Thursday, October 13, 2016

Saving baseball from ESPN

The Czar of Muscovy casts his cold, dread eye on the disaster that is ESPN coverage of the Baseball pennant race:
ESPN is the worst; their utter disdain for the game of baseball positively drips. Announcers who never played the game stall for time by reading meaningless statistics about players they don’t know at all.
This is a pet peeve of mine, and underscored by the recent retirement of one of the greatest all time baseball announcers, Vin Scully.  The Czar is correct that the current broadcasters make baseball boring, in a way that it isn't when you are either (a) at the game or (b) have a decent announcer.  Being at the game is best, of course; the Czar describes this:
If you’re a smart enough person, you recognize that what happens between pitches is just as interesting as what happens during and after. Players and coaches read subtle signs from the batters, who adjust their positions carefully; batters spot these set ups and change their swing to counter them, and the whole thing is like 10-to-13-way chess. Secret signals go out from both benches, warning a fielder to expect a fly ball, and warning the batter not to swing at this next pitch.
There is always something happening on the field.  Players adjust their positions with each pitch, as the strike count changes.  Those in the know are nodding their heads - the fielder's positions very often clue you in on where the ball will be hit.

Alas, the new generation of baseball fans will never learn this from the sad sacks on ESPN.  So where can they turn?

If you have a young baseball fan (say, 11 or 12 years old) - or if you are one of my young Gentlemen Readers with a new Lady Friend who is bored with the game, Jerry Remy's Watching Baseball is the place to start.  It is a book on baseball tactics (not strategy, but play-by-play tactical analysis) that he developed as an all star player for the Red Sox and then honed as a long time color commentator for New England Sports Network.  He's broadcast thousands of games, and this comes out in his book.

Unusual for a baseball book, Remy breaks down the pitcher vs. hitter situation for each of the strike-ball scenarios: no balls or strikes, one ball and no strikes, all the way up to a full count.  Each is different - what the pitcher is trying to do and what the batter is looking for varies with each pitch, and Remy lays this process out in an easy to absorb manner.

I guess that at this point I should modify by earlier advice.  If you have an 11 or 12 year old boy who's mildly interested in the game, this will be something that he will read cover to cover.  If you are one of my young Gentlemen Readers, perhaps you should read and learn this.  Rather than giving it to your Lady Friend, you can take her to a game and whisper sweet baseball nothings in her ear when the count sone ball and two strikes.  But you know what a hopeless romantic I am.

Remy also covers what the fielders do which is as interesting (if not more so) than the pitcher vs. hitter mano a mano passa double.

It is an entirely different class of analysis that you'll get from ESPN.  Those of you in New England who occasionally tune into a Red Sox game will be nodding in agreement right about now.

So don't give up on our National Pastime just because the networks are so wretched.  Yes, ESPN fired Curt Schilling (what the heck did he ever know about pitching, anyway?).  But there's nothing that says that you can't turn the volume down to zero and give some real play-by-play analysis of your own.


Rev. Paul said...

I grew up watching the St. Louis Cardinals, but even more often, listening to the radio broadcasts. Jack Buck, another of the great announcers, could make even the 7th inning stretch sound exotic and wonderful. :)

Joe Buck? Not even close to matching his old man. No one but NO ONE misses Joe in St. Louis. But even those Cardinal fans who've moved far away (like me) still pine for the days of Jack.

Kelly Brumbelow said...

I did not know anyone actually listened to television play by play commentary. My granddad taught me to turn down the tv and turn on the radio while watching baseball.

Archer said...

Agreed: commentary on baseball games by non-baseball-players ruins the game.

Imagine watching the World Series of Poker, and the announcer is focused ENTIRELY on which cards each player holds and how often he/she has won or lost holding that hand, and ENTIRELY MISSES the subtle gestures, tells, nods, and shifts of each player between deals and bets, which make up at least half (and the most significant portion) of the game.

Or watching a grandmasters' game of chess, and the commentator drones on about player A is 5-for-9 in pushing center pawns, while player B is 4-for-11 on playing a knight's defense, and calls a rook "the castle" -- and clearly knows absolutely nothing about the game.

They talk to fill time. Every fan knows that the stats don't matter in the moment, but talking is what the commentators are paid to do so they do it. That it adds nothing of value -- and indeed robs the game of a significant part of its value -- never occurs to them.

Chad Bell said...

I"m with Rev. Paul up there, I'm an expatriate Cardinals fan, Joe Buck does indeed suck, and so do the ESPN announcers.

Nonesuch River 1758 said...

@borepatch - re " If you have an 11 or 12 year old boy who's mildly interested in the game". There are girls who are interested. I'm married to one, and we have one of our own. Strike the word "boy" next time and you're all good.

Ken said...

Thanks for the tip on the Remy book. I'll hunt up a copy. I liked Remy when he was a ballplayer, too.