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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the 2013 MLB Playoffs on TV

Another MLB Postseason is over and it’s time for our look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the 2013 playoffs. While this year’s postseason ended in higher ratings for MLB Network, TBS and Fox, the way the networks covered it for the most part stayed the same as in past years. There was a change in studio for TBS, but overall, the personnel calling the games remained the same.

Did the production improve? Did Fox keep from overdosing on crowd cutaways? Let’s go over what transpired on the networks this year.

GOOD

Studio

TBS formed its best studio to date. With Keith Olbermann as host, Tom Verducci as an analyst and Pedro Martinez playing the Charles Barkley role, TBS brought must-see TV to the MLB studio. TBS also used Dirk Hayhurst in the League Division Series and Gary Sheffield for the National League Championship Series, but the primary stars were K.O., Verducci and Martinez. The chemistry among this year’s edition worked unlike in past years. Martinez’s “Who’s Your Daddy” segment was high comedy and Olbermann was very comfortable hosting his favorite sport.

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This may have been a one-year rental as Olbermann has his ESPN2 duties, but he does have an option to return next year. Here’s hoping this cast will be back in 2014.

MLB Network’s MLB Tonight postgame show gave fans a nice wrap-up of each postseason contest. It provided interviews and postgame press conferences. For the most part, it was on top of the major storylines of the postseason. However, there was one game in which MLB Tonight failed to get the job done and that will be discussed later in this post.

Play-by-play

Brian Anderson and Don Orsillo were the best of the TBS crew for the League Division Series. Both called the American League Division Series with Anderson on Boston-Tampa Bay and Orsillo on Detroit-Oakland. Both men are highly regarded by Turner and are the only ones to work all seven years on TBS’ MLB Postseason coverage. Anderson and Orsillo showed they’re among the best local announcers in the sport. They let the action come to them and allowed their analysts to shine.

As we transition to a new contract next year with Fox Sports 1 taking half of the LDS, expect Anderson to return, but Orsillo will probably be dropped.

Analysts

John Smoltz was the best of the analysts for TBS, however, he was put on the “B” team with Anderson and Atlanta Braves analyst Joe Simpson. Smoltz was ahead on trends, first-guessed instead of second-guessed and shined above all of the other analysts on the TBS crew.

Ron Darling was on the lead team with Ernie Johnson and Cal Ripken and was quite good. While he was not as cutting with his analysis as he is known for on Mets broadcasts, Darling still was able to stay ahead of the action and worked well off Ripken.

Speaking of Ripken, he showed that he was a better game analyst than studio panelist. TBS had miscast him in the studio. He had been stiff and muted at the desk, however, in the booth, he was more relaxed and showed some humor that had been missing when he was in the Atlanta studios. He would be better suited on the “B” team next season.

Jim Kaat worked two games on MLB Network and showed that he’s still among the best analysts in any sport. He spotted problems on the mound and could weave stories from his playing days without talking down to the audience. Kaat will be back next season when MLBN airs two LDS games again in 2014.

Dennis Eckersley was teamed with his NESN partner, Orsillo and Buck Martinez on the Detroit-Oakland LDS. He kept the booth fun with self-deprecating humor and his own glossary. We heard about “high cheese,” “lettuce” and “punchouts.” TBS should bring Eckersley back again next season.

Production

Fox Sports was on top of the strange obstruction call that ended Game 3 of the World Series. Director Bill Webb called for a myriad of replays that showed how the obstruction began and had umpire Jim Joyce pointing to third baseman Will Middlebrooks tripping Allen Craig. It was Fox’s best moment of the series and the much maligned Joe Buck and Tim McCarver identified and clearly explained what was a very confusing call.

At the end of the series, Fox gave Tim McCarver a very nice tribute to mark the end of his time with the network. Yes, McCarver has been criticized and your humble author has not been a fan of his work, but Fox gave him a nice sendoff.

BAD

Studio

MLB Tonight missed the ball during the obstruction controversy. When the World Series umpiring crew was at the podium to speak to reporters, MLB Tonight recapped the play with Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac. It was not a shining moment. MLB Network should have gone live to the news conference as ESPN’s SportsCenter did. Later in the program, MLB Executive Vice President for Baseball Affairs, Joe Torre appeared for an interview, but it became a softball moment.

Play-by-play

For some reason, Matt Vasgersian has been given the assignment of one League Division Series game for MLB Network. He relies too much on clichés and obscure references. His voice also rises 30 octaves at big moments similar to NBC Olympics swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines. Vasgersian is a better studio host than he is a play-by-play man. Viewers need Tylenol after hearing Vasgersian call a game.

Analysts

Harold Reynolds has had better postseasons and this year, he went out of his way to apologize for bad performances. He defended Yasiel Puig, Pete Kozma and other players who committed mental mistakes on the field. Reynolds did not do a good job in explaining obstruction. An interview with Joe Torre on the subject somehow became a handicapping segment when H.R. asked him how he felt the rest of the series would go. And he also interrupted players when they were responding to questions on the set. Apparently Reynolds has the inside track to replace McCarver in the Fox booth and he had better improve based on his poor performance this postseason.

Joe Simpson is the only holdover from the Atlanta Braves on TBS days and I’m not sure why. He does not add anything to the booth and kept deferring to John Smoltz during their time together on the Boston-Tampa Bay and Boston-Detroit series. He might even return next season.

UGLY

Play-by-Play

Dick Stockton keeps getting gigs and again, I’m not sure why. He was a great announcer in the 1980’s into the 1990’s, but the slippage is now getting to the point where viewers can have drinking games to identify his mistakes. Stockton misidentified players, appeared confused at times and never got into a rhythm with his analyst Bob Brenly. One can watch his old games on NBA TV or ESPN Classic to see how far he’s fallen.

Postgame

Erin Andrews should not host the Trophy presentations. She showed an extreme lack of knowledge by reading off notes. After the Red Sox won the American League Championship Series, she misidentified former Anaheim Angels owner Jackie Autry as her late husband Gene. Her questions came off as awkward and really did not add anything to the telecast. Fox could have had Ken Rosenthal or even Joe Buck host the presentation. Either would have done a better job than Andrews.

Production

As well as Fox did in World Series Game 3 on the obstruction call, the network failed viewers the following night on the Koji Uehara pickoff of Kolten Wong. Fox was stuck on a cutaway of a St. Louis Cardinals fan for more than five seconds before switching to a bad angle of the pickoff. Fox tried to make up with several replays, but the moment was gone. The crowd cutaways have become boring, but Fox continues to clutter our screens with them to the extreme. 

And with that, we conclude our look at the 2013 MLB Postseason. Only a mere three months until pitchers and catchers report. 

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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