Football writers: please stop trying to write about baseball

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Usually we have to wait until playoff season for people who don’t know a lot about baseball to write columns in which the declare it dead or dying and then vainly attempt to explain why.  But today we’re lucky!  We have one from Andy Benoit, the NFL blogger from the New York Times!

The rating for this year’s first Saturday afternoon M.L.B. on FOX was 2.3. That’s about 10 percent of the audience that Fox’s Sunday afternoon N.F.L. Week 1 telecast attracted. Obviously, a regular-season baseball game and a regular-season N.F.L. game do not make an apples-to-apples comparison (there are 10 times more regular-season M.L.B. games, 162 per team, than N.F.L. games, 16 per team). But if they were apples, one would be rotten and the other perfectly ripe.

New rule: if you compare football ratings to baseball ratings without acknowledging that all but a handful of baseball games are televised locally by 30 distinct networks nearly every single day of the season thereby rendering national baseball telecasts far, far less useful as an indicator of the sport’s health and popularity, you have to donate $500 to the anti-ignorance charity of my choice. Cool?  At the very least, go read any of the hundreds of stories written about the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers recently, all of which explain quite clearly just how big local television revenues are to baseball.  Apples and oranges? Local TV is a peach, and football doesn’t have it.

Beyond ratings, Benoit goes on to explain that baseball’s central problem is that, unlike football, it’s not a fluid game played all over a field that demands its athletes get bigger, faster and stronger and constantly innovate and improve their game. Rather, baseball is stuck with the same old field — 126 square inches, he claims, referring only to home plate — and thus is stuck in history, not the shiny new future like football is. As a result:

This is largely why there is so much monotony and downtime in baseball, and why so much emphasis has been placed on peripheral nonsense known as the unwritten rules … Can you imagine anyone in the N.F.L. even batting an eye (let alone fighting) at such inconsequential stuff?

I’m sorry, but if you cover football for a living and you are of the opinion that it does not have more than its fair share of “peripheral nonsense,” you owe another $500 to the Ignorance Fund.  This is a sport that will put on a three hour telecast about its schedule, for crying out loud. A sport that has a scandal about injury bounties. A sport that, due to several days off between games each week, seems to create some new off-the-field drama at every turn, be it comic or tragic. It has plenty of nonsense, thank you very much.  Oh, and before you go crowing about that fast, furious, fluid on-the-field action in the NFL, go read this first.

Benoit ends this piece thusly:

Baseball might be back in full swing, but in the big scheme of things, fewer people are watching. Meanwhile, the N.F.L. draft is just a little over a week away and new ratings record will probably be set. Evolution at work.

He and the millions of people who tune in to watch an old man call out names from a podium and young men put on baseball caps with football logos while wearing business suits can have their draft. I’ll watch the sport I love. If that’s evolution at work, I think I know who the dinosaurs are.

Matt Shepard to be the Tigers new full-time play-by-play guy

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Fox Sports Detroit has named Matt Shepard their new full-time play-by-play guy for Tigers games. Shepard will work with analysts Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson, who will split time.

This is the move in response to former longtime announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen getting suspended and later fired following an in-booth altercation in Chicago last September. The two of them, who weren’t exactly friends, reportedly fought over a chair, with conflicting reports of how serious the fight was. An anonymous witness said Allen put Impemba in a choke hold. Allen recently gave an interview in which he denied that and said it was only some pushing and shoving. Either way, it ended their 16-year team-up for Tigers games.

Shepard has worked for Fox Sports Detroit for nearly 20 years, doing fill-in play-by-play for the Tigers — he replaced Impemba for the last few weeks of last season — and for Detroit Pistons games. Gibson has been a part time analyst for the network for the past couple of seasons, splitting time with Allen. Morris has done Tigers, Blue Jays and Twins games over the years, sometimes even splitting time between the Twins and Tigers, which is rather unusual.

Shepard is pretty good at his job. While Tigers fans liked and were familiar with Impemba, there won’t be a falloff in quality. Gibson makes some good analytical points and has a surprisingly sharp and biting sense of humor about him, but his gruff and monotone delivery is not everyone’s cup of tea. You get used to it. Morris is not my cup of tea — he tends to do a lot of the “back in my day” stuff former players often do — but I’m pretty sure he could recite the dictionary on TV in Detroit and a lot of Tigers fans would tune in. Such is life.