Some Criteria for Reviewing MLB Broadcasts


Vin Scully on the ones and twos in 1964.

As I’ve made clear in these pages — mostly by means of words, but also occasionally by means of a sexy dance — a great concern of mine, so far as the art and science of baseball commentary is concerned, is in developing criteria by which the learned fan might anticipate the watchability of a particular game. Already we can do this with something like precision via the NERD Game Scores available in each morning’s edition of One Night Only at FanGraphs’ main page. A catalogue of all 30 of the league’s center-field camera shots further prepares the enthusiast for his nightly viewing. (Watching Roy Halladay pitch at Turner Field is much more satisfying, for example, than watching Halladay at his home park — or, worst, at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.)

A stone that’s been left almost entirely unturned in this pursuit of happiness, however, is a discussion of what makes for an excellent baseball broadcast. In what follows, I outline some criteria for doing just that.

First, allow me to reveal my biases, such as they exist.

Above all, my preference is for spirited banter. Brewer radio commentator and ubermensch among just regular menschen Bob Uecker is unparalleled in this regard. Uecker’s commentary regularly ascends from the level of mere “word picture” to something considerably more noble, and one can find him, with startling frequency, composing spontaneous paeans to The Good Life. Should it be revealed that Uecker speaks entirely in a fixed meter of his own invention, this would be the pinnacle of unsurprising.

Of course, there are some caveats to this issue of spirited banter. For one, it is not merely enough for a broadcaster just to talk a lot or guffaw a whole bunch. This is annoying and should be censured early and often. Moreoever, there’s the Case of Vin Scully. To the best of my knowledge, Scully has never once recounted one of his drunken episodes on air, and yet probably comes closest to rivaling Uecker in terms of charm — which, charm is probably the best word to describe this quality we’re discussing. Let’s just use that, how about.

With that, we might consider three major criteria for assessing the quality of a broadcast, as follows.

Analysis
Analysis comes in two (and perhaps more) forms — the scouting- and the sabermetrically oriented. If a broadcaster invokes terms like “small sample size” or “batted-ball luck” or — in the case of WGN’s Len Kasper — just cites FanGraphs without shame, then the viewer has found himself in the warm arms of sabermetric prudence.

Of course, that’s not the only sort of able analysis. For, given the number of ex-players in broadcasting, there are instances where a more scouting-oriented sort of analysis is provided. Bob Walk acquitted himself nicely, for example, in a recent pre-game interview with Charlie Morton, in which the pair discussed Morton’s arm slot, newfound ground-ball abilities, etc.

Charm
When we watch or listen to a baseball game, we’re effectively spending three hours of our lives with whatever broadcasters are narrating the game in question. That’s a long time. Accordingly, it’s ideal if said broadcasters are personally agreeable. In some cases (see: Harrelson, Hawk) there will be some disagreement over this. In others (see: Scully, Vin) there won’t be.

Regional Flavor
I don’t actually know if those are the words for what I mean, but I know that, as one listens to a game, one is also forced to listen to other things — specifically, commercials. To listen to WEEI’s broadcast of the Boston Red Sox is to listen to no fewer than eight commericals for Giant Glass (1-800-54-GIANT). Likewise, if you weren’t familiar with the finer points of Usinger’s Sausage, you definitely will be after a Brewers game.

There’s probably more to it than commercials, too. Like interviews with local celebrities, maybe.

Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated. And a Bygone Era.




Print This Post

Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Steve
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

Uecker’s reading the Usinger copy isn’t as good as when he busts out the Hardware Hank slogan.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
5 years 2 months ago

Thoughts on the love-him-or-hate-him Jerry Remy?

buckfunts
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

YOU CANNNNNNNN SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASSSSSSSSSS YES! YES!

juan pierre's mustache
Guest
juan pierre's mustache
5 years 2 months ago

the fact that this is the guy they use on commercials for kevin millar’s talk show is entirely appropriate

Zobmie
Member
Zobmie
5 years 2 months ago

There is only one broadcaster to whom I have an almost physical revulsion to. Hawk Harrelson. I can’t help it. Everything about the man irritates me.

The sound of his voice, the way he pedantically conveys his opinions and his blatant and borderline insulting homerism.

I simply cannot listen to him call a game. It doesn’t even help if I turn off the sound so I can’t hear him. I still know he’s out there… oozing bile into his microphone…

juan pierre's mustache
Guest
juan pierre's mustache
5 years 2 months ago

if one goes to the csn website, they actually have an online soundboard where you can play hawk harrelson soundbites (40 of them in total) over and over and over. YOU ARE WELCOME

glassSheets
Guest
glassSheets
5 years 2 months ago

I think one could produce an exact replica of a Hawk telecast simply by using these 40 clips and the most basic play by play descriptions. Like a first draft version of video game audio.

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
5 years 2 months ago

As a White Sox fan I can tell you Harrelson is much more bearable when the White Sox are bad since his opposition home run call is usally something like:

“Crack”
(7 seconds of silence)
“And it’s EIGHT – two Twins.”

glassSheets
Guest
glassSheets
5 years 2 months ago

Hawk’s crew easily leads the league in “dead air” (aka silence). The Braves telecast are probably second.

Bryz
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

Oh, like when Thome had that walk-off against the White Sox last year!

*CRACK*

*20 seconds of silence*

“We’ll be right back.”

The Ted, Section 437
Guest
The Ted, Section 437
5 years 2 months ago

Reading this post makes me miss Skip Caray anew.

AK707
Member
AK707
5 years 2 months ago

After listening to Jon Miller just describe the way Nate Schierholtz wears his shinguard, and how he fouls too many inside breaking balls off his shin, I am confident that Giants fans have the most detail-oriented non-homerism broadcaster in MLB .

glassSheets
Guest
glassSheets
5 years 2 months ago

Is this leading towards the highly anticipated event in NotGraphs history? The aforementioned event undoubtebly being the Fans Broadcasting Scouting Report?

As a side note, how long did you ponder “Regional Flavor” before settling it by qualifying it with a subsequent sentence? What other names did you consider giving this?

Adrastus Perkins
Guest
Adrastus Perkins
5 years 2 months ago

+1000 to the Fan Broadcasting Scouting Report idea.

Down with Mark Gubicza and Jose Mota.

glassSheets
Guest
glassSheets
5 years 2 months ago

I propose the following subcategories

Analysis: Narrative and insight.
Vin Scully provides play by play in adequate, yet not overwhelming, detail. He also provides insight into Jose Reyes being from a spot where the chickens outnumber the cars.

Dick Bremer provides play by play analysis. Bert Blyleven explains how “right here he finds his balance point right there at the major league level”.

Charm: Charisma, Humor, Feel Good, Looks (it sells)
Vin has charisma, he also paraphrases a zoom in of a naughty word with “that’s fertilizer he says, that’s fertilizer”. And he makes you feel good. Vin has all three.

Grace (Diamondbacks version more than Fox version) uses humor with a “UNCLE!!” written on the screen when the microphones went dead and the D-Backs were getting destroyed. Grace also holds up a sign for troops after their recent success.

Blyleven eats a worm to raise money for Parkinsons. Even if he annoys you, you still like part of him because of the “feel good” factor. Which can be erased (or added to ) with one on camera f-bomb.

Regional: Commercials, Accents (or lack of) and split by In Region Factor, out of region factor

Mike
Guest
Mike
5 years 2 months ago

The Padres’ broadcast team is easily my favorite. I don’t know either’s name, but the color and pbp would get very high charm ratings for clubhouse stories and the pbp likes to find obscure baseball stats and records to talk about.

And every once in a while Tony Gwynn drops by. There’s probably no better player to listen to during a game.

Drakos
Guest
Drakos
5 years 2 months ago

That would be Dick Enberg and Mark Grant. Enberg was pretty rusty when he started for the Padres. Lots of mistakes, but he’s pretty good now. Some Padres fans complain because he doesn’t sound like a homer and a lot of the time he’ll call a play the same way no matter if it’s good for the Padres or good for their opponent.

TheGrandslamwich
Member
TheGrandslamwich
5 years 2 months ago

I used to look forward to watching games (even more than usual) whenever Pete Rose was in the news just to hear Ray Fosse (A’s) rant about him.

thegeniusking
Guest
thegeniusking
5 years 2 months ago

In Mike Shannon’s Cardinals broadcast you’ll hear about Angel Pecan making a great play in center field and then the virtues of a frosty Bud Light Lime.

He does it all by himself too.

wpDiscuz