Earlier this month, Vin Scully wrapped up 67 years of broadcasting games for the Dodgers. He began his career in 1950 when the Dodgers still played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, and he followed the team to Los Angeles when it moved there in 1958. He was behind the microphone for some of the most famous plays in baseball history, including the ball that went through Buckner’s legs in the ’86 Series and Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the ’88 Series.
But what made Scully legendary was not just his ability to call a game; it was his story-telling. It was his knowledge of the players and their unique backgrounds as well as his drive to pass on his passion of learning to his audience. He never put himself above the game, and even in the most exciting moments, he let the drama on the field speak for itself. If you go back and watch the Gibson walk-off in ’88, after Scully exclaimed, “She’s gone!” he didn’t speak for over a minute. And when he did speak, he said with eloquence and simplicity, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci wrote a magnificent piece on Scully that will take you a while to read but will be well worth your time. One of the things that Verducci points out in this interview on the Jonah Keri podcast in which they discussed his feature article, is that Scully is the greatest story-teller of our time, and we may never see his likes again. He told a story about bird poop and its connection to St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. He gave a brief history of beards. He told a story about when he found out about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when he was only 14 years old. He even made the reading of a grocery list sound majestic. And one that Reds fans would appreciate is a story he told about how Jonny Gomes survived a wolf attack.
Scully began his broadcasting career in a time when radio dominated the way fans consumed the game. You relied on the announcer for accurate descriptions of the action, and he was the best at his craft and will be greatly missed.
But we are in a different world today, and I’m starting to wonder if our way of consuming our nation’s greatest sport on TV needs to change.
So here’s what I’m proposing: we get rid of the play-by-play guy. And before you start questioning this, just consider all the things the play-by-play guy tells us that we already know because they are on the screen: the ball/strike count, the pitch count, the number of outs, the hitter’s BA/OBP/OPS, a pitcher’s ERA/WHIP, that the leadoff hitter just drew a walk, there’s a deep drive to left field, et al.
The main thing that propels this thinking for me is all the advanced statistics we now have. Just think, 15-20 years ago, it was all about home runs and RBIs. Now, pitchers are more concerned about not walking too many guys because that means their pitch count increases, and the opposing batters see more of their pitches. Teams are focused on a player’s OBP and WAR to determine his value to a team. The way the game is played has changed, the way teams draft has changed, and the way front offices approach establishing a 25-man roster has changed and will never be the same.
So why are we still calling games on TV the same way?
My proposal is this: we have three guys in the booth. It could be a combination of former players, baseball writers, or others with broadcast experience. We don’t have the legendary broadcasters we used to, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t weep if some of the game’s most highly-touted broadcasters weren’t behind microphones for baseball’s brightest moments.
Take this postseason, for example. I’m extremely pleased that John Smoltz got moved from the MLB Network international broadcast and is now on the FOX broadcast team for this World Series. He’s a brilliant, baseball mind and adds insight about a pitcher’s strategy that others didn’t provide in the past. And – I realize I might be in the minority on this – I really like Alex Rodriguez as an analyst. He’s energetic and knowledgeable, and if you watch him on the FOX Pregame Shows, he seems to have easily found his second career.
Traditional producers would still want someone to be the designated “host” and I think Verducci could fill this role perfectly. He would be able to do the little things like welcome the audience at the top of the broadcast and give the lead into a commercial break. Those skills can be developed and learned, if necessary, but you just can’t teach someone to provide game analysis the way Smoltz delivers it.
Just imagine this: you’re watching a postseason game and instead of a traditional broadcast, you have three guys in the booth: Smoltz, A-Rod, and Verducci. Occasionally, they go down to Ken Rosenthal next to the dugout. Or what if they added our beloved Pete Rose to the booth? He’s unpredictable and provides candid reflections on the game.
This great game thrives on the discussion that surrounds it, and I feel like that needs to be embraced rather than suppressed, and a three-man booth can do just that. A broadcast team with the aforementioned analysts – or the like – can be an intriguing baseball experience that would feed our need for intellectual conversation during broadcasts.
As much as ESPN dominates coverage of nearly every sport, I appreciate the megacast it puts on for the FBS national championship game with a film and coaches room as an alternative to the traditional broadcast. In fact, Fox Sports 1 did the same thing last year while a playoff game was being broadcasted on the FOX Network. Analysts sat in a studio on FS1 and dissected the game as it was happening. They talked about pitch count, walk rates, and other advanced statistics. It was phenomenal, and I was disappointed it didn’t happen again this year. But why can’t this be done in every broadcast, especially during the postseason?
If there’s one sport that provides ample opportunity for extensive dialogue and second-guessing, it’s baseball, and furnishing TV broadcasts with capable analysts to do this will give the TV-watching experience a fresh, unique edge to coincide with the modern way teams analyze players’ statistics.