If nothing else good comes out of these MLB playoffs (and nothing probably will, as a Phillies-Yankees World Series leaves me rooting for the meteor), they may force the league to correct two glaring deficiencies. The first is, obviously, the umpiring. I am 100 percent convinced one huge game this year will be definitively and adversely affected by a terrible call. There will be no room for debate as to whether this call cost a team the game, as there was with Phil Cuzzi’s brainlock in the ALDS. No, I’m talking about a blatant blown call at a critical moment in a deciding game of a series that shifts victory from one side to the other. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
Then, hopefully, Bud Selig will be forced to reverse his idiotic anti-replay-expansion stance. We have the technology to make replay review work efficiently, it wouldn’t appreciably lengthen games (if anything, it’d shorten them, since it would prevent managers stomping out onto the field to scream about blown calls), and we could even use umpires to man the review booth/room/quonset hut. Selig is like an astronomer who refuses to use a telescope. “No way! Looking at the spheres too closely ruins their mystique! I’ll just keep using my magnifying glass to view Jupiter, thank you very much!”
The second one is less essential, but just as important to fans, in my mind. Hopefully, this postseason will force MLB to get new announcers for the biggest games of the year. Because right now, the play-by-play guys they’ve chosen are across the board terrible.
Just like bad umpiring, fans’ toleration of announcers’ hideousness is at an all-time low. Read any sports-related site and you will see nothing but contempt for the men who are supposed to be the Voices of Baseball. Spend an evening on Twitter during a game, and it’s hard to miss the embarrassment and anger inspired by bad play-by-play. That contempt is finally starting to find its way into the mainstream media, which gives me hope that some changes will be afoot by this time next year.
Chip Caray’s gotten the worst reviews, even though this is his second year doing the playoffs. The difference this year is that he’s calling Yankee games, thus exposing a large, vocal, passionate fanbase to his hideousness. Although it is somewhat curious that Yankee fans would object to Chip when they’re usually treated to Michael Kay. But when picking the announcer for the tentpole games of the postseason, shouldn’t you have higher criteria than “not much worse than Michael Kay”?
Joe Buck, on the other hand, receives few complaints. I think most fans feel that he’s been around for so long, there’s no point in slagging him. We’ll never be rid of him, we realize now. He’s like some small town mayor voted into office for 17 consecutive terms. No one bothers running against him anymore.
Buck and Caray are Legacy Broadcasters. They’re both the sons of beloved baseball voices. Between them, Skip Caray and Jack Buck had about 700 years of play-by-play experience. Add in Chip’s uncle Harry, and that’s quite a bloodline. One with an unhealthy amount of Budweiser and pork. (“If the moon was made of ribs, would you eat it?”)
So Chip and Joe were just sort of admitted to broadcasting, the way people are admitted to Harvard or Yale because everyone in their families went to Harvard or Yale. Merit had nothing to do with it. And just like the inbred blue-blood alumni of Harvard and Yale tend to grow up to do terrible things to our country, so too have Chip and Joe done terrible things to the game of baseball.
Here’s the thing, though: If you put a gun to my head, I’d take Chip Caray over Buck. Yes, Chip Caray gets things wrong and his knowledge of players is extremely limited and his impoverished vocabulary means he uses certain words constantly (like “fisted” regardless of whether the ball was actually fisted or not and without any seeming awareness of the double meaning). Worst of all, he used to be a Braves broadcaster. But even allowing all of that, I’ll take Chip over Joe, if I have to take either.
Because if Chip Caray has nothing else going for him (and he might not), when he does play-by-play, he sounds as if he likes baseball. He seems to understand that there are exciting moments in a game that should be reacted to with a certain level of enthusiasm. He can at least do this simple, obvious task.
Joe Buck can not. Because Joe Buck fucking hates baseball.
There’s an old saying: The worst day at the ballpark is better than the best day at the office. Joe Buck does not understand this saying. Because every moment spent in the vicinity of the game is a torturous hell to him. He is trapped in a purgatory of his own making, and he does not rage against its walls. He resigns himself to apathy, because caring would be pointless.
When Joe Buck calls a game, he simply tells you what happened. After each pitch, he says “ball one” or “strike two”. Each time the ball is put into play, he says “grounder to short” or “single to left. No embellishment whatsoever. Every second he spends in a broadcast booth is destroying him, and he transmits that horror in every breath of his chilling, soulless play-by-play work.
It’s as if the playoffs are being called by a vampire. And not a sexy Twilight/True Blood vampire, either. A classic vampire, devoid of life, envious of the dead, wanting to take everyone else with him into his cold nether-region of the damned.
But I will thank Joe Buck for one thing. His complete apathy in the face of the year’s most exciting games provided the best moment of the playoffs so far. It came in game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday. You’ll be forgiven for missing it, because it came at a moment that you (unlike Buck) were wrapped up in because you found it exciting.
Top of the ninth, two outs, game tied at 2, Mariano Rivera on the mound in his second inning of relief. Torii Hunter at the plate. Future Hall of Famer versus dangerous hitter. Rivera falls behind 2-0, then gets two swinging strikes. The crowd is on its feet, cheering between the raindrops. Finally, Rivera throws his signature cutter, right on the inside black, and freezes Hunter. Called strike three, inning over. Mariano walks back to the dugout in his typically subdued way, a totally contrast to the fans, who are going ballistic.
This is the kind of moment a broadcaster lives for. Athletic theatre of the highest order. It is a sliver of time screaming out for either profundity or silence. What did Joe Buck say?
“What. A. … Game.”
I absolutely lost it. I laughed harder than I’ve laughed since I heard Tom Scharpling and Paul F. Tompkins discuss the Gathering of the Juggalos. It was so awkward and unsure of itself and tragically incompetent, I almost applauded.
It was delivered in the same tone as Comic Book Guy sneering “Worst. Episode. Ever.” Joe Buck actually paused between “a” and “game”, as if he forgot what he was going to say next, or someone clogged up his robot RAM with too much information and he was slow to process it. FATAL ERROR. SOME DATA MAY BE LOST.
Faced with an epic moment in a thrilling playoff game, this was the best Joe Buck could do. Ladies and gentlemen, the prosecution rests.