Damn Yankees Broadcasters

Let’s stick with television a bit longer. As a New York Yankees fan, I watch a fair number of televised games on George Steinbrenner’s otherwise unimpressive YES Network. Part of watching those games means grinning and bearing my way through the commentary of regular team broadcast voice Michael Kay, whose gift for inaccurate, specious and scowl-inducing narration deserves a designation of its own among the many, many things that annoy me. Like nails on a chalkboard.

So I’ve been wondering if there’s a good reason why we can’t have alternative game commentary via the Interweb? Why shouldn’t Major League Baseball — or any professional sports league — let anyone who wants to provide a commentary track for any given game — using the same basic digital audio tools that hundreds of people are using to create podcasts already — do so easily?

Fight for Your Right… to Hear Diverse Sports Commentary

Just as no single news source can reasonably be proposed to satisfy everyone, it seems silly to say that the Yankees’ preferred sportscaster (even in combination with any of the rotating roster of his co-broadcasters) should satisfy everyone tuning in. I tend to prefer sabremetrics-rich commentary, which Kay routinely distorts or mischaracterizes or ignores, so why can’t I hear a sportscaster whose expertise reflects my interests instead? Surely, there’s some undiscovered sportscasting talent out there in the wilds, armed with a USB microphone and a copy of Garage Band, who would do a better job keeping me from tearing my hair out as plays are called during games.

There are technical details to be sorted out, for sure, such as the feasibility of making such broadcasts available in real time, as the games play out. Those are details that can be sorted out relatively easily, I suspect; the more challenging problem is that there’s no desire among consumers for it, and so no impetus to overcome those technical hurdles. Honestly, few of us realize that, in a free market, it’s perfectly reasonable for us to demand a choice in who is narrating our sporting events for us. Instead, most of us listen to whom we’re told to listen to. And root accordingly.

  1. I’ve actually thought about this exact same thing, many times… It would be great to be able to listen to or provide a more saber-focused commentary. I’m guessing the reason that MLB has it’s whole “No reproduction, description, etc of this game may be done with expressed written consent… blah blah” is that they like the only voice of the club to be the one toeing the organization line.

    I doubt the Boss, or any other owner would be too happy if the broadcaster regularly ran through the reasons that the early-inning bunt greatly decreased the run expectancy, or why the ERA of Starter X is artificial and meaningless, for a variety of reasons.

    Although, I do think that even though it might not be widely popular, it would will a niche. And if people are willing to volunteer the time and energy… why not let ’em?

  2. Khoi, clearly it’s time for you to start up that old-school pirate radio station… not sure how far out of King’s County the signal will make it though. Hopefully not quite to King George’s lawyers’ lairs… (in other words, I agree with Dan). You couldn’t resist the post title either could you?

  3. It’s funny how MK also manages to be an irritant to the unending stream of player/commentators they try to pair with him. There aren’t many YES broadcasts you can sit through without hearing at least one, “Well, Michael, I disagreeЁ” exchange from the booth. I say round up 5 or 6 really well-informed sports fans, put them in a living room with a bigscreen TV and some food, then broadcast the audio.

  4. The BBC sort of does this on its digital sports broadcasts, with a choice between the TV Channel commentators, its Radio 5 commentators or the blissful no commentary I just want to watch the game mode.

    Admittedly all the options are produced by the BBC but it does at least show that the concept is possible.

  5. In the UK it’s quite common for people to watch sports games, especially football (soccer), with the TV sound turned off. They then use radio commentary as the soundtrack to the game.

    Is this not an option in the US?

  6. One of the many reasons I’m glad to be a Red Sox fan. NESN (the equivalent of YES) announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy are a great team in the booth, they’re not sabermetrics-heavy but they do discuss relevant stuff like matchups and OBP. Jerry being a former player has great insights and the two of them are a couple of self deprecating goof balls who obviously enjoy what they do. Go Sox!

  7. While I appreciate the core of your idea, DIY media, I don’t know if it would actually work. One of the benefits of the in-park play by play announcing is that the guy is in fact in the ballpark, and he can see and hear things that you’re not seeing in whatever shot of the game the TV is presenting you at any given time.

    I just don’t think a guy watching TV can do the job as well as a guy who is actually at the ballpark.

  8. I have done the “tv sound off + radio commentators on” trick whenever Braves games are on Fox (would rather pluck out my eyeballs than listen to Tim McCarver). However, the two rarely match up, especially with digital cable slightly delayed by a few seconds (in my area anyway) compared to the radio broadcast.

    Thankfully the different combos of Braves’ announcers don’t bother be at all so this is something I don’t have to deal with often.

  9. As a soccer fan here in the States, I’m constantly appalled at the horrid soccer commentary by US broadcasters. It’s nice to know other sports suffer as well.

    (An aside: during the last World Cup, there was quite the hullabaloo over O’Brien being picked as a commentator. Ironically, he was the best of the bunch.)

    In any case, while radio is an option… it’s becoming less so every year as the FCC ups the delay in live TV. And it’s not at all an option for viewing outside local/internet radio broadcasts. So put me down as another name on your petition!

  10. Khoi I couldn’t agree with you more. I would expect there to be more interesting features with digital TV. nowadays it seems the only special function I have on my tv is the ability to vote for pointless things on MTV… which takes more effort than it should.
    I wish some people which think out of the box would revolutionize TV…

  11. Dan hit the nail on the head as to why this isn’t possible, and it goes beyond the potential of the announcer bad mouthing the home team or giving out the wrong statistics.

    It is all about money. Companies pay A LOT of money to be the exclusive advertiser of MLB (or NFL, MLS, NHL, NASCAR, etc.). In addition, the broadcast rights cost serious money to the various networks, and sports leagues take it very seriously. The NFL is notorious for going after small town mom and pop bars who might show the game to patrons and haven’t paid the piper.

    I agree this would be a good thing, I just don’t see it happening, though if any league might, it would be MLB. They seem the most technologically inclined. From streaming every game online, to now providing a blogging service for fans, they seem be be embracing the online world the most. If only they’d broadcast more games in HD…

  12. I once watched a Sox-Yankees game on YES with a couple of other transplant Sox fans where we attempted to sync the tv broadcast (via tivo) with the NESN broadcast online. As you might imagine, we lost sync several times during the game and eventually gave up.

    I wholly agree that alternates to the gasbags on TV would be a great idea in most sports. For the world cup I polished up my Spanish by watching every game on Univision.

    One potential hiccup is that this second commentary track would be dependent on the television broadcast itself. Potential viewers, therefore, would have to be equiped with some sort of DVR or tape-delay to get the alternate coverage synched properly.

  13. It’s an interesting idea. I can recall the Yankee glory days of having Phil Rizzuto, Tom Seaver and Bill White in the booth. It was more fun to listen to the comedy routine they did than it was to listen to the game. Let’s get some fun back into the booth. Yankees win, Yankees win, thhheeeee Yankees win. Good God, give me a break.

  14. While I agree that the majority of on-air commentators are virtually useless, there are some gems out there. The Red Sox announcers come to mind (which is painful for me to say), as do Bob Euker and John Sterling.

    For the Yankees, however, one can’t escape bad announcers. You either have to deal with Michael Kay on television or Suzyn Waldman on radio. I prefer John Sterling’s play-by-play to anyone in the business (there is such a great rhythm to it), but Waldman is the worst broadcaster in recent memory, in my opinion. I appreciate what she has done for woman sportscasters, but many of them have trumped her in the field. I’ll take Pam Ward over her any day.

    When the Yankees are on a national broadcast, forget it. I can’t even watch the game and listen to those fools try to pander to whichever team is winning.

    I long for the days of the Scooter leaving by the 8th inning to beat the traffic, leaving Bobby Murcer to call the rest of the game on his own. “Gotta get over that bridge. I’ll be home soon Cora!” Now that was entertainment.

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