A few weeks ago we were approached by the excellent Mike Sielski of The Wall Street Journal for our general opinions on various aspects of the television and radio broadcast teams presently covering the Yankees. Unfortunately, due to space restrictions, none of our answers ended up making it into Mike’s article, but he was good enough to grant permission for us to republish his questions and our answers here on the blog:
1) What do you think of the job John Sterling does as the Yankees’ play-by-play man on radio? Please explain why you like him or dislike him.
Larry Koestler: John Sterling has become an easy target among the Yankee faithful, particularly among the younger generation of fans. He’s bombastic, melodramatic and over-the-top, and has been rather famously and mercilessly teased for his theatrical and overeager home run call, which unfortunately seems to be applied to just about any ball hit in the air, regardless of how far it travels (“It is High! It is far! It is…caught” isn’t just a mantra, it’s also a blog).
That being said, while I’d found myself firmly entrenched in the Sterling-hater camp for the last few years, I’m starting to come back around on old John. Maybe it’s simply me getting older and realizing that the gripes of my twenties seem sillier as a 30-year-old — or maybe it’s due to the fact that, anecdotally, fans of other teams all seem to hate their broadcasters as well, and despite his homerism and general goofiness, Sterling apparently isn’t nearly as bad as the potential alternatives.
I actually don’t listen to the radio broadcasts all that frequently, as I catch most Yankee games on TV, but when I do listen via radio it’s generally during the summer, almost always driving home from a beautiful day at the beach. In a weird way, I think I’ve come to find Sterling’s voice comforting — if I’m listening to Sterling call a Yankee game, it likely means I’m either at the beach or returning from a day at the shore. As those instances are some of the most relaxing I experience all year long, there’s something soothing, reassuring and relaxing about sitting in an air-conditioned car, skin chafed and dry (but in a good way) from lying on the sand in the sun all day, and hearing Sterling’s baritone dramatically relay the events of another Yankee game.
Matt Imbrogno: I’m not a huge Sterling fan. Like many, I enjoyed him when I was younger because I thought his voice was funny and the home run calls were exciting. As I matured as a fan, though, I found myself distracted by his lack of good in-game descriptions and the inanity of the home run calls. Now, I think his attention to detail is horribly lacking and his repetitiousness is frustrating. To give him some credit, he is at the least very enthusiastic and I can see why some are drawn to that; he has charisma and that appeals to people. Still, I can’t look past the bad game calling and poor analysis.
Matt Warden: Sterling’s alright; like everything else New York, he certainly encapsulates the “larger than life” motif. With that being said, he’s not my personal favorite. I find his style to be somewhat gimmicky at times. I also get exasperated with his blatant disregard of advanced stats and unyielding defense of anecdotal observation.
2) What do you think the primary job or role of a TV or radio play-by-play man should be? Inform? Entertain? What? (We’re talking baseball only here.)
Larry Koestler: My preference for a baseball play-by-play announcer is to be as informative as possible — if I wanted to be entertained I’d watch the Mets. I understand that the producers want to be able to cater to the more casual fan, but I’d rather be overloaded with information; otherwise I may as well watch the game on mute and call it myself (which I sometimes do anyway). I also appreciate the dissemination of information because I find it helps my wife enjoy and engage with the game much moreso than she ordinarily would.
While there are always aspects that could use improving, I think the YES team does a phenomenal job of capturing and presenting the game. Though nothing can replace the energy and excitement of attending a game at Yankee Stadium, between escalating prices and the fact that the game turns into a sideshow between innings (really? We’re still doing the YMCA and Cotton Eye Joe? I refuse to believe there’s anyone left that still enjoys these ridiculous spectacles), there’s less and less of a reason to head up to the Bronx when you can enjoy the game on an HD TV from the comfort of your couch and not be aurally insulted by the in-house entertainment.
Matt Imbrogno: The job of anyone calling a game should be to blend information and entertainment. Excluding one of those is inexcusable. The desire, so to speak, to swing the pendulum too heavily towards the entertainment side is obviously going to be there since baseball on the radio or on TV is a form of entertainment. But, when the entertainment aspect overshadows the information aspect too much, I lose a good amount of enjoyment. I understand that a guy or gal calling a game must be engaging and entertaining since his or her company’s money could be riding on it. However, the information given needs to be solid and mixed in well with the entertainment. If I had to pick between an announcer who’s dry but gives out good information and an entertaining but uninformative announcer, I’ll choose the former every single time. Information should always trump entertainment, but I understand why the reverse is sometimes allowed to happen in the sports world.
Matt Warden: I think that the radio play-by-play voice has to assume that his or her audience is generally unable to witness the game. Thusly, the primary responsibility should be to inform the audience of what’s happening. Informing the audience is not limited to merely discussing events as they occur either. The play-by-play voice should incorporate interesting tidbits that are often inaccessible and insightful to the casual fan.
The TV voice has the advantage of the fan being able to personally witness the game. Because of this point, I hold TV announcers more accountable. I don’t need Michael Kay to tell me every time someone hits a single. I see it for myself. Instead, I want to hear interesting facts that aren’t easy for me to ascertain on my own. I want to feel like I’m really gaining insight into my team. I want to know the details that the generic sports talk radio host or newspaper columnist may overlook.
Perhaps where I differ from many fans, though, is in my belief that the game is inherently exciting. If a major event happens in the game (regardless of whether being watched or listened to), the drama should translate to the listener without any added hyperbole. Example – in the classic bout between Ali and Frazier, Howard Cosell exclaims, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” There’s nothing added there. There are no silly nicknames or cheesy catch phrases (“It’s Swishalicious!”) – simply reporting the circumstance as it is. And yet, the caption represents one of the most famous sporting calls ever recorded. The excitement is inherent because the sport is exciting – not because Cosell created a compelling story.
3) Who are your favorite and least-favorite play-by-play voices? Why do you like them or dislike them?
Larry Koestler: I am a huge fan of Ken Singleton — to me Singy is hands-down the YES team’s top commentator, and I could listen to his smooth, dulcet tones all day every day. Singy and Al Leiter are the YES Dream Team — it’s a pleasure to listen to Al break down a pitcher, and it’s a blast to be able to experience the dichotomy of a former hitter and former pitcher in the booth.
Though many people seem to have mixed feelings, John Flaherty has grown on me a lot, as his knowledge of the game comes through with regularity. I love the periodic instances when YES allows pre- and post-game anchor Bob Lorenz to call the games, and Jack Curry — with his outstanding reporting and highly intellectual, reasoned and rational analysis — is also a joy as well. I actually think we’re in a golden age right now — Bob and Jack have really taken YES’s coverage of the Yankees to another level, and this is probably the strongest overall team the Yankees have ever had covering them on television.
As far as the elephant in the room goes, I know people tend to dump on Michael Kay — I’m certainly no exception — but going back to what I said about Sterling, I’ve somewhat surprisingly found Kay beginning to grow on me this season. For as much as he can periodically be grating via rhetorical questions and completely obvious statements, I appreciate his passion for the team, and I also admire the fact that he’s not afraid to call players out when they’re struggling. And hey, the guy managed to land his (and any Yankee fan’s) dream job — play-by-play broadcaster for the team he grew up worshipping — and it’s impossible to be anything but impressed by (and envious of) that.
Matt Imbrogno: With a busy schedule, I don’t get much exposure to many non-Yankee announcers, but there are a few who’ve caught my ear negatively. I think the White Sox broadcast team is horrible to listen to because of the fact that Hawk Harrelson openly roots for the White Sox during games. I understand home team announcers are always going to have a slight bias, but his is just irresponsible. When I’ve had the chance to listen to or watch them, I’ve enjoyed the San Francisco Giants’ TV announcers, though their names are escaping me at the moment.
On the Yankee side of things, I think Michael Kay, like Sterling, gets a little too into himself and his phrases and sayings and it detracts from the game experience. The fact that he, after so many years in baseball, can’t properly read a fly ball is annoying at times as well. As for the other YES guys, I enjoy Ken Singleton’s voice. Unlike most former-players-turned-announcers, he doesn’t overly indulge in “back in my day” stories. He is, however a bit dry and repetitious.
Nationally, there aren’t many that I like. The new ESPN crew is decent, though Bobby Valentine doesn’t add much to the game experience. ESPN Radio’s Jon Sciambi is solid as well. Aside from that, I’m no fan of Joe Buck, who sounds like he’d much rather be somewhere else when calling games, and Tim McCarver who is apparently a master of saying nothing coherent despite using many words.
Matt Warden: I have a hard time choosing a favorite radio voice as I don’t get enough variety to make an honest assessment. Of the YES crew, I enjoy listening to David Cone and Ken Singleton. Without question, the “Worst Announcer Award” has to be handed to the Jon Miller/Joe Morgan tandem. Talk about painful! On the other hand, there contributions did motivate the creation of one of my all time favorite sites.
4) You guys blog, which makes you part of the “new” experience of being a fan: blogging, Tweeting, texting during games, etc. Do you think those elements have changed what people want or expect from a baseball broadcast?
Larry Koestler: The emergence of various online social tools has already significantly affected the way many fans experience watching the Yankees, and I’m certain we’ll continue to see more broadcast interaction with the online world in the future. The YES team — Bob Lorenz and Jack Curry in particular — are superb about actually responding to fans on Twitter; something a lot of famous personalities don’t bother doing. Going that extra step and making the fans feel a part of the post-game, or simply making it known that they are listening to us and are interested in what we have to say has been a tremendously gratifying addition to the Yankee-watching experience.
Of course, you’re also talking to someone who’d love to see weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) and Wins Above Replacement (WAR) inserted into the player’s stat line as a hitter steps into the batter’s box, so I may not speak for the majority. But I do get the sense that fans are becoming increasingly comfortable with advanced statistics, and it may only be a matter of time before certain favored metrics that bloggers cite day-in and day-out start showing up on Yankee telecasts.
Matt Imbrogno: I can’t speak for others, but it certainly has changed expectations for me. These expectations haven’t just changed for announcers, though; I’ve changed them for analysts as well. There is an entire world of baseball information out there on the Internet–new advanced stats, Pitch F/X data, swing/plate discipline data–and it’s rarely used. The usage of this information is becoming more widespread, though, and that’s encouraging. I don’t expect every announcer and analyst to suddenly switch to the SABR POV I tend to have, but some non-lip service discussion of advanced analysis and statistics would be much appreciated and I think it’s time to do that more frequently.
The expectation of accuracy has also changed. Considering the Internet and its vast resources and reach, there is almost no reason for an announcer to not know an exact figure, or, at the very least, have that figured called up quickly. I may be oversimplifying there, since it’s hard to accurately recall facts and figures while still trying to call a game, but if an announcer is going to make a claim, he or she should have the information close at hand.
Matt Warden: I really do. There is a growing population of fans that is becoming increasingly savvy. These fans have a definite interest and appreciation for advanced analysis. Similarly, because so many fans have such an abundance of information right at their fingertips, they also recognize a bogus statement when they hear one.
That’s not to say that a voice of a team should cater entirely to saber-fanatics or more traditional fans. Ideally, one would discuss stats that everyone is familiar with while slowly incorporating in new metrics to enhance the discussion further. That way, you get the best of both worlds and people can begin to experience advanced stats in small doses.
5) On your blog, you guys deal with fans every day. Do you have any sense of how other Yankees fans feel about Sterling?
Larry Koestler: Sterling is an incredibly polarizing figure. You either love him or hate him, although as mentioned previously, I’m starting to find myself somewhere in the middle. While I don’t think anyone would be terribly sad to see him leave his post, he’s made himself into an institution, and I doubt the Yankees would ever force him out. He hosts the YES Network’s Yankeeography specials and emcees all the team’s events at the Stadium — for better or worse, he’s been this generation’s voice of the Yankees, and fans are just going to have to accept the fact that he’ll probably be around until he doesn’t want to do it anymore.
Matt Imbrogno: I think many people I’ve run across via the blog/the Internet have the same feelings on Sterling that I do: they enjoyed him at one point, but as they’ve gotten older, they’ve cooled on him considerably. Of my real-life family, friends, and acquaintances, I’m one of the few who’s virulently anti-Sterling. Others I know see his shortcomings, but are able to put them aside more easily than I am. This isn’t to say that Sterling diminishes my enjoyment of listening to Yankee games in any meaningful way–I could listen to an auto-speak call Yankee games and I’d enjoy it just as much–but I would prefer someone else call the games.
Matt Warden: We do deal with fans every day; but we also deal largely with the same fans every day. More importantly, we also deal with the same type of fan every day. I assume our fans find our articles enriching because they value sabermetrics in general, and often times, they are unable to find that level of analysis elsewhere. On the other hand, my father who has been a lifelong Yankee fan finds a lot of our articles to be a bit dry because of the huge emphasis we place on data.
In regard to the question, I think a portion of our site’s fans find the Sterling / Waldman duo a bit undesirable because they adamantly deny advanced stats which is of course what we want. What we hear instead is, “You know what they say about baseball…you just can’t predict it!”
I suppose the traditional fan probably prefers the delivery the way it is though. A lot of folks want the familiar stats such as HR, RBI, and Wins while remaining largely uninterested in metrics such as wOBA, FIP, or BABIP. Honestly, if I had to guess, I’d figure most fans love Sterling.
6) What kind of style of broadcaster do you prefer? Do you like a distinctive play-by-play voice, someone who “inserts himself into the broadcast?” Or do you like a less intrusive voice?
Larry Koestler: While less intrusive is always more preferable, a knowledgeable broadcaster will always win out for me. It’s insulting to my intelligence when I’m watching a broadcast featuring announcers whose knowledge of the game pales in comparison to mine. ESPN seems to have finally wised up to this, dumping the comically-maligned Joe Morgan and Jon Miller for Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine. The former two have been a considerable upgrade thus far (though they certainly haven’t been flawless), although Bobby V. has been an absolute nightmare, and I can’t imagine he’ll last through the season. If you can’t even pronounce a player’s name correctly (see Teixiera, Mark), why would anyone listening to you take anything you say seriously?
Matt Imbrogno: A nice voice is always great to listen to, but it’s not paramount for me. As long as the game-description is good and there’s solid information being relayed, I’m happy and easy to place. I like to hear an announcer give his opinion on certain plays and game situations but will quickly tire of it if I think the analysis is shoddy or lacking in depth.
Matt Warden: I don’t think the styles have to be mutually exclusive. A really good broadcaster can be distinctive while also not giving off the intrusive vibe. Perfect example – Ernie Harwell.