The Cubs’ postseason run was a ratings bonanza for Fox. And while the World Series delivered some memorable games and moments, not everyone was happy with Fox’s broadcasts as we once again found our Twitter account absolutely peppered with people complaining about Joe Buck.
With that in mind we gathered the staff to take a hard look at Buck. The exact question we responded to:
“Joe Buck maybe the most maligned personality in all of sports media although many sports fans seem to have warmed up to Buck over the last few years. How did you think Buck handled this year’s MLB postseason and in general how do you personally view Buck overall spanning his NFL coverage and other endeavors?”
We want your opinion too, so let us know.
Simple question: what do you think of Joe Buck?
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) November 7, 2016
Joe Buck isn’t good or bad, he’s just an immovable fact of life. Hating Joe Buck is like hating water. Ok fine, but you still have to drink it.
Back when hating Joe Buck was cool, I thought he was smug and joyless like everyone else did, but now that he’s had an image rehabilitation in recent years, I realize I never actually had a strong opinion, I was just going with the crowd. The truth is that I have no opinion of Joe Buck. Every once in a while he makes a good point and I nod. Every once in a while he makes what I view as a silly point and I shake my head. More often, he just narrates the game as I listen with half an ear.
Part of the reason to criticize Harold Reynolds or Phil Simms or Reggie Miller or whomever is that the network may eventually see all the negative feedback and change things up. But Joe Buck is going nowhere. He will be in our lives as long as he chooses to be. You might as well come to peace with him.
Don’t get fooled by what anyone tells you: EVERY broadcaster is biased in their own way. They may be biased for a team they grew up loving. They may be biased toward players who give them good quotes. They may be biased toward players with whom they share an agent. But unless you’re a robot, it’s impossible deep down in the pit of your stomach to be 100% neutral.
Having said that, it’s laughable that Indians fans would think Buck, who grew up a big St. Louis Cardinals fan, would be rooting for the Cubs. The Cubs were the story of the 2016 season from start to finish. Any play-by-play man would’ve been a little amped up to be part of Chicago’s historic run to its first world championship since 1908. Buck had an excellent postseason, and was no doubt helped by FOX smartening up and pairing him with John Smoltz and going to a two-man booth.
Overall, I think Buck gets a completely undeserved bad rap (but that seems mostly limited to Twitter these days, which hates everything, so take that with a grain of salt). I used to be one of the haters, many, many years ago (especially after his Randy Moss meltdown). I’ve done a 180 on him. My biggest criticism of Buck used to be his NFL work. In baseball, there is so much downtime, that a broadcaster HAS TO try to be funny, tell stories, throw in some snark, etc. Buck used to do that a lot during NFL games, too, and it just didn’t work. Less is more with that sport.
Buck’s NFL work got better and better and he’s an excellent listen now. He always rises to the occasion, sets the right tone and blends in the perfect mix of personality and straight broadcaster.
TV commentators are like referees and long snappers. If you know who they are, it’s probably because of something negative. But the truth is if you listen to most play-by-play announcers or color commentators long enough, you’ll get annoyed by their repeating quirks, catchphrases, and routines. So your dislike of Joe Buck as the voice on the television isn’t much different to your disdain for Dick Vitale or Chris Berman in that regard. The truth is, if you didn’t know who they were off-screen, you probably wouldn’t be as annoyed. We’ve just gotten used to dealing with less-than-ideal or imperfect TV voices. No one ever lives up your local play-by-play caller and no one quite knows your team like you do.
But, just like Vitale and Berman, you dislike Buck because of everything that goes on when he’s not calling games. You think he looks smug. You don’t like what he says in interviews. You think he’s cocky for thinking he could host his own talk show. You don’t like that he gets to call big games while your preferred person is working the regional game in five markets. But you have to give Buck credit for at least recognizing that he’s cultivated this persona, rightly or wrongly. He’s willing to make fun of himself and laugh with the hate slung in his direction. Guys like Vitale and Berman aren’t self aware, so they keep slinging their annoyance in our direction without a care for our dislike. So, it’s not that you can’t think Joe Buck is bad, it’s just that in a sea of questionable TV voices, he’s floating along just like everyone else.
I’m one of those people that has really come around on Joe Buck, after not being much of a fan in the past. I definitely think he’s really grown as an announcer and doesn’t give off the same smug vibe he did in his earlier years. I can’t see him losing his mind over an end zone celebration anymore either.
I thought Buck was terrific calling the NLCS and World Series this postseason. He showed a tremendous understanding of the moment, with the final out of the NLCS summarizing it well. Buck showed plenty of emotion to call the play and what had just happened (the Cubs winning the pennant), but then wisely let the crowd at Wrigley Field do the talking. It was handled perfectly:
I’ve been fine with Buck on the football side of the things for several years now, but hadn’t really come around on baseball until the last couple of years, and I’ve come to realize that Tim McCarver was probably a large reason for that. John Smoltz allows Joe Buck’s personality to come out better and they really have a great relationship in the booth.
If you asked me this question five years ago, I would have said “Without a doubt, Joe Buck is bad,” but I really feel he’s grown into the job. Maybe his voice surgery and his multiple hair plugs have humbled him, but we’re seeing a much more mature Buck in the “A” spot in both baseball and the NFL. Right now, I’m saying “Buck is good.”
You could have argued especially back in 1996 when he was named as the main announcer for the MLB on Fox, that he didn’t deserve the job, but twenty years later, he has not only shown that he can rise to the big occasion, but he can find the right tone to match the pictures on the screen.
When the Chicago Cubs won the NLCS over the Dodgers, Buck kept silent for more than two minutes allowing the viewer to get a feel for the moment. It’s something he would not have thought of ten years ago.
With all of this love for Joe Buck, I almost feel the urge to even it out with a reply like “You guys are idiots, he sucks.”. Unfortunately, my feedback is a bit more kind than that but not as kind as my colleagues.
Is Joe Buck bad? No, not at all. Is he good? That’s a no as well.
Like many things in life, regardless if you are “good” or “bad”, what really matters is how you measure up to your peer group and if you personally resonate with people. Buck is not bad at all, but in my opinion he’s never been good.
I think there is a SIGNIFICANT difference between him and Dan Shulman for baseball coverage although I think Buck has improved. On the football front, I’m not sure I would have him in my top 5 football play by play guys if you look at college and pro. If Buck was not the face of Fox Sports in terms of announcing (Skip Bayless is really the face of Fox at this point), I think many would embrace him as a serviceable number two play by play guy instead of the guy doing games like the NFC Championship and World Series.
My criticisms of Buck are not unique. He’s dry and I don’t get the sense he’s authentically excited by the games he is calling. He has improved his calls of plays, but in my mind is still just bland in terms of filling in the time in between pitches/plays and his more emphatic calls are masking a more milder enthusiasm for games opposed to other announcers who seem to more reliably bring genuine enthusiasm into the moment.
There are times when games are really bonkers where I feel like other announcers are legitimately loving the shit out of all the action. If you were next to them in real life, they may even high five you or say how awesome something is. Buck can often fake the enthusiasm well, but I just get the feeling that he feels a lot of his assignments and games he’s doing are just”meh”.
So no, Joe Buck isn’t bad but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy that he does some of the biggest games all year when better options are out there.
To me, Joe Buck has become quite a good announcer who doesn’t get the credit he should. Some of that is because of things he did early on: initial negative impressions made their mark and stuck with some. It also hurt Buck that he was a prominent and easy target during the rise of the sports blogosphere: it became cool to hate on him. There were even a lot of people taking Artie Lange’s side when he sabotaged Buck’s HBO show. (That’s at least partly the fault of Buck and his producers for having Lange on in the first place, and that show had other issues, but still, I’d much rather be on the side of Buck than Lange.)
I think some of the criticism for Buck over the years has been deserved, but I think he’s also one of the few announcers who has paid attention to constructive criticism and has worked to improve. The last five years or so really show that. Matt’s mention of the 2011 World Series is a good one: early-career Buck probably handles that differently, and not as well. Similarly, if a moment like the Tyree catch happened today, I think Buck would do a better job of calling it than he did back then. It’s also worth noting that his Undeniable interview show has produced a lot of great moments, and shown off Buck’s growing chops as an interviewer. Perhaps that’s helped his announcing, too; in general, his recent work seems more about telling players’ stories and less about making the moment about him, and I think that’s very positive.
Repetitions help, and that’s part of Buck’s improvement, but I also think he’s done a good job of identifying his weaknesses and improving on them. Being a top play-by-play voice for one sport isn’t easy; being one for two is much more difficult, but Buck’s managed to pull that off. Chemistry helps, too: Buck and Troy Aikman have developed excellent NFL chemistry over the years, and current MLB partners John Smoltz and Ken Rosenthal are great fits with Buck, forming a strong overall team. It’s much easier to listen to Buck and Smoltz than it was to Buck and Tim McCarver, which is partly that Smoltz is more insightful than McCarver, but also partly that the two pair together better.
I also think if there was a way to do a blind taste test of announcers, Buck would do much better than many think. A lot of the current criticism for him isn’t about what he’s doing now, but about his name and what he used to do. Yes, he’s still not perfect, but no one is. If you can listen to what Buck’s currently saying without bringing your baggage with him into it, you may be surprised by how good he is.
I like to think I was ahead of the curve in this category after writing “How I learned to stop worrying and love Joe Buck” two and a half years ago. That was a dangerous thing for a blogger to write back then and maybe still is now, but Buck has earned it. For me the turning point was really the 2011 World Series during the Cardinals-Rangers classic. His tribute to his dad was really cool and it seems like since that period that his work in the booth has been more energetic and more personable.
In this year’s MLB postseason, his calls were very Scullyesque – capturing the big moment and then staying silent for extended periods. The new partnership with the excellent John Smoltz has also done nothing but good for the way we look at Joe Buck these days, too. In earlier years, yes, I was on the other side of the fence with Joe Buck (hello David Tyree and Joe Buck Live). But these last few years it almost sounds like he has a new lease on his announcing career and he’s won me over as a fan.
Joe Buck isn’t bad. He’s certainly better than he used to be, which is a natural progression. Professionals hone their craft, and it’s fair to say that Buck’s improved greatly over his time in the lead booth for FOX.
He’s been around longer than you might think; he called Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run in 1998, for example. He seems generally more comfortable now, with less forced humor, more focus on the game at hand, and a greater appreciation for the biggest moments. Buck has also benefited from being paired with better quality analysts; Troy Aikman does a great job on the football side, but on the baseball side it’s even more apparent. There might not be a play-by-play broadcaster in the world who could have sounded great sharing a booth with Tim McCarver or Harold Reynolds. But with Jon Smoltz alongside him, the lead FOX booth was clearly the best option of the 2016 MLB postseason.
Buck tends to err on the side of underplaying, and has no problem letting the visuals and stadium audio tell the story if need be. Those are traits of a self-assured broadcaster, and they’re more than welcome. It may have taken a while to get to this point, but Joe Buck is good.
Joe Buck is fine. There are plenty of people that dislike Buck no matter what he does. I’m not one of those people, given that I watch a lot of varied local baseball coverage and hear a lot of really bad play by play announcers. Buck is worlds ahead of them. He’s not the best national MLB play by play guy – I prefer both Dan Shulman and Jon Sciambi – but he’s the best guy Fox trots out for play by play on any sport on a regular basis. Some of the vitriol thrown towards Buck is way over the top, and that’s to be expected – he’s been a fixture on national TV for 20 (!!!!!!) years. But he’s finally paired with a good analyst in John Smoltz, and I think the tide is starting to turn.
Well, until he calls another Cardinals playoff game and everyone starts screaming about his “Cardinals bias” once again.
[photo: via Newsday]