Working in the No. 1 national broadcast booth for a major sport sounds like a dream job. Anyone who’s ever had the inkling of working in the broadcast media has probably rehearsed in the mirror hundreds of times calling the final out of World Series, a last-second play in the Super Bowl or a buzzer beater at the NCAA Final Four.
That’s the mountaintop.
For the most part being a national broadcaster must be a great job. You’re flying around the country watching the most important games. Your voice will be forever linked with history. It’s a nice way to make a living.
Yet in 2013, this position feels almost like a no-win situation for the broadcasters themselves — unless they don’t care about what the public thinks about them. Fans of both teams playing in any given national broadcast are inherently going to assume you’re biased against their favorites. On top of that, every word you say, every anecdote you recount, every stat you use, the folks on Twitter are going to fricassee in real time.
That brings us to FOX’s top baseball booth of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, who’ve been together since 1996 and are rife for the mean-spirited social media slaughterhouse. This October represents the end of the line for McCarver, who isn’t retiring but also won’t be retained by FOX. Say what you will about Buck, but through two games of the ALCS he seems fired up and still calls a good game. You might dislike Buck, think he’s smarmy, but above all he’s good at his job.
On the other hand what more is there to say by now about McCarver? It’s beating a dead horse or picking on an elderly family member. Once a guy starts, unironically, quoting Barry Manilow lyrics during a game or tells us that “strike is a five letter word” what more can be said? The man has been trapped in his own insular world of baseball broadcast minutiae that any last vestige of self awareness was washed away a long time ago.
I’ll maintain my pet theory: McCarver’s unctuous style is a major turnoff for casual viewers and a small contributor to the decline in baseball ratings.
In brief, here’s my fundamental problem with McCarver, who obviously knows more about baseball than most normal people. Even in his fourth decade on the national stage calling the game, he still feels inclined to break down every single play or out or strategy like it’s life or death. He’s a know-it-all who continually needs to prove to the viewer how smart he is, as if they forgot the previous half-inning. You’d think a guy who’s been in the booth 30+ years would feel secure in his position and pick his spots, but nope, a routine grounder to second in the first inning still often triggers a two or three minute soliloquy from McCarver.
The good news? Baseball fans only need to endure a few more weeks of McCarver.
The bad news? The odds of FOX finding a replacement baseball fans will embrace, or even grudgingly tolerate, seem slim.
FOX actually had the perfect replacement in Terry Francona, who filled in for McCarver during the 2011 ALCS. Francona, recently fired by the Red Sox at that point, was a breath of fresh air in the booth. He knew the current players and their tenancies. Francona wasn’t overbearing, instead maintaining an easy conversational flow with Buck.
Slight issue with this idea: Francona is now manager of the Indians and not going anywhere soon.
Ideally, FOX will find a somebody with ties to the current players, who can also be conversational in the booth and also, perhaps, use more advanced metrics to help make his points, engaging the younger audience in the process. This version of an ideal baseball color commentator might not, however, exist. Strike that, it doesn’t exist.
Some of the names being speculated as possible McCarver replacements include John Smoltz, Harold Reynolds, AJ Pierzynski, Tom Verducci and Eric Karros. Do those names do anything for you? Of those listed, perhaps Pierzynski has the most potential given his brief work as a studio analyst in recent postseasons, but that doesn’t necessary qualify him for the booth.
Something that makes calling baseball even harder on the national stage is there are 162 games. Unless you’re a team like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers, about 155 of those are going to be called by the same voices on television. Once October hits, it’s probable many fans have watched the teams involved more often than the broadcasters. So you’re going to hear the national crew recount stories you’ve heard approximately 400 times already or stuff you might not agree with. Maintaining a balance between the hardcore fans and the casual audience is tough for a baseball production crew.
The action isn’t non-stop like basketball and there aren’t an overabundance of promos and commercial breaks like a football game, so a baseball analyst has to fill a lot of airtime with his voice. As the viewer at home we’re stuck with this voice for nine, long innings — and with a know-it-all like McCarver it becomes overbearing.
It’s hard enough to commit four hours on a weekend to watch baseball for a month. The voices that keep us company during that time shouldn’t make it more of a chore.
Again, it’s a no-win situation since you’re not going to please everybody watching. That said, you don’t want to alienate 99 percent of the audience, either. It’s not 1981. People aren’t going to tune in to hear Howard Cosell call a game because they hate him. In 2013, we’ll flip to something else unless we’re forced to watch because our team is playing.
Let’s hope FOX doesn’t go with its usual, brash, in-your-face type hire which gets baseball fans talking for all the wrong reasons and never lets the game breath or the action speak for itself.
The games are the thing, not the guys calling it.
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