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MLB on TV Reaches New Low
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Oct 27 2010 @ 1:30 pm In MLB | 5 Comments
Do we have public consensus as to exactly how abysmal the network TV coverage of MLB Postseason has been? Have we learned nothing from repeated attempts to put major sporting events in the hands of those who are not experts? NHL on NBC. ABC Monday Night Baseball. NBC & ESPN Arena Football. Numerous permutations of “soccer” from MISL to MLS. USFL? WLAF? XFL? UFL? The CFL on NFL Network?
TBS has “analysts” who have no idea what highlights they are analyzing or what actually constitutes “useful analysis.” Do I need David Wells to tell me how many beers he can chug between innings? Do I need to see Dennis Eckersley and his 1976 porno look? Very funny. TBS “lead broadcast team” is soporific at best but that still takes a backseat to the continual downfall of MLB postseason coverage. I’ve made it clear that I have no love lost for “Com-MESS-ioner Sellout,” Tim McCarver or baseball’s broadcasters . It should also be made clear that many fans will turn down the sound on their TV and allow their local radio broadcast to accompany the FOX broadcast – despite the 7-second delay. Joe Buck reminds me of a latter day Pat Sumerall while McCarver insists on making faux folksy comments like “from TAH-me to TAH-me, managers can tell if his pitcher has any gas left in the tank since left-handed batters foul pitches to left field and right-handed hitters do likewise to right field.” Really? Is that how you tell? Not a pitch count? Not knowing your pitcher’s limitations? Not basic laws of physics? Mr Wizard you’re not. Thanks Uncle Tim! Clears that right up!!
In one clear as mud example, “Uncle Tim” pontificated for several minutes regarding a close tag play at first base involving Ryan Howard… which he revealed was actually about Cliff Lee – using the name Cliff Lee about 472 times. After the story, stopping several times to fill us in on pertinent details that had been omitted (discovery of fire, invention of the printing press and a quick story covering the Crusades), we found out that the original story was not about Cliff Lee, but actually about Derek Lee – no wait, that was actually Cliff Floyd! Turns out the story was supposed to be about former Mets catcher Todd Hundley who not only was not in the game, but hadn’t played for the better part of 20 years. During this time Joe Buck could have gone out for Chinese food – to CHINA!
Another time, McCarver compliments a catcher’s good hands on blocking a pitch in the dirt by way of the fact that said catcher’s wife was an Olympic athlete in 2006…in women’s volleyball… [yup those are crickets you hear]! Sorry Uncle Tim how exactly is that relevant to the baseball game we’re snoozing through? I stopped listening sometime around 1987. Yes Virginia, sad but true, the FOX baseball broadcast really is THAT BAD and is in no danger of improvement in the forseeable future. I could go on and on…but McCarver and Buck beat me to it and make me want to blow my brains all over the TV screen!!
This is more important than just baseball coverage on FOX or TBS, it speaks to the practice of TV networks driving baseball – and driving away their own fanbase! FOX and TBS affect the game, altering start times, bleeding the World Series into November and exacerbating the general influence of advertising on the game. If FOX wants to turn a profit and maintain their “quality” programming, then why bid on the baseball package? This network once “fixed” NHL coverage by making the glowing pink puck? While the Foxbox and superimposed first down line have been nice developments, FOX still has done more to destroy sports coverage than add to its tapestry. FOX and TBS would both be better served sticking to NCAA or NASCAR or the NFL with your stupid dancing robots and your even more miscreant juvenile studio buffoons. Where are the flaming kamikaze dancing bears and thekosher unicycle-riding sword-jugglers? Corporate schills forcing advertising into the game is reprehensible but it is the inherent nature of the beast.
Since the 1940s, sports coverage has morphed into prolonged advertisements from the laundry soap commercials with Joe DiMaggio right on through network branding, Fox-boxes, in-game advertising, FoxTrax, BaseCam, InfieldCam and dreaded CatcherCam!!! As of publishing this article, progress on “CrotchCam” remains in developmental stages but ThermalCam is rumored to be coming in 2011 on the set of the new FOX comedy “Debbie Does the Dallas Cowboys.” What’s next? SMELL-O-Vision? Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes Gang would love that one! Stay tuned after these important commercial messages!
Maybe umpires aren’t affected? Perhaps FOX can’t determine who makes the playoffs or World Series by affecting play on the field, but they are having an effect on the Game. Most of the games are in prime time, so no hope of little kids staying up past the third inning. All the games have a corporate feel so no hope of getting that ebullient unfettered joy of simply experiencing and anticipating the game. Ubiquitous ads are here to stay unless you want PBS to carry the games – and then you’d have a 3-hour pledge drive to purchase Ken Burns’ “Baseball” with a free tote bag if you pledge 100 dollars! 
While TBS is simply vacuous, FOX has reached new levels of in-game advertising that “traditional networks” didn’t dare attempt in the infancy and adolescence of broadcast coverage. Look at NBC or CBS or ABC coverage when MLB Network offers you “classic” broadcasts from the 1960s and 1970s. No branding, no cartoon hillbillies rushing across the bottom of the screen, no sitcom characters rampantly flitting about in various states of comical repose… Sure maybe the announcers wore ugly gold blazers with network logos back in the day or they had microphone placards that could put out an eye but there was a level of respect for the game. FOX seems to only respect advertisers and the bottom line.
FOX offers no such respect for the game. Partnered with “Com-MESS-ioner Sellout” they have no plans to make improvements in the future. FOX has no remorse that it takes 14 days to broadcast a 7-game series because they filter around the prime time schedule or want to maximize TV dollars. Selig has no problem causing the All-Star Game to determine home field advantage in the World Series! Now Selig and FOX are discussing adding another wildcard team so they can have a wildcard playoff round all to themselves in the first week of the postseason. Translation: creating yet another made-for-TV playoff round – which is the same complaint made in 1969 when the LCS was instituted and in 1995 when the wildcard and
LDS were created. Critics are not wrong as it dillutes the talent and disenfranchises teams who prove themselves in the regular season. Supporters posit that more playoffs means more excitement. I suggest that more is not always better much in the way that overexpansion dillutes the talent pool and quality of play.
This means the LDS, LCS and World Series would all start one week later to accommodate a series between the 9th and 10th best teams. Mind you, baseball plays a 162 game schedule to weed out these lesser teams. Personally I think that TV is part of the reason that MLB postseason resembles the NFL or the NHL – and not in a good way. More playoff teams mean more playoff games and therefore more advertising – but it doesn’t ensure better games or better integrity of the reverence of the World Series. The NFL has a month of postseason games – among 12 teams – plus an off week before the Super Bowl. In the NHL, two months of postseason games – among 16 teams – precede the Stanley Cup Finals.
As it stands, MLB has 8 teams playing in a “tournament.” Whoever survives plays in the World Series. This means any team can get hot and wind up in the World Series. How many wildcard teams have there been in World Series play since 1995? Ten? How many wildcard champions? Five?
San Francisco wasn’t a better team than Philadelphia - but they beat them fair and square in 4 of 6 games. Minnesota was better than the Yankees all season but lost to the Bronx Bombers – who then in turn lost to Texas. Now the teams with the best records in baseball’s regular season are both eliminated prior to the World Series! Why even have a regular season if you render it meaningless with scads of playoff teams? 
If FOX and “Com-MESS-ioner Sellout” insist on drawing the baseball playoffs out like the NFL, NBA or NHL, at least take a lesson from the NFL success. Offer teams with the best records a bye for the early rounds. Have the “tournament” if you must for regular season broadcasting revenue but offer teams who prove themselves in the regular season a seed in the LCS.
Playoff the wildcards and lesser division winners. Ensure that a 6-month, 162 game schedule doesn’t become meaningless when proven teams are knocked out in a 5-game series by the team who finished 4th. I don’t enjoy having the World Series in November but at least guarantee that the best teams have a strong chance of getting to the World Series.
I have had the pleasure to see my Philadelphia Phillies in the postseason each of the past four years. Sadly, that also means that I’ve had to suffer through TBS and FOX broadcasts to witness my team’s performance. FOX’s Tim McCarver still has difficulty pronouncing the name of Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz – after four years of practice?? McCarver is -or was – an otherwise articulate professional broadcaster, having been in the business for 30 years. Prior to that McCarver was a Major League catcher for 21 seasons. So how does a man who has been around the game since 1959 have difficulty with a name as simple as “Ruiz”? For reasons defying logic, McCarver seems to be unaware that his prattling Grandpa Gus absent-minded professor routine does not mesh well with his instructional video mentality during the course of a baseball broadcast. He futilely attempts to provide ringside fundamental instruction for the benefit of younger viewers while telling meandering meaningless anecdotes and somehow manages to ignore the game as it occurs.
Pundits make a point about wanting to see teams other than the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox in the postseason. Agreed that balance of power is important, but parity and economics should take care of that. Look at Texas, a team built with strong homegrown talent and smart free agency, stressing fundamentals. Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington are underdogs as is their team. This is a good story. Having a plethora of contending teams encourages healthy competition regarding salary and talent and is a self-perpetuating reality.
Competition is good and healthy and perhaps that is the approach to take regarding FOX’s coverage. TBS has done a terrible job with their baseball coverage but perhaps ESPN or MLB Network will finally get involved and restore the integrity of both the broadcast and the game itself.
Any fan of baseball wants to see that respect for what makes baseball ultimately watchable – rather than E-Trade “Ups” and “Downs” or the abominable “Catcher Cam” or advertising VIAGRA on uniforms. Maybe they WILL try to air TV promos on the scoreboard between innings or have Glenn Beck as a celebrity batboy or hold a Stan Smith/Homer Simpson/Peter Griffin sausage race. Perhaps FOX will attempt to have Kiefer Sutherland and John Walsh serve as guest announcers? Maybe THAT is precisely when FOX coverage will officially “jump the shark” and the baseball world will decide that it has to go in another direction – a direction more resembling of their classic, respectful, simpler days when it was just about the game.
However, Saturday night’s exciting Game 6 finish to the NLCS made winners of more than just the San Francisco Giants. FOX averaged a 5.5/10 (9.1 million viewers) with the broadcasts of the six NLCS games between the Giants and Phillies, marking an increase of 49% viewership and 45% in household ratings over last year’s NLCS on TBS (3.8/7, 6.1 million viewers).
Overall, the series ranked as Major League Baseball’s highest-rated and most-watched NLCS since 2006, when the Cardinals and Mets went to seven games (7.1/12, 10.5 million viewers). However, FOX can’t be happy that the Philadelphia-New York World Series re-match from 2009 didn’t happen. SF-TEX is not exactly FOX’s Dream Matchup. This is what happens when you bank on the bank, rather than trusting the fans. 
Please ESPN and MLB Network…You have the talent and you have proven that you are motivated to cover the game properly. Dancing robots and Jack Bauer promos are not going to attract casual viewers as they might with the Super Bowl so it is time to revert to thoughtful, interesting, compelling, professional sports coverage.
SAVE THE GAME…
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