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August 31, 2004

YES announcer report cards
by TVerik

Hi, it's not Larry. I had an idea for a little post during his sabbatical, but never got a chance to write it. So one night only:

I have been watching YES for almost all of the games this year. Some of their announcers are good, and some not so good. They all have good points. In trying to rate their performance, I found it necessary to give them two "grades". One is for each individual's specific area of expertise - Jim Kaat and pitching, Bobby Murcer and hitting, etc. The other grade is for their overall performance - how much they bring to the broadcast booth. So without further ado...

Joe Girardi is a newcomer to the booth this year. I watched his ESPN work during last year's postseason, and was really impressed. My guess is that he'll be a fine broadcaster for years, as long as he doesn't decide to get into coaching or something. He can be a bit rough around the edges - this past week, he was left to do the play-by-play duties (Ken Singleton was the only other one in the booth that day). Girardi had a bit of a rough time - he stumbled when reading promos, billboards, and scouting reports. But when he's talking about recent Yankee teams from an insider's perspective, it's generally really good for the broadcast. Call me a rough grader - I suspect he'll improve on that second score a great deal, and soon.

In his area: A
Overall: B-
I had been watching Fred Hickman for years on CNN. I think he's very talented, and is used very well. I like his voice a lot. That's about it, though. He hasn't ended up on game telecasts yet (as far as I know), and I feel the unscripted nature of a game showcases a broadcaster's strengths and weaknesses far more than studio updates and pre- and post-game shows. By the way, I think Fred was a significant "get" for YES. He has national noteriety as a sportscaster, and could have undoubtedly found a national job. To get a person with his credentials to go on a local cable network, they must have backed up the money truck to his front door.
In his area: A
Overall: Incomplete
Jim Kaat has been doing this for a long time. I really liked him better prior to this year - his uninformed rants about sabermetrics and Moneyball can get under my skin. He has a nice little sense of humor, and is a really good storyteller. But I wonder if today's Yankee fans can really relate to all of his stories - when he goes on about his experiences with Cap Anson, I often go to sleep. The man knows about as much about pitching as any analyst in the game. Last year, I think his overall score would have been a bit higher. I'm concerned that he might be at an age where his opinions become more calcified - he'll need to prove that he's capable of embracing new streams of thought.
In his area: A-
Overall: B+
Michael Kay. All right, here it comes - many sabermetric types would bash him mercilessly. But I can see good. His voice is adequate. He really reads things well (that sounds like a bit of a backhanded compliment, but it's really not easy to integrate written copy into a broadcast well, and he has this ability). He stays out of some broadcasting traps that might make other play-by-play men look foolish. Also, you just have to like his story - he's a local guy who just loved the Yankees and managed to make a career out of it. I can respect that.
Unfortunately, he has fallen for the Conventional Wisdom philosophy really, really hard. Combine that with his assertiveness and arrogance, and he often can be very harsh to philosophies that don't match his own. I've seen him adopt a "Professor Baseball" mantle, similar to Tim McCarver. But he isn't as good at it as Tim is. Again, I believe that Kay has talent and can be useful. He's skillful at the lesser-noticed minutia of broadcasting. But his presence often annoys me. I think he might be one of the most closed-minded men in the business.
In his area: B
Overall: D
Bobby Murcer was a Yankee broadcaster for most of my youth - I remember him working with Phil Rizzuto, and that's a point in his favor. Full disclosure - I just plain like Murcer. I find his Oklahoma drawl relaxing and his homerism fun. I wouldn't call him the most interesting member of the team, but I'm glad he's on TV doing Yankee games. I had a fairly happy childhood, and a lot of my memories were of Bobby and Scooter talking about the Yankees as I did "kid stuff" around the house - I wasn't a baseball fan then, but I knew who Bobby was.
In his area: A-
Overall: B+
I really wanted to love Paul O'Neill as a broadcaster, but it really hasn't happened. One of my favorite players just hasn't taken well to the booth. He's stiff, he sounds rehearsed, and he's not versatile. If he were not a beloved recent Yankee, I don't think he'd have a job in the business. He's been at this for long enough that if it were going to click for him, it would have already. I like that he gives us insight into recent Yankee clubhouses, but Joe Girardi does that a bit better and brings more to the party. YES clearly doesn't know what to do with him either - he has alternated between a studio analyst and game analyst, not really achieving distinction in either.
In his area: B
Overall: C-
Here comes my favorite single member of the broadcast team. I think Ken Singleton does it all, and does it well. He seems to be comfortable with sabermetric thought (he did, after all, play for Earl Weaver), but not overly so as to be hostile to his main audience. He is very smooth with reading scripted stuff, and is a gifted storyteller. He was an All-Star level player, and is capable of conveying that without blowing his own horn overly. He even has a really good sense of humor - he had me on the floor last year when the Yankees had Jesse Orosco and a pitcher named Erasmo Ramirez was on the hill for Texas; Singleton wondered what would happen if Erasmo was in Jesse's family - resulting in Erasmo Orosco! Trust me, it was funny. I think of Singleton as the YES MVP - I wouldn't want to lose him.
In his area: A
Overall: A
Finally, we come to Suzyn Waldman. Again, there's significant baggage here. But let's start with her good points: She has better access to today's Yankee team than anyone else, and she's been able to do this for years. She's capable of giving hungry fans the news that they'd like to hear about injuries or managerial decisions or lineups faster and more concisely than anyone else. Like Kay, I really respect her backstory: She's a breast cancer survivor, and has made a notable career in a traditionally male-dominated atmosphere.
But she might have the most annoying voice ever put on display on TV. Also like Michael Kay, she's fallen for the Conventional Wisdom tract hook, line, and sinker, and has displayed some hostility towards new baseball ideas. I believe she thinks she knows more than anyone else about her specialty - not a wonderful quality in a broadcaster.These grades seem fairly low. But I really think that her shoes could be filled well with another (that's right) replacement-level broadcaster.
In her area: B
Overall: C
That's it... this was a longer post than I envisioned. Anything you've read here is just my opinion, so please feel free to disagree with it.

I was going to rate the radio guys, but I simply haven't heard them as much as the TV people. So I'll leave that to someone else if they so desire.
Hey, Larry hasn't gone anywhere; he just let me post tonight. So don't worry, a talented writer will be along soon. Everyone reading, please have a nice day. And Lock the State!