MLB has a fundamental problem regarding the people who broadcast its games. While many great men and women work in the industry, the need for change is evident in the specific people who call play-by-play for baseball on TV.
Numerous baseball broadcasters are behind the times, primarily in their lack of ability to incorporate modern statistics into their conversation and analysis.
It is also crucial that baseball commentators are as passionate about the game as the league’s diehard fans. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.
Joe Buck is one of the most accomplished sports broadcasters in the country, having called multiple World Series and Super Bowls. Yet, his is the voice that many love to hate. He faces criticism daily, which he often responds to in a remarkably professional manner.
Let’s make one thing clear: Buck is a fantastic play-by-play man, regardless of what the masses usually say about him. However, he is not perfect, and is not innocent of the wrongdoing that is common among MLB broadcasters.
Buck usually does an exemplary job of showing excitement for the game. Yet, he does not do it enough. Enthusiasm and genuine joy for the sport are the most vital qualities that MLB broadcasters must possess, but they are the ones that far too many lack. Buck is not a leading culprit of this, but his primary color-commentator John Smoltz is another story altogether.
Smoltz’s frequent “get-off-my-lawn” attitude towards baseball is exactly what drives younger fans away from the sport. Smoltz often claims that players of today’s game “don’t put the ball in play enough”, or “hit too many homers”, “or strike out too much.”
Not only does this type of commentary come off as Smoltz complaining, it is also entirely based on a false opinion. Old-fashioned baseball folks cry out for the days of old, when batting average and pitcher win/loss record actually meant something. It is about time that the people whose voices fill our ears while we watch baseball games recognize that those days are long gone.
Further, Bob Costas, despite the fact that he is a beloved figure among all sports broadcasters, is one of the most dull commentators that baseball regularly employs. For instance, check out some of his calls from a 2019 ALDS contest between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins.
The game of baseball, and the entirety of professional sports, has passed up the likes of Smoltz and Costas. We must move forward with knowledgeable commentators who are actually excited to be at the ballpark.
A casual sports fan who is hypothetically debating whether to watch baseball or the NBA needs to be encouraged to watch baseball, rather than turned away from the sport by grumpy older men who do not even seem to be enjoying the game that they are paid to analyze.
MLB’s foremost goal in the coming years and beyond must be to invite young people to become familiar with and interested in the modern game of baseball. The most basic (yet most impactful) means of accomplishing this is to have enthusiastic and relatable broadcasters who are actually excited about the sport.
One man who should become the industry standard for the ideal play-by-play personality is Jason Benetti, who replaced the polarizing Hawk Harrelson full-time before the 2019 season.
“The Hawk” was certainly an example of the brand of broadcasters that baseball should be moving away from due to his outdated opinions and analysis.
The White Sox made such a massive improvement upon Harrelson because of Benetti’s obvious passion for the current game and his excellent approach toward baseball analytics. He steers his audience away from traditional statistics such as batting average and a pitcher’s win/loss record and instead focuses on OPS and WAR.
Educating the casual baseball fan is important, but engaging them is even more so. Benetti is a case study on how to do both at once.
Joe Davis is another prime example of a current broadcaster that embodies these traits. Davis is the-play-by-play man for the Los Angeles Dodgers; he shares the booth with color-commentator and former pitcher Orel Hershiser.
Davis and Hershiser had a tough act to follow, as they assumed the role of the legendary Vin Scully after his retirement in 2016. While it may have been impossible to match the greatness of Scully, Davis and Hershiser have been marvelous.
Further, the aforementioned Benetti also participated in an ESPN production of the 2019 AL Wild Card Game that was dubbed as a “Statcast Broadcast”.
Benetti, along with MLB.com’s Mike Petriello and ESPN’s Eduardo Pérez, provided a wave of cutting-edge baseball analysis on television. The group focused on learning to understand the game through modern statistics, and on inserting them into mainstream television. They helped teach their viewers about some of the more obscure and confusing stats that many baseball experts use to evaluate players today, such as FIP, wOBA, and BABIP.
Watching a baseball game through this lense while listening to the group’s in-depth commentary was refreshing and informing, because it cast a light on many new ways to break down the sport.
However, it’s clear that a casual baseball fan would not necessarily be inclined to view this brand of analytics-centered baseball – and that is completely alright.
The method of broadcasting baseball that the league truly needs is a common medium between analytics-heavy conversation and a complaint-laden rant. This compromise has already been made by Benetti, Davis, the Chicago Cubs’ Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies, and the Padres’ Don Orsillo and Mark Grant, among others.
A large portion of MLB’s broadcasters are not guilty of the league’s apparent issues with those who call the games. Yet, far too many suppress interest and excitement for the sport, which is simply unacceptable.
Baseball must look to men and women who follow the examples of Benetti and Davis in order to bring the league into the future, for good.