Buckley: 10 ways to improve baseball on TV – Boston Herald
For as long as anyone can remember, Major League Baseball has been trying to improve the game. From newfangled divisions and wild-card formats to the designated hitter (“Now batting for the Red Sox, No. 25, Orlando Cepeda!”) and oldtimey-looking ballparks wedged into the urbanscape.
But with the news this week NESN is saying goodbye to the enormously talented and likable Don Orsillo, with WEEI’s Dave O’Brien moving over to the TV side, this is as good a time as any to take note of something else that could use a nip and a tuck. And that’s baseball on television.
Before we continue, a couple of excuse-me’s:
1. I happen to like Don Orsillo very much and will miss him doing the Red Sox. I first met D.O. in 1991 when he was working Pittsfield Mets games in the New York-Penn League, and he worked his way up to the big leagues the way players do. Also, Orsillo earns straight A’s in the three basic Knows of play-by-play: Know what you’re talking about, know when to let the moment breathe, and know when it’s proper (and necessary) to be an entertainer. This guy is the goods.
2. I am not a professional media critic, but I happen to love baseball, and I love watching baseball on TV and listening to it on the radio. There are nights when nothing beats sitting in the back yard, listening to O’Brien and Joe Castiglione on WEEI; their styles and approach are wicked different, but their chemistry is superb. And, yes, there are many nights when nothing beats watching baseball on television. I guess what I’m saying here is that I know what I’m talking about. So . . .
TEN-POINT PLAN TO IMPROVE BASEBALL ON TV
1. Take a chemistry class. If the two guys in the booth don’t play nice, you’ll lose us. Orsillo and Jerry Remy always had superb chemistry, and, as noted, O’B and Castig do as well. But look what happened this summer when NESN sent Orsillo on vacation and brought Josh Maurer up from Pawtucket. The guy was in a tough position and, yes, he struggled, but Remy made it even worse by tuning him out. Nobody expected Maurer to waltz into the booth and forge an instant bond with the old second sacker, but this was uncomfortable.
2. Hire sideline reporters who have a feel for the game. It makes no difference if they’re male or female, tall or short, Democrat or Republican, Quisp or Quake. All that matters is they send out a vibe they belong. They don’t need to be Buster Olney or Kenny Rosenthal with the instant analysis and trade buzz; what they need to convey is an understanding of what’s going on and be able to start a question with more than, “Can you talk about . . .” Tina Cervasio, now at MSG Network in New York, is the best sideline reporter NESN ever had: Informed, pleasant, entertaining. Gary Striewski is also very good: He brings tons of energy, knows the game and isn’t afraid to be a goofball when it’s appropriate.
3. Eliminate replay challenges during the regular season. There isn’t a thing the television people can do about this — only commissioner Rob Manfred can lead the charge to get rid of this albatross. Look, I get it: It’s the 21st century, we have the technology, we want to get the play right. Where I’ve evolved is seeing the umpires as extensions of the players: flawed human beings who are doing the best they can. The TV people don’t quite know what to do during a challenge other than to keep showing the same replays again and again . . . and again . . . and zzz.
4. Work with MLB to eliminate off-field visuals that cheapen the product. Some of the new parks have runways behind home plate where club employees tend to congregate and become detached from the game to a degree that’s not only embarrassing, but rude. While watching the Pix11 telecast of the Mets game the other night, it was impossible not to notice the collection of Rockies employees behind the Coors Field backstop who were laughing, shooting the breeze, telling jokes and slapping each other on the back in HD while the hometown Rockies were imploding. If they don’t care, why should we? It’s a bad look.
5. Don’t read tweets before, during or after the game. Tweets can be funny, edgy and informative when viewed on our smart phones or tablets. When read over the air by a studio host, all under the misguided notion of being hip, they lose their nuance and fall flat.
6. Don’t be afraid to be critical. If a player screws up, say so. Don’t make excuses. The commentary needn’t be personal, repetitive or agenda-driven, but you insult your viewers by not telling it like it is.
7. Abolish the “K-Zone,” the “Amica Pitch Zone” and other contrivances that detract from watching the game. Show us a replay of the pitch and we’ll decide if we think the correct call was made. That’s enough.
8. Go easy on the growing-the-game-with-the-kids campaign. We all know MLB needs to inspire the next generation of fans to embrace its product, and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy is a leader in this movement. Just don’t turn each telecast into “Dora the Explorer,” because you’ll risk losing the younger viewers you’re trying to attract as they get older and think of baseball as kid stuff.
9. Surprise us. Introduce an unexpected piece of video, or go outside the box a little. Remy’s in-depth analysis of the infamous “Here Comes the Pizza” incident is a good example. What a classic.
10. You can’t have too many dugout shots. Show the emotions of the players — their passion, their anger, their jubilation, their anguish, their camaraderie. Pull viewers in, get them involved, inspire them to make it so they don’t want to turn the dial.