The Wall Street Journal, as is its wont, published an interesting study today. Fresh on the heels of the Atlantic’s “baseball broadcasters are laden with regional bias” piece, Jared Diamond watched local broadcasts of every team in the league in search of homeristic leanings. He counted instances of “we” or “us” in addition to cutesy nicknames and other crimes against the good sense of the common listener.
The results are interesting and clicking this link to read the full extent of them is mandatory for successful completion of Tuesday. My question is a simple one: do these populist leanings actually result in, you know, popularity?
Judging the popularity or a broadcast crew is very difficult. Are ratings the ultimate arbiter of quality? No, of course not. No fan turns on a game just to watch the broadcasters, no matter what Gus Johnson thinks. Fans watch the teams, usually their own favorite club. In this era of MLB.tv, some might seek out opportunities to watch a specific crew but a dud game is a dud game, Vin Scully at the mic or otherwise.
Luckily for the universe, Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs set out to find the “best” broadcast team in baseball this spring. His very scientific findings came from polling Fangraphs readers the world over, asking key questions of every crew working today.
His findings were exactly what one expects: people love Vin Scully and hate Hawk Harrelson. Just as this good/evil dichotomy will play out for all of eternity, it also highlights two distinctly different schools of thought: Vin Scully the consummate professional, Hawk the braying ninny speaking in the voice of a fan who might not exist.
Which isn’t to say Harrelson is not beloved by a certain segment of Sox fans: surely some poor souls swear by Hawk’s homespun takes on the Good Guys. Judging by Cistulli’s findings, however, anyone else forced to sit through a White Sox game comes away feeling cheated and likely dirty.
Using Cistulli’s poll results and the Diamond’s research together paints a clear picture of what most fans like about a broadcaster: just get the hell out of the way.
Below is a graph which plots a team’s place in Cistulli’s ranking against the WSJ findings (ranking each team for number of homerisms used). Click twice to enlargenate.
With very little exception, the fewer utterances of obvious “homerisms” like pet names and we/us, the better a broadcast crew ranks. Not that these crews aren’t just as biased or favour of their home team, they just do a better job of hiding it behind a high sheen of entertainment value while sidestepping the “We” landmines.
From personal experience, there is nothing more grating than a broadcaster attempting to insert themselves into the conversation of the game. They are not on the field but they are entertainers in their own right. A good booth team can elevate the quality of the game experience but the game is always the thing.
Not that a lack of obvious bias is a good thing in and of itself. The low scores for the Blue Jays and Yankees lead teams suggests too much/not enough personality can overshadow/underwhelm as the situation dictates. Charisma goes a long, long way. No matter how impartial a booth might stay: if they aren’t likeable, not much can save them.
For whatever reason, the use of us or we is a total deal breaker for me. It is something I cannot abide as a viewer. It stands out and distracts from the experience more than anything else a broadcaster could do. Distracting the viewer is an unforgivable sin, as far as I am concerned. Be a homer or wear your heart on your sleeve, just don’t take away from the show. Again: nobody is here to listen to you, friend.
In keeping with the crowdsourcing nature of Mr. Cistulli’s research, I’m interested to learn what you like/dislike about the booth covering your favorite team. Do you wish they were more homerish, getting more excited for runs and plays while expressing disdain for the opposition? Is just plain old listenability the biggest determining factor?