Broadcast Blues

Ryan Seacrest makes $15M per year for “American Idol”.

Alex Trebek earns $10M a year for “Jeopardy”.

David Letterman was making about $20M per year when he retired from “Late Night”.

Katie Couric got paid $15M a year — for 5 years — to host the CBS Evening News.

Suffice it to say, people a heck of a lot smarter than me think that there is value in having a qualified host. The above people, and countless others, wouldn’t be paid so much if they didn’t make the viewing experience even better for the consumer.

Which begs the question, why don’t Major League teams live by the same credo? Why do they believe they can hand any ex-ballplayer a microphone and call it a broadcast?

There is a lot of talk in the ether about baseball being boring and hard to watch and that the games are too long. I cannot necessarily disagree with any of that, but I do think that viewing the game could be immeasurably improved by making changes in the broadcast booth.

On way to many occasions I have had to turn off a Wednesday evening or a Sunday afternoon game because of the long pauses or disjointed rants or annoying conversations or pointless patter of the broadcast team. It often feels like they are up there having a great ol’ time, the audience be damned. And a great many of these so-called “broadcasters” get a pass for past performance on the field.

We tolerate Hawk Harrelson because he was a decent ballplayer and tells great stories about golfing with the legends. Truth be told, he should “Be Gone!”

We were forced to listen to Joe Morgan tell us how he did it — which was always better than any current player.

Steve Stone often just served as the straight man for Harry Caray, who was too sauced to know the difference (I know, I know, Harry was a legend and a billy goat will shit on my pillow for even implying that Harry was a Cubs fan and Bud man).

Don’t even get me started on Don Sutton in the TBS booth. He is only marginally better than Pete Van Wieren, but the whole lot of Braves announcers could have their own wing in the Broadcasters Hall of Shame.

Turn on the TV in any hotel room in any city in America and you are almost guaranteed to be turned off to baseball. Why do we, why do to the teams, why does MLB, allow this? Do you think GM runs out a bunch of former mechanics to the showroom floor and expects people to buy cars?

A few weeks back I was watching Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. In the broadcast booth were John Kruk, Curt Schilling, and Dan Shulman. Now, I could give you chapter and verse about Curt Schilling the bombast, the holier than now personality, and the right-wing kook. But, say what you will, the guys knows baseball — and he knows how to communicate it. That night — watching in my family room — I was treated to a master class in the game of baseball.

Krukkie and Schill talked pitch-by-pitch strategy — from both a hitter’s and a pitcher’s perspective. They discussed defensive alignments and how and why shifts were or were not used. They explained why the call on the 1–1 pitch was so important. They talked about different preparation techniques that play a significant role in the actual game. They called the viewers’ attention to the catcher making adjustments based on the batter’s positioning in the box. And they called pitches — Schilling was able to decode the catcher’s signals with runners on base and proceeded to call each pitch for half an inning; and he then explained to the viewers how he did it. The guys looked ahead to later innings and potential reliever-pinch hitter match-ups, and why it made sense to at least get pitchers throwing in the bullpen — if for no other reason than mental strategy. When there was a slight lull in the game, they discussed issues related to team travel and how those affected the players and the manager’s in-game decisions. All the while, Dan Shulman kept us abreast of the play-by-play.

It was like watching Da Vinci paint; it was like Robert De Niro discuss acting or Martin Scorcese explain directing; class was in session, and we were all students of the game. Had your less-obsessed significant other been tuned in, he/she would have learned more about baseball over two innings than they would with season tickets. Had your son or daughter been watching, they would have left the room a considerably better baseball player. It was thatgreat. And, if the people in power actually cared about the consumers, it could almost always be that great.

Why can’t a broadcast booth be lively and alive? It should be as if we have stumbled into a bar where two or three guys are watching a game and we are allowed to eavesdrop on their conversation.

If MLB wants to grow the sport; if they want people to become students of the game such that young kids prefer it to (or like it just as much as) football or basketball; if MLB wants to appeal to a new generation, they need to make the game fun and interesting. And if they want the whole family to enjoy the game, then they need for people to at least have a cursory understanding of everything that is going on in the 20 seconds between pitches, and the often minutes that elapse between any meaningful action. How can this be accomplished?

This is so easy: Get better announcers. Demand that each team employ quality play-by-play guys and gals and color commentators who not only understand the game but understand how to explain it to the masses. Would it shock you to know that the average NFL game is 20 minutes longer than the average Major League game? Currently, baseball games are about 20 minutes shorter; it’s just feels like they are 20 minutes longer.

Our viewing habits on Sunday afternoons during the fall tell us that we have no issue sitting on the couch for long stretches of time watching a sporting event. It’s just that the producers of Major League Baseball seem to go out of their way to ensure that the viewing experience is akin to watching grass grow — and that just gets you to the 7th inning stretch.

Who couldn’t listen to Vin Scully wax poetic for hours on end? Sure, there is only one Vinny, but there are many Dan Shulmans, and Charley Steiners, and Jon Millers, and Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukows, and Boog Sciambis, and Gary Thornes, and Joe Bucks, and Tim McCarvers (I know this may roil some of you), and Dave O’Briens, and Bob Costases, and Steve Physiocs, and Sean McDonoughs, and Victor Rojases, and Al Leiters, and Steve Berthiaumes, and Thom Brennamans, and many many more out there. How many do we need? 30, 60? That is all. Cast the net wider. They can be found.

If I have to hear John Sterling announce another “A-Rod with an A-Bomb” or “Gardner plants one in the seats”, or listen to Suzyn Waldman drone on like a bitter housewife at her Tuesday night Mahjong game, I will go crazy. Do we really need Ted Leitner butchering the English language or Jerry Remy homering all throughout tha yahd?

There are at least 194 colleges in the United States offering Radio and Television Broadcasting programs. There are at least 240 Minor League baseball teams. There are countless guys like me who sit in the stands or on their couch and give a running commentary on the game. Are you — and by you, I mean MLB and the individual teams — saying that you cannot find 60 people better than our current crop? And we don’t even need a full 60 — I listed 18 above and you all could probably list a handful more.

We need to be rebel against this onslaught of mediocre announcing.

We need to make the game fun again to listen to. We need the days of Red Barber and Mel Allen. How about that?!?

We need to have people with microphones in their hands that will educate, excite, and entertain. We need a little showmanship combined with a lot of knowledge. We need “great communicators” (Ronald Reagan actually did play-by-play of Cubs games that he had never seen — he “recreated” them via telegraph feed).

So write to your cable company; write to your favorite team; write to Rob Manfred; hell, write to your congressman. Or, better yet, write to the sponsors of the games — tell them you will stop watching and listening and stop buying their products unless and until they change the quality of our product.

Or, if all else fails, turn down the volume on the TV, turn up the volume on the radio, and let Vinny carry you home from “wherever you may be”.

PLAY BALL!!

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.