Do You Care If Broadcasters Call Players By Their First Names?

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Craig Calcattera of NBC’s ‘Hardball Talk’ posted on this sometime last week and I’ve been meaning to get something up on it. He noticed something, something I’ve also been picking up on more often while I watch MLB, and that’s the broadcasters calling players by their first names. Here’s what he had to say about it:

While watching the Marlins broadcast last night I noticed that the announcers for FSN Florida — I believe it was Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton — were constantly calling Marlins players by their first name. ”Hanley is up with it…” ”Wes really got a hold of that one …” ”Chris had the green light on 3-0 …” But they’re not alone in this. The Braves are on a FOX regional station too, and Chip Caray is constantly calling Heyward “Jason” and Prado “Martin” and stuff. I figured it was just a Chip thing — fisted! — but now I can’t help but wonder if this is some sort of diktat from FOX central, demanding that announcers personalize the players with first names. If anyone knows if this is the case or, rather, if it’s just a coincidence, please chime in below.

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Whatever the case, I’m not fan of unnecessary formality, but I’m struggling to think of something that transforms a broadcaster from an authoritative voice to a silly fanboy faster than constantly using first names like that. They’re ballplayers. Say that Shlabotnik was caught looking, not Joe. It’s what we expect and it’s jarring and somewhat silly to do otherwise.

First off, this is no order given by FOX Central; in fact it’s pretty common across the entire MLB landscape, particularly with former player, homer announcers. Hawk Harrelson, for instance, is one of the most obnoxious announcers and he does this.  It’s been going on for a long time, too.

I know Calcattera (or should I call him Craig?) isn’t alone in feeling the way that he does, either. Matt Yoder actually wanted to write a post about ESPN calling UConn’s Maya Moore “Maya” all game while referring to other players by their last name. He thought the announcers were displaying favoritism by doing this. We decided not to post it because we figured it was sort of a one-name branding thing with her – like Kobe and LeBron, or Madonna and Shakira. She’s Maya of UConn Women’s Basketball. Maybe we were overlooking a much bigger epidemic, though.

I completely understand where Calcattera’s coming from, but I don’t have as much of a problem with it being done by hometown baseball announcers. These guys are calling upwards to 162 games a season, they see the players every day for more than half the year (during which they likely call them by their first names), and baseball is a much more laid back sport than all the others – ass taps, atta kids, and chewed up gum on top of the rookies’ hats. Further, I can’t think of a way to engage a casual baseball fan into an admittedly slow game more than by making them feel like they know the players on a personal level. Yeah, that might backfire a little when the favorite player is arrested for DUI and threatens to blow up a restaurant, but how many fans call players strictly by their last names anyway? I know I call some players by their last names because it sounds better than their first, or it’s more distinctive, but I refer to plenty of my favorite players by their first name or nickname rather than the last name.

Craig (another Craig) at SB Nation’s Fishstripes also responded to Calcattera, also defending the use of first names by broadcasters:

Using first names humanizes the players to the local fans. Not to mention, that is what the broadcasters call them when they are off the air. Being a fan of the Marlins, I do not expect the hometown broadcasters to be just an authoritative voice. We spend our time, energy and money in following the team and we do not want to watch a generic local broadcast of the Marlins. It’s our team* and we want to the broadcasters to present it as such. In other words, it is the job of those in the booth to make the game and the Marlins as accessible as possible to the fans. And presenting the players in an informal manner is one way to do that. When a player screws up, sure I want them to say he screwed up. But they can tell me that using first or last names.

Also, the announcers are just using the names by which the fans already use to refer to the players. No Marlins fan’s default is Ramirez, it is Hanley.I can only imagine the look on Logan Morrison’s face if I walked up to him and said “Mr. Morrison….”And oh, by the way, if during an inning I’m walking to frig and I hear “Sanchez looks to be injured” my first thought is: which one? The Marlins have three.I would really be disappointed if we had to live in the mundane world of local broadcasting that Mr. Calcaterra thinks we should live in. Really disappointed.

What I think slips a broadcaster from an authoritative voice to a silly fanboy state is what Hawk Harrelson does on a nightly basis – actively rooting for the players, C’mon A.J., get a hit, bud, rather than calling the game. If he wants to use A.J. PIerzynski’s first name to let viewers know he’s up to the plate in a big situation, that’s fine by me. But I’m not tuning in to listen to Harrelson be a cheerleader. That’s when it really becomes bothersome, though I guess it could be just as bothersome if he said C’mon Pierzynski, get a hit, bud.

But these are just the opinions of a few fans. What do you all think? Do you care if your hometown announcer is calling all your favorite players by their first name? Does it bother you that hometown announcers do it, even though they should know neutral fans will be checking in – given modern day technology – and don’t want to hear players they’re not familiar with being referred to on a first-name basis? Other thoughts? We’d love to hear ‘em in the comments.

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