Blind Spot

I’ve been busy working my day job, as it were, and haven’t really been able to write anything here. I haven’t felt like I have had much to add to the general postseason hangover for Nats fans.

I have, however, been watching the World Series. I’m starved for baseball–any baseball–and this particular Series gives me the opportunity to root unabashedly for the Pete Kozma to lose. That’s good.

Unfortunately, it also obliges me to listen to the mindless blather of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on Fox–easily the worst baseball broadcast most fans will see in any given year. Buck’s stilted cadences (more suited to the NFL than baseball) and McCarver’s senile witterings annoy the hell out of me, a baseball addict. I imagine they would drive casual non-fans (for whom the World Series is the only Series) away from the game forever. And that’s before the shameless commercial hucksterism, product-placement, awkwardly forced jingoism, and the endless in-game sideline reports!

About those sideline reports: They’re recorded between innings, but broadcast while the game is actually in progress. They disconnect the viewing public from what is actually happening in favor of what someone thinks about what just happened, which seems wrong. Besides, there is nothing that the booth can ask a manager between innings that cannot be better asked (and answered) after the game.

Not content with invading the dugout, the Fox broadcast also “floods the zone” with not one but two dedicated “sideline reporters:” the beautiful Erin Andrews and the reliably dapper Ken Rosenthal.

And yet, with all of this reporting power, they still manage to miss opportunities to bring genuine insight into the game.

One moment in particular bothers me. In the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 3, with the score tied at 2, a runner on first, and nobody out, Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow delivered a pitch that just barely grazed Carlos Beltran’s elbow guard. Beltran made some minimal effort to avoid the ball, but he showed his elbow to the umpire, who awarded him first base. Beltran, the hit batsman, made his way to first base, where he was greeted by Red Sox first baseman (!) David Ortiz. As Junichi Tazawa trotted in from the bullpen in relief of Breslow, The Fox cameras caught Beltran and Ortiz in the middle of an animated discussion. There was much gesticulation.

It did not escape my notice:

Indeed, Fox had a parabolic microphone operator nearby, just up the first-base foul line, who could have aimed his microphone at first base. The lively discussion continued, but Tim McCarver and Joe Buck paid it no mind. It’s not like on-field microphones never pick up interesting conversations between players, you know?

Then it occurred to me that Beltran (from Puerto Rico) and Ortiz (from the Dominican Republic) might not have been speaking English. So, even if the parabolic mic had been able to record their conversation, nobody in the Fox broadcast could have possibly been able to understand it or comment upon it.

Think about that for a minute. In 2013, there were  1,408 Major League baseball players. 327 of them were born in Spanish-speaking nations or territories (Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela). That’s 23% of the population–just under one in four major leaguers.

Of those 327 Major Leaguers born in Spanish-speaking countries, I count 7 on the World Series rosters.

And yet Fox Sports did not have at its disposal one reporter, sideline or otherwise, that might have shed some light on exactly what Ortiz and Beltran were so animatedly discussing at first base. Not one. Ken Rosenthal, fine baseball reporter that he is, doesn’t speak Spanish. Erin Andrews doesn’t speak Spanish either–hell, I’m surprised she can even feign interest in baseball, given her NCAA football roots. Joe Buck can’t speak Spanish. And Tim McCarver? McCarver can barely speak English.

The absence of a bilingual reporter, to me, amounts to a kind of journalistic malpractice. Fox had every opportunity to improve and enrich its coverage with a bilingual sideline reporter– It could have borrowed from its Spanish-language affiliate, Fox Deportes. By failing to do so, they passed up at least one potentially fascinating story in a tremendously fascinating World Series.

And it’s not like the capacity doesn’t exist. James Wagner of the Washington Post is bilingual, and his knowledge of Spanish has tremendously enriched the Post’s coverage of the Nationals, allowing him to speak to players like Wilson Ramos or Rafael Soriano in a language they can understand.

The linguistic blind spot manifests itself in other ways, too. The Cardinals and the Red Sox are playing in the World Series–but for every other organization in the Major Leagues, it is time to turn to off-season player development. Yes: winter ball. But players on MLB 40-man rosters cannot participate in the Caribbean Winter Leagues without a Winter League Agreement.  The Winter Agreement for this season was not finalized until October 12, one day after Opening Day in Venezuela. This was, in effect, a lockout that prevented MLB players from reporting to their Winter League teams–a story totally ignored by the English-language baseball press.

Baseball is certainly America’s Pastime. But if your organization’s mission is to bring the Pastime to America and make them understand it, you do your readers/viewers/listeners a great disservice if you don’t speak all of its languages.

Jim Vance: Telling Truth to Power

WRC-TV evening news anchor and Washington DC legend Jim Vance delivered a scathing editorial on-air recently, lambasting the local sports media–including his own WRC-TV!–for overhyping Redskins training camp and ignoring the first-place Nationals.

This is a significant moment in Nats fandom. When a local media legend like Jim Vance says it’s time to get behind the Nats, you know it’s serious.

Here’s his editorial, transcribed in full:

Okay. So. Did you notice the lead story in our sports segment a couple of minutes ago? Did you see the front page of the Post today? Are you wondering, like I am, what the hell is wrong with you people?

RGIII and the Redskins have been dominating local sports coverage for weeks now, way out of proportion, in my view, to the place they deserve–to the place that they’ve earned–on the current DC sports landscape.

Did I just now commit heresy? Did I just even suggest that there might be another professional sports franchise in this ‘Skins-crazed town? Yeah, I did. And I have a feeling that I’m not alone.

Allow me to make something clear before I go any further. I am lovin’ me some RGIII. I think his might be the most refreshing and exciting athletic presence in this town in years. I love the way that he’s been handling himself and the media, and I am especially thrilled that that maturity and articulation are so obviously the result of a mother and a father who would expect nothing else from their boy.

That being said, the kid has yet to play a down in the NFL, for goodness’ sake! While back in the city–where a sports franchise that carries the city’s name ought to be, by the way–the Nationals are on fire. There is not one team in Major League Baseball with a better record. The Nationals–our team–they are 20 games above .500.

You’ve heard, haven’t you, that the last time that happened was in 1945, when Doreen [Gentzler] was looking at her driver’s license? You want some front-page material? There it is. And this is with a team that’s been banged-up and injured all season long! You want a headline? Davey Johnson ought to be Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” for masterful stewardship of that team. Our team.

Listen, I am not even a baseball fan. And I am jacked up over this team.

Here’s my problem with the ‘Skins training camp overkill hype: That’s what it is–hype! I was at all four of our Super Bowl appearances, and for twenty years since then, that team has set me up in August and cut my heart out in November.

I was also at RFK for the last Senators game back in ’71. Truth is, I didn’t really care if they left. I didn’t know anything about ’em. But now, forty-one years later, I have never been more excited and filled with hope for a baseball team.

The ‘skins promise. The Nats deliver. And, until that changes, that’s my sports headline.

Tuning In

Over the off-season, ;Fangraphs polled their readership about the MLB TV broadcast teams. Readers were asked to rank broadcasters on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being best) for their charisma, the quality of their analysis, and their impression of the broadcast overall. They’ve been releasing the results this week, and the Nats’ MASN TV crew of Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo ranked 23rd out of 31 broadcast teams. Frankly, that’s a lot better than I thought they would rank.

I would be a bad Nats fan if I did not also point out with glee that Bob & F.P. rank above both the Braves (27) and Phillies (26) broadcast teams. Atlanta and Philadelphia fans may have watched their teams win more ballgames than Nats fans did–but their broadcasters sure didn’t make it any more enjoyable for them.

F.P., in particular, is singled out for praise in the comments as a thoughtful color commentator. Speaking for myself, I’ve actually grown to like F.P. It’s tough for me not to like a guy who is still–still–so obviously excited to be paid to watch baseball games. Sure, he may sound a bit Scrappy-doo at times. But watching a few MASN Classics “assisted” by the grunting and grumbling of Rob Dibble made me realize just how bad the Carpenter/Dibble team was.

Of course, Fangraphs didn’t rate the radio broadcast teams. I can’t wait until Charlie Slowes and Dave Jaegler get back from the Great Silence and fill the airwaves around Washington with the sounds of Nats baseball again. As the D.C. Sports Bog put it recently:

Slowes, if you think about it, is one of the very few public figures associated with the Nationals remaining from their first season in Washington. The team has changed its ownership, front office and manager, hired new television broadcasters, introduced new mascots, and turned over its roster entirely, but Slowes has remained.

Dave Jaegler, of course, joined Charlie in the booth in 2006–Ryan Zimmerman’s first full season with the ballclub. Given that the Nats just signed Zimmerman to a long-term contract extension, isn’t it time the Nationals gave Charlie & Dave the same contract extension, too? It would seem strange to me to hear of the Z-man’s latest exploits from any other voices.

The return of regular broadcast baseball will finally will mean that their so-called Flagship radio broadcaster (to whom I will not link) will be compelled to broadcast some baseball-related coverage, instead of endless discussions of the NFL Draft Scouting Combine.