Regal Blue

How bad is your announcing when Fangraphs has to say something?

Posted in Sports by gklarsen on October 20, 2009

For reasons which should be obvious and understandable, I may refrain from talking too much about baseball for the next day or so.  Call it loser’s hangover.  But there’s an interesting article in Fangraphs regarding the lousy announcing on TBS broadcasts which I had to at least acknowledge.

The gist of the article is that TBS did a poor job of explaining why a strange situation occurred, ie Casey Blake stealing second with two outs and the pitcher at bat.  The major concern was summed up as follows:

This is a small example, but I think an important one, that illustrates my major beef with broadcasting crews. Where is the attempt to educate the viewer? First of all, taken in a vacuum, this was a terrible play. There was not enough emphasis on that, explaining why it’s such a risk generally. Secondly, there are a couple exceptions to that, and none of those were mentioned either.

This is a very important point that in my fervent bitching I’ve neglected to mention.  It goes to a significant question as to the role of the announcers during a game.  If announcers are just background to fill in the numerous dead-air moments in a typical ballgame, then who cares?  But if you believe the announcers hold any shred of responsibility to the viewers then your standards must surely be higher as well.

Fangraphs seems to imply, but certainly doesn’t state, that the announcers have at least some duty, no matter how small, to educate the viewers and to put things into proper context.  (And even if they didn’t, it’s a good thing to talk about)  This is  a defensible point especially in the context of the playoffs.  The audiences are larger and may indeed be less sophisticated than for a typical baseball game.  Thus, announcers become more important.  They, by context, have to usher people through the complexities of the game, strategy and rules.

Secondly, TBS must have the resources for this.  There is no lack of bright, intelligent ex-players, personnel or analysts that can talk into a microphone.  That TBS hired these three jackasses means that they failed to meet the rather low standard thrust upon them.

The consequences are such that, as the article mentions, Joe Torre is portrayed as a mystical baseball prophet for making a bad call that just happened to go his way.  Watch twenty minutes and you’ll undoubtedly see more.  The value of match-ups is overplayed.  Defense is overvalued, OBP isn’t mentioned while AVG is the de facto herald of success.  And no counter point is made (and one doubts if there is the capacity for them to attempt one).  The fan tuning into baseball who maybe only watches occasionally or simply doesnt know much about the game will receive a faulty education.  Their understanding will be flawed because the announcers are the authority.

All that being said, is there a problem with placing even the smallest of burdens on baseball announcers?  We come strangely close to defining announcers the same way we define journalists, who have a positive duty to inform, frame and contextualize the news all without bias.  Journalists regularly fail to meet that standard but the standard exists regardless.

By placing a journalist-lite standard upon announcers, are we asking for too much?  Second, is it proper to ask for such a thing in the first place?

There are a ton of bad announcers out there.  Let us never forget that baseball is a business and that if people respond better to a lousy announcer, that’s what we’re gonna get.  The quality of announcing, as defined by education of the viewer, context, etc, is not nearly as important as the viewers/listeners they draw in.  Harry Caray was an awful announcer, but he sure did bring in the fans.  For some reason, some people enjoy Tim McCarver.

Is it too much to ask entertainers to put a little context on things and maybe attempt to explain different points of view?  Of course not.  But is it relevant to their overall job to bring in viewers?  Maybe, and maybe not.

You and I are going to watch and consume baseball.  It doesn’t matter who’s calling the game.  We’re watching the playoffs.  So broadcast companies don’t need to care about us.  It’s the outside and occassional viewers they want, the ‘undecided voters’ if you will.  Will they be entertained by discussions of Joe Torre’s flawed strategy or will they be entertained by the perception that he’s an old, wise baseball patriarch plying his craft.  Honestly I’m not sure.

Taking up the second point, the question of whether or not this is even a proper inquiry, I mean only to restate that baseball is a game.  Quasi-journalistic standards simply don’t apply.  Sports is a realm where a team can hire their own reporter to cover them like the LA Kings have done with Rich Hammond.  We love this sport intensely but this ain’t world news we follow, it’s baseball.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loathe bad announcing.  It significantly hinders my enjoyment and probably misleads the public.  I wish everyone on the air could speak with the grace, history and affection of Vin Scully and the genius of Bill James.  Whether or not I have the standing to ask for such a thing is an open question, as is whether or not we could ever be entitled to something like it.

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