Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Memo to Broadcasters: What is the point?

Let's contrast two columns.

The first is by Ken Rosenthal, an appreciation of retiring broadcaster Tim McCarver.  Ken appreciates Tim's preparation, his passion, and his partnership.  (Ken does not appreciate the incessant criticism presented in reaction to Tim's broadcasting.)

The second column is by Joe Posnanski.  It has a misleading title, referring to the meaning of MVP, because Joe gets bored and immediately shifts to what he really wants to talk about:  poor broadcasting.  Joe appreciates stories, like Matt Carpenter's underdog journey to the Major Leagues.  (Joe does not appreciate hearing incessantly about stats, like Matt Carpenter's batting average in his first eight postseason games and his last eight postseason games.)

This is slight paraphrasing, but you understand.

In a sense, both columns are about broadcasting -- what makes a good broadcast and what makes a poor broadcast.

They differ in this respect:  Ken Rosenthal understands everything Tim McCarver does in leading up to a broadcast.  This is what he praises, the act of preparing to go on the air, and all that goes into collecting necessary information.  Joe Posnanski cares about what is actually shared on the air, what the broadcasters are actually saying.

Joe is right.

This is not to slight Ken Rosenthal's central theme; diligent preparation is hugely important.  A good broadcaster must do his/her homework.

But the true point is the broadcast itself.  If the broadcast is not delivered ably, concisely, and entertainingly, the listener is put off.

A broadcast must enhance the game -- dabbing in the context to show why the competition has meaning, spinning the narrative, making the audience feel smarter, telling insightfully what might happen, describing dutifully what is happening, and then artfully and concisely summing up what has just happened and why.  If a statistic is shared, the broadcaster must take pains to explain what that statistic means and why it was important enough to impart.  All of that homework prepared all day (and all week, and all season) long must be developed toward a positive purpose.  If it is not improving the broadcast, the time is being wasted.

These are not new lessons for broadcasters, but it does not hurt to hear them time and again.

It should be pointed out, too, that Joe Posnanski wants stories with his broadcast; other listeners/viewers prefer stats, or opinions, or analysis, or entertainment.  Not every taste can be appeased... but not every taste should be ignored, either.  There is plenty of room for description, analysis, statistics, laughs, and a great anecdote here and there in every broadcast.

Tim McCarver was at one time a terrific broadcaster, analyzing the game to great acclaim.  Not many have the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.  A far scarcer few will ever come close to compiling his broadcasting resume.  He is now stepping away, and I wish him well.


Friday, October 18, 2013

PROBLEM: Baseball playoff games are ending at 11:30 p.m. (or later)

11:30 p.m. seems late, doesn't it?  Very late.


CAUSES:

* Baseball playoff games are starting at 8:07 p.m. (or later).

   This is because of TV networks.  If it was up to the team, these games would start at 7:05 p.m., as was the norm all season.

* Commercial breaks are long.

   TV networks again.

* The games are all lasting three and a half hours or thereabouts, an unusually long duration for a baseball game.

   You might think that this is a perfectly natural length for a game and conclude this is merely a baseball problem instead of a playoff baseball problem, but you'd be wrong.  The majority of baseball games all season were played in under three hours, most closer to 2:20 or 2:30 or 2:40 in length.

* The course of action is slower than usual.

   This is the same as the NBA, where a half-court style predominates in the postseason.  When each pitch (or possession, in basketball) could determine advance or elimination, each team understands that each moment counts.  Quality at-bats are valued more than ever.  Pitchers cannot simply groove fastballs; they have to focus more on every pitch they make.


BUT, ON THE BRIGHT SIDE...

* These games have been fantastic.  What a tremendous postseason of high-quality baseball!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Cooling Off: The Government Shutdown and David Price

You may have heard about an Annenberg survey noting that an overwhelming majority of Native Americans support the Washington Redskins name.

Well... here's the rejoinder to that survey, indicating its results are pretty definitely weighted/biased.  

(Hat-tip to Johnny Shryock for this; he's the spouse of the talented Azie Mira Dungey of Ask a Slave fame.)

The true point:  It's all about context.  This is the delightful thing about living in Michigan's state capital, where I have friends on both sides of the aisle -- whenever anything controversial happens, I can ask both sides about it and come to a reasonable conclusion about the true story, rather than the story believed by emotional letter-writers and editorialists and pundits.

Unfortunately, emotions and noise take center stage in attention-grabbing ways.  This leads to political theater and "symbolic moments," such as the parading of veterans to the shutdown World War II memorial last week.  In the end, it makes everything worse.

*

After his Saturday night loss to Boston, David Price tweeted out:


There is a "cooling-off" period following games (about 20 minutes), providing the players time to blow off steam before the media stampede into the clubhouse.

For fans, 20 minutes isn't nearly enough.  Chances are, they'll still be steamed about a defeat for days afterward (and, if Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner are any indication, for many years afterward).

For players, though, it has to be enough.  Somehow, they have to bite their lip, grit their teeth, and answer the media's questioning as classily as they can manage.

Price blazed off that tweet hours after Tampa Bay's defeat.  He shouldn't have.  He realizes this now.


(The "if I offended you..." is always a great way to phrase an apology, right?  If my fist happened to do any damage to your face when the two collided, then I am very sorry.)

The Tampa Bay Rays have lost two consecutive games to the Boston Red Sox, with Boston's offense crushing Tampa's star pitching staff.  Things were bad enough.

If either you or I was on the inside of Tampa Bay's clubhouse, with friends to inform us, perhaps we could come up with reasonable conclusions here, too:  David Price did not have command of one or more of his pitches; or he was good but made a few mistakes; or he and Jose Molina did not call the right pitch sequence, etc.

This is all overshadowed now because of the Rays ace's emotions.  The conversation shifted.  The spotlight burned down upon him, and questions exploded outward to expose his foolishness:  Does it take Major League experience (Tom Verducci never played) or Major League success (Dirk Hayhurst's career was abbreviated by injuries) in order to critique an obvious failure on Price and his teammates' part on their way to defeat?  Does it matter to David Price that his much-admired manager, Joe Maddon, never played higher than Single-A?  Does Price realize that "nerds" brought the Tampa Bay organization from pitiable to powerhouse?  Does the Vanderbilt product understand that his alma mater is noted for its scholarship far more than its athletic achievement?

It's all baseball theater.

The media loves it, just as the media loves a good World War II veterans parade at the shutdown memorial, but there are no solutions here, only more ineffectual emotions.

For the government, the solutions come behind closed doors.

For David Price, keeping his emotions behind closed doors in the cooling-off clubhouse is a good place to start.  For his team, that solution comes between the white lines, back home, under the catwalks at Tropicana Field.