06 April 2005

Baseball Broadcasters

I've been watching the new season for a couple of days now, and I don't know if it was the long layoff or what, but I can't help but be struck recently by the sheer lunacy that some of the men who get paid to be play-by-play/ color men in baseball broadcasts pass off as facts. It's staggering.

Of course, there's no one worse than Michael Kay. I've committed a lot of time and words to chronicling some of his dumber slip ups, but since I'm not writing this in point to characterize arrogance or homerism, a lot of his shortcomings won't apply here. Just ignorance. The Daily News' Bob Raissman, in his "Tuning In" column, writes about how the YES broadcasts have been "s-word" free these opening contests, especially where Giambi is concerned. I'm all for forgiveness, and eventually you can look at someone like Giambi and say, "he was wrong, but he's repented and made good on the mistakes."

But Giambi hasn't. Not yet, at least. He took steroids making a conscious decision, lied consistently about not taking them, only admitted to it under oath and through the threat of perjury, had the testimony leaked, and only apologized for it (sort of) because he had to. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that if his testimony hadn't leaked, he wouldn't have been so forthcoming.

Every YES game this season has been a propogandical Giambi love-fest: Kay has taken to stories of Giambi as if he beat some gold-digging paternity test or something. Yesterday, in fact, Kay recounted in hushed tones how he asked Giambi about the ridiculous standing ovation he got on Opening Night, and how he responded about "how much it meant to [him] and [his] family." Here's a quote from Raissman's article:

Kay talked about how hard Don Mattingly, the batting instructor, has worked with Giambi, who singled to right. "All of a sudden, 2004 is gone," O'Neill said. "You're leading the league. You are hitting a thousand."

Oh, so one single erases everything that went down in 2004. One hit erases the fact Giambi admitted to being a steroid abuser, according to reported testimony. A hit erases the fact Giambi made a conscious decision to cheat. It's not surprising O'Neill thinks this way. He still is a Yankee. Always will be. That's why he's in the broadcast booth.


The goal is to repair Giambi's battered image. And what better way than using the network you own to do it.

During his final time at the plate, in the sixth inning, Kay said Joe Torre was thrilled with Giambi's progress. "He has really been impressed how Giambi has bounced back from an awful season and the scandal of the BALCO situation," Kay said.

This is exactly what I'm talking about. "Bounced back"? He hasn't done anything yet! It's been two games! That's called "propoganda," folks, pure and simple. Of course, this makes no mention of the fact that steroids and Sheffield have come up exactly zero times in these broadcasts. Alex Sanchez, as Raissman points out, obviously isn't afforded that luxury, nor would, say, David Ortiz where he in Giambi's situation.

On a purely baseball level, there was some discussion yesterday as well regarding the defense relative to the Red Sox and Yankees. Kaat asserted that the Yankees "clearly have better overall defense," and that this was especially so "with the addition of Tony Womack at 2B." Further, Kay went on to comment that Kevin Millar should "really be DHing, not playing 1B."

Here's the problem with this. First, the defense of the Yankees and Red Sox are probably about as even as they can be. Varitek has a hair on Posada, and while Tino is probably better than Millar by a little, Millar is better than Giambi by a lot. Where Millar got this reputation of being a Marv Throneberry I have no idea- at worst, he is league average. At best, he's actually very good.

At 2B, Mark Bellhorn is probably slightly better than league average, and Tony Womack has been a consistently awful 2B for the last 5+ seasons. No contest- Bellhorn's better. Jeter, of course, is the most overrated defensive player in history, including his GG from 2004. Renteria is also overrated, but the better range fielder according to nearly every range and zone metric. Alex Rodriguez is one of the top 5 defensive 3B in baseball- Mueller's good, but not great.

Matsui is better than Manny, but keep in mind that he's been notably overrated range-wise, and Manny plays half his games in a park that maximizes his ability defensively. Damon was the best CF in the AL in 2004, Bernie was the worst. Nixon and Sheffield are, all things considered, about even- Sheffield has a better arm, Nixon has lots more range.

So by my count, the Sox hold advantage at 4 of 8 positions- the more important up-the-middle ones (2B, SS, C, CF). Even at RF and 1B, with the Yankees better at LF and 3B. So no, they're not better defensively, though they're very close.

So I flipped over to the St. Louis at Houston contest last night, called by, of course, Joe Buck and a color guy who's name I never actually got. Joe Buck is the apotheosis of the Bob Costas strain of broadcasters- a turn in tide from a simple explanation of the action and letting the visuals work for themselves, to the modern ritual that seems to plague every baseball broadcaster on the planet save a small few. It began with Costas- thinks they're funnier than they are, the reach of their "knowledge" exceeds their grasp, talk far too much. The thing is, Costas wasn't too bad. His humor was more often consigned simply to his Uecker games, and it was usually fairly well received. Costas was never the most informed guy, and he'd say some pretty iffy things, but it wasn't a consistent issue. And while he talked a lot, in comparison to the current crop around MLB, he was a regular Dick Stockton.

But like anything else, it's grown, and Joe Buck thinks he's a standup comedian, never shuts up, and will say things with such force of conviction that you wonder where he could have garnered the impression, because it's so incorrect. Take yesterday's game, for example. When extolling the virtues of one David Eckstein, Buck claimed that Eckstein was a "very, very, very patient hitter." Three "very"s. I counted.

Let's look at Eckstein's career OBP numbers.

2001- .355
2002- .363
2003- .325
2004- .339

His career high in walks is 45, from 2002. '01 and '02 were decent years OBP-wise, but most of that was tied into his high BA, which was a result of a high BABIP, unusual for a guy that doesn't hit the ball hard. When it dropped, his BA dropped, and so did his OBP. David Eckstein sees, on average for his career, 3.79 P/PA (pitches per plate appearance). In comparison with a batter who actually is very, very patient, Mark Bellhorn saw 4.15 P/PA in '04, and has average 4.20 in his career.

So where do these guys get this stuff? Is it weird to be frustrated by the fact that people who get paid to do this for a living, and to know these things, DON'T know them? I have a full time job and I figured all this out in the space of about five seconds. It's not hard.

"But we have to fill air time."

No, you don't! Shut the fuck up for 20 seconds at a time, we'll enjoy it! I mean, my God the ESPN broadcasts all have three guys, many times at least two of which are barely literate former ballplayers (Sutcliffe, Morgan, Justice, Gwynn, Brantley) and the other is a mind-numbingly stupid play-by-play guy (Dave Rebsen, Chris Berman). Hell, even the dynamite duo of Kruk and Reynolds make no fewer than 5 logical/ factual slip ups per episode of Baseball Tonight- Harold Reynolds actually picked the Yankees to win it all because "the World Series goes through Yankee Stadium, man! Yucka, yucka!"

There are good ones- Vin Scully, obviously, the Braves TBS broadcasts (though I'm no big Steve Stone guy, and he's new) with Skip Caray and Don Sutton. Don Orsillo is a great play-by-play guy in that he shuts up and only presents facts, and Jerry Remy is light on the inaccuracies, preferring more to spend time intpreting the plays on the field. The A's guys are very decent, as are the Giants two- Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow. Krukow and Kuiper can be a little on the goofy side, but they're generally more quiet and have fun with the broadcast. Again, they stick to interpreting what's happening on the field.

It just shocks me how often so many of these paid professionals get simple, verifiable facts wrong. Jim Kaat yesterday: "The Red Sox are hitting Renteria 6th so he doesn't press, so he doesn't get ahead of himself and start a slump." Michael Kay, Sunday and Tuesday: "Trot Nixon is actually sitting today because of how dominant Randy Johnson is against left handed hitters."

Nope. Renteria is hitting 6th against righties, Nixon 2nd. Nixon is sitting against all LHP, and Renteria is hitting second. It was in nearly every Boston newspaper, and something every fan has already figured out. When I hear stuff like this, it give me these visions of the guys wandering out of the broadcast booth after every game, getting soused, and waking up 20 mins before the red light clicks, and ignoring any stat sheets they're handed.

I'll take a pass on McCarver. I think he was high for most of the playoffs last season.

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