In the past I have been none too shy to criticize Major League Baseball wen I felt it was warranted. One area that MLB got 100% right was MLB Network. The only criticism I can think of is that it was not launched sooner. MLB Network liberated us from ESPN forever. No longer do baseball fans have to put up with a truncated Baseball Tonight in June so ESPN can have a 30 minute NFL Live covering the banality of NFL minicamp. MLB Network pulled off another coup last night when they paired Al Michaels in the booth with Bob Costas.
Make no mistake, Al Michaels first and foremost a baseball guy. He got his start broadcasting Reds games in the early 1970′s. Given the opportunity to broadcast the 1972 World Series when the Reds won the NL Pennant he was hired by ABC. He ended up spending over 30 years at the network calling various different sports the network carried and eventually becoming the voice of Monday Night Football.
Due to the vagaries of network broadcast rights, Michaels had not called a baseball game since 1995. Last night his passion for the game was evident. It was clear that he still followed the game as closely as ever as he showed himself to be Costas’ equal in knowledge of the contemporary game. He was as smooth on the mic as ever, and as sports media blogger Ken Fang observed on twitter the Vin Scully influence on his style was apparent.
Watching the broadcast Friday before I succumbed to sleep two thoughts came to mind. The first thought was that Michaels’ talents are wasted calling the NFL exclusively. That’s not to say he is not brilliant as a football announcer and I am not going on another NFL rant. His talents are wasted due to the differences in the two sports. During an NFL broadcast, the play-by-play man calls the 4-6 seconds of live action, and then the color analyst spends the 30 seconds between plays breaking down the play. All of the beloved NFL announcers are the color commentators like Don Meredith, John Madden, Cris Collinsworth, and Phil Simms. The greatest football play-by-play man was Pat Summerall whose clear and concise calls were the perfect compliment to John Madden. Baseball is the exact opposite. The play-by-play man does the majority of the talking, painting a picture, and creating a story around the action on the field. The color analyst’s job is to complement the announcer and make observations. Watching the game last night reminded me what a fantastic job Al Michaels did and could still do as a baseball announcer.
The second thought that came to mind is the sad state of national commentating. In the 1980′s fans were treated to Michaels and Vin Scully calling the LCS and World Series as NBC and ABC shared broadcast rights. These men made the iconic moments of the era like Kirk Gibson’s homerun, Buckner’s error, and Dave Henderson’s homerun even more special with their call.
And now we’re stuck with Joe Buck, In addition to being a pompous clown he calls the game with all the enthusiasm of a subway conductor. Joe Buck has been Fox lead announcer since 1996, is there one iconic Joe Buck call? These special moments used to be entrusted with only legendary announcers. Maybe someday we will be again.