Put the bat down, Fox

If only the network bringing us the World Series could get over Roger Clemens' meltdown, maybe it could focus on the basics: Sound and pictures.

By King Kaufman

Published October 26, 2000 7:09PM (EDT)

The World Series announcers on Fox TV are pretty sure of one thing: It's a damn shame that everybody keeps talking about that Roger Clemens bat throwing incident. Keith Olbermann, Steve Lyons, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver spent the better part of Tuesday night talking about what a shame it is that this World Series will be remembered for the bat incident, what a shame it is that Clemens' eight shutout innings were overshadowed by the Bat Incident, what a shame it is that the media keeps fanning the flames of the BAT INCIDENT.

That is, when they weren't actually replaying the BAT INCIDENT!

What I'm wondering is why it's a shame. While it's a bad thing that Clemens, that big wuss, picked up a broken bat and threw it toward Mike Piazza of the Mets, it won't be a bad thing if that's how this World Series is remembered. It'll just be the way it is.

The 1941 World Series is remembered for a single passed ball. Does anybody remember the Yankees' great pitching in that Series, or that goat Mickey Owen was an All-Star four years in a row, starting that year? The '86 Series -- in fact, the entire career of Bill Buckner -- lives in most people's minds only as a single error. The batting title, the 102 RBIs that year, the 2,715 hits -- 50th best all time -- all "overshadowed" by that grounder going through his legs.

Clemens throwing that bat was one of those moments that writes itself indelibly onto baseball's memory. I don't see why it's a tragedy that that moment will live on in history and a very good but basically routine eight-inning pitching performance might not. That's what baseball memory is: a succession of strange, inexplicable moments. Get over it, Fox.

Having said that, I have to say I'm thinking nicer thoughts about the Fox announcers than certain friends of mine who are e-mailing me at all hours to say that Tim McCarver must die. I kind of like McCarver. He's smart and he knows baseball. I find myself learning things from him, particularly about the ins and outs of a single at-bat, from the point of view of both the hitter and the pitcher, or, actually, since McCarver is an old backstop, the catcher.

McCarver does have an annoying way of talking too loud and r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, as though we were all idiots, which, to be fair, a frightening number of us are. (Not you, reader, and not me either. But you know.) And every time he wins points by saying something insightful, he loses them again by repeating it 40 times.

And I wish he'd stop doing that thing where he takes some phrase that's been batted around, or some cliché, and makes a bad pun on it by way of analyzing the proceedings. An example from Game 4: Derek Jeter leads off the game with a homer and McCarver says, "Right after the rockets red glare, another rocket red glare." I think he thinks of it as a kind of trademark, but it's contrived and annoying.

Joe Buck, the lead announcer, is solid, dull and inoffensive. He'll never be the classy voice his father, Jack Buck, is. I still remember the elder Buck's call from Game 6 of the '91 Series as Kirby Puckett's winning home run disappeared into the stands, forcing a Game 7: "We'll see ya tomorrow night!" Joe's just not going to come up with an off-the-cuff gem for the ages like that, but he is knowledgeable and does keep his head in the game. Bob Brenly, another former catcher, is excellent -- smooth, funny, smart -- but he can't get a word in edgewise and, perhaps content to think about the managing job that's likely in his near future, doesn't seem to mind.

I'm not big on pregame shows, which are usually a lot of nonsense, and Fox isn't convincing me otherwise. Olbermann is just not the kind of guy I want hosting the World Series. His impish, smart-alecky, Bart Simpson of the sports world routine was a much-needed innovation a decade ago, but a little of it went a long way, and it's since become a cliché and Olbermann vastly overrated.

His snide goofing comes across as not having the proper respect for the event. When Bob Costas hosts the Series, the vibe is "Let's not get too deep and profound about it or anything, but this is the historically rich grand finale of a great sport, and we'll all be taking memories of some of the things we're going to see this week with us to the grave." With Olbermann the vibe is "This is a big ol' TV show, and there's a lot of people watching me right now! Hey, ma!"

But Olbermann I can ignore, as I'm ignoring his sidekick, Lyons, who doesn't even rate this mention. What's really driving me bananas about Fox's coverage is two things: the constant cutting to irrelevant shots, and the inept use of sound.

Fox's directors are inordinately fascinated with the crowd. Before and after every pitch we must have a shot of some bozos in the stands, looking tense, looking excited, looking nervous, chanting, whatever. Hey, guys? We get it, OK? It doesn't make me feel like I'm "there" if, just as the pitcher goes into his stretch, I'm forced to look at three teenagers in Mets hats biting their nails. If I were there I would be watching the pitcher, the catcher and the batter -- something TV is extraordinarily good at showing me, by the way, but apparently something that's just too boring for the director to let me look at for more than two seconds.

I know what teenagers in Mets hats biting their nails looks like. What I don't know is what's happening on the field. That would be Fox's job, to show me that. I'm sitting through your endless commercials. Would you show me the game please?

And ditto for the shots of the dugouts. Here's Joe Torre staring straight ahead with no expression on his face. And here's Joe Torre, staring straight ahead with no expression on his face. And here, just in case you were wondering what that crazy Joe Torre's been getting up to lately, is Joe Torre staring straight ahead with no expression on his face. And look! Here's Joe Torre talking to Don Zimmer, who is sitting next to Joe Torre and staring straight ahead with no expression on his face.

The sound problems are even more irritating because, if you pay attention to sound, as I do, they can jar you right out of enjoying the broadcast. TV people have, for as long as I can remember, lived by this bizarre credo: If a camera's picture is being shown on the air, its microphone must be turned on. So when you get a shot from a camera that's in the crowd, you hear the people around that camera, which is necessary because you wouldn't want to miss that teenager in the Mets cap going "Woooooo!"

Fox takes this philosophy to ridiculous levels. It seems to me that whatever camera's picture is live is the primary sound source. So listen closely to the games: Every time the picture changes from one camera shot to another, the level of the crowd noise changes drastically. It has a distancing effect. Instead of feeling like you're there, with a consistent level of crowd noise washing over you as it does in the ballpark, you're conscious of the sound changing -- shot of the dugout from center field, louder cheering; shot of the field from behind home plate, cheering gets quieter. Why? Don't know. Better microphone on the center-field camera, I guess. Isn't anybody at Fox noticing this?

It's hard to get a read on exactly what the crowd is doing, how loud it is. I can't believe in this day and age when recording and mixing equipment is so sophisticated that the sound editing on World Series broadcasts is such a sloppy, patchwork mess.

Maybe someone at Fox can take care of it in between shots of the Roger Clemens bat incident.

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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