What's with all the dumb baseball commentary on television?

The stadium scene.
Oct. 13 2008 11:35 AM

It's the Thinking Man's Game, Stupid

What's with all the dumb baseball commentary on television?

Baseball Tonight. Click image to expand.
Karl Ravech, John Kruk, and Steve Phillips on Baseball Tonight

During the baseball playoffs, the best place to see comprehensive highlights of all the games is ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Just make sure to watch with the sound off, lest lead analyst John Kruk pulverize the parts of your brain responsible for logical reasoning. Kruk is a champion of the indefensible, the nonsensical, and the utterly pointless who once called Placido Polanco the toughest out in the American League (he isn't) and said that Brett Myers' arrest for hitting his wife in the face would "propel him to stand up and be the ace of [the Phillies'] staff" (it didn't, which is probably a good thing). Last week, Kruk's SportsCenter segment on the Tampa Bay Rays concluded with the meaningful observation that they are "a special team that can do special things."

This would all be more shocking if Kruk wasn't on a baseball broadcast, where such statements are the coin of the realm. While ESPN is the most egregious offender, the pre- and post-game shows on TBS and Fox aren't much better. TBS's cacophonously uninformative production features former pros Dennis Eckersley, Harold Reynolds, and Cal Ripken Jr. yelling excitedly at one another for a half hour, like a better-natured but equally unintelligible version of Crossfire. Meanwhile, Fox lead analyst Kevin Kennedy summed up the Dodgers' Game 2 NLCS loss to the Phillies by observing that the team "went away from good pitches," urging them to include more good pitches in their Game 3 plan. And Kennedy is a markedly better analyst than his colleague Mark Grace.

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It's telling that pretty much every football show on television is brainier than today's baseball fodder. Kruk's ESPN colleague Ron Jaworski is the best example of the comparatively happy state of football TV. Not content to provide commentary on SportsCenter and Monday Night Football, for which he's the main color man, Jaworski headlines NFL Matchup, a show in which he sometimes spends up to five minutes excitedly explaining a single play. Two weeks ago, for example, he pointed out that a Steelers left guard had failed to block an Eagles linebacker because he'd blitzed in single file behind a teammate, shielding himself from the guard's view—the kind of detail that someone who'd never played the game would never notice. Compare this with player-turned-analyst Eric Young's scouting report on C.C. Sabathia from a recent Baseball Tonight. "He can dominate with the inside fastball as well as the outside fastball," Young said, over video of Sabathia throwing a curveball.

Jaworski is good at his job, but he's not one-of-a-kind. There's a similarly microscopic show on the NFL Network called Playbook, and even more conventional highlights-and-punditry programs like Inside the NFL and Football Night in America feature smart breakdowns from the likes of ex-Ravens coach Brian Billick and former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth.

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