TBS: The anti-Fox

Turner returns to postseason baseball coverage with its trademark sober, respectful approach to the game.

Published October 2, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

We talked about this last year but it's worth repeating: It's just a ridiculous pleasure watching playoff baseball on TBS rather than Fox.

The thought dawned on me before the games even started Tuesday. The studio pre-game show was on, the kind of thing I don't bother with most of the time and actively avoid when it's Fox.

Wait, that's an understatement. I actively avoid doing things that will get me thrown in jail. I actively avoid people I think want to hurt me. I actively avoid eating raw oysters from roadside stands in Mexico. I run screaming from Fox's studio pre-game shows.

Curtis Granderson was sitting in with studio regulars Ernie Johnson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Dennis Eckersley. Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was part of the broadcast crew for the first game of the day, the Milwaukee Brewers at the Philadelphia Phillies.

As Granderson asked the future Hall of Fame hurler how he might change his approach to hitters in postseason games and in various weather conditions, I found myself thinking, "I wonder what Jeannie Zelasko and Kevin Kennedy would be talking about right now."

I tried to imagine what heart-tugging human-interest feature Fox might have been treating us with if TBS hadn't signed on to broadcast these baseball games and have its people talk about, oh, you know, baseball games. I settled on a pair of stories, one about Manny Ramirez's hair and the other about Jason Bay adjusting to life in Boston.

Early in the triple-header's nightcap, the Boston Red Sox-Los Angeles Angels game from Anaheim, I noticed that my breathing was normal, my teeth weren't clenched and I hadn't yelled or thrown anything at the TV screen all day. No way that's all true after eight hours watching baseball on Fox.

TBS points some cameras at the game and has its announcers discuss it. There are very few sound effects or graphics intended to do anything but offer insight into the game. There are no sponsored fan polls or stunts promoting TBS shows, though of course there are so many "Frank TV" commercials that even Frank, in one of them, makes note of it.

There's no overarching slogan that the various announcers keep repeating, something like "You can't script this." There aren't any high-concept opening montages narrated by movie stars. The game announcers don't spend a lot of time working out their limited comedy chops. Any off-topic silliness is left to the boys back in the studio, though even they're a lot more serious than Johnson and his cohorts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith are on the TNT basketball show.

It's not perfect. TBS could have done a better overall job of hiring announcers, particularly play-by-play announcers. I still wish Tony Gwynn would use some of his encyclopedic knowledge of hitting to educate viewers a little bit, and that Chip Caray had gainful employment doing something other than describing baseball games I'm trying to watch.

But these are quibbles. Caray is the only member of the team who'd be at home on a Fox broadcast. Fox will be back at it in the next round, but that's a blissful week away.

By the middle innings of the Red Sox-Angels game I found myself laughing uncontrollably, like the guy in the movies who's gotten away with the bank job and is rolling around on a hotel bed covered with money.

Playoff baseball off of Fox. It's that good.

By 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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