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, 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?

Comments (14)

  1. Hawk Harrelson the worst.

  2. The “we” and “us” used to grate my nerves. I’m a former journalist, and was taught to show no bias whatsoever. The change for me came when I stopped thinking of home team broadcasters as journalists, but rather as entertainers.

    “We” and “us” doesn’t bother me any more, but hearing “I’d like to see step into one right here,” still puts me off.

  3. Scully is the G.O.A.T. I also like Bob Uecker. I’m a Mariners fan and Dave Sims is pretty good, but his partner in crime Mike Blowers is an idiot

    • Ralph Kiner for the Mets back in the 90′s was great. He and Vin Scully had voices and stories that could melt you like butter! I know this year Gary, Ron and Keith had old Ralph back in the booth for part of 1 game telling stories…with those three listening to Ralph like young kids idolizing their dad.

  4. Unless its a Dodgers game I just mute the TV.

  5. Alan Ashby is total BA. When he takes a weekend doing the Jays TV games they are at least 5 times more enjoyable. I am lucky enough to be a Jays fan in the states, so I can watch the games on and overlay the FAN over the video feed. Nothing like Jerry and Alan calling a game.

  6. I admit that I will watch a Dodgers game just for Scully. Also like Jerry and Don on NESN. Tabby and Buck drive me nuts.

    They are so damn repeatitive and just sound so full o shit. Tabby will say some shit and I just can’t believe that he’s telling the truth. Buck is the same thing. Two colour guys in the booth just makes it so boring.

  7. I think one of the key talents of a commentator, especially on television, is knowing when to say nothing at all. I’ve come to realise that Pat Tabler’s worst offence of all is not so much that what he says is crap (though it is), but that there is SO MUCH OF IT. He just never stops waffling on. If he just gave it a rest he might have time to think of something worth saying, but you get the feeling he’s terrified of silence.

    Given that what he is saying is so devoid of any insight, the fact that it never occurs to him that sometimes there is really no reason to say anything at all is all the more painful.

    I’m showing my British prejudices here, but one of the great things about sports commentary over there was and maybe still is that a) usually the commentators were incredibly entertaining people in their own right (just ask any Brit about Peter Allis or Brian Johnson), but also they could sit back and switch off the mike (on tv at least) for a few seconds and just let people watch the game.

    The end result was often that you would switch on just to hear a commentator…especially for the best sports show in the known universe: Test Match Special (up to 7 hours of cricket, on radio, without any breaks for ads, every day for five days – and never once anything less than brilliant to listen to, and without ever giving you a platitude. They even keep broadcasting during the lunch breaks).

    The little I’ve seen of Vin Scully suggests the same thing – someone with enough intelligence, depth and humour to be able to speak about and around the game without ever getting in the way. People like Scully can be entertaining on pretty much any subject, but also know when to be quiet.

  8. Growing up in the Philadelphia market, I watched Phillies games growing up even though I wasn’t much of a fan. I really enjoyed listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Asburn call a game.

    As an adult, I remember Harry’s last game like it was yesterday. I shushed my wife mid-sentence because Matt Stairs had just hit a HR and I wanted to hear Harry’s trademark “IT’S OUTTAAA HERRRRRRE!”

    Harry’s replacement was initially terrible, but has gotten marginally better over the years. He still talks too much and gets way too excited at times. RIP HK!

  9. I wish the “Hawk” was a Blue Jay announcer. If I’m listening to a local broadcast, I like when the announcers are homers. I want to feel that the announcers are just as hurt as I am when my team loses and just as happy when they win.

    Having the MLB package and getting to hear the different local broadcasts are great. When I have to watch the Red Sox or Yankees feed (when there is no Toronto feed), I absolutely hate their announcers because they are homers. (which I should being a diehard Blue Jay fan). That is one of the many great things about the sport of baseball

  10. I think what look for in game commentary is pretty standard…insightful colour commentary. Anyone can do play by play, it’s hard to be a bad or good play by play guy…hearing Tabby make constant contradictions and provide analysis a 12 year old could provide is painful.

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