Remember 12 months ago, when we were all shrugging, shaking our heads and murmuring “Oh, Grandpa” at Tim McCarver, reciting the lyrics to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in the 2013 MLB All-Star Game? Seems like forever ago, as McCarver — despite continuing to work — has sort of quickly faded out of the spotlight, doing little press since his semi-retirement. However, last night Fox got their first chance to show off his replacements in front of a big, primetime audience at the 2014 MLB All-Star Game.
The All-Star Game is a next to impossible beast to master, having to weave in mentions of 50 different players, managers, friends, well wishers and hangers on. It’s an acquired skill to broadcast it, because you have to mix the frivolousness of the event with MLB’s dastardly insistence that THIS TIME IT COUNTS again and again. We’ll get a better sense of how this crew gels come playoff time, but for now, we have to go on what we’ve seen.
I’ve made no secret that I’ve warmed up to Joe Buck in recent years, though I’d argue that that’s largely because he’s gotten a lot better in recent years. No longer is Buck trying to be Vin Scully or Pat Summerall, refusing to budge on showing emotion during a play because one assumes that’s the only way to earn gravitas with national viewers. Buck has loosened up, elevates his voice on great plays and home runs, and become an excellent traffic cop between the four other people on this telecast. Perhaps consider him a parable for anytime we give a broadcaster poor reviews early on, because that doesn’t mean they can’t become excellent in the future.
Tom Verducci has also adjusted to the booth very well. He’s someone who brings his credentials as a baseball journalist to the booth, but doesn’t necessarily try to be the smartest guy in the room. You can tell he and Buck are starting to get in sync. Bringing up biogenesis might not have been the best move during the telecast, but I guess it shows that he’s not unwilling to tackle that uncomfortable subject on television.
I think Harold Reynolds comes off as a really nice person whom I often vehemently disagree with in his studio role on MLB Tonight. The problem is that, in his role with Fox… he doesn’t seem to have much of an opinion on anything, other than that baseball is awesome. That’s fine, baseball could always use more cheerleaders for how fun it is, but we need to see Reynolds bring something from his years of experience on the field to the broadcast, or the three-man booth becomes truly unnecessary.
He’s also catnip for Twitter, which will jump on anyone’s thoughts and say something mean. Right or wrong, saying “the stars have shown up tonight!” after a foul ball in the All-Star Game is going to get called out. Reynolds can have a niche as the enthusiastic goofball in the booth, but he has to bring some analysis to the table during actual ballgames.
Erin Andrews is also a reporter on this crew (Ken Rosenthal remains quietly professional and not really capable of producing a paragraph of analysis), and will be during the postseason and World Series. Andrews appearing in a high profile, primetime broadcast couldn’t come at a worse time, as most of the internet is already annoyed at her replacing Pam Oliver among suspicions of ageism. As far her performance, she handled the MVP interview kind of okay, aside from forcing one last awkward mention of Derek Jeter into her interview with Mike Trout. But what she’ll likely be remembered for is her interview of NL starting pitcher Adam Wainwright after his claims that he gave Derek Jeter “a couple pipe shots” in his at bats.
You have to start to wonder if someone at Fox just plain doesn’t like Andrews, because between Richard Sherman and Wainwright, she continues to get put in these buzzsaw, unwinnable interview situations. What is she supposed to do? Call BS on Wainwright backtracking on a joke he made about what he did in a freaking All-Star Game? Why did Fox choose almost two hours later to finally make it a story? The whole thing was just bizarrely handled, and they are doing one of their supposed biggest stars no favors.
Fox’s new studio crew is host Kevin Burkhardt and analysts Gabe Kapler and Frank Thomas. I’m a Met fan, so I assume you should take a homer pass on whatever I say regarding Burkhardt. That said, he’s not exactly 100% comfortable with Kapler and Thomas as he is with Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling in New York, but that will come with lots and lots of time, hopefully.
Kapler is someone whom baseball nerds make no secret of their adoration for, because of his position as both a former player and a deep student of sabermetrics (not sabermatics, Boomer). He’s someone I’d like to see tried out with Buck and Verducci in the booth. Thomas an agreeable candidate for third man in, who keeps it light but often pushes Kapler’s buttons on his mathematical bent and crush on Mike Trout.
Overall, a lot of this MLB All-Star Game will get judged by how much it focused on Derek Jeter, or how much it didn’t focus on others, or how Fox handled that Jeter/Wainwright “controversy” (badly). That said, Fox replaced five of the eight members of their broadcast team this year, and I’d say six or seven of them made for a more enjoyable telecast, on a night that’s not really tailor made to make broadcasters look good. Patience is still required, but Fox appears to have an okay crew in place for this long, long TV contract.