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When did national baseball broadcasts cease focusing on the game?

Jul 17, 2014, 4:11 PM EDT

old TV

After a couple of years of getting her feet wet, my daughter slowly but surely has gotten into baseball this year. She asks about certain players. She asks the sorts of questions about the game which suggest she is thinking about it. She watches games with me. Local games, mostly, which I get via the Extra Innings package. And, importantly for our purposes here, she usually plops down to watch with me after the game has been on for a while. At, say, 8pm, when her day is winding down but she’s not ready to take a shower and go to bed. It’s usually the second or third inning by then and she just picks up from there.

This week I was in Minnesota and my daughter was on a camping trip, so we couldn’t watch the All-Star Game together. She suggested that I record it and we watch it together once we were both home. So I did and, without giving her any spoilers, we sat down to watch it earlier this afternoon.

While I was going to just fast-forward through all of the pregame festivities, I decided not to for a couple of reasons. First, I remember watching All-Star Games when I was young and my favorite part were the player introductions. I wanted my daughter to see that. I also had an ulterior motive: I wanted to see what kind of patience she had for the filler Fox and Major League Baseball typically give us before pitches are actually thrown. I mean, sure, it’s possible to determine when the first pitch will actually be thrown if you want to, but the casual fan is just going to look at the TV listing. And, because Fox and MLB make no distinction between when the broadcast starts and when the game actually starts anymore, casual fans are either subjected to it all or don’t bother with it at all. I wanted to see how it played in my house among those of us who aren’t paid to endure it.

The verdict: not too well. We watched Frank Thomas and Gabe Kapler offer a lot of analysis that neither served a ten-year-old girl because it’s not actual baseball and didn’t serve a reasonably informed 41-year-old baseball writer because, well, because it just didn’t. The player introductions were fun — my daughter did like those — but the commercials on either side of them made things drag. By the time Idina Menzel sang “Forever Young” the broadcast had gone on for over a half hour. That’s when my daughter checked out. After she left I fast-forwarded to the first pitch to see when it finally came and it was at the 49 minute mark. My daughter will watch the game itself later, I suppose, but she’ll fast forward through all of the commercials, which is exactly the opposite of what Fox and Major League Baseball want.

Why does it have to be this way? Why do the big national games like the All-Star Game, the playoffs and the World Series have to be buried under so many things that are not baseball? Sideline interviews which provide nothing but fluff and conspicuous displays of the network’s access. Sponsor service, ceremonies and presentations which could, quite easily and seamlessly, be worked into the proceedings later as opposed to delaying them. Why must there be such a focus on everything but the actual sporting event?

I assume the answer is “money” but it’s a shortsighted answer. As I noted a couple of posts back, baseball has a demographics problem. The people who are the future of baseball fandom aren’t the target audience of most of that fluff and most of those commercials, but they’re being subjected to it anyway and it’s turning them off and inspiring them to do other things. This isn’t a “think of the children” point as much as it is a “think about the future” point. Get kids and casual adult fans hooked on and sucked into the game first. Then go ahead and do what you feel you have to do to justify your production budgets. Let people watch baseball when they turn on a telecast the way most of the local broadcasts do. Focus on the actual game at hand rather than treating the baseball game as merely one aspect of some overall production.

Somewhere along the line Major League Baseball and Fox has lost their way in this regard, turning the All-Star Game, the playoffs and the World Series into multi-faceted events and forgetting that the baseball game is the part that matters.

Forty-nine minutes before a pitch is thrown? That’s just obnoxious.

  1. rangel28 - Jul 18, 2014 at 1:07 AM

    When Fox started covering it. They are horrible at football and have destroyed baseball. I think they show more shots of “nervous” or “tense” fans in the stands than what’s happening on the field. To a non-fan baseball can seem like a slow game but real fans understand the strategies behind the managerial moves and the flow of the game. Fox, however, likes to show us video of fans crying.

  2. mikhelb - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:34 AM

    Craig: get your hands on the international broadcast that MLB did, the pregame was better, they showed the first pitch when it actually happened (at about 4:30 pm PT if i am not mistaken), they showed some stats but were of the type “today is Jeter’s last All Star, here are some stats of all time leaders in these games”, and best of all: there were no commercials, just beautiful aerial shots of the stadium in between innings.

    Another idea: tune in a Padres game and select the Padres spanish radio audio (when you already know there was a Padres rally and specially if somebody hit a homerun), I am sure she will be amazed at how the announcers put their heart in their trasmissions and they are not homers, which is best, well, sometimes Ortega chants a K against the Padres with disappointment (but thats just for the show), or with his characteristic: “ponche y vvvvvvvvvvvvámonos!” (ponche = strikeout, vámonos = lets go away). Jarrín of the Dodgers (with Fernando Valenzuela) is for the people who know more about baseball and spanish, he talks a lot. Both Ortega and Jarrin will tell you EVERYTHING that is happening on the field, will give you stats, curious facts, fun facts, will tell you about interviews he did that day with players, will talk about everything… if MLB had that in every single game in english, people would fall again in love with the game at a young age like most do in México and other hispanoamerican countries after liste ing to their first game on the radio, guaranteed.

    Another thing: give your daughter a set of new packets of cheap baseball cards, the cheapest you can find so she can collect them and say “hey I have him in my cards!” when she watches him on TV and can begin to buy packets by herself, make it an habit for the both of you to go out and “hunt” baseball cards or related memorabilia.

    One of my young friends has vivid memories of she and her dad buying cards and listening to baseball on the radio and after he passed away a few years ago, she still cherishes those memories as the perfect daughter-dad moment… really, it is worth a ton to have those moments.

  3. ctony1216 - Jul 18, 2014 at 7:09 AM

    It’s not just for national broadcasts but for local games too. Modern day TV broadcasters believe that since you can see the action on the field, they don’t have to describe it for you. Instead, they let you watch the game and they talk about nonsense.

    During a Yankees game recently, there was a sharp one-hopper back to the pitcher, which he fielded with a blind behind-the-back stab, bobbled, bobbled, grabbed it, threw wide to first and got the out on an amazing stretch and catch by Mark Teixiera. The broadcasters completely ignored the play. They were doing an interview with the on-field reporter, and only talked about the play after it was over. I couldn’t believe it. I paid no attention to what the reporter was saying. I was watching this amazing play — a play that they were missing.

    Today’s broadcasters don’t realize what their role is, which is this: Capture the drama that’s building on the field and get excited when the action takes place. Every pitch, every hit, every out. It’s very simple, but most broadcasters today are horrible at it. Worse, they take attention away from the action on the field. They become distractions, annoyances. The Yankees will do an entire half inning talking to an on-field reporter sometimes. And that’s one of the times when I just turn off the sound.

    • fawnliebowitz - Jul 18, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      It’s interesting to read that other team’s broadcasters do this same thing too. I thought it was just “my” team. I’m an SF Giants fan and their televised games (especially at home) are stuffed with extensive shots of the fans in the stands, often to the detriment of the game itself. I have no interest in seeing multiple shots of kids eating cotton candy or caramel corn, or how many people are wearing panda hats in the stands, or how many big ships are passing by in the cove. Or yet another in-booth interview with someone that’s not even baseball-related. I tuned in to see a baseball game, not a circus sideshow.

      It’s a shame too, because when the Giants broadcasters stick to talking about the game itself they can provide a lot of interesting baseball information. But way too often they’re distracted by a guy wearing a fluffy orange wig or a kid eating ice cream or a “gamer babe” holding up a pasteboard sign identifying herself as such. Sometimes the broadcasters will be so busy talking about someone they’ve spotted in the stands that, as you mentioned, a great play on the field becomes an afterthought.

  4. sparty0n - Jul 18, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    I miss the days of turning on the TV to watch the Tigers, then muting the TV, turning on the radio, and listening to Ernie Harwell call the game.

  5. klingonj - Jul 19, 2014 at 2:15 PM

    I can remember working 4-12 PM in a machine shop in the late 70s-early 80s. We always listened to ball games on the radio. The radio guys worked harder at describing the game and to give you what they were seeing. Looking back, it was much better on the radio (even back then). Today’s big sporting events are a joke with all the nonsense prior to the game

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