Canada may not be the primitive nation of dog sledding and beer guzzling that it’s often portrayed as, but living in the Great White North does present multiple problems for the MLB obsessed fan.

While online coverage keeps us up to date in ways that make us wonder if we really knew the game until just recently, both local and national sports media is more hockey saturated than the vile spittle that shoots out from Don Cherry’s mouth when extols the virtues of being a good Canadian boy on national public television.

And you know what?  I don’t mind it.  I get it.

People love hockey in this country and in the ratings, circulation and pageview wars, there’s little room to develop new interests in an audience.  Give them what they want (hockey) and they’ll give you what you want (advertising revenue).

What does bother me is that in the age of specialty channels where cable subscribers have no difficulty finding access to 24 hours of reality television, Filipino news and members of the Big Ten Conference competing in a multitude of different sports, there is no baseball specific channel.

Considering that Rogers, the nation’s largest cable provider, also owns the nation’s only Major League Baseball team, an all baseball channel, where Rogers’ content couldn’t help but be promoted, seems like the perfect match.

However, in August of 2009, Rogers introduced Baseball TV, a potential new sports channel that would combine purchased content from the MLB Network packaged with Toronto Blue Jays and other Canadian baseball content.  An agreement couldn’t be reached between MLB and Rogers, and the proposed channel has remained suspended in the air like a deep fly ball at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington.

Of course, the MLB Network could come into Canada as it is, without the additional Canadian content like The Golf Channel or NFL Network, but Rogers isn’t interested in providing the channel to its subscribers without direct equity in it.  This factor is what I’m assuming has led to the slowdown in negotiations.

However, Rogers’ greed hasn’t meant that it’s all bad news for Canadian baseball fans.  Rogers Sportsnet, which owns the rights to World Series coverage, has chosen to broadcast the international feed of the Fall Classic for the last four years instead of the FOX feed.

Suprisingly, Rogers Sportsnet hasn’t chosen the international feed because of decency laws against broadcasting the vomit inducing play-by-play and analysis (and I use both terms in the loosest possible manner) of FOX broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.  It comes down to dollars and cents.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t that surprising after all.

By pumping the voices of Rick Sutcliffe and Gary Thorne over our nation’s airwaves through MLB’s international feed, Rogers Sportsnet has the option of providing its own virtual advertising to the procedures instead of going unpaid to provide eyes on the FOX ads and product placements.

Of course the FOX affiliate that’s broadcast through our cable providers still carry the FOX feed, and so Canadians end up lucking out into having the choice of whom they want to watch.

For the first three games of the World Series, I watched along on FOX because the scorn directed at Buck and McCarver comprises  about 75% of my American friends’ tweets, and I didn’t want to find myself out of the loop.

Eventually, frustration got the best of me, and I went rogue for Games Four and Five, watching the international feed and listening to Sutcliffe and Thorne.

I’m sure that several “grass is greener” Americans will think me blessed to be able to listen to a different commentary team than the one that they were provided, without having to fiddle with a sports sync radio or unreliable P2P streams.  But after the initial gratefulness at being sheltered from McCarver’s inane comments and Buck’s horrendous attempts at humour, you realize that Sutcliffe and Thorne ultimately offer the same, tired voices.

Rick Sutcliffe was obviously pumped information on Tim Lincecum’s grip change for his slider because he went on and on about it in the early going of Game Five, but when they showed a slow motion strikeout pitch, it was very obviously a splitter being thrown.  Sutcliffe claimed that it was the new slider grip, while it’s fairly well known that Lincecum’s changeup uses a splitter grip and behaves very much like a slower split fingered fastball.

Later in the game, Gary Thorne expressed shock over Elvis Andrus not bunting over a runner on first without even stopping to consider his .342 OBP.  Then when Juan Uribe blooped a single instead of bunting the runner over, Thorne expressed disappointment in Uribe, as though he was a child who was lucky to have gotten away with one.

After Edgar Renteria’s home run with two out in the inning, the duo was still complementing Aubrey Huff’s first career sacrifice bunt which ended up meaning absolutely nothing, unlike the giving up of an out just prior to the struggling Pat Burrell coming up to bat.

Nearing the end of my experiment, I found myself just as quick to turn against Sutcliffe and Thorne’s commentary as I was Buck and McCarver’s during Game Three.  The final straw was Sutcliffe’s glowing praise of Brian Sabean after the Giants had won, suggesting that no one could question his signing of Edgar Renteria now.

Rick, not only can we still question it.  We should question it.  Just like we should question Sabean’s signing of Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand.

As baseball fans become more and more likely to demand better numeric indicators of success and failure, I don’t understand the harm in providing better data to viewers.  I wonder how many advertisements were ignored thanks to people looking up stats between innings or discussing strategic options with a friend over Twitter.

The Giants winning of this year’s World Series is not a triumph of intuition over numbers.  And it doesn’t mean the death of advanced baseball metrics.  San Francisco won because of its consistently good pitching, which proved throughout the season, that it could keep games close.  As likeable as the Giants assembled lineup was, they didn’t outheart anybody.

For once, I would love to see the truth explained on television.

Comments (6)

  1. Sutcliffe and Thorne are definitely not great to listen to, but they are certainly far less annoying than Buck and especially McCarver. I never thought I would miss listening to Martinez and Tabler so much.

  2. Here’s two things that ruined it for me last night.

    1) When someone’s bat went flying into the crowd (forget who exactly), one of them mindlessly said that “luckily everyone was paying attention and everyone’s alright”. This was clearly NOT the case, as from what I could see, an older guy was dinged in the head, and was bleeding, and immediately after you could see another guy on the side calling for help. Yeesh.

    2) What kind of call was that for the Renteria home run? He treated it like a lazy fly ball in spring training until he saw that the ball was a GOODBYE, HOME RUN. I mean for God sakes, it was the first chance for good scoring in an other wise dull game… in the WORLD SERIES. Isn’t this what we as baseball fans live for? The fact that one pitch, at any moment, could change everything? It ended up being the ball that ended the entire damn season and all he could muster up was “oh, here’s a drive to left field…”

    Sorry for the rant. Maybe that’s too picky. But if Buck can get his balls in a knot over some Sunday afternoon Jays baseball, any ding dong should be able to do the same over the World Series.

  3. Sorry, that was Thorne with the call. My dad actually hated Sutcliffe more and was sending me texts every other minute about his “obviously National League bias” and “girly voice”, lol.

  4. Missed it, but nothing that commentary team does can surprise me.

    I was listening to the SF radio station which openly encouraged fans to listen to the radio instead of Buck and McCarver, playing clips of them fucking up. Hilarious.

  5. As an American living in the Baltimore/DC area, I get to hear Gary Thorne do quit a bit of baseball games as the O’s play by play man. To be honest, I’m not *that* fond of him as a baseball guy, but for the most part did used to enjoy his work back when he did NHL games on ESPN. I have to also wonder if calling games for the O’s for these past years has completely wiped any enthusiasm he ever had for baseball out of him! Either way, I’m pretty sure that, if given a choice, I’d take him and Sutcliffe over Buck and McCarver any day of the week. To use a term Peter Griffin once used to describe why he didn’t like “The Godfather”, I really feel like the Fox production and Joe Buck “insist upon themselves”.

  6. Well put. I know not every baseball fan is on Twitter, or at least I’m not following them if they are, but every reaction to that commentary team I’ve seen online has been negative or mocking. I don’t understand how it’s seemingly not a question who will be doing the broadcasts.

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