MLB playoffs: where are the good commentators?

By Bandon Decker
Bob Costas
Jason O. Watson – US Presswire

There are many very good commentators in MLB. Most are with individual teams, such as Vin Scully for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but some like Bob Costas work national games. (And many, including Scully, have done both.) ESPN, in fact, has quite a good group of commentators overall.

But instead of any of the many talented, knowledgeable broadcasters in the sport doing the playoffs we have the unholy triumvirate of Joe Buck, Tim McCarver and Ernie Johnson doing the League Championship Series and World Series for Fox and TBS.

None of those three are even remotely good enough to do any nationally televised game, let alone games as important as the playoffs. Buck and McCarver, a St Louis resident and a former St Louis Cardinals catcher respectively, should not at all be trusted to call Cardinals games impartially. I don’t even begrudge them their bias toward the Cardinals, it is understandable and I suspect it would be very difficult to stop. I do begrudge Fox for not finding someone else to do the Cardinals games, however.

Neither really should be doing any games, however. Buck is at best only a mediocre broadcaster who near as I can tell only got the job due to the reputation of his father. He is not at all insightful and nor is he original. When David Freese hit a historic walk-off home run in Game Six of the World Series last year all Buck could do by way of commentary was to reprise his father’s line from the 1991 World Series. But he is at least a step above McCarver.

McCarver has never been even an average commentator and is apt to point out the painfully obvious and/or widely known and state it as though he is making a profound and interesting insight. In all the games I have had the misfortune of hearing him ‘analyze’ I cannot recall a single interesting or worthwhile contribution he has made. And lately at least he has taken to weaving the factually inaccurate in with the painfully obvious.

So far in three NLCS games he has called a player by the wrong name no fewer than five times, confused the San Francisco Giants dugout with that of the Cardinals and incorrectly described a play whilst watching the replay.

Whilst Buck and McCarver are making Fox borderline unwatchable, TBS is subjecting their viewers to Johnson. (In the interests of giving credit where due I will note that Johnson’s analyst, John Smoltz is actually quite good.) Johnson clearly knows little to nothing about the game of baseball. This is not actually too surprising when one notes that his primary sport is actually basketball.

He has many times expressed his surprise at Alex Rodriguez‘s poor form, despite the fact that he famously has struggled in every postseason except 2009. He also spent most of the ALDS suggesting that Robinson Cano was the best hitter in the playoffs before warning viewers not to adjust their sets when the Cano’s actual stats came up.

During the ALCS he said it was amazing that Rodriguez was not playing, thus fueling my suspicion that he was at no point actually watching the games he was covering. It is all consistent with someone whose only exposure to baseball is the over-hype that the New York Yankees get from the national media. I do have a small amount of sympathy; I would also sound like an idiot if I tried to talk about basketball. But, and this is important, I have not been asked to commentate on the NBA playoffs. Why TBS chose Johnson to do the playoff games in the first place and why they have kept him on is beyond inexplicable.

Unfortunately, Major League Baseball seems happy to continue to sell the broadcasting rights to Fox and TBS. I know that money talks, but they should consider the damage done to the game by the incompetent people the networks hire to talk about it. In the meantime, I can only savour the one game I got to hear called by Costas this postseason. For one game this postseason I got to enjoy myself without having to periodically listen to idiocy from the commentator. It was all too rare.

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