Grading the Voices of the Game


I've been meaning to blog about this for, oh, about forever. But finally Ben took the lead and shared his thoughts on what we're looking for when listening to radio and TV baseball broadcasters. Ben talks about some of the worst of the worst and contrasts them with some decent out-of-town announcers.

What I'd like to do is define some criteria for evaluating broadcasters--both play-by-play men and color commentators. Once we have such a rubric, it will be pretty easy to fill in the details while watching/listening to a game, and eventually build up a portfolio of evaluations for broadcasters around the league. This, in turn, will allow me to pick and choose when to listen to out-of-town broadcasters (either because they're excellent or because I feel the need to raise my ire) and when to avoid them.

So, here's a first stab at criteria. Please share your own in comments or on your own blogs:

  • Homerism. By far the biggest flaw of amateur broadcasters, homerism refers to the practice of openly rooting for the team whose games you announce. There are several degrees of homerism, some more egregious than others:
    • "We." Use of first person plural to describe the team for which a sportscaster broadcasts (sportscasts?). Example: "Gonzalez hits a two-run home run, and we pull within three of the Tigers."
    • Player familiarity. Use of first names and nicknames for the broadcaster's team, but not for the opponent. Example: "J-Ro" for Jimmy Rollins. "The Giambino" for Jason Giambi.
    • Cheerleading. Exclamations of joy (when something good happens) or disgust (when something bad happens) oriented only towards the broadcaster's team. Example: "He gone!" (see Ben's post), "oh no!"
    • Umpire bias. One-sided criticism of umpires' calls in favor of the broadcaster's team. Example: "Ortiz goes down looking at that curveball, which was clearly outside," without an accompanying "And Wakefield gets lucky on a called third strike that really should have been ball four."
    • Uneven excitement. Broadcasters should temper their excitement at plays on the field based on their significance to the game, rather than their benefit to the broadcaster's team. (Ben has an example of this in his post.)
  • Knowledge of the game. This might actually be a sub-category of homerism, but I'll list it on its own for now as a more general phenomenon. Some announcers, while quite familiar with their home team, know very little about the opponent's team. They don't know trends, abilities, and history beyond what the game notes tell them, and this makes their in-game analysis awfully one-sided. Others just don't seem to bring much insight to a baseball game at all: they fail to discuss things like hitting the ball to the right side to advance runners on the base paths or the merits of defensive shifts and positioning or strategic use of a team's bullpen and bench.
  • Accurate depiction of the game. Some play-by-play announcers don't tell the listener what's happening in the game in a timely fashion. Others consistently get it partially or entirely wrong. (Example: "It's a deep fly ball to left field, way back, way back... and it's caught six feet short of the warning track.") For color commentators, this is reflected in mispronouncing players' names and often getting the names wrong altogether. (Hello, Joe Morgan, I'm looking at you.)

Hmm, so it actually looks like most of the criteria do fall pretty broadly under homerism, despite my initial attempts at breaking that out as its own category. There are some other intangibles which make for great announcers, such as the ability to paint a beautifully flowing word picture, a melodic voice and cadence, and a love for the game, but those are a bit harder to evaluate.

What else do you suggest goes into a great or horrible baseball broadcaster?

(Thanks, Ben, for getting me off my ass to write this.)


As a subset of "Knowledge of the Game", I personally love it when an announcer has actually played/coached for the team in the past. For example, I think Paul O'Neil and Joe Girardi are really good to listen to for Yankee games. They can often add color and fun, inside stories about the team. When you have someone random like Dennis Miller (outdated reference, but still relevant) who is just there for ratings, then its lame...
That's my two cents. :)

I think the chemistry between commentators is also really important. The relationship between the broadcasters on a given game can affect my view of the individuals. I love the banter, when it works, between the play-by-play guy and the color commentator(s). The one exeception, I suppose, is Vin Scully - who can do it ALL - all by himself.

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This page contains a single entry by Lee Feigenbaum published on August 30, 2007 11:48 AM.

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