Last Sunday I put on the MLB Network with the intention of watching some of a Yankees-Indians game. Little did I know that the game would be made impossible to watch.
On something they were calling their “Showcase Clubhouse Edition”, the actual game took up the top two-thirds of the screen, while pinned across the bottom were four talking baseball heads (C. C. Sabathia and John Smoltz among them) who held an incessant, distracting talk show about player’s advanced metrics, launch angles, and exit velocities. Basically, anything but the play-by-play of the game they were allegedly broadcasting. After enduring the babble-fest for all of three minutes, I turned it off and found a game on the radio instead.
Baseball TV broadcasting, at least the kind we’ve long been accustomed to, has been an endangered species for a while now, and to me, this “Clubhouse Edition” is the culmination of its decline. I am not someone who rails against advanced stats, having adopted OPS as the go-to measure of a hitter’s productivity, and think they add more depth to the sport’s analysis, but who ever decided that viewers at home would rather listen to announcers hold a calculus seminar than give us the dramatic narrative unfolding in a game? The ESPN Sunday Night telecasts, with three people yakking endlessly, has taken this route for years, and now more and more local broadcasts are employing young, insufferable chatterboxes to fill the booth with extraneous noise.
Take Angels games. Noted ESPN blab-head Matt Vagersian now leads what used to be a relaxing two-person TV booth, and has instantly made it another must-miss talk show. I get that MLB is trying to reach a younger audience by embracing new stats, but in doing so they are destroying the special place good play-by-play announcers once had in our hearts. Remember that Vin Scully guy? Not only did he work the booth all by himself, but he could tell a seven-minute baseball tale in the middle of an inning without missing one second of the drama on the field. You could be doing the laundry down the hall and know everything that was happening in the Dodger game.
YouTube has also been airing a live “Game of the Week” for the last few seasons, and their “broadcasts” fall right into line with the annoying talk-show garbage the MLB Network is slinging. A recent unwatchable Twins-Indians contest (pictured above) had its three talking heads stacked on the right side of the screen instead of underneath. Like that mattered.
Thankfully, baseball games are still great on the radio, and for a yearly pittance, the MLB At Bat app can put them on your phone or computer. At least radio broadcasters are forced to describe what’s going on and you can enjoy visualizing it while laying in a backyard hammock.
An encouraging thing that also happened last Sunday, though, is that I accidentally came across a fabulous YouTube channel called In Play: Runs, which is basically a gaggle of young Brit baseball fans doing “chat room” coverage of live Sunday MLB games from across the pond for over four hours! (Check out a few minutes of it here.) None of these people have been schooled in advanced metrics, and simply report and emotionally react to what their favorite teams are doing on the field. From watching a mere half hour of this weekly event, their enthusiasm for the game, knowledge of the players, and immersion in the actual drama is so evident, that I get more pure enjoyment out of it than five seconds of what is now passing for TV game coverage over here. All of the In Play: Runs “chatters” have Twitter accounts you can follow, but to hell with that. I want to meet these blokes!