Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Killer Opener

Seriously, can Opening Day get any better than last night? A team heralded for the ferocity of their one through nine slammed their way through a team heralded for their superior pitching staff. Advantage: Yankees. At least for now.

I revisit this topic with friends at the beginning of every season, and I mentioned it quite a few times throughout last summer in this here space: I like listening to Sterling and Waldman better than watching games on TV. Some may think me crazy; others may think I’m saying this for the sake of originality. Neither is true. So, since the Yanks didn’t give us much to talk about last night (we killed them, das it), I’ll delve into my radio/TV debate briefly.

[MORE]The most notable difference is the voice of the play-by-play man. I’ve heard every possible criticism of John Sterling – most notably that he interjects himself too much and becomes the center of attention rather than the game. Say what you will about him, but you can’t lambaste him for his broadcasting voice. His baritone is the perfect voice for calling a game, much to the contrary of Michael Kay, whose nasal diction makes me cringe.

Just so I’m not jumping around here, I should also note the contrast of their respective home run calls. I make it no secret that I think, “Looking up, see ya!” is the lamest of the lame when it comes to homer calls, while “It is high, it is far, it is gone!” is borderline masterful. Maybe not the line itself, but the way Sterling’s booming voice resonates through my speakers. And it only gets better when he adds the embellished, “Off the Meezzzzzaaaaaannnnniiiiiinnnneeee!!!!” In fact, that may be my favorite home run call ever.

Perhaps the greatest difference between Sterling and Kay is their supporting staff. Kay is stuck in the booth with two rotating color guys, all of whom are former players, while Sterling is accompanied by Suzyn Waldman, who obviously hasn’t played a day of any professional sport. Ergo, Sterling can get away with gaffes in his baseball knowledge, while Kay gets to hear it from the guys surrounding him. For example, Ken Singleton and Bobby Murcer started a discourse about hit batsmen after Brad Halsey plunked Jorge square in the back on an 0-2 count with the A’s down 11-1. They riffed on message pitches and why it was obviously on purpose because of the score and the count. Kay was befuddled, asking, “…on an 0-2 count? Don’t they want to get outs?” This was received by ostensible (yet inaudible) laughter from the other two, as they explained baseball psychology to the layman Kay. Think Waldman would ever correct Sterling if he used similar logic?

And you know what? I’m actually starting to warm to Waldman. At the commencement of the 2005 season, I couldn’t stand her. During the month of April she was nothing more than a talking billboard, routinely interjecting herself to talk about the merits of W.B. Mason. After my buddy Andy informed me that she was in the booth merely due to a friendship with Sterling, I was irate. How could they let such a visibly terrible commentator work 162 games a year?

Well, a lot of learning can take place during that many games, and Waldman began to grow into the role. Sure, she still spurted off ads, but that’s part of the job. Her baseball knowledge has tripled since April 2005, and she’s ceased her longwinded stories that were oft interrupted by Sterling, who had to talk about the game on the field. I now thoroughly enjoy her colorfully articulated pregame show, and am more than satisfied with her growth as a color commentator.

The YES booth, however, is hit or miss. I actually like Bobby Murcer better as a play by play guy. He has the voice for it and can keep up with the game. That, and I’m not particularly enamored with him as a color man, though his vast experience in the game does add another dimension to the broadcast. The same could be said for Ken Singleton, though I hold him in a lesser regard as a color man than Murcer. He’s not terrible, but he’s not really providing me with the insight I would expect from a former Major Leaguer. It seems that I beat him to many comments and observations (though I don’t have to wait for someone to finish speaking before I blurt something out). Once again, great broadcasting voice, mediocre broadcasting skills.

Jim Kaat is a fan favorite, and I can’t disagree. Sure, he’s getting a bit senile nowadays, but he still provides excellent knowledge from the perspective of a pitcher. It’s when he strays from the pitching aspect of the game that he gets trite and annoying. While I enjoy his work, I don’t think he’ll be with the YES crew much longer. Beyond the fact that he’s getting up there in years, YES has a pitching guru waiting in the wings in Al Leiter, who has made clear his desire to enter the world of broadcasting. I thoroughly enjoyed him during the 2004 playoffs, and expect he’d only get better as a full time commentator. Ultimately, though, I’d like to see him coaching the Yanks pitchers some day.

You want to talk about long-winded? Well, look no further than one of the newest additions to the YES crew, David Justice. Thankfully, they’ve been limiting him to studio time, where Bob Lorenz can keep him at bay (though I do miss Fred Hickman, and wish he would get more time on Sportscenter). When he gets in the booth, though, you’re better off hitting mute and adding your own commentary. Not only do his stories go nowhere, but he often causes Kay to miss a call on the field. Let him hone his skills in the studio before throwing him back out for game action.

So when we score Radio v. TV, it ultimately boils down to Sterling trumping Kay as a play-by-play man. Both have mediocre supporting casts, though Waldman hasn’t reached her potential yet, while I don’t think we’ll be seeing much improvement from the guys in the YES booth. If Sterling could become a little more Gary Cohen and a little less Joe Buck, I would probably turn on the radio nightly instead of flipping on the boob tube.

Oh, and just because it’s amusing, we’re on pace for a 162-0 season with 2,430 runs scored. Come on, boys, let’s keep up the pace.