemistry. Tony worked the lead and I provided color commentary and we nailed it that night.
Neither of our TV personas was that of an antagonist announcer, but we both worked diligently to enhance the talents in the ring and to bring as much of a reality based feel to the bouts as we could. Tony used his baseball background/influences to accentuate his delivery while I utilized football analogies and a little passion to add to our team.
As Shakespeare said many moons ago, “The play is the thing.” The action in the ring wasn’t about the announcers — it was all about the wrestlers. As I’ve always said, the wrestles write the music and we announcers are responsible for providing the lyrics.
Tony left WCW in 1989 to briefly work for WWE. Going to WWE was obviously an opportunity for Schiavone, but many speculate that he likely wouldn’t have left WCW if TBS management had decided to put me on the syndicated shows instead of Tony. Bottom line was that TBS suits put yours truly on cable and placed Tony in syndication. I had nothing to do with that decision and was matter of factly told by management how it was going to be and that the two of us would be earning the same pay for our roles for Ted Turner’s new acquisition.
One of my fondest memories working with Tony was when we would each get $35 a day in cash for our per diem while working for Crockett. Out of those funds, we had to pay for our hotel room, food, rental car, and more on $35 per day each. I was single at the time, but Tony was happily married with five, young, beautiful children. Every dollar counted, so we shared a rental car and a hotel room. Heck, we even shared appetizers at dinner.
I can remember the two of us staying at the then new Fairfield Inn near the Atlanta Airport and we were so thrilled because: 1. We earned Marriott points and 2. “new” meant bigger TV’s with cable AND remote control. We were there often, because we did so much post production work at the TBS studios on Techwood Drive at all hours of the night. A hotel room with two beds was about $25-30 per night so splitting the costs made economic sense. I also remember Tony getting up very early in the morning to do a radio sports show on the phone as I tried to snooze. The “Father of our Country,” as Jim Cornette used to call Tony, had a great work ethic.
In the early years of our relationship, I’d rank Tony right there with the best play-by-play talents in the business. However, as the years went on and the political scene in WCW became more tumultuous and stressful, the lifelong baseball fan seemingly hit the wall and the genre of pro wrestling did not appear to be as much fun for him as it was back in the day. Until one has been in those shoes, one can’t imagine the stress of doing live TV in that type of environment.
Tony will likely always be remembered as steering the unpredictable ship of Monday Nitro as it earned massive TV ratings during the “Monday Night Wars.” I will best remember him as my ‘roomy’ and fellow sports enthusiast who I truly enjoyed working with.
Tony is living his dream these days doing baseball play-by-play on radio and also working on the Georgia Bulldog Radio network. I’m sincerely happy for the devoted husband and father. Working alongside Tony Schiavone was pivotal in my growth as a broadcaster.
Next time . . . the revolving door of partners in WCW — the Atlanta years. ( Read part one of J.R.'s history in the broadcast booth)