Where Insight Goes to Die: Berman and Sutcliffe on ESPN

Why does ESPN hate baseball? I have no idea, but the depths of ESPN’s hatred suggests a deeply personal reason. Maybe baseball toyed with ESPN’s emotions. Or rebuffed a romantic advance. Or beat ESPN out for a big promotion.

Considering how many MLB games ESPN airs, you’d think they wouldn’t hate it so. But they must, if their broadcast crews are any indication.

The legendarily awful Sunday night crew of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan almost goes without saying. Although Joe doesn’t anger me quite the way he once did. Perhaps I’ve mellowed in my old age, but when Mr. Morgan sticks to generic comments on how to bat or field, he isn’t horrible. Jon Miller now gets most of my ire. He’s one of those announcers who never sounds comfortable unless he has an excuse to yell.

Then there’s the hair-helmeted Steve Phillips. Few former GMs are less qualified to provide color commentary, and most of them are dead. It doesn’t even matter who’s paired with him. His smarminess and total incompetence drown out whoever shares the booth.

But did you know there’s an even worse ESPN baseball announcing crew? Neither did I, until Wednesday night. It’s Rick Sutcliffe and Chris Berman. They called a Dodgers-Phillies game that fateful eve, and put together one of the absolute worst play-by-play jobs I’ve ever heard. And I’m including John Sterling and Fran Healey in this equation. It was that bad.

First off, I didn’t even know that Berman still did games. I thought his baseball duties were restricted to “calling” the Home Run Derby. But no, he’s still plaguing the airwaves with his stupid nicknames and his ancient song references. When Berman alludes to his favorite moldy oldies, even Cousin Brucie says, “Dude, that’s a little tired, don’t you think?”

As for Sutcliffe–hey, he seems like a nice enough person. He beat cancer, god bless him. I found his drunken antics with Bill Murray kinda funny. But lord almighty, that man should not be in a broadcast booth as anything other than A Very Special Guest.

Sample Sutcliffe one-liner: Last night, Jamie Moyer was going for his 250th career win. So Rick says, “The radar gun only measures pitch speed, it can’t measure heart.” He seriously said this. Over the air. With his mouth. In the year 2009.

Apparently, Boomer and Sutcliffe thought (or were told) that Jamie Moyer’s potential 250th career win was a HUGE deal, because that’s all they could talk about. And they way
described the ancient lefty, you would’ve thought this evening marked the 250th occasion on which he healed the sick and the lame.

I’ve got nothing against Mr. Moyer, and I guess it’s kinda neat that he’s still pitching at age 74, but I honestly don’t think anyone (other than Phillies fans, or maybe Mariners fans who remember him fondly) gives a shit about him. It’s well established that the only reason this “milestone” is within reach for him is because he’s stuck around forever. If sticking around is an accomplishment, then I guess I owe Jamie some congrats.

Still, Sutcliffe insisted that Moyer would eventually get 270 wins(!) because of the Phillies’ potent offense. After all, he’s got 3 this year already! Him and Boomer marveled at how Moyer could get major league hitters out with a fastball that topped out at 82 mph. On and on they went about Moyer’s craftiness, Moyer’s guts, Moyer’s heart…

And then Moyer’s left arm ruined it all by giving up 7 runs in 4 1/3 innings. Despite the abundance of storylines for both teams, this turn of events left Boomer and Sutcliffe with absolutely nothing to say. For the rest of the game, there were oceans of dead air (made even more pronounced by a Philly crowd cowed by Moyer’s early exit). As my brother put it, there was more awkward silence in this game than a John Sterling fair/foul call.

Berman saved his most enthusiastic commentary to tell the viewers that Maui loves Shane Victorino, and that the Flyin’ (Elbow) Hawaiian is constantly featured in the Maui Post.
Berman knows this because, in his words, he spends “a month to six weeks a year” in Maui. Just so all of you are aware that Chris Berman, SPORTSCASTING LEGEND, has a pad in Maui. You know, he’s just saying that he’s got a place out there. Which is beautiful. And which you will never, ever get to visit.

A brief scare occurred when the subject of Manny Ramirez came up, and the broadcast threatened to get interesting. Sutcliffe argued that Manny’s steroid use could have had an impact on last year’s playoffs; specifically, the Dodgers embarrassing the Cubs in a 3-game NLDS sweep. He insisted that Manny had to make an accounting for his use (or lack thereof) at such a crucial time, so we could all know if LA had won the series fair and square or not.

That’s an interesting point. Of course, one could counter that, given rampant PED use in baseball, who’s to say that nobody on the Cubs was using? In any case, it was a topic that left the door wide open for Berman to run with Sutcliffe’s point or counteract with a different perspective, perhaps spurring a lively debate.

Instead, Berman did little more than grunt in agreement. The game continued, awash in a sea of uncomfortable non-conversation.

Things got especially grim when the boys tried to drum up some interesting chatter on the rich history of Phillies baseball. That chatter basically amounted to them saying the Phillies had a rich history, and that was about it. They also mentioned the delightful fans of St. Louis, where the All Star Game will be played this summer, and the Cardinals’ similarly rich history. Which, again, was invoked by simply saying the team has a rich history. And which, by the way, HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE GAME THEY WERE CALLING.

It was like a conversation between two intensely uncomfortable guys at a party. Both got dragged there, neither really knows anybody else in attencance, so they sit on a couch next to each other, beer in hand, and talk in vague generalities about Things They Think the Other Guy Likes. And they daren’t get up off that couch, because this conversation, as lame as it is, is all they’ve got at this interminable party.

ESPN, I am begging you, do not put these two men in the booth at the same time ever again. I would take anyone in their place. And I mean anyone. Morgan. Phillips. A bonobo chimp screeching into the mic. Please, think of the children!