Matt Holliday’s status still up in the air, which gives me an excuse to talk about ESPN’s new broadcast team

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There has yet to be a decision by the Cardinals as to whether they will put Matt Holliday on the disabled list in the wake of his appendectomy. He was reported to be feeling better yesterday, so the Cards are taking a wait-and-see approach and, in the meantime, going with a 24-man roster, effectively.

ESPN’s crew of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine talked about this during last night’s Giants-Dodgers game. The consensus from Hershiser and Valentine, each of whom had appendectomies during their playing days, was that Holliday should be fine and back sooner than you’d think. And they were pretty straight-forward about it. They didn’t actually say that Holliday would be less than a manly-man if he went on the DL, but they sort of implied it. Only a half-hearted comment from Valentine to the effect of “well, if there was an infection or something …” gave them any wiggle room on their assessment.

That and a bunch of other stuff has me really liking this new broadcast team.  There’s a bluntness to them in the early going that I really, really like and I hope continues. They were frank on the Holliday stuff, avoiding the empty “we wish him well in his recovery stuff” because that goes without saying. Fans want to know how long he’ll be out and what an appendectomy means for a ballplayer.

The ESPN guys were likewise blunt when talking about Aubrey Huff’s defense. They didn’t sugar coat it by talking about Huff’s effort. They didn’t apologize for him. Nor did they slam him in anything approaching a mean way. They merely said, as former ballplayers and coaches/managers, that Huff’s defense was bad and unacceptable.  Think how rarely you hear that kind of thing from broadcasters even when the notion is as plain as day.

One common criticism of the new booth is that Valentine is superfluous and it would be better as a two-man operation.  I still think I fall in that camp, but last night I began to reassess.  Late in the game, when the Dodgers’ pitcher couldn’t find the strike zone, Miguel Tejada came up and swung at the first pitch he saw, in the dirt, ending a potential rally. Valentine — again, without rancor, but without any softening either — said how bad an at bat it was. He didn’t praise Tejada for trying to “be aggressive” or for trying to “make something happen,” which is what Joe Morgan would have done. He said it was just an awful at bat like a manager would say to the player behind closed doors.

This, I think, could be the difference between the new ESPN Sunday night booth being merely good and being potentially great.  If they can avoid falling into the trap of promoting the game rather than analyzing it. If they can resist the temptation to apologize or explain away bad play. If Valentine and Hershiser are allowed and, indeed, are encouraged, to use their genuine status and experience in the game to call out the horsesh** when they see it, Sunday Night Baseball could be appointment viewing.

Here’s hoping.

Phillies considering Chase Utley for bench coach

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Sports radio personality Howard Eskin is hearing a fun rumor that the Philadelphia Phillies are considering Chase Utley to be their bench coach.

Utley hasn’t retired yet, but he is almost 39, is a free agent and is unlikely to find anything beyond a bench role at best at this point. Time for a career change? Who knows, as this popping up over Thanksgiving makes it hard to confirm or deny one way or the other. It’s fun to think about, though. Over the past four or five years, as Utley’s production has declined, he has been widely praised as a good clubhouse presence and mentor, so it would not be hard to imagine him transitioning into a formal coaching role.

Utley, of course, played for the Phillies for thirteen seasons. If he’s going to break into coaching, he’s most likely to do it there.