Broadcaster Accountablity, part II
Richard Sandomir of the New York Times writes an interesting article that could be the beginning of a movement to restore quality to the national broadcast booth. An updated version is available here. He reaches some different conclusions than I would.
So I wrote him.
Your fine article identifies a problem in recent baseball broadcasts, but doesn’t quite ask the right question. It breaks my heart to listen to McCarver, once a brilliant original baseball analyst, only occasionally provide insight amidst the egotistical and occasionally oblivious banter that passes for analysis these days. It has gotten bad, and if we accept the quality of broadcasting we are given lately, it might get worse. For example, viewers of last night’s spectacular Endy Chavez catch had their experiences sullied by McCarver’s inane reference to the advertising on the outfield wall: “strength to be there” or something to that effect. Occasional errors—misidentifying pitchers, not knowing how many outs there are, misidentifying pitches—are to be expected, but sitting through a Fox telecast leaves one unable to shake the conviction that Fox is all about advertising and uninterested in helping us understand the game (think about how many pitches were missed—missed!—for advertising or stupid in-game interviews) while ESPN’s coverage is so vacuous, so insulting to viewers’ intelligence I don’t know where to begin. McCarver and internet public enemy number one Joe Morgan prefer to develop canned themes whether or not they fly in the face of facts the viewers are seeing on their screens. If McCarver is continually telling me a 94 mile and hour pitch is a change-up, then where is the producer or skilled analyst to step in explain to me how this is possible? And if they don’t go on the internet, as is dubiously claimed by Buck for example, how will we pressure them to deliver a better product?
What is the right question? I think I have an idea, and I posted it on my blog itsmetsforme (http://itsmetsforme.blogspot.com/2006/10/reflections-on-nlds.html) some time ago:
“RE: National Baseball Broadcast Teams
Listening to Fox broadcaster Thom Brenneman's game 3 apology to the sight-impaired guy with the special glasses while I watched the taped version of the game (thank god for VCRs) marked a sad occasion. Anyone listening to the game two broadcast, where "Psycho" Steve Lyons and made fun of this guy, Met fan Stephen Teitelbaum, already realized the depths to which national broadcasting has sunk. We ask for insight and we get insensitive. It's bad folks, and even though its sometimes amusing to listen to dumb (Miller) and dumber (Morgan) on ESPN, I start to suspect there is something more insidious going on when the producers at the world wide leader let Morgan's banal theme, "This is a different Kenny Rogers," dominate their entire coverage, from color to field reporting, to interviews. Then they make a ridiculous show of shuttling this Hall of Fame air head between games, supposedly for our benefit. Stunts like this make the Sports Center "Hot Seat" (sponsor name omitted) look like "Masterpiece Theater."
It goes beyond my irritation with the cable giants' Yankee-centrism or Jeter worship. Even if you are partial to one broadcaster or another, the question must be asked, how hard is it to find anyone with real insight to do the play by play or color duties for baseball? Often the choice of ESPN or Fox's broadcasters seems to come down to the lessor of two evils. Is no one qualified for this job? These national cable broadcasters are not even trying to give us a quality product. In fact, it seems that they don't even know how. This is how you end up with Chris Berman, who, when you can hear him, sucks big ass now--he should stick to making up funny middle names and saying back back back. This is how you get Tim Robbins in the booth during crunch time. This, I note with deep regret, is how Steve Phillips happens.
Can't anyone add something to this game anymore?
This problem has already been duly noted with internet "tributes" to Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver. Some of it is just age. Exhibit #1, McCarver, who for my money was once the best announcer in baseball, now brings very little to the game, leading many viewers to see him only as a pompous windbag. Listening to Vin Scully mix up "ball" and "bat" (among other things) on the radio at Dodgers Stadium last night made me realize that an era is sadly coming to a close. But Yankee homer Joe Buck or the aforementioned Lyons have no such excuse. What dumbed baseball broadcasting down? Was it the steroids era, or the Yankees era (which are closely related)? Perhaps the cable era is to blame?
And we complained about irritating, but ultimately harmless shill Fran Healy! In any event, if SNY doesn't mess it up and Keith Hernandez can avoid offending half the audience, we Mets fans have a great broadcast team to look forward to when the World Champion Mets open the 2007 season.”
The set up of your our article (this refers to an earlier version than the one linked to above) raises another question in my mind, one about the effect of blogs and internet on journalistic practices. I read many sports blogs and dailies and you can clearly see the coincidence of themes, to my mind one not incidental or solely due to the unfolding of events. It seems to me journalists are reaping the benefits of a golden age of sorts, an age where blogs and other websites can be plundered for the purposes of feeling out a “market” for a story, and more dangerously, for the purposes of coming up with story ideas. At what point does this move away from inspiration and into the realm of plagiarism? I ask not to accuse, but because as an academic in my other, non-Metsfan life, I can’t help but wonder if in the future, as norms develop, today’s practices won’t be viewed with distaste. It is particularly relevant in light of the recent history of the New York Times.
I would make no claims that blogs like my small novelty website is a citable authority. Nor would I claim that the ranting or tongue in cheek commentary that makes internet blogs so entertaining is a viable basis for a story. But what are the criteria for attribution in this new age? And when are you guys going to start telling us where your ideas are coming from, when they do come from these types of sources? That would make an interesting story in and of itself."