The playoffs in Major League Baseball are the most unique in all of sports. With the exception of overtime playoff hockey, no sports changes as dramatically in the postseason.
Think back to the AL Wild Card and how the Royals battled back from 7-3 down. Almost everything that happened in that game from the 7th inning on could only happen in the postseason. It's absolutely incredible and terrifying at the same time, depending on your rooting allegiance.
Simply put, baseball in October is the best. That's why I watch. That's why many people watch. That's why the game is perfect.
Unfortunately, everything surrounding the sport in October is not. While I've made my displeasure about the second Wild Card known, that pales in comparison to how poorly the sport is covered and televised in October.
It appears Bud Selig and company went out of their way to provide the worst television product possible. Here's why:
1) Ernie Johnson: Horrible Baseball Announcer
Every criticism of Johnson has to be prefaced with, "But I love him on Inside the NBA." And I do. And we all do. But he is an atrocious baseball announcer. His performance during the AL Wild Card game was one of the worst I can ever remember. On Tuesday night, an all-time classic unfolded and Johnson put forth less emotion than I hear from the Nats announcers in March. Frankly, it was an insult.
On Thursday night, Johnson continued his reign of indifference when the first pitch thrown by a Royals pitcher was blasted to centerfield for what appeared to be a leadoff home run until Lorenzo Cain made a mind-blowing, home-run-robbing catch. It was the stuff October legends are made of. Johnson treated it like a routine pop fly in August.
It is inexcusable that a horrible, part-time announcer is calling the biggest games of the year. There are about 30 everyday announcers who would make a better choice. Couldn’t NBC loan them Bob Costas for a couple weeks?
2) TBS should not be involved
TBS airs 13 games during the regular season. It will air up to 18 games in October. You see the disconnect here? It reminds me of the college football coverage fiasco when Fox aired the BCS for four years before it aired any regular season games. Fox gave us endless band shots, random announcer pairings and Thom Brennaman verbally spinning sonnets for Tim Tebow.
TBS has been awful. During the AL Wild Card, they lacked correct camera angles. They produced a brutal spot where George Brett tried to read a promo. The aforementioned Ernie Johnson is paired with Cal Ripken, who talks like a guy who has never played baseball before in his life. Ron Darling – sterling in the regular season – is reduced to bystander in a three-man booth that instantly contends for worst announce crew in baseball history.
MLB is the only sport where a part-time partner covers the biggest games. In the NBA, TNT and ESPN cover the sport during the season and air the playoffs. In the NHL, NBCSN does everything. In college football, ESPN carries the torch from beginning to end. It's not rocket science. MLB chased the money. We can all agree ESPN and Fox should be covering the playoffs. As evident by the NL Wild Card coverage: ESPN knows what it's doing and TBS does not.
3) Airing games exclusively on the MLB Network
The Washington Nationals will play a playoff game on a network that is not available in every DC area home, or even close to every DC area home. It is a disgrace. The MLB Network should not have exclusive coverage for a playoff game when its penetration pales in comparison to local sports networks in this city and national sports networks in this country.
MLB isn't alone as the NHL Network and the NBA Network both air playoff games. The huge, monstrous difference is that the latter two leagues share coverage in local markets. That is not the case in DC. It is wrong and should not be allowed to happen.
4) Airing games during weekday afternoons
I was rooting for the Giants on Wednesday night. It wasn't because they would be a better matchup for the Nationals. It was because a Giants win meant Game 1 would start at 3 pm Friday instead of noon Friday. Why on Earth a baseball playoff game is starting at noon on a work day is beyond anything I can imagine.
You want to grow the sport of baseball by playing games when everyone is at work or at school? How is that a good idea?
There is a bizarre romanticism and fascination with World Series games being played in the day 60 years ago. Ken Burns' Baseball documentary gave us glowing memories of school kids sneaking out to listen to the game on radio. While this is undoubtedly a part of Americana, things have changed. For one, stadiums have lights. For two, we have televisions. For three, baseball is 18 miles behind football in popularity and should do anything it can to grow the audience.
Do you think Fox and TBS would rather air a game at noon on Friday or 7 pm on Friday? There is only one important sporting event that is allowed to take place at noon on non-holiday Friday and it's the NCAA Tournament.
5) Sacrificing viewers to build Fox Sports 1
So far, Fox Sports 1 has been a total and complete disaster when it comes to ratings. I say that because no one is watching. Their original shows have all bombed and/or been canceled. Their big gamble on Big East basketball led to viewing audiences in the five digits. They wanted to compete with ESPN but lag behind ESPN2...and NBCSN.
In attempt to build the network, Fox Sports 1 paid a metric ton of money for playoff baseball. It was recently reported Fox is unleashing its biggest sportsmarketing push ever to tell people where to watch the games. Do I need to explain why that's a bad idea for your sport's biggest games? I haven’t see ESPN running ads telling me what channel to watch LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The only corollary is the NHL and NBCSN using each other but with one not-so-slight difference: the NHL was coming back from a lost season and desperate for coverage. MLB is not desperate for coverage. Again, they chased the money and their audiences are going to be way down this year.
6) Game times are not set in advance
This is a growing trend in sports where game times are not announced in advance. Usually, the times are announced at least a week out. For the NBA and NHL playoffs, game times can come out a day or two prior, but it's usually a difference between 7 pm or 7:30 pm, which doesn't affect plans.
Baseball is not like that at all. Game 1 for the Nats could have been at noon or 3 pm. Game 4 could be at 7 or 10, while Game 5 at 5 or 8. It's ridiculous for people trying to attend these games and even worse for people trying to watch these games.
I know the Nats are playing Friday afternoon at 3 pm on Fox Sports 1. According to my Comcast guide, Fox Sports 1 is airing "TO BE ANNOUNCED" at 3 pm.
7) Way too many graphics
Baseball is the simplest sport on Earth and why it's so great. You get 3 strikes. You get 3 outs. There are four bases. Go score runs.
However, sports coverage in 2014 is never satisfied with just showing you what you tuned in for, which is the actual game. No, TBS and Fox unleash a mountain of graphics overlaid on live actions and replays when all you need is the little score box with particulars.
There have been two great inventions in sport television in the past 20 years: the score box and the first-down line in football. Nothing else has added to coverage.
I want you to remember that when TBS shows you that the shortstop is playing where a shortstop traditionally plays as Ernie Johnson monotonously throws it to an interview with a distracted athlete in the stands.
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