It was painful listening to the decidedly Phillies-flavored telecast on FOX today of the Giants-Phillies game. It’s not that I mind watching the opposing team’s telecast. I do that often, and enjoy learning about the other team that way. After all, I watched countless Braves games games back in the TBS Superstation days in the ’80s, and a lot of Cubs games on WGN too.
What got to me was that this was a Saturday afternoon national broadcast, one in which the broadcasters supposedly are neutral and unbiased. Yet in an exciting game filled with big moments for both teams (a 6-5, 10-inning Giants win after two lead changes), broadcasters Tom McCarthy and Mitch Williams made it sound like a bad version of a Phillies broadcast, without the local flavor such a broadcast would have if it was the real thing.
McCarthy – the Phillies TV play-by-play broadcaster doing a national telecast for FOX this Saturday – had decidedly different home run calls for the two teams. In a game featuring five homers, this was very telling. Chase Utley’s first-inning solo homer was high-volume drama, while Matt Cain’s home run was a subdued, matter of fact occurrence in the midst of the broadcast team chatting with Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee throughout the top of the 3rd inning while the Giants were batting.
As that segment finally ended, Williams tripped all over himself to be sure to wish Lee a great rest of the season and “a lot of wins,” as if they wouldn’t see each other after the game today.
And when Cole Hamels returned the favor to Cain with a homer in the bottom of the 3rd, it was again cause for near-celebration in the booth.
In contrast, Giants’ pitching coach Dave Righetti was on air from the visitors’ dugout the next inning for perhaps 30 seconds during the Phillies’ time at bat, and the crew seemed to have next to nothing to talk with him about. How about Lincecum’s struggles and recent turnaround? How about Vogelsong’s emergence, or Bumgarner’s development? What about the closer role with Wilson out and Casilla’s recent woes? Nope. Nada.
We heard all about potential Phillies moves as the trade deadline approaches. Nary a comment about any potential Giants moves. The Giants sit in first place, two games ahead of the Dodgers in a tight race. The Phillies are 13 games out and trailing multiple teams.
Most maddening of all? Williams’ insistence throughout the game of not only pontificating on what players (pitchers and hitters both) were doing wrong, from pitch selection to swinging vs. taking pitches at the plate (usually in reference to some reason why the Phillies weren’t taking advantage of the copious opportunities the Giants apparently were giving them), but also his continual reference to Phillies’ players by first names and nicknames, while referring to the Giants’ players by their last names.
“Cole” this, “Ryan” that, “Chase” and “Chooch” and “Shane”…good grief enough already!
Sure, Williams is an ex-Phillies pitcher. He had his best year(s) in Philadelphia two decades ago. He’s also a former Phillies TV and Philadelphia sports radio personality. But this was a supposedly non-partisan, national network broadcast, not a Phillies broadcast, and that first-name thing gets old real fast.
In the top of the 9th inning, Williams went on a long sermon about how different it is for a closer (his role at one point in his career) to come into a tie game vs. protecting a lead. Potentially valuable insight as Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon entered the game, if he’d just spit it out rather than babbling on for two minutes.
He argued as fact that when closers struggle in tie game situations, it’s not a lack of adrenaline thing at all, contrary to popular opinion (and the opinion of closers who have been quoted as saying so). Rather, he said, it’s because the pressure is on the pitcher as much as it’s on the hitter. Hitters are more patient, taking pitches and working counts. And he knows, after all, because he was a closer.
The funniest part of that was that his speech about that very idea lasted throughout Brandon Crawford’s at-bat leading off the 9th inning, where Crawford promptly popped out to third base on the very first pitch, just as Williams was saying hitters “take pitchs and work counts” in tie games. When McCarthy, trying to bail Williams out by saying Crawford swinging at the first pitch was a surprise, Williams huffily and matter of factly said, “well, he’s trying to jump on a first-pitch fastball there.” – completely overriding his own theory from 30 seconds before.
Mitch Williams comes off as a smart dude, if also arrogant and dismissive. He’s never short of opinions on MLB Network’s studio show, and he has no problem standing by what he says. But some guys who make decent studio analysts aren’t cut out to be color commentators on game broadcasts…and some guys aren’t cut out for either (witness the exploits of Eric Byrnes on MLB Network or FOX studio shows or game broadcasts…sounds as much like Jeff Spicoli as anyone ever has).
FOX, MLB Network, ESPN…they all tend to mix and match whatever ex-players they can round up and throw jackets and ties on to stick behind a mic, regardless of their talents. It’d be nice to see the networks return to less jock-centered, more talent-based broadcasts. There are some truly eloquent, intelligent ex-players out there who are terrific behind the mic or in studio…but that doesn’t mean any player who ever put on a uniform will be.
And if you’re doing a national broadcast, don’t be a ‘homer’ – especially when you’re even lousy at that.