During the Mets-Padres playoff series, ESPN’s Karl Ravech talked too much, while David Cone didn’t talk enough.
That was the biggest problem with the Sunday Night Baseball booth this past weekend. For the Mets’ series, Ravech, Cone and Eduardo Perez had indispensable task of replacement Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.
The SNB crew was not fantastic.
Studio guy: Ravech is more of a studio guy than a play-by player. He tells the game instead of calling it. He talks way too much and doesn’t let his partners in enough.
Lead, not question: When Ravech tries to include his analysts, he often asks questions, which works if you’re on set in Bristol, but during the game you want to lead your analysts places, not put them in places they might not want to go.
The best play-by-play exercise is to use your words to move the conversation where you think it should be going. This allows analysts to speak their mind and makes them more comfortable. This leads to a looser stall.
Cone of Silence: Cone should be the star of the ESPN broadcast. He’s in his first year with the network, but that shouldn’t matter. He’s probably the best game analyst in baseball. He should be the one to speak his mind all the time. At times he was mute.
Missed opportunity: Midway through Game 2, with the Mets up in a close game, Ravech speculated on whether Edwin Diaz could go four innings, which seemed ridiculous and was quickly shot down by Perez.
Ravech could have done the same, inviting discussion.
At the time, Perez and Cone could have said how early they wanted to use Diaz. This small difference would have made for excellent television.
Not a Sunday conversation: During Sunday’s Game 3, the trio again didn’t feel like they were having a ballgame conversation. It was more of Ravech moderating and sporadically asking Perez and Cone questions. The Padres’ lead took the air out of the game, but the crew didn’t make it feel much bigger than a typical Sunday night broadcast.
Dreaded oops: I don’t like to fool bugs. Live transmission is difficult. But in the fourth inning of Game 2, Ravech called Francis Lindor “Jose Reyes“twice. At the same time Ravech reminded Jacob deGrom in the 2015 World Series against the Dodgers. Of course the Dodgers are in the NL and the Mets faced the Royals. Mistakes happen to the best, but that only takes away from credibility.
The SNB booth is the second most prestigious in national baseball coverage. These are the big leagues. Yes, mistakes and mistakes happen, but it’s fair to point them out.
The good news: Analysts are the show on TV, which is why this SNB team is better than last year, when Alex Rodriguez was Matt Vasgersian’s analyst. During Game 2’s bottom of the fourth, with men on first and second and no outs, Thomas Nest so what. Cone said this would be a smart time for the Padres to pitch because San Diego had a strength at third. Perez added succinctly that Nido would have the option of swinging instead of bunting in this scenario.
It didn’t happen, but the pitcher-hitter dynamic ESPN envisioned with Cone and Perez volleying worked. More of this in the future!
It’s hard to say what fully holds up Alex Rodriguez back as a game analyst, but let’s start with the fact that he doesn’t trust himself enough. When he does, he can be good, as in the sixth inning of Game 2 of Phillies-Cardinals, when, with two outs and runners on the corners, he said the Phillies could try to get the man from first. The Cardinals were on the same page and a pick-off ensued. “I think they’re listening to us up here,” Rodriguez said. He didn’t need to pat himself on the back, but he deserved praise. Good stuff. Still, over nine innings isn’t enough. On Friday, his partner Michael Kay gave A-Rod a layup, but Rodriguez was either unprepared or shy. In the ninth, Kay pointed out that the Cards had no one throwing in the bullpen for two runs after giving up the lead. Kay did the right thing and didn’t put Rodriguez on the spot, but Rodriguez just said, “Yes.” He needed to get more into the mindset of the Cardinals. Does it make sense? If so, why? If not, why not? But as the old saying goes, you can lead a centaur to water, but you can’t always make it drink.
• Some liked Al Michaels‘ reveal the quality of Thursday night’s game between the Broncos and the Colts. There’s an argument to be made that Michaels relates to the viewer at home, and indeed appealed to some adorable comments on Twitter (eg, “This is the type of game you’d want as the fifth regional on CBS on Sunday.”). But the job is to call the game, not be it States or Waldorf. A line or two is fine, but Michaels’ comment became the focus. I’ve written that Michaels is probably the greatest NFL TV play-by player of all time, but he took the Amazon package knowing the plays wouldn’t all be up to “Sunday Night Football” standards. There were almost 10 million viewers, according to Nielsen, and I bet most of them were actually interested in the game, not complaining about its quality. If you tell people something is bad enough times, they will listen. Next up for Amazon is Commanders vs. Bears. Also, will Michaels say how this is really the fifth regional game on Fox this week? … Another thing about the Broncos-Colts: For all the complaints about it, before the season it looked like a pretty good matchup between Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan.
• Networks are always trying to figure out how to present lineups. The use of graphics that look like baseball cards is good on ESPN’s MLB coverage.
• Good move by MLB Network, which will have every game in the ALDS and ALCS in Spanish. For the Yankees-Guardians, Fernando Alvarez and Jose Mota will be on the call. Spanish language coverage of the World Series will remain on Fox Deportes.
• Is there a new tsar from the telestrator? Great stuff from ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky at Tennessee-LSU. Pre-play, early in the third quarter, Orlovsky watched LSU’s defense and crunched the exact route Tennessee used to score a touchdown.
• ESPN’s Malika Andrews has become such a big deal that The Associated Press wrote a full story about how she will host “NBA Countdown” on Wednesdays during the season. Mike Greenberg remains the lead host working the marquee events, including all ABC games and the coveted NBA Finals shows.
• ESPN’s new NBA scoring error is an improvement. It is smaller and color coded, which is necessary when teams have alternate jerseys.
• Want to know how far women’s football has come? The United States played the European champions, England, on Fox on a Friday in a friendly, and no one backed down. That says something about the power of women’s sports and how there is a huge, underserved market that still probably has miles and miles of growth. A friendly is just an exhibition, but there was a sell-out crowd at Wembley and the whole thing was not seen as a landmark event. It was more like, “Yes, this is what women’s football can do.”
• Next week at its Premier League FanFest in Philadelphia, NBC will have an interview with the 76ers’ Joel Embiid and former national team goalkeeper Tim Howard both juggling footballs. Seeing the seven-foot Embiid could be a sight to behold. NBC has made the Premier League Fanfest a success; now CBS, where Paramount+ has the Champions League for the next eight years, will try a similar idea and host a viewing party at Brooklyn Bridge Park on October 25th and 26th.
Who called it better?
On Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcastwe’re doing our “Call of the Week,” but let’s have a little fun here with the end of the Guardians’ extra-inning marathon to beat the Rays and let you judge for yourself.
• Arc Sciambi on ESPN.
• Dave O’Brien on ESPN Radio.
• Tom Hamilton on Guardian radio.