October 24, 2008
When appropriate, we review key decisions to see if the right one was made. This is the Second-Guess.
The Turning Point: In 1996, Fox bought broadcast rights to Major League Baseball games, including the World Series, and tapped Joe Buck and Tim McCarver to announce. Ever since, when Buck is not covering the NFL, he and McCarver have led Fox's coverage, including the current World Series.
The Question: An inordinate amount of viewers, seemingly, strongly dislike Buck and McCarver. How often have you heard praise, as opposed to scorn, for both or either? So should Fox ditch them for another duo as soon as now so those pained folks can fully enjoy the rest of the Phillies-Rays series?
Off with their talking heads!: If you want to polarize an audience, talk John McCain and Barack Obama. If you want to put an audience on the same page, talk Buck and McCarver and how awful everyone thinks they are.
Fox annually ejects Buck from Saturday baseball during the pennant race so he can work Sunday football. Personally, Buck told ESPN Radio in July that he preferred reality TV to live sports, and whined about the amount and length of baseball games. For this, Buck was hammered mercilessly by consumers, who also feel his attitude permeates baseball broadcasts, and that his voice drones on, adding to the impression that he would rather be elsewhere. This, despite growing up in a "baseball family"; his father was legendary St. Louis Cardinals announcer Jack Buck.
McCarver gets hammered by fans no matter what comes out of his mouth, which often is folksy sounding, oversimplified redundancy. In the Phillies-Rays series, McCarver has noted that sliders and sinkers are "two different pitches." Before that, he inserted himself into the Manny Ramirez story arc, pointing out to anyone listening that Manny's poorer actions in Boston were "despicable."
Even McCarver's hyperbole is hyperbolic, as in 2004 when he said after a David Ortiz home run that "Mt. Everest erupts again!" Great analogy, except that Everest isn't a volcano.
Stay the course: In Game 2, Buck and McCarver did a great job in tandem pointing out the rough series umpire Kerwin Danley was having. Danley's indecisive-looking and vague pointing gesture with Rocco Baldelli batting in the second inning helped the Rays score a run, and the announcers were all over it.
Buck's confidence and intelligence — despite his ridiculous comments to ESPN which he later couched — are mistaken for arrogance and smugness. People get it in their heads that he's a jerk and won't let go, no matter what he says.
Like John Madden, McCarver can sound like he talks down to the audience, but it's because most of the audience doesn't consist of hard-core baseball fanatics who comment on blogs and call sports talk radio. Most watching probably do know that sinkers and sliders are different. McCarver should explain "how" instead of simply pointing out the obvious.
TV ratings for Game 1 of Phillies-Rays were lower by 14 percent than the 2007 Series opener, but it still beat the competition. In addition, Ed Goren, the president of Fox Sports, obviously loves Buck and McCarver and wouldn't keep them on if he didn't.
You don't jettison a vice-presidential candidate, no matter how harmful, this close to an election, and you don't dump announcers in the middle of the World Series. Besides, the people who seem to hate Buck and McCarver also seem to enjoy hating them. As long as they watch.
Hindsight is 20/20: If Goren had known that the World Series would have such a small-market feel (code, for no N.Y., Boston, Chicago or L.A. teams), perhaps he could have hijacked a play-by-play guy such as ESPN's Dan Schulman. He's always prepared for a broadcast, to the point that he sounds like an ex-player who interned at SABR, and he's got a nice voice and friendly demeanor. His radio work with Orel Hershiser was outstanding earlier in the playoffs. They would make a nice No. 1 TV team. If not Schulman and Hershiser, there are only a million other duos calling a million other games, as Buck has pointed out.
"As far as sitting down and watching a sporting event, that's just not part of my day, it's not part of my night. I'll be honest with you: watching "The Bachelorette" is." — Buck, on Colin Cowherd's ESPN Radio show in July
"So, by guessing right, you might have guessed wrong." — McCarver
"What's the difference between Tim McCarver and appendicitis? Appendicitis is covered by most health plans." — media critic Norman Chad
Big League Stew's Verdict — People, thy will be done: Buck has indicated he'd be perfectly happy calling a football game. Baseball fans seem to agree. What's the problem? Let's make this happen, Fox. When he gets bored with that, maybe Buck could replace Conan O'Brien late nights at NBC. That's probably what Buck really wants, anyway. He's talented and engaged enough with entertainment and pop culture ("Bachelorette") to do a great job with it.
As for McCarver, he's just impossible to defend from himself, so to try any harder ...
Is there an old broadcaster's home where we can place him before another whippersnapper comes and dumps water on him again? (Who would have thought a nadir could last 15 years?)
Say, did you know that a slider and a sinker are two different pitches?