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Matt Holliday’s status still up in the air, which gives me an excuse to talk about ESPN’s new broadcast team

Apr 4, 2011, 11:30 AM EDT

Matt Holliday

There has yet to be a decision by the Cardinals as to whether they will put Matt Holliday on the disabled list in the wake of his appendectomy. He was reported to be feeling better yesterday, so the Cards are taking a wait-and-see approach and, in the meantime, going with a 24-man roster, effectively.

ESPN’s crew of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine talked about this during last night’s Giants-Dodgers game. The consensus from Hershiser and Valentine, each of whom had appendectomies during their playing days, was that Holliday should be fine and back sooner than you’d think. And they were pretty straight-forward about it. They didn’t actually say that Holliday would be less than a manly-man if he went on the DL, but they sort of implied it. Only a half-hearted comment from Valentine to the effect of “well, if there was an infection or something …” gave them any wiggle room on their assessment.

That and a bunch of other stuff has me really liking this new broadcast team.  There’s a bluntness to them in the early going that I really, really like and I hope continues. They were frank on the Holliday stuff, avoiding the empty “we wish him well in his recovery stuff” because that goes without saying. Fans want to know how long he’ll be out and what an appendectomy means for a ballplayer.

The ESPN guys were likewise blunt when talking about Aubrey Huff‘s defense. They didn’t sugar coat it by talking about Huff’s effort. They didn’t apologize for him. Nor did they slam him in anything approaching a mean way. They merely said, as former ballplayers and coaches/managers, that Huff’s defense was bad and unacceptable.  Think how rarely you hear that kind of thing from broadcasters even when the notion is as plain as day.

One common criticism of the new booth is that Valentine is superfluous and it would be better as a two-man operation.  I still think I fall in that camp, but last night I began to reassess.  Late in the game, when the Dodgers’ pitcher couldn’t find the strike zone, Miguel Tejada came up and swung at the first pitch he saw, in the dirt, ending a potential rally. Valentine — again, without rancor, but without any softening either — said how bad an at bat it was. He didn’t praise Tejada for trying to “be aggressive” or for trying to “make something happen,” which is what Joe Morgan would have done. He said it was just an awful at bat like a manager would say to the player behind closed doors.

This, I think, could be the difference between the new ESPN Sunday night booth being merely good and being potentially great.  If they can avoid falling into the trap of promoting the game rather than analyzing it. If they can resist the temptation to apologize or explain away bad play. If Valentine and Hershiser are allowed and, indeed, are encouraged, to use their genuine status and experience in the game to call out the horsesh** when they see it, Sunday Night Baseball could be appointment viewing.

Here’s hoping.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Apr 4, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    I like them too, but the problem with Valentine is that he is way too condescending. If there were a way he could do what he does, without being such a dick about it, I think I would like him more. Then again, I think if he had the ability to do that, he would probably be back managing in the Major leagues again.

    • spindervish - Apr 4, 2011 at 3:41 PM

      This is 100% right. I used to think Valentine was just all-around horrible, but I’ve grudgingly come to accept that he actually has some valuable insight to contribute. It’s just that he’s so insufferable to listen to.

      I’d still prefer a two-man crew. Hershiser is the man. I’m actually not a fan of Schulman, but he’s acceptable I guess.

  2. APBA Guy - Apr 4, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    Just wait till Selig or the MLBPA start whining about the “tone” of the comments, then we can really assess this crew. Last night was a huge improvement for them, so we can only hope it continues at least.

    As to the substance of the remarks, Tejada has always been a free swinger, whether he’s making contact or not, It’s a big reason why Beane let him go, although there were $ 72M other reasons as well. By now, any GM who picks him up knows what they’re getting. That said, short is an obvious improvement area for the Giants before the deadline. Tejada could set a record for most errors by an MLB shortstop this year. Regarding Huff, you’d think they would hide him in left, except Burrell is already hiding there. And that’s the real dilemma: having two sub-par outfielders. It will cost the Giants some wins. Combine that with Miggy at short and you have a recipe for problems in the W-L column.

    • seattlej - Apr 4, 2011 at 12:11 PM

      “Tejada could set a record for most errors by an MLB shortstop this year. ”

      Nah. I don’t think he’ll get to enough balls to commit that many errors. But the sentiment is correct – I think I threw up a little bit in my mouth when I saw him out there on a couple of plays.

      The Giants might be better off if they put gloves on the statues of Mays, Cepeda and McCovey, stuck them out in LF, RF and SS, and just let Huff, Burrell and Tejada have a breather while they let Torres try to run down everything.

  3. Richard In Big D - Apr 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    I think the loss of the soft soap style of Morgan and Miller, while appreciated by entrenched fans of the game, can only hurt the recruitment of new fans to the fold. Garagiola, Gowdy, Kubek and the others that us old-timers grew up watching on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights were inviting and instructive in their presentations, and it helped me and my friends develop a love for the game at our own pace. Knowing what I’ve learned about the game over the last five decades, I can appreciate the tone of the new crew, but there was something familiar and inviting about the old crew that, if I were a novice fan, I think I would appreciate more. The Sunday night game is one of the very few occasions that a lot of non-fans are exposed to any other than their home market teams…

    • nixonotis - Apr 4, 2011 at 12:59 PM

      Joe Morgan was “instructive?” Jon Miller is excellent, no doubt, but you really want to recruit a new generation of baseball fans who were taught the game by Joe Morgan?

  4. Innocent Bystander - Apr 4, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    Agree…it is a good group. Shulman is a complete pro. Always thought he and Dave O’Brien did a solid job on national games for ESPN – much better than Joe Buck and Chip Carey. Valentine is no surprise because I don’t even recall him ever really pulling his punches as a manager. And Hershiser, well, he wasn’t called the Bulldog for nothing.

    • riverace19 - Apr 4, 2011 at 1:05 PM

      Shulman is good, but Jon Miller added a lot of depth. Shulman’s deadpan delivery reminds me of… Joe Buck ouch!
      I noticed some tension between Hershiser and Valentine. They didn’t always agree on things, which is good to have a couple of guys holding their ground.
      When asked about the biggest impact team of the weekend, Hershiser replied something like “The New York Yankees… Larry Rothchild is doing a great job with that pitching staff…”
      On a day when they give up 10 runs to the Tigers and lose – interesting.
      The pre-game piece with Herhiser on the mound reminiscing about his Dodger days was a little cheesy for my taste.

  5. hermitfool - Apr 4, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    Low b.s. analysis good. Not paying attention to the game on the field bad. Vin Scully can walk and chew gum at the same time, something Valentine and Hershiser should practice.

  6. Ari Collins - Apr 4, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    Eckersley was a joy to listen to when I was in Boston last year. Just calls it like he sees it, doesn’t seem to care if it’s positive or negative.

    • Ari Collins - Apr 4, 2011 at 1:08 PM

      Seem to have posted this in the wrong thread… I know there was a reference to Eckersley somewhere here today! I stand by my out-of-context comments nonetheless. : )

  7. cggarb - Apr 4, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    Many announcers were good at first. Early-era Joe Morgan was actually very insightful.

    Most get lazy quickly and drop into uninformed schtick.

  8. daviddsg - Apr 4, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Joe Morgan is one of the major reasons that there is a mute button on your remote control.

    He would always repeat himself at least once, and sometimes 3 or 4 times. MUTE!

  9. xmatt0926x - Apr 4, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    Does anyone else find themselves fixated on Bobby Valentine whenever the camera is on the broadcasters? Even when the other guys are speaking he is constantly girating and making odd faces and hand motions. He’s either very emotional or very strange. As far as quality of the broadcasters I thought they did a good job. I do miss hearing Jon Miller though. I enjoyed his witty and subtle humor. If I never heard Joe Morgan again I’d be fine with that. It was also very awkward watching Morgan force himself to interact with Hershiser last year. He refused to even look Orel in the eye and you could feel the tension. I like the new team. Hershiser brings his game experience in a non-arrogant manner and Valentine is honest and quirky. He will definately not force himself to be dishonest for fear of being too critical.

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