TBS had been courting Major League Baseball since the mid-1990s in attempts to land playoff baseball. Thirteen years after the strike, TBS debuted its first MLB playoff game Oct. 3, 2007. There was plenty of head scratching as to how a cable network known mostly for awful midnight movies and King of Queens re-runs could be hosting a gem event. But, MLB on TBS isn’t Turner Broadcasting System’s first go at covering sports, TNT (also owned by TBS) hosts NBA on TNT.
This season is TBS’s third covering the MLB playoffs and TBS is still irritating fans with bizarre start times (as David Martin mentions, in 2008, the network started game one of Rockies vs. Phillies at 1 pm local time in Denver, while most fans were in school or at work. The network then started game three at 10 pm local time in Philadelphia. This year, the Giants and Braves late game look Braves fans well past midnight on a weekday), sideline reporter Craig Sagar is still wearing ridiculous suits and, despite a new host, the pre and post game awkwardness has not ceased.
The most glaring criticism of TBS’s coverage is that too many broadcasters who cover the NBA for a career have been assigned to covering baseball. The biggest gaffe came when NBA reporter David Aldridge asked Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay, “what wasn’t working,” after Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds.
TBS has featured polished play-by-play broadcasters such as Dick Stockton, who also broadcasts NBA and NFL games, and color analysts such as Buck Martinez, who does play-by-play for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Ron Darling, who is a regular on the New York Mets’ broadcast. TBS even added acclaimed baseball writer Tom Verdicci to be a sideline reporter. At the same time, they set the generally out-of-place looking Craig Sager on the sidelines and TNT studio host Ernie Johnson in the booth for the New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins broadcasts. And, while Johnson is a much better at hosting than play-by-play, TBS hired Matt Winer of NBA TV to host pre and post game shows.
Sager’s goofy sideline guy act encompasses TBS’s coverage. Sager’s skill as an interviewer is on par, but his side-show act doesn’t fit Major League Baseball. And, while EJ hasn’t been as bad as Chip Caray (who was not brought back by TBS after 2009), Johnson has lacked energy; his sleepy calls often failing to match exciting moments. Johnson is outside his comfort zone and it shows.
Winer’s studio hosting capabilities are held in check by the over-crowded desk which features David Wells, Dennis Eckersley and Cal Ripken Jr. Wells is trying to hold down the Charles Barkley (NBA on TNT) role of a brash character, but without a smoother more analytical partner, the entertaining Wells often is the only one laughing. While Eckersley and Ripken are well revered for their Hall of Fame careers, they lack the enthusiasm that comparable MLB Network analysts such as Dan Plesac or Harold Reynolds possess.
TBS’s production has been nothing more or less than status quo. In that past, we’ve seen FOX use unique camera angles, even placing one in the dirt near home plate for an All-Star game. We’ve also seen networks try unique graphics (TBS’s hit chart is very 1990s) or fun features such as a ballplayer introducing his teammates. Spicing up the broadcast isn’t necessary, but trying something new might have helped TBS create a specific identity. TBS hasn’t made much of the internet (as you can see, very little interactive capabilities at the network’s website) or new cell phone technology; the NHL and NFL have had cameras focused on the most popular players for the entire game, those cameras could be accessed via the website. I wouldn’t have turned on “Jeter Cam,” between innings, but I’m sure there are many out there who would have given it a look.
TBS’s baseball coverage hasn’t been terrible by any stretch, it’s been exactly what we expected. It’s been regular old vanilla baseball, and minus the yellow jackets (except Craig Sager) we could have seen similar coverage in 1981. That’s how baseball is, I suppose. But, when the YES network and almost every affiliate has super slow-motion cameras, when every team has professional baseball sideline reporters and when MLB Network features more exciting analysts, we are left to wonder: Is this all as MLB on TBS will ever be?
Matthew Coller is a senior staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
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