Tim McCarver to retire from Fox at the end of the 2013 season

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This is pretty major news in the world of baseball broadcasting:

I know many of you will respond with snark to this because McCarver has become a popular target of scorn in recent years. But it’s probably worth pausing for a minute and realizing (a) just how long McCarver has been the top national color guy in the game; and (b) just how thoroughly he changed the nature of that job during his time on the scene.

When he came onto the broadcasting scene in the late 70s and early 80s, the ex-jock in the booth was almost a comic relief role. They told anecdotes of their playing days and offered an analysis, of sorts, of what just happened on a given play. But so much of it was superficial and so much of it was subjective. A lot of “hoo-boys!” and “that was a nice pitch” kind of commentary. It was usually a friendly voice, but not a necessarily informative one.

McCarver changed that. Especially in his early days, he would break down strategies and pitch sequences in ways that most color guys weren’t really doing.  We take so much of it for granted now, but he really did work to explain what was happening in a game and why and how one thing would lead to the next in ways that TV viewers rarely got.

It’s inescapable that in recent years he’s lost a couple of ticks on his fastball. Part of it is age. Part of it is that the broadcast is so filled with graphics and things that there’s less room for McCarver to talk his way through a thought and reach an interesting conclusion. Some of it is merely relative: we as viewers have so much more information at our disposal that the points McCarver makes may seem somewhat pedestrian or in some cases unnecessary.  But that says more about where we are than were he is.

No, McCarver is not my favorite TV presence. But one need look around at other ex-players following in his footsteps to realize that McCarver is still, to this day, pretty darn good at what he does. For every Ron Darling or Keith Hernandez — ex-players who have taken things to the next level — there is a Rick Sutcliffe and a John Kruk, harkening back to those days when the ex-ballplayer was presumed to have insight and legitimacy in the role simply because he played, not because he was particularly insightful.

But McCarver wasn’t like that. He was the real deal: an intelligent guy who helped viewers understand what they were seeing better than they had before.  And no matter how annoying some of his excesses or his less-trenchant recent analysis can be at times — and no matter how easy a target he has become simply because of his ubiquity during the playoffs — we should all probably appreciate that when we take our shots we’re taking shots at one of the better ones.

And I have this feeling that we’ll appreciate that all the more come this time next year when Fox announces his replacement.

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

Watch:

Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.