Five Years In and Still Flawed: Critiquing MLB Network, Part One

MLB Network Studio

It’s easy to rave about a network’s coverage or speak positively about certain sportscasters and their abilities. We see it all the time with NBCSN’s coverage of the Premier League, whenever Ian Darke is calling USMNT games, and whenever Mike “Doc” Emrick is doing anything. In some ways, social media makes it just as easy to speak negatively about a broadcaster or about the way a game or sporting event is being covered. But again, in general, it’s much easier to confront someone with positive news and encouragement than it is to confront them with a negative message without hiding behind a mostly anonymous Twitter account with little to no followers. My aim here is to not come off like Skip Bayless and troll the subject of my critique, but to point out flaws – and give some kudos – to something I know can be much better.

As a passionate and die-hard baseball fan, when one hears that Major League Baseball will be establishing its own national television network, one is immediately filled with cautious optimism. Optimism because unlike all three (read: four — though MLS does not have its own channel) of the other major professional sports leagues in North America, MLB has far and away the most games played each season, meaning less down time/dead time and more live content. And as someone who has seen the lengths ESPN will go to in covering the NFL no matter what day of the year it is – and as someone who as that level of excitement about baseball – there would be a hope that a network dedicated to baseball could provide top quality baseball content year round. Furthermore, all of the sports networks do some level of history-based content (archived games, documentaries, look-backs at championships, etc.) and with MLB being the oldest of the leagues, the potential for great historical content is easily the highest. But the “cautious” aspect comes from seeing so, so many of the aggravating things done by different sport networks including ESPN and all of their affiliates, FS1, NBATV, the late Fox Soccer, and all of the others.

The Talent

The following gallery shows the best and brightest (past and present) of MLB Network’s on-air personalities, in my always-so-humble opinion.

I’ll start by prefacing this with a sentiment that will preface most all of these sections, which is that (in this case in regards to the talent at MLB Network) not all of them are bad. In fact, over the years, MLB Network has used some people that I’ve thought are just splendid. This list includes but is not limited to Scott Braun, Bob Costas, Brian Kenny (if only for his outspoken-ness of advanced analytics), John Hart, Jim Kaat, Al Leiter, John Smoltz, Dave Valle, Ken Rosenthal, Tom Verducci, Ahmed Fareed, Lisa Kerney, Barry Larkin and Alanna Rizzo. That said, not all of the above list are on the same level of quality and that brings me to my first problem with MLB Network’s talent pool: few to none of them jump out as being A+/top class sportscasters. What am I looking for in a quality sportscaster? Someone who is both intelligent and articulate, someone who can teach me new things and give me new perspectives & new and valuable information about the game of baseball. If having prior MLB playing, coaching, or executive experience is part of giving that added perspective, so be it. I have no inherent problem with former “jocks” as sportscasters. The problem arises when, as is so often the case, former players are awarded the opportunity to be on-air personalities solely because they used to play the game. Or in the case of female sportscasters, they’re employed solely because they are a pretty face and have the ability to read a teleprompter.

Again, I’ll give MLB Network some props for a few different things related to their lineup of talent. I loved Ahmed Fareed when he was on there, and I like Scott Braun now. Both had/have among their duties to host the “Quick Pitch” program whenever Heidi Watney/Alanna Rizzo/whatever pretty face isn’t hosting the program. What I like about Braun and Fareed is they both have a simple and understated style with proper enunciation without trying to over-insert themselves into the story or the highlight. Make no mistake, I have no problem with women as sportscasters and in fact I highly support it. However, I would hope that any and all on-air personalities regardless of gender would reach their position due only to their abilities as broadcasters and not simply because of attractiveness. I say this because I’d be hard-pressed to think of a woman on the MLB Network where I’ve stopped and said, “Wow, she’s really good!” Then again, to my earlier point, I rarely say that with anyone on the MLB Network. The other two great ones I’ll point out are Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal, but they shouldn’t be surprised. Rosenthal and Verducci are both accomplished and talented sportswriters who are well-educated and articulate and have been able to successfully translate their reporting abilities from print to television.

I have to make sure to give the MLB Network roster another bit of kudos — this time for their diversity. Ranging from Victor Rojas (Born in Miami but son of the Cuban “Cookie” Rojas), Joey Cora (Puerto Rico), Harold Reynolds, Fran Charles, and Cliff Floyd (African-American), Paul Severino, Chris Russo and Dave Valle (Italian), Jerry Manuel and Eric Byrnes (Mentally Incompetent).

And then there’s the bad side, and boy is it bad.

MLB Network’s talent problem wouldn’t need to be addressed if it weren’t just that: a problem. Specifically, the network has loaded its roster chock full of former players and managers that are not articulate but rather are old-fashioned and full of meaningless baseball cliches; the kinds of on-air personalities of whom do not teach the viewer anything and rather leave the viewer with less intelligence than when they tuned to the channel. Who am I speaking of? Harold Reynolds, Mitch Williams, Jerry Manuel (it didn’t last long but while it did, it was horrible), Dan Plesac, Eric Byrnes, Kevin Millar, and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo just to name a few. Whoever said, “Kids say the darndest things,” must have meant “buffoons on MLB Network” when they said “kids.”

No, Eric. In the minor leagues, the idea is to learn how to play baseball well. How to swing the bat well, how to execute your pitches well, how to field your position well. In order to succeed, it’s all about the process. If the process is correct and is executed well, the results will come. This is when of the oldest and worst follies in the history of sports cliches, that certain players (read human beings) have an innate ability to win and are natural born “winners.”

Which brings you to the real problem with the Mets, the Cubs, and others throughout the years: a lack of enough talented players on the roster, and a lack of intelligent, qualified and talented executives and front office personnel. Enough of Eric (for now). Let’s get to some of Harold’s dumb, dumb statements.

In case you’re unaware, (at least hopefully) no one is going 99 MPH on the freeway.

It’s easy to poke fun at someone when you make a mistake and if it happens just once or twice on occasion, you let it slide. But when dumb things are said time and again, they can’t be ignored. Harold Reynolds should know whether or not Dee Gordon is a rookie, and if he doesn’t know he shouldn’t make statements like this.

Ah yes. The love of the age-old counting statistics. Harold, it’s been proven time and again (and explained in many books that discuss lineup formation) that your best hitter should hit second – he’ll get more at-bats this way – and your hitter who is the most capable of getting on base should hit first. If you have a guy likely to get on base followed by a guy likely to get a hit, runs will happen. I’ll cap this off with only one more shot at Harold.

Harold, you should know what run differential is. If you don’t, well yes that’s really bad but you don’t have to tell us. Just don’t say anything.

The worst part of that whole thing is I don’t remember Harold being anywhere near this bad when he was on Baseball Tonight years ago. Dan Plesac on the other hand never had such exposure to us, so we had no idea this kind of idiocy was coming:

This was October of 2013, at the end of a season when the A’s were 3rd in the majors in walk rate (9.2%) and 4th in total walks (573).

And if I’m going to keep going with this – and it needs to be done to drive home the point of how bad these guys are – I can’t leave you without sharing the mind-blowing statements from the likes of Eric Byrnes, Mitch Williams, and others:

Mitch Williams chose to ignore Troy Tulowitzki (5.5 WAR, 143 wRC+ in 2013), Hanley Ramirez (5.0 WAR, 191 wRC+ in 2013), and Ian Desmond (5.0 WAR, 116 wRC+ in 2013) among others.

Even if you give Mitch Williams that he meant 35 home runs over this entire 2014 season and not just at Citizens Bank Ballpark, Marlon Byrd has never hit more than 24 home runs in a season. And 2014 is his Age 36 season.

Goldschmidt had more home runs and RBI (36 & 125 — both NL-best) than Trumbo (34 & 100) in 2013 and Goldschmidt’s 2013 OPS and Career OPS are both higher than Trumbo (2013/Career: Goldschmidt – .952/.900, Trumbo – .747/768). One more bad one:

Torii Hunter now is far from Torii Hunter in 2002/2003. FanGraphs has him with the 17th best WAR for right fielders in 2013. In 2014? FG gives him a -0.5 WAR so far, 73rd out of 79 right fielders, and a defensive rating of -12.8 (yes, that’s bad).

When it’s this easy to pull together this many dumb quotes from this many different people (if you’re not following @HeardOnMLBT , you’re doing something wrong) on just one program on the channel, this speaks not only to the load of bad on-air personalities but also the executives who are employing them and allowing them to say these things.

I’ll get to my problem with a few other on-air personalities when we deal with our next topic in the second part of my MLB Network critique, which will be coming soon, but because I’ve decided to split this into two different pieces, I’m going to give you a few more pieces of really incompetent things said on MLB Network.

All that proves is that Mitch WIlliams is dumb. Which is important, but he’s suspended so whatever fine.

Next up, let’s look at a story from Deadspin – shocking, I know, that I would even dare share something with you from Deadspin – in which they point out Harold thinking it’s smart to slide head first into 1st base.

I had trouble finding a way to embed the video, so here’s the Deadspin story itself.

Oh, and here’s more Harold saying that diving into head first is faster.

Let’s look at John Brenkus and Sport Science who, I don’t know about you, but I trust quite a lot more than Harold.

Again, I had some trouble embedding the video, so just follow the link below:

Advantage: Nerds.

Again, I’ll have at least one more part to this MLB Network critique, up on the site in the coming days.

– Dylan


About Dylan Jenkins

I'm a proud Seattlite currently living in Queens, NY. Outside of sports, I enjoy crime dramas - specifically police procedurals - as well as a wide range of music, everything from Top 40 to Iron & Wine, Bob Dylan & Rogue Wave. I am a cat person, which is to say I'm a human who enjoys felines. I have a tremendous sweet tooth that isn't very discerning, and I refuse to observe a number of unwritten social rules.
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One Response to Five Years In and Still Flawed: Critiquing MLB Network, Part One

  1. Pingback: Five Years In and Still Flawed: Critiquing MLB Network, Part Two | Upper Deck Chatter

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