Wednesday, April 25, 2007

ESPN: Curious coverage
ESPN's coverage of Sunday nights Red Sox v Yankees game


I had been thinking about this for a couple of days. Have also received a couple of emails and comments from readers about same. Then today I read Eric Wilbur's snippet on the subject and I simply have to discuss it. ESPN's coverage of the series finale, Sunday night, between the Sox and Yanks was, at best, curious, and at worst, manipulative.

ESPN's crack commentary team prepare for another night of incisive, intelligent commentary

Two aspects in particular jumped out at me. First of all, whatever about Jon Miller, why do ESPN persist with Joe Morgan? Secondly, ESPN's handling of the hit batter incidents was very worrying.

Starting with Joe Morgan, the man with a website dedicated to having him fired (firejoemorgan.com). Morgan isn't a horrific commentator, like the guys who masquerade as analysts for the White Sox (ever had the pleasure? They are borderline insane). He isn't offensive, not that I can see anyway, and is almost entertaining in his self assured yet often erroneous style. I would never lobby to have someone lose their job when their worst crime is that they are entertainingly-bad. He is, however, not exactly the cream of the crop. Take his meandering, lazy commentary on Sunday evening.

My own favourite came in the top of the fourth inning, right after the Sox had launched four consecutive rockets off Chase 'Wasdin' Wright. Describing the pitches that led to the home runs, Morgan said; 'the one thing they all had in common is they were all high pitches except the one to Lowell which was down...'

Another nice touch from Morgan came with the announcement that although Matsuzaka has eight pitches 'He doesn't throw all eight to the same batter'. Thank goodness for that. Daisuke would be throwing about 340 pitches a game if he did that, Joe!

When he wasn't coming up with beauties like that, he was simply making it up as he went along.

Top of the first he described Matsuzaka as having eight pitches. Come the top of the fifth and Morgan was telling us Matsuzaka has 'six pitches he likes to use'. Amazingly, in the seventh, Morgan announced Matsuzaka has 'over six pitches' and started trying to name them all, slowly. Very slowly. As I suggested at the time, maybe he found one or two of the ones he lost in the fifth inning. Who knows.

What I do know, is this is how I imagine a 93 year old man would 'call' a baseball game. Constantly forgetting their own points and basically throwing up hail marys every few comments. Is this honestly as good as it gets? This is what ESPN thinks baseball fans deserve in terms of commentary?

Whatever about having the equivalent of a fireside chat with two really old dudes going on for commentary, ESPN's handling of the two hit batter incidents was very curious indeed.

In the first inning Matsuzaka hit Mr April with a 96mph fastball, right on the 30lbs of protective equipment he is wearing on his elbow/arm. ESPN immediately cut to footage they had ready to go where Matsuzaka and his translator were deep in conversation with Julian Tavarez on the railing of the Red Sox dugout. Tavarez, ESPN told us authoritatively, was telling Matsuzaka he would have to pitch inside (I guess ESPN has a lip-reading division?).

In effect, ESPN was telling us that this short clip was evidence that Matsuzaka had just hit a Yankee batter because Julian Tavarez told him to pitch inside more aggressively.

In the top of the third inning Daisuke hit Jeter with a hard pitch. ESPN then waited until Matsuzaka struck Abreu out to start flashing up spliced images of Matsuzaka talking to Tavarez mixed with shots of him hitting A-Rod earlier, all as Mr April started his walk up to the batters box. This, to me, was manipulation and sensationalised television of a level that Fox would be proud of.

How on earth did ESPN know, without doubt, that Tavarez was telling Matsuzaka to pitch inside? How crass was it of them to start flashing those images, inter spliced with the 'hit by pitch' from the first inning, as Mr April came up to bat. What exactly was ESPN getting at here, did they want Matsuzaka to hit Mr April again just for the controversy of it all?

It was a Sunday night and most of us were trying to just watch a baseball game. Instead we had to listen to Joe Morgan rambling on and constantly tripping himself up on how many pitches Matsuzaka has. If that wasn't bad enough, we had to suffer through ESPN's WWF like coverage of some very innocuous hit batter incidents.

Is this as good as baseball coverage gets? Really? Give me NESN and the Rem Dawg any day of the week over the rubbish ESPN is selling. They may not be as flashy and glamorous but at least they do what good commentators should, discuss the game in front of them, without resorting to shabby, cheap tricks.

Now, how many pitches does Matsuzaka have?! Colour me confused.

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Irish National baseball team
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A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

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