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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Posnanski: The Art of Broadcasting

The Costa’s of Zzzzzzz.

About two hours before the game begins, Costas writes down the lineups on a giant white cardboard scorecard. In today’s iPad world, not many announcers still use the big scorecard, and not many scribble down little facts about each player. Costas does both. He writes down batting averages, home runs, interesting little details. The scorecard is something from the past. Costas does broadcast baseball with the old masters (Vin Scully and Jack Buck and Harry Caray and Ernie Harwell and others) firmly in his mind. Costas thinks there are things that have been lost in modern baseball broadcasting: subtlety; story telling; a genuine effort to allow the rhythm of the game to emerge without overpowering it with bustle and replay and sound.

That probably does not surprise you. People tend to think Costas’ sensibilities are of another time. He has been called a baseball traditionalist so often by now that he lacks the strength to argue about it.

“People will use me as a symbol of a kind of stuck-in-the-1950s fan who doesn’t want anything to change,” he says. “They will say, ‘You know, people like Bob Costas think …’ and often, the position I’m supposed to hold in these scenarios is something I strongly disagree with. Are there things that were better about baseball years ago? Certainly. Are there things that are better now? Unquestionably.”

...Costas does have interest in some of the advanced statistics that are available today—Keith is particularly interested in statistics like WAR and fielding-independent pitching and such—but he admits that it’s difficult to get them into broadcasts. They take time to explain, and explanations can interrupt the flow. One of the particular challenges of calling baseball on television is finding that balance between talking too much and talking too little. This isn’t as true in other sports like football and basketball and hockey, where the action itself carries the broadcaster through much of the game.

Repoz Posted: October 24, 2012 at 09:26 AM | 35 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: announcing

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   1. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: October 24, 2012 at 09:39 AM (#4281358)
In today’s iPad world, not many announcers still use the big scorecard, and not many scribble down little facts about each player.
Is this true? I don't know how we're defining "the big" scorecard, but whenever they show shots of the YES booth, you can always see that they have scorebooks.
   2. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: October 24, 2012 at 09:50 AM (#4281362)
I will say that given the choice between a stat heavy broadcast and a storyteller broadcast I'll take the storyteller every time. I'm fine with someone not using stats, particularly newer or less common stats so long as they don't feel the need to disparage them. One of the things I enjoy about MLB Tonight is when Mitch or Harold gets onto the on-set field they have set up and demonstrates something. I think that is the real value of a former player as color man.

I like that Costas does this. I'm a nervous public speaker. I don't think I'm bad at it but I'm very uncomfortable with it so when I do have to do it I go overboard on my preparation. I couldn't imagine doing a game broadcast without a lot of information at my fingertips. I think if I did it I would do something similar to Costas; have some basic statistical information plus at least one anecdote ready for every player.
   3. TomH Posted: October 24, 2012 at 09:59 AM (#4281367)
"Costas does have interest in some of the advanced statistics that are available today—Keith is particularly interested in statistics like WAR and fielding-independent pitching and such—but he admits that it’s difficult to get them into broadcasts. "

(If this has been pointed out before repeatedly and I missed the discussions, apologies ahead of time)

Here's the issue with using 'modern stats' in broadcasts; I (and I think I speak for most stat nerds) don't WANT to hear guys talk about WAR, specifically. Of COURSE it's challenging to bring in an uber-stat that claims to combined a gajillion items into a measure. What we want is for announcers to simply adjust a few things such as
- more OBA, less AVG.
- if a player has a comparative plethora of RBI this year, or this month, mention if he's had many opportunities to drive in runs, instead of letting the listeners presume he's been some kind of clutch god.
- if a pitcher has allowed few hits & runs despite KOing very few, or vice versa, don't use purely the hit/run results to describe how great/lousy he has been; admit it when there have been at'em balls or bloopers/bleeders
- small sample size. 0-for-7 against a pitcher lifetime? If you must say it to describe facts, follow it with how little that tells us about the next at-bat.
- don't ever mention 'hitting streak' again. It's arbitrary, silly, and not helpful. Again, OBA > AVG, but even an "on-base streak" is not as descriptive as 'reached base 45% of the time last month'.
- if you mention fielding, be aware of what the recent better measurements tell us about the comparative range of the players.
That's all I want. Is it too much to ask?


   4. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: October 24, 2012 at 10:06 AM (#4281377)
About two hours before the game begins, Costas writes down the lineups on a giant white cardboard scorecard.


I imagine Costas in front of a 10 foot tall scorecard, standing on one of those ladders on wheels you see in libraries and bookstores.
   5. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: October 24, 2012 at 10:14 AM (#4281384)
bob uecker is my age and is slowly incorporating new stats discussions into his broadcast and i don't hear him having a problem.

sometimes its mocking the stats a bit. sometimes he's mocking his inability to really understand how they are dervied. mostly he uses them as a foundation to discuss why a player may be less or more than folks think

this doesn't seem that hard but then bob is a grand master as a storyteller
   6. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 24, 2012 at 10:23 AM (#4281394)
Here's the issue with using 'modern stats' in broadcasts; I (and I think I speak for most stat nerds) don't WANT to hear guys talk about WAR, specifically. Of COURSE it's challenging to bring in an uber-stat that claims to combined a gajillion items into a measure. What we want is for announcers to simply adjust a few things such as
- more OBA, less AVG.
- if a player has a comparative plethora of RBI this year, or this month, mention if he's had many opportunities to drive in runs, instead of letting the listeners presume he's been some kind of clutch god.
- if a pitcher has allowed few hits & runs despite KOing very few, or vice versa, don't use purely the hit/run results to describe how great/lousy he has been; admit it when there have been at'em balls or bloopers/bleeders
- small sample size. 0-for-7 against a pitcher lifetime? If you must say it to describe facts, follow it with how little that tells us about the next at-bat.
- don't ever mention 'hitting streak' again. It's arbitrary, silly, and not helpful. Again, OBA > AVG, but even an "on-base streak" is not as descriptive as 'reached base 45% of the time last month'.
- if you mention fielding, be aware of what the recent better measurements tell us about the comparative range of the players.
That's all I want. Is it too much to ask?


Not really, with two exceptions, and I think gradually you're going to see broadcasters come around to these points.

One exception would be hitting streaks, which have a resonance that transcends their statistical importance. You're never going to get announcers to ignore hitting streaks once they pass a certain point.

The other exception is that the strikeout's importance doesn't apply equally to every pitcher, and while you should certainly mention the luck factor when it applies, not every great pitching performance consists of a topheavy dose of strikeouts.
   7. Rants Mulliniks Posted: October 24, 2012 at 10:39 AM (#4281410)
Yes, I would rather see broadcasters not mention stats at all than misrepresent them. And I thought that article was a bit weak, don't know why. Bob Costas is an OK announcer, but it almost seems Joe would have had as much success writing a compelling article about white bread.
   8. The District Attorney Posted: October 24, 2012 at 10:50 AM (#4281415)
Posnanski basically credits Costas with his career, so it's unsurprising that Poz is full of praise for him. (Poz of course writes a lot of love letters anyway.)

Like everyone, Costas has his pros (wordsmith, genuinely loves baseball) and cons (makes the broadcast about his personal opinions). It does bother me that 99% acclaim doesn't seem to be enough for him; it has to be unanimous. He has a billion Emmys and is generally treated like Leonardo da Vinci forced to live among a bunch of sports world troglodytes. But he nonetheless works this "to all my haters..." angle a lot.
   9. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: October 24, 2012 at 10:54 AM (#4281419)
- don't ever mention 'hitting streak' again. It's arbitrary, silly, and not helpful. Again, OBA > AVG, but even an "on-base streak" is not as descriptive as 'reached base 45% of the time last month'.


I absolutely LOVE hitting streaks. If a guy has a 6 game hitting streak going, I want to know about it. It's not a matter of "meaning", just fun. I think the problem is not every piece of information needs to be contextualized, sometimes it's just information. John Smith is hitting .300, that's a fact, as long as the announcer doesn't carry on and say "and that means he's a superstar player" I don't mind it.

I think trying to give context to every number in the course of a game would be rather uninteresting. Some changes are probably needed (and I think you outline a few, particularly the pitcher vs. hitter data which just needs to go away and OBP vs. BA) but I don't think inundating us with numbers and context for those numbers would make for an enjoyable broadcast.
   10. shoewizard Posted: October 24, 2012 at 11:13 AM (#4281439)
Is this true? I don't know how we're defining "the big" scorecard, but whenever they show shots of the YES booth, you can always see that they have scorebooks.


They all keep score. PBP guy, Color Guy, Stats Guy, Everyone in the truck. Everyone is fricking keeping score. Some have books. Some just use the handout score sheets from the press room. But everyone keeps score around a broadcast booth, including the announcers.

Most of the PBP guys and many of the color guys have a laptop or i pad too of course. They use both.
   11. The Ghost's Tryin' to Reason with Hurricane Season Posted: October 24, 2012 at 11:42 AM (#4281470)
The worst stat I hear is small sample size of batter-vs-pitcher: "Jones is starting with Smith pitching because he's 2 for 5 this year against him this season, while Johnson is only 1-for-4."
   12. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: October 24, 2012 at 11:44 AM (#4281472)
don't ever mention 'hitting streak' again. It's arbitrary, silly, and not helpful.
It is however, interesting to follow. Which is the point of mentioning them.
   13. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: October 24, 2012 at 11:47 AM (#4281475)
I imagine Costas in front of a 10 6 foot tall scorecard, standing on one of those ladders on wheels you see in libraries and bookstores.
   14. McCoy Posted: October 24, 2012 at 12:04 PM (#4281482)
I imagine Costas in front of a 10 foot tall scorecard, standing on one of those ladders on wheels you see in libraries and bookstores.

Hell, Costas needs a ladder to fill out a normal scorecard.
   15. just plain joe Posted: October 24, 2012 at 12:11 PM (#4281489)
Hell, Costas needs a ladder to fill out a normal scorecard.


That's why Costas was so thrilled to do jockey interviews at the Kentucky Derby; finally, an athlete he can talk with eye to eye.
   16. eddieot Posted: October 24, 2012 at 01:42 PM (#4281597)
I saw Costas at a Springsteen show some years back once and was actually startled by how short he was. The woman he was with was at least 6 inches taller than him, and smoking hot.
   17. cardsfanboy Posted: October 24, 2012 at 02:11 PM (#4281616)
I absolutely LOVE hitting streaks. If a guy has a 6 game hitting streak going, I want to know about it. It's not a matter of "meaning", just fun. I think the problem is not every piece of information needs to be contextualized, sometimes it's just information. John Smith is hitting .300, that's a fact, as long as the announcer doesn't carry on and say "and that means he's a superstar player" I don't mind it.


absolutely agree. I don't get the animosity towards hitting streak. Of course it doesn't mean the player is good/bad or even if they are particularly hot or not, but it still adds a level of tension to that one players particular plate appearance above and beyond the game.
   18. The Chronicles of Reddick Posted: October 24, 2012 at 02:12 PM (#4281619)
I'm curious if Costas has problems getting on most roller coasters in the US.
   19. cardsfanboy Posted: October 24, 2012 at 02:16 PM (#4281629)
- if a pitcher has allowed few hits & runs despite KOing very few, or vice versa, don't use purely the hit/run results to describe how great/lousy he has been; admit it when there have been at'em balls or bloopers/bleeders


The problem with this, is that at the end of the game, the fans who are watching the broadcast have reformed their opinion, and it's hilarious. Zito did not pitch a good game against the Cardinals, but he got good results, you can say that during the game and nobody seems to contradict it, but after the game is over, all the sudden you have now become a sore loser or a homer. (Cain and Vogelsong did have very good games though) Or the opposite, I've seen a 5 run, 10 hit game(grabbing numbers out of my ass for this) pitched by Jason Marquis, in which he pitched very well and didn't get the results, several nibblers, dinks or seeing eye hits. When you tell people "He pitched well" they look at the results and say "you're nuts", and again these people were the same people agreeing with you in the 6th inning when you first said that he looked good, just getting bad luck.
   20. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 24, 2012 at 02:26 PM (#4281638)
I'm curious if Costas has problems getting on most roller coasters in the US.

I'd be curious if half the members of SABR could fit through a bus door.
   21. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: October 24, 2012 at 03:11 PM (#4281716)
a 10 foot tall scorecard, standing on one of those ladders on wheels you see in libraries and bookstores.

This would be the most awesome thing ever. I wish I had one in my house!
   22. Moeball Posted: October 24, 2012 at 03:18 PM (#4281729)
Actually, my favorite Costas story I've heard Bob tell (I think this was on his HBO show)is one from many years ago where Bob in his younger days was at some swanky NY restaurant with some friends. One of the friends says something like "Don't look now, but I think that's John Gotti coming this way". So, of course Bob has to turn his head and look and, sure enough, John Gotti walks up to the table. Gotti turns to Bob and says something along the lines of "Hey, you're Costas, right? That announcer fella? I like the way you call a game" or something like that. But Gotti doesn't walk out right after that - he just stands there a bit while there is this uncomfortable silence. According to Bob, the main thought running through his head was "What is he waiting for? Am I supposed to pay a compliment in return? Is that the protocol here? What am I supposed to say? 'Gee, thanks, Mr. Gotti, and that was some truly professional workmanship by you when you whacked Paul Castellano.' I mean, what the heck am I supposed to say here?"

Well, apparently Bob only got as far as "Thank you..." and Gotti then turned and walked out of the restaurant, leaving Costas drenched in sweat but breathing a little easier.

It's one of life's little moments that is much funnier in retelling the story later than it was
at the time...
   23. Rants Mulliniks Posted: October 24, 2012 at 03:25 PM (#4281742)
Costas is actually 5'7", not exactly Danny Devito territory.
   24. Steve Sparks Flying Everywhere Posted: October 24, 2012 at 04:20 PM (#4281832)
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to see Costas, Posnanski, and Bill James speak in St. Louis. An absolutely fascinating discussion regarding "The Future of Sports". It was one of those times when you realize you're witnessing something great and you never want it to end. Definitely worth your time to watch.
   25. Leroy Kincaid Posted: October 24, 2012 at 08:12 PM (#4282066)
Costas is actually 5'7", not exactly Danny Devito territory.

Are you pulling my dick, bro?
   26. Ron J2 Posted: October 24, 2012 at 08:46 PM (#4282123)
I will say that given the choice between a stat heavy broadcast and a storyteller broadcast I'll take the storyteller every time.


I'll take a good storyteller. The guy who's repeating something for the umptieth time, or telling some get off my lawn or ... not so much.

I like guys who are knowledgeable and who like the game. A good voice is a big plus.

Talking specifically of Costas, he has the highest range between his best and worst broadcasts. On balance I guess I'd probably rank him comfortably above average, but he definitely has days where I just can't listen.
   27. CFBF Is A Golden Spider Duck Posted: October 24, 2012 at 09:05 PM (#4282149)
So baseball for young Bob Costas was not often about the sun-splashed innocence of the Mick hitting home runs from both sides of the plate or the aging Stan Musial in his deep crouch cracking another ball into the gap. It was, instead, about the changing mood of his father as Bob broke the news, good and bad. Baseball was about the power of young Bob Costas' words and how he conveyed them and how much it mattered.

Those words mattered a lot. The mood in the Costas home was wildly different depending on how John's bets came in. There would be some dark weeks when the bets did not come in. Some time ago, Bob told me this story: John Costas died suddenly when Bob was a senior in high school, and at the funeral a man walked up to Bob and handed him an envelope. "Your father was up when he died," the man said. "Give this to your mother." There was six grand inside.


This is a hell of a story. Has this gone around a lot previously? I had never heard it.

Granted, my knowledge of Bob Costas' biography is less than encyclopedic.
   28. AndrewJ Posted: October 24, 2012 at 09:26 PM (#4282212)
Costas is actually 5'7", not exactly Danny Devito territory.

Hmm. I've seen Costas in person on several occasions. I'm 5'7" and I know I have a few inches on him.

This is a hell of a story. Has this gone around a lot previously? I had never heard it.

Granted, my knowledge of Bob Costas' biography is less than encyclopedic.


He's told that story in public a lot the last decade or so. Apparently Mr. Costas died suddenly without leaving any savings, so those six G's (in the early 1970s economy) went a long way.
   29. Benji Posted: October 25, 2012 at 04:08 AM (#4282741)
Doc Emerick (IMO the best play-by-play announcer in sports) has 2 big cardboards with factoids, hometowns, stats and anecdotes about all the players and coaches in that night's game. And he gets those things in seamlessly, never forces them like McCarver does.

My favorite story that Costas tells on himself was when, as a first year Spirits Of St Louis announcer, was way late for the game. Basically dead air with crowd noise and the PA man. He finally got there, finished the game and was certain he'd be fired. While he was brooding, Marvin Barnes came over and said it was OK, he was looking for a "little white dude" to drive him around in his Bentley.
   30. Greg K Posted: October 25, 2012 at 04:36 AM (#4282742)
One of Chris Cuthbert's foibles as an announcer is that he seems to memorize where every Canadian NHL player is from, which he would then work into the broadcast at some point.

Chuck Kobasew lays it off for Josh Green, the pride of Camrose, Alberta!

   31. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 25, 2012 at 08:17 AM (#4282783)
One of Chris Cuthbert's foibles as an announcer is that he seems to memorize where every Canadian NHL player is from, which he would then work into the broadcast at some point.

That's a variant of one of Ernie Harwell's favorite calls, though obviously without Harwell's folksy touch:

"There's a popup heading towards the seats on the first base side....Cash goes over and reaches for it....but it's into the stands, where it was caught by a man from Kalamazoo...."
   32. CFBF Is A Golden Spider Duck Posted: October 25, 2012 at 08:39 AM (#4282794)
Skip Caray later stole that bit for Braves' games. "Caught by a fan from Marietta." He would claim to have a seating chart for the entire stadium.
   33. AROM Posted: October 25, 2012 at 09:14 AM (#4282809)
Hmm. I've seen Costas in person on several occasions. I'm 5'7" and I know I have a few inches on him.


Wouldn't be the first celebrity to have his height exaggerated. I'm reading Arnold's book right now, and he mentions Lou Ferigno being 6'5". I've met Lou, am 6'3", and Lou is not taller than me. Never met Arnold but I've heard he's not as tall as claimed either.
   34. Tippecanoe Posted: October 25, 2012 at 09:55 AM (#4282848)
My favorite story that Costas tells on himself was when, as a first year Spirits Of St Louis announcer, was way late for the game. Basically dead air with crowd noise and the PA man. He finally got there, finished the game and was certain he'd be fired. While he was brooding, Marvin Barnes came over and said it was OK, he was looking for a "little white dude" to drive him around in his Bentley

Terry Pluto's "Loose Balls" has lots of Costas/Spirits stories in it. IMO, there is at least one that's much better than the above. BTW, I was a twelve-year-old listening to those Spirits broadcasts, and Costas was (at that time in his early 20's) emotional, passionate, excitable -- fantastic. It was just a second-rate ABA franchise, but Costas made each broadcast an event.
   35. Rants Mulliniks Posted: October 25, 2012 at 10:14 AM (#4282869)
I've never understood the need to exaggerate one's height, unless you're 4'11" or something. When I tell people that I'm 5'10", they are always shocked because I'm the same height as most men who claim to be 6'.

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