Sports Media Watch presents Announcing Recommendations. Today, Major League Baseball on FOX, TBS, and ESPN. Among the topics addressed: Is it really time for Joe Buck to go? Should Ernie Johnson go back to the studio? And who, if anyone, should pick up broadcasting free agent Jon Miller?
MLB on FOX
Lead Broadcast Team
Current: Joe Buck and Tim McCarver
Recommendation: Joe Buck and Al Leiter
For all the criticism Joe Buck and Tim McCarver generate, they do seem to have good chemistry after working together for well over a decade. That said, most baseball viewers would likely agree that change is needed for the lead broadcast team on FOX.
First, a few notes on Buck. Joe Buck is a frequent target of the blogosphere, sometimes with good reason. While there’s nothing wrong with being understated, Buck is often perceived as simply being bored with the proceedings. Part of that is his fault; he has criticized the game of baseball in the past, and once was the center of a firestorm of controversy after joking that he barely watches sports during the week.
Other sources of criticism include his irreverent approach, which was characterized as “flippancy … perceived arrogance” by historian Curt Smith. Smith, who penned the line “America needs a nation more like the Waltons than the Simpsons” for former president George H. W. Bush, indicated that Buck is “seeming to want to be hip in a wonderfully unhip game” (Silvia 2009, p. 80-81).
“It seems to me [Buck] is eager to seem new age, while baseball is timeless. He’s eager to be [the] Simpsons, and baseball is [the] Waltons. Eager to be tongue-in-cheek with a ‘I’m smarter than you are’ type of attitude, which is very emblematic of youth today and that is a very bad fit for baseball.”
Though a source of criticism for some, that irreverence is not necessarily a bad thing. Considering that the 2009 World Series had a median age of 50, perhaps baseball is in need of an urgent infusion of Simpsons-style FOX attitude. Whether that style works for Buck as a broadcaster is a different story, and there may be a good number of youth today who also dislike it.
For all of his faults, both perceived and real, Buck is the voice of major sporting events on FOX. Not only does it make little sense to demote him, but there are not many who could replace him. Fellow FOX baseball broadcaster Dick Stockton receives even more criticism than Buck, and Kenny Albert may not yet be a big enough name to carry the baseball package as the lead voice.
In sum, Buck stays. The real source of change for the FOX baseball team should be a replacement for McCarver.
Al Leiter doesn’t even work for FOX. Currently, he serves as an analyst for the YES Network and MLB Network. However, Leiter was very impressive as a guest analyst for FOX several years ago, and has had a solid career since, receiving a Sports Emmy nomination for his work on MLB Network last year. He would certainly be worth pursuing, if at all possible.
Lead Studio Team
Current: Chris Rose
Recommended: Chris Rose, Tim McCarver
FOX needs an actual studio show for baseball coverage, as opposed to the current on-site setup. Chris Rose could stay on as host, since the FOX bench is awfully thin in the studio host department. Unless Curt Menefee decided to work year-round, jumping from football to baseball, Rose would seem to be the only real candidate.
Having Tim McCarver serve as the lead studio analyst would certainly not be a popular decision. However, it seems a little unfair to just unceremoniously dump him after decades on television. Perhaps he would be more tolerable to viewers in much smaller doses, such as before and after games.
MLB on TBS
Lead Broadcast Team
Current: Ernie Johnson, John Smoltz, Ron Darling
Recommendation: Jon Miller, Ron Darling
Ernie Johnson is one of the all-time great studio hosts, but was only okay as a play-by-play voice last year. Viewers are better served by having him play to his considerable strengths, anchoring pre and postgame coverage.
Turner could pick up free agent Jon Miller, who often received some collateral ire intended for his former partner Joe Morgan during his tenure with ESPN. While Miller has his flaws, there’s an argument that he was baseball’s best lead national play-by-play voice last season. By bringing him in and moving Johnson back to the studio, Turner would strengthen two positions.
As for the analysts, Darling and Smoltz are solid color commentators. However, baseball seems more suited to a two-man booth, and Smoltz’ could be a good replacement for David Wells on the studio side.
Lead Studio Team
Current: Matt Winer, Dennis Eckersley, Cal Ripken Jr., David Wells
Recommendation: Ernie Johnson, Dennis Eckersley, Cal Ripken Jr. and John Smoltz
Matt Winer is a solid, reliable studio host. But, as mentioned before, Johnson is one of the best in the business. Meanwhile, Eckersley and Ripken were good last year, but Smoltz seems like a better fit for the studio team than Wells. Overall, a lineup of Johnson, Smoltz, Eckersley and Ripken looks pretty strong on paper.
MLB on ESPN
Lead Broadcast Team
Current: Dan Shulman, Bobby Valentine, Orel Hershiser
Recommendation: Too soon to tell
ESPN made the gamble to replace its longtime Sunday Night Baseball team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Now, rising star Dan Shulman calls games alongside Bobby Valentine and Orel Hershiser. The trio is only in the first half of its first season, so it would be unfair to make any major judgments so soon.
Of note, Smith actually agreed with Buck’s sentiment that the pace of baseball is too slow. Smith’s quotes are from the 2009 book “Fathers and sons in baseball broadcasting: the Carays, Brennamans, Bucks and Kalases” by Tony Silvia.