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 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.
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.
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.
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