October 11, 2007

Mix Bashes TBS’ MLB Playoff Coverage and Commentary

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It all started with a Wheaties box. One of my housemates is fond of the “Breakfast of Champions,” and I soon became intrigued by the box’s side panel. On it, Wheaties tried to inform their customers about the coverage of the MLB playoffs split between TBS and FOX. The side panel included a very confusing diagram, which had two intersecting lines, one for each network. The diagram tried to show that TBS had broadcasting rights for the Division Series and the NLCS and FOX had the rights for the ALCS and the World Series, but it ended up just confusing my housemates and I. The fact that it took us about two months to figure the diagram out was an ominous sign.
TBS’ rise to prominence during these playoffs is relatively surprising. FOX usually carries all the big games, so it is weird that it will only carry two series (giving Joe Buck more time to announce football and film Holiday Inn commercials). The Turner Broadcasting System, on the other hand, is known primarily for showing Everyone Loves Raymond repeats and Atlanta Braves games, and is not a national baseball carrier. Therefore, the station only had one broadcasting team: Chip Caray and Joe Simpson.
This really excited me. TBS would have to hire three more announcing teams in order to broadcast all four series. This would be a golden opportunity for the network to hire some worthy baseball voices. I dreamt of listening to the soothing voices of the Mets’ team of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, even if they weren’t announcing the Mets. I was hoping to discover a voice that I hadn’t heard before. I yearned for a famous old-timer like Bob Uecker or even a legend like Marv Albert. TBS wouldn’t have any ties to over-the-hill announcers like Tim McCarver and would be able to start anew.
You could, therefore, imagine my frustration with the ultimate outcome. TBS seemed to randomly throw different announcers together who had no chemistry. For example, the announcers for the Red Sox-Angels series were Ted Robinson and Steve Stone. Robinson is a former announcer for many teams — including the Mets — and Stone is a former Cubs announcer. Had they ever met before? Did they realize that it was not a one-man-booth? They seemed like they were both on disparate lines of thought, never in sync.
Furthermore, why didn’t TBS assign each announcer to a series in which he actually knew something about the teams? Don Orsillo, the Red Sox play-by-play announcer, was assigned to the Phillies-Rockies series. Uh, what? Wouldn’t it would be more efficient to have Orsillo discussing a team he actually knows something about? In one startling instance, Orsillo and Simpson talked about Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitski as if they were just learning about him. Tulowitski is a possible Rookie of the Year candidate; he didn’t spend the entire season playing in Fern Gully! In another appalling moment, Robinson and Stone fawned about Anaheim Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera as if he was Jessica Alba, and then said that he was the best hitter in the middle of the lineup when he played for Montreal. The ironic part was that the actual best hitter for those Montreal teams was Vladimir Guerrero, who was standing in the on-deck circle.
To add to the debacle, TBS’ studio team was shaky at best. The network paired Ernie Johnson, a veteran basketball studio host, with Cal Ripken, Jr. and Frank Thomas, two novices. Ripken was solid, although he smiled so much that you would think he was on Sesame Street. Thomas, on the other hand, was downright awful. He never had anything interesting to say and ended up just spouting out clichés, looking around the studio nervously as if the bugs from Jacobs Field were about to attack him. In his analysis of Game 3 of the Yankees-Indians series, he refused to criticize Indians catcher Victor Martinez for throwing to third in a bunt situation when Cleveland was up 3-0 in the game. Martinez clearly made the wrong play, but Thomas instead just talked about how the miscue gave the Yankees a good opportunity to win.
I don’t understand why TBS picked Thomas to be part of this team. There are tons of current players who are much more well-spoken and have more to say. Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson, for example, was in the studio after Game 2 of the Yankees-Indians series and was great. He astutely explained how the Yankees exacerbated the bug infestation because the bugs did not bite and were actually attracted by the bug spray. Please, someone hire this guy full-time.
These playoffs have only confirmed my Grand Plan to Save Postseason Baseball Announcing (GPSPBA). I propose that the networks hire the local announcers for every team in the playoffs. Each broadcasting team would announce the home games of their respective club. Therefore, everyone in the country would be exposed to announcers they had never heard before. The announcers would be informed about the teams, and there would be no chemistry issues. I would really like to hear what the Diamondbacks or the Indians announcers sound like. Of course, this plan would never happen as long as Rupert Murdoch rules the world, but it’s O.K. for a boy to dream.
TBS still has the NLCS to go, so it has an opportunity to redeem itself. Unfortunately, I am pessimistic at best. As I was watching the Yankees-Indians game the other day, I thought something that I never dreamed would enter my mind:
I miss Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.