Monday, October 05, 2009

An F for Effort

For weeks, I’ve been meaning to share a brief anecdote about baseball announcer Joe Morgan that sums up what’s wrong with . . . the entire art of broadcasting. In the past, I’ve cast aspersions on Morgan and his fellow traveler in nimrodicy, Tim McCarver, and on occasion people -- like my friend Tim -- have asked in good faith what I find so odious about them. And I always feel like I answer by just casting more aspersions, not by being specific. And that’s fun, but it makes me feel like some schmuck running attack ads during a campaign for New Jersey state office, rather than someone who understands what’s wrong with Morgan and McCarver.

I will say that when you drill down to specifics, part of what you find is that -- as bad as Morgan and McCarver can be -- many of their irritating moments are indicative of larger asinine trends in sports coverage, such as the moment I describe here. It was a Game of the Week (TM) on Fox, and the Phillies were playing the Mets.

In the third inning, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hit a home run. Because every broadcast must be crammed with analysis, even when there’s nothing to analyze, Fox ran side-by-side shots of Utley’s home run swing and a swing from his previous at bat in the first inning, when he made an out. At the point of contact with the ball, they froze the frames. Morgan opined that Utley made much squarer contact with the fastball he hit for a home run; he was a split second behind the previous fastball. This alone is stupid to point out, since it goes without saying (98% of the time) that a batter has made better contact on a ball he pulls 400 feet than a ball he, say, grounds weakly to second base. But Morgan had to provide even more analysis, so he said that Utley was clearly better prepared for the fastball the second time around, so he had an easier time catching up to it, going on to posit that Utley -- who does nothing but hit baseballs for seven months a year and probably quite a bit in the other five months as well -- wasn’t quite ready to turn on a fastball so early in a game. This is ridiculous. Four of Utley’s home runs this year came in the first inning. He hit a home run in the first inning of the first game of the 2008 World Series. Players hit home runs in the first inning all the time.

But it’s not enough for the Morgans of the world to say: “Utley didn’t hit a home run his first time up, but he did the second time.” Because then, what expertise would the announcers be bringing to bear? Examples like this abound. (And this one is too specific, because it ignores Morgan's garden-variety vacuity, which is in evidence in moments like this one, when he fills dead air by saying it's worse to walk someone with no outs than to walk someone with two outs. Everybody together now: "Duh.") Around the same time as that Phillies-Mets game, there was a Yankees-Red Sox game on Fox during which the sound from the booth was broken the entire game. I know it wasn’t my TV, because the ambient noise from the crowd mic could be heard. I kept figuring the sound of McCarver and Joe Buck (also odious) would kick back in at any moment, but it never did. It was heaven. Muting them is one thing, but then there’s an odd silence -- to have the noise from the park but not from the booth was the perfect mix.

I guess the reason I single out McCarver and Morgan for enmity is because: a) they have such plum, high-profile jobs; and b) they seem to take the most glee in the “analysis” side of their jobs, as if they’re esteemed educators.

OK, one more sports gripe while I have you.

Phil Mushnick is a professional crank. In some ways, he has the easiest job in the world, which is to write columns for the New York Post bemoaning all the dumb things sports announcers say. He doesn’t lack for material. His tone can be annoying and he can overreach on occasion, but the way I know I’m really an 82-year-old man is that I frequently nod in appreciation of Mushnick’s choice of targets. Damn kids these days. This past weekend, his collection of mini-rants included this about the general stupidity of NFL rules:
Consider that Mark Sanchez last Sunday scored an extended-arm touchdown because the nose of the ball crossed the plane of the goal line before it was knocked from his hand. But if a wide receiver clearly catches the ball with both hands, clearly holds the ball tightly as both feet clearly land in the end zone, but the ball jiggles when he's knocked to the ground, that's not a touchdown.
I’ve been laughing about that for years, especially now that the rules governing full control of the ball are stricter/sillier/dumber/more confusing.


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