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Broadcaster Rankings (TV): Intro and #31

Beginning in late November, we’ve spent much of the offseason asking readers to rate the television broadcast teams (on a scale of 1-5 for charisma, analysis, and then overall) for all 30 major-league clubs — with the intention, ultimately, of determining which broadcasts might best reflect the sorts of inquiry and analysis performed here at the site. (Click here for more on this project.)

Now the results from the ballots for all 30 teams (including two for the Dodgers, who have distinct home and away broadcasters) have been collected and will be published here over the course of the week.

Over the next three days (Tuesday-Thursday), I’ll publish the rankings in groups of 10, starting with No. 30. In the meantime, here are some brief observations after having spent some time looking at, and thinking about, the results. Following that is the 31st-ranked broadcast team, according to FanGraphs readers.

Commentating Requires at Least One Skill
We should take for granted that, because baseball games are three hours long and because a broadcast team is tasked with filling all three of those hours with speech acts of varying descriptions, that not every moment of a baseball broadcast is likely to provide Audio/Visual Magic. The skill that is shared in common among all broadcasters is their capacity, at the very least, to keep talking — nor should the importance of this skill go unacknowledged. At times, I’ve utilized the function on MLB.TV that allows one to hear only the natural sounds of the ballpark — and it’s decidedly pleasant sometimes. However, generally speaking, I find that I prefer even a below-average broadcast team to silence. I won’t venture a guess as to why that is, but it very likely has something to do with how the world is a lonely, frightening place.

There’s a Real Relationship Between Fans and Broadcasters
Committed baseball fans spend upwards of three or four hours per day during the season watching (or listening to) their favorite team play — i.e. maybe more than with their families. As such, the relationships they develop with (especially) their hometown announcers are strangely intimate. And, just as we become more sensitive to the strengths and flaws and annoying habits of friends and family members and roommates, we become sensitive to those same qualities in our broadcasters. A fan’s appreciation for, or disgust with, his club’s broadcasters is considerably magnified by the level of intimacy involved.

Even FanGraphs Readers Might Not Need an Uber-Analytical Broadcast
The data reveal a significant correlation (0.88 r-squared) between the average Charisma and Analysis ratings for each broadcast team. That could mean that broadcasters become more likeable as they provide more able analysis (of the scouting or statistical variety, either way). What I’m guessing it probably means, though, is that the more charismatic the broadcaster, the less we care — or the more forgiving we are — about the analysis. The beloved Vin Scully, for example, received the highest average Analysis rating of any broadcaster/broadcast team. Having watched quite a bit of Scully, I’ll suggest that, whatever his virtues, his capacity for analysis is not chief among them. Len Kasper of the Chicago Cubs, for example, uses quantitative analysis with considerable frequency — and uses it responsibly. Other commentators (although all of their names escape me at the moment) are adept at making more scouting-type observations. And yet, the readers chose Scully — very likely because he’s the sort of broadcaster in whose presence it’s pleasant to be.

With those statements stated, here’s the 31st-ranked broadcast team, according to the FanGraphs readership.

31. Chicago White Sox
Broadcasters: Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone
Ratings (Charisma/Analysis/Overall): 2.1, 2.2, 2.0

Three Reader Comments
• “The broadcast questions are a bit misleading because Steve Stone is excellent and Hawk Harrelson is not. I am not quite as bothered by Hawk’s problems as others but he can be unbearable to listen to.”
• “Harrelson is a whiny homer. But at least he is a whiny homer with some personality.”
• “In a perfect perdition, Hawk Harrelson would be forced to listen to himself for eternity.”

It’d be easier to describe Hawk Harrelson as a “polarizing” figure among FanGraphs readers if there were more respondents who defended him. While I, personally, am less put off by Harrelson’s antics than many readers — and, in fact, prefer him to certain broadcasters who appear to revel in blandness and polish — there’s no question that Harrelson is entirely himself. One note: one respondent left a 389-word note regarding the Harrelson-Stone team. That’s nearly as long as many posts on this site, and indicative of the sort of powerful feelings Harrelson is capable of provoking.