Sunday Rewind: “Options for Broadcast Changes to the Home Run Derby”
As it has been my custom this off season to pry the rusty hinges of my archives and troll fror some of the better stuff I have written during 2009, this installment was first posted on July 14,2009 right after I ended the chaos of watching the “ESPN Baseball Three Stooges” do their thing boring and completely putting to sleep the audience during another State Farm Home Run Derby telecast.
The ideas might be filled with an ocean of controversy for MLB or even ESPN to promote change within the structure of the broadcast seats during this telecast, but I would rather watch this event with the sound off than hear one more Joe Morgan “back in the Day” reference about how the “Old Timer’s” did it. And Chris Berman, I love you dude, but there are only so many “back…Back..Back..” moments I can hear in a broadcast before my ears bleed.
Here we go again people, eight hours until all the fun surrounding the 2009 All Star game starts all over again. But hopefully tonight’s game will not have that rambling and totaly brain numbing feel of last night’s State Farm Home Run Derby. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a home run as much as the rest of you, but it did not have the same flavor and thrill for me anymore for some reason.
Not to say there were no majestic swats into the outfield caverns encompassing Busch Stadium during that event. There were a few blasts that evoked a realistic awe factor from me watching from my couch peering in HD at my big screen, but for some weird reason, the thrill of the event, the anxious anticipation of watching one go deep into the night sky and the true spectacle of seeing a power display all seemed a bit subdued and dull for some reason.
I sat there and tried to wander back into the caverns of my mind and seek an answer to why I felt this way. But it wasn’t until I heard the shriek of “Back…Back…Back!” surrounding me as it thundered over the living room from my television screen by ESPN legend Chris Berman. It was then that it all finally began to click and fall into place. The thrill and magestic power displayed during this event was not falling by the wayside for me, it was the stale and predictable audio coming out of the mouth of the “Three Stooges” clones/commentating of Berman, MLB Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, and former Met GM Steve Phillips.
For some reason, during every participants at bats the trio made sure to fill our brains with great information and thrilling backstories into the player’s rise to this level of the game. But it was instantly ruined by the cliche’s and all around locker room banter that should be reserved for pre and post game discussions, not for a four hour event during Prime Time. Sometimes I wish that the head honchos’ at MLB notice this air of bad breath during the game and decide collectively to maybe select as commentators’ some of the great voices from parks around the Major Leagues to come out and broadcast the Home Run Derby as a tribute to their announcing chops. and expand their own fanbase.
Locally here with the Tampa Bay Rays, we have been blessed with a pretty good broadcast crew on both the television and the radio over our short history. But then again every city has been blessed at some time in their history with that same distinction. Maybe MLB can regenerate that anticipation and excitement for the Home Run Derby again by instituting a much needed vocal change in the on-the-field staff covering the event.
By including a renowned or even Hall of Fame level broadcaster into the mix, it would bring a local flavor to the event that most of the 29 MLB teams never get to experience during that club’s 81 home games. Not that I would not love to see St. Louis Cardinals and Fox broadcaster Joe Buck pop down there like he did last night, but there is such a treasure trove of talent speaking into mics all around baseball during the regular season.
I am all for a wild idea like maybe one of the radio or television voices from the hosting stadium’s broadcast team to pop down there even for a few hitters to break up the stagnant flow of garbage that sometimes filters during this contest. I mean, anyone, even the Hot Dog vendor up in the Upper Deck would make more sense at times than Phillips, and I bet he would do a better job just by simply sitting down in the chair.
I hear too much of Phillips wishy-washy mentality just during his “ESPN Baseball Tonight” telecasts, do I have to be subjected to him again during a fun and exciting event like the Home Run Derby? So with that in mind, even thought the event is now over for this season, I would have loved to hear some banter from St. Louis broadcaster and baseball legend Al Hrabosky during that four hour span. He is not only a St. Louis folk legend and former Cardinal player, but a pretty entertaining and informed broadcaster in his own right. Plus, he has played in this style of game and knows what might be going on behind-the-scenes with better clarity than the present trio.
Hrabosky has been up in the television booth for 13 straight seasons for the Cardinals doing the telecasts for FSN-Midwest. He started his broadcasting chops back in 1985 for the Cardinals doing telecasts on several different venues before finally finding his home on FSN-Midwest. “The Mad Hungarian” would have been a instant hit for the fans watching at home who used to watch his antics on and behind the pitching mound during his playing career.
But also of note would have been the telling of stories by fathers and grandfathers watching the event parlaying tales of Hrabosky during his pitching career to their kids or grand kids watching this great reliever legend relive the game with us.
That would bring a spark to the Home Run Derby. To bring a local broadcasting iconic figure into the broadcast team for the entire event would bring a new light of the game to other fans. Bringing baseball’s golden voices to the mic would be a great dramatic gesture to engulp us again in the pride and legends of the game with their additional stories and ad libs that would keep the audience interested even during a lull in the action at the plate.
Do not fret Phillips, I do not instantly dislike your mindless banter on this aged panel, but I want to All Star game to be about special instances and great situations, not about the tales I can hear from a guy I get to listen to, and ignore for 162 games a year on ESPN.
My picking of Hrabosky is no slight to the other broadcasters like Mike Shannon in the radio booth ,or even Jay Rudolph or Dan McLaughlin who are also great figures for the Cards. I am only trying to find the diamond-in-the-rough that will get people glued to the television, plus give the nation an opportunity to hear other broadcasters during the Home Run Derby.
Who knows, maybe in the 2010 event hosted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim we can get ex-player Rex Hudler or Mark Gubicza to come on board and bring some special Angels flavor to the Home Run Derby panel.
And Joe Morgan, I love your stories…. sometimes, but maybe we need to hear someone else for a while who can keep me entertained and interested in the broadcast instead of me doing re-tweets and hoping for a commercial break so we can see something more exciting like a commercial instead of your constant re-hashing and speculations about each of the Derby hitters. I am beginning to see a pattern in your sight observations on the hitters. I have heard the same lines, but tweaked a bit left or right about hitters for the last few years by you on the ESPN Sunday Night games, and it is growing very old and tiresome to me.
So my idea to replace Morgan might be the best one yet.
You see, I am not voting for myself or another fan to replace Morgan, that would be too easy, but maybe MLB, which is spending millions of dollars on this 3-day festival can get ESPN to bend their rules a bit from their current mundane announcers to let maybe another MLB legend, or newcomer take the reins from Morgan for awhile. I am going to use the Rays Dewayne Staats as my example because I have some familiarity with his broadcast persona.
He is someone who will be the in the broadcaster wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame before his career is all said and done, and would be a exciting breath of fresh air not only for the fans viewing the event, but to hear a voice that has called some of the most remarkable and memorable games during his long career.
To let the younger viewers, or even the older generation like me enjoy some of the voice around the league at that table would be an true All Star experience. Maybe if not Staats, then Seattle M’s great voice Dave Niehaus, who was admitted into the broadcasters wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. He is a voice that people on the east coast of the United States do not get to hear at all, and his booming voice would bring more energy and substance to the game knowing it is their national spotlight to shine and shoiw why they are one of the best ever to announce a MLB contest.
That is not to say I would not like to hear other new voices like Arizona’s Daron Sutton, who is in only his third year with the Diamondbacks. Each of these guys, even at their opposite points in their careers would be another taste of the MLB for each of the fans to savor during the All Star week. To bring about the change where the MLB audience gets to hear some of the voices and charisma that fans throughout the league get to hear each night might be a great influx of new energy and enthusiasm at the broadcast table during the Home Run Derby.
They are voices that do not get to be heard unless it is below a clip on the Internet or ESPN now. Or their voices get echoed around the playoff times for substantial calls or historic moments.
I have loved hearing Berman call games and events for year and years, but in that same statement, there lies the problem. Years and years….. I have also heard the same phrases rolled over and over until they should have a toe tag attached to them and delivered to a crematorium for burning. How many time last night did Berman try and elevate Albert Pujols to cult status during the broadcast even though he was involved in a 3-way tie in the first round. I mean come on, he was the home town favorite….How much pumping up do you really have to do to get the crowd involved…….Duh!
But in comparison, in 2008 during this same event, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton last deserved that level of praise. Players like Bobby Abreu also garnered that respect and attention a few years ago in the Home Run Derby, but Pujols was not the giant that night. After his first round 11 home runs, you really did not get the feeling the panel really was going for Prince Fielder until his semi-final round was complete. But the worst thing about last night was the odd comments or “fillers” being thrown around left and right by the enitre panel to fill air time.
There could have been better stories about players like the Rays Carlos Pena or even Ranger slugger Nelson Cruz that would have made you want to root for them. Like the fact Pena had a dream before the end of his first Spring Training with the Rays back in 2007, (he was a non-roster invitee) about getting on the team’s charter pflight for the trip to New York with his fellow Rays teammates for that first series against the Yankees.
Or maybe they could have brought up the pure fact about how an injury in the last Spring Training game to Rays DH Greg Norton opened the door wide for Pena to hit 101 Home runs since that moment in the major leagues. Or maybe the panel could have dug a bit deeper and seen that Pena went from a non-issue minor leaguer with the New York Yankees system in 2006 to parlay his time with Rays into the 2007 Comeback Player of the Season, or how he escalated his game in 2008 and won the Silver Slugger award at First Base in the American League, or even boost his reputation more by winning a Gold Glove. The elevation of his game was the reason for his All Star selection, not just his current home run total. It was the mythical rise of the phoenix of his career from the bottom to the top.
Heck, I even got a few people tweeting I should do the broadcasting of the Derby. First off, I am honored, and I did take a aptitude test back at Eckerd College in 1976 that told me my two vocations that stressed my strengths was law and radio in that ord
er. But that is another chapter to discuss at another time. I have some ideas to maybe invite some fellow fans who love to broadcast to maybe be invited to participate in the on-air duties during the Taco bell celebrity and athletes softball game to give it a different flavor. Maybe that is the stage for me to see the MLB break out of the norm and have a good time with it all.
I have to admit, I did have more fun watching rapper Nellie making his diving catches and seeing gymnast Shawn Johnson doing her rendition of Ozzie Smith’s flip during that game’s broadcast. It made me want to watch the annual softball game again next season. And that is new for me. I usually watch about 10 minutes of it all then click to something else, but last night I got interested. And no, it was not because I fell in visual lust/love again with Jenna Fisher from “The Office”.
The Home Run Derby was based on a 1959 show with the same title. That show evolved into the present day model we see during the All Star game. For this fan popular event to evolve more might take some hard stances by MLB with their broadcast partners, but for one night shouldn’t the event be about the broadcasters of the MLB and their premier hitters. A combining of the two forces both vocal and physical could bring about a renewed interest in the viewing of the Home Run Derby.
The All Star game will always be the focal point of the three days, but to elevate the Home Run Derby a bit would only bring more money and more exposure to other facets of the MLB. By letting other MLB broadcasters showcase their talents during the event would make someone in San Diego or even another country outisde the United States want to hear another game called by Boston Red Sox’s Jerry Remy or maybe even the Chicago White Sox’s Ken Harrelson. It would mean more revenue for the MLB through the MLB.TV packages, and also retain some interest of fans outside their current markets to maybe attend away games and boost attendance in some manner.
To expand the minds of baseball fans is not always an easy task, but for us to enjoy hearing some of the legends and growing talent around the league maybe call the Home Run Derby would be a deep, deep shot into the night and would be a solo shot for everyone involved with baseball.
It is now your choice MLB. You can take this advice and use it as your own, or you can just let the Derby stagnate until the viewership goes down and you do not know why. It is time for a change, and here I listed a few easy solutions, the rest is up to you. Do it for the fans. Do it for the International viewers. Do it for the expansion of the sport around the globe. Or like Nike loves to say………”Just Do it!”