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Sunday, October 20, 2002

The World Series on Fox

A look back at Game One coverage.

The good news is, the World Series is on FOX.
The bad news is, the World Series is on FOX. But
Game One of this year’s series featured a surprising
focus on baseball, and relatively few appearances by
stars of FOX TV shows. A few notes about the broadcast:

Top 1st

Tim McCarver would have us believe that Kenny Lofton’s
single in the ninth inning of Game Five of the NLCS
reminded people of Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round
the World” in 1951. Did anyone really think of that
(beyond “The Giants Win the Pennant!”) when Lofton
blooped his hit into right field off Steve Kline?

One of my more generic gripes about postseason coverage
is the fascination with statistics from this
postseason. It’s much more useful to tell us what a
player did over the course of the season than to tell us
what he did during a recent 5-game stretch. During some
at-bats, the season stats aren’t even mentioned. That’s
especially frustrating during the World Series, when
many viewers aren’t familiar with players for the
opposing team.

Top 2nd

It’s easy to criticize FOX for their too-tight close-ups
of players and coaches. But credit FOX for a nice
reaction shot of Jarrod Washburn smiling when Barry
Bonds hit his first-inning home run. Washburn looks
like a guy who’s having fun being in the World Series.
Unfortunately, FOX managed to mess it up by missing a
pitch to Santiago while showing one of its many replays
of the Bonds homer. Fortunately, Santiago didn’t swing.

On a related note, what kind of fool would throw back a
World Series home run ball—even if it was hit by
Reggie Sanders?

Bottom 2nd

FOX’s “Sounds of the Game” feature gave us some more
insight into Washburn’s happy-go-lucky attitude about
pitching to Bonds, when the microphone captured him
minimizing the damage: “That’s all right, he’s a good
hitter.”

Tim McCarver told us some of the Giants believe Bonds
would have hit 90 home runs if the team hadn’t played
its home games in Pac-Bell last season. Of course,
McCarver didn’t bother to tell us who said it and despite his role as analyst, he didn’t bother to
analyze the statement, which seemed pretty ridiculous on
its face.

According to McCarver, “It’s a misconception among even
baseball people that most home runs are hit on
fastballs.” He then enlightened us with the knowledge
that they come on hanging breaking balls. This is the
kind of thing that drives real baseball fans crazy about
McCarver. Actually, Tim, most of us who watch more than
10 games a year already knew this.

The only good purpose of showing the Scott
Spiezio “Sandfrogs” video clip was to serve as a warning
to the public not to buy the CD.

Credit FOX with a nice replay on the stolen base attempt
by Brad Fullmer, showing clearly that Fullmer was out.  As an aside, has it always been so common for players
to let their front leg pass over the bag without
touching it? The same thing happened twice in the NLCS,
and it doesn’t make much sense to me.

Top 3rd

Twenty years ago, players were tougher, stronger, more
coordinated, faster, more patriotic and loved their
mothers more than they do today. And we know this
because people like Tim McCarver say things
like, “Nobody today blocks the plate the way (Mike)
Scioscia did in his day.”

Bottom 3rd

Why does McCarver have to be so darn sure of himself
every time he opens his mouth? When David Eckstein
moved up in the batter’s box to slap at the ball,
McCarver insisted Eckstein was standing in fair
territory, when the replay from overhead clearly showed
him in the box. Instead of retracting his statement,
McCarver went on to say a “case could be made” that
Eckstein could’ve been called out. Yes, Tim, and a case
also can be made that Denmark’s military is all that
stands between the European Union and invasion of
thawing Arctic monkey-men.

I realize FOX wants to make these baseball players seem
like human beings for all those marginal fans who are
tuning in, but do we really need to know that David
Eckstein drove his sister’s old used car this season?
Ah, well, I guess we should just be thankful that the
player profiles do not include the category “Favorite
Character on FOX TV Hit ‘Firefly’.”

Speaking of Eckstein, Buck and McCarver gushed with
excitement at his weak at-bat off Jason Schmidt, when he
grounded weakly to the right side. It’s one thing to
have a “productive out,” but Eckstein didn’t even appear
to be trying for a base hit. McCarver called the at-
bat “tenacious.” Yes, it was tenacious—in the same way
that a chihuahua is tenacious in clinging to the
dogcatcher’s pants by his teeth while being led to the
dog pound. The chihuahua isn’t really accomplishing
anything, but he’s really intense while doing it.

Bottom 4th

FOX is so subtle, running the theme from “The Simpsons”
while it shows the Fan Cam. And speaking of the Fan
Cam, do we have to show it in the middle of the inning?
Why can’t FOX show us its collection of washed-up TV and
movie stars before the first batter comes to the plate?

FOX must have 800 cameras stationed around the field,
but when Garrett Anderson failed to score on a double by
Spiezio, we weren’t shown why. A sychronized view would
have been nice—one shot of Reggie Sanders fielding the
ball, and one shot of Anderson running the bases, to
give us an idea where Anderson was when the ball was
fielded.

Top 5th

We should probably give credit to McCarver for pointing
out (in an earlier at-bat) that Shinjo likes the high
fastball, because Shinjo singled in the 5th inning on
that very pitch. On the other hand, McCarver says so
many things, so constantly, that one of them is bound to
come true eventually, so he gets only half credit.

McCarver and Buck were proponents for “little ball” for
the Giants in the fifth, with Lofton at the plate and
Shinjo on first. Buck seemed disgusted that Lofton
tried to reach base instead of sacrificing. But with
Shinjo on base, Lofton hardly needed to put down a
perfect bunt to advance the runner.

Yet another McCarver gem: “In the National League, it’s
imperative to be a good bunter as a leadoff man.”
McCarver clearly says these things in the hope that
nobody will bother to think about them. Perhaps more
than any other lineup spot in either league, the NL
leadoff man bats with nobody on base, because he follows
the pitcher. If a previous batter reached base, the
pitcher has probably already sacrificed him over, so a
National League leadoff hitter’s ability to (sacrifice)
bunt is less important than just about any other hitter
in the lineup.

Bottom 5th

FOX’s director called for a nice graphic showing
Eckstein’s 62% success rate stealing bases.
Unfortunately, neither announcer bothered to note that
Eckstein actually hurts his team by trying to steal. I
wonder if they even know.

Top 7th

Joe Buck says Dusty Baker is the best manager in
baseball, because he accomplishes more with what he has
than anyone else. You could argue the point, but I
credit Buck with stating a bold opinion. Too often,
announcers hedge their bets when it comes to something
like that. We don’t have a great method for evaluating
managers, so Buck’s not exactly providing cutting-edge
analysis with his statement, but at least he told us
what he thinks.

With the Giants leading 4-3 and Rich Aurlia in an 0-2
hole, McCarver advised us that it would be a good time
for Aurilia to look for an “inside pitch” to yank down
the line for a home run. That flies in the face of
everything we know about how hitters behave—you don’t
look for a pitch to pull on 0-2, you try to shorten your
swing to make contact. The 0-2 pitch to Aurilia was on
the outside corner, not the inside corner, and McCarver
didn’t mention it again. It’s another example of
McCarver’s penchant for making predictions until
something comes true.

This has nothing to do with the game, but I almost love
the commercial for Lycos, featuring Mark McGwire as the
new best friend of the guy who wins a Lycos contest.
But why in the world do they bill the grand prize as a
trip to “the baseball championship?” What is “the
baseball championship?” Are they trying to gyp someone
with a trip to the International League championship, or
is there some kind of licensing issue that precludes
them from calling it “The World Series?”

Top 8th

The post-demonization era has arrived for Barry Bonds—
at least for now. Newspaper and TV reporters have
decided that Bonds is a good guy, as long as they can
get readers and ratings from his presence in the series.
So this week the stories about Bonds have focused on his
baseball, not his Barcalounger. And FOX presented us
with a fascinating clip from Dusty Baker, who told us
that Barry really has (gasp!) emotions and really
(gasp!) wants to win. Thanks for the insight, FOX!

You can’t really blame Joe Buck for dozing off
occasionally when McCarver speaks, but it was painfully
obvious in the top of the eighth, when McCarver pointed
out Bonds had stolen nine bases in 11 attempts during
the regular season. After several seconds of McCarver’s
analysis, Buck informed us that Bonds could steal a base
if he wanted. He went on to say that Bonds had nine
stolen bases on the season. As “The Whammer” told Roy
Hobbs, “First a Pete and now a Re-peat!”

I can’t believe what happened at the end of the eighth
inning. We heard .... NOTHING! When Sanders struck out
to end the top of the eighth, neither Buck nor McCarver
said a word. Instead, we heard the roar of the Anaheim
crowd until the picture faded. Can we please have more
of this?

Bottom 8th

Another replay from the overhead camera behind the
plate. It appears to be off-center to the left of home
plate, which makes it hard to tell whether the pitches
are actually catching the corners. I don’t mind seeing
that angle, but Buck or McCarver needs to tell us
exactly where the camera is in relation to home plate,
so we can judge for ourselves where the pitches are
crossing the plate.

Overall Grade: B-

Give FOX a lot of credit for doing something it rarely
does: stick to baseball. We got no extended discussions
about Disney movies, no long interviews with 20-
something sex symbols, mostly just baseball. It was
more than I thought possible from FOX.

David Brazeal Posted: October 20, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Rich Posted: October 20, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606827)
Oh, we get Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe in England. I wonder why? Anyhow, I'm not too worried about Thorne, but Sutcliffe is poor.
   2. Roger Moore Posted: October 20, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606828)
I noticed on Bonds's baserunning in the 8th that it was pretty obvious when he was actually going to take off. You could really read it in his body language that this time he wasn't just faking or taking a lead or going to go with the pitch on a hit-and-run, but that he was going to steal a base on that pitch. I really appreciated them using a camera angle where you could see Bonds's reactions to the pitch and contrast his reactions from pitch to pitch. It's just too bad that the announcers didn't say anything.
   3. eric Posted: October 20, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606829)
can't believe what happened at the end of the eighth inning. We heard .... NOTHING! When Sanders struck out to end the top of the eighth, neither Buck nor McCarver said a word. Instead, we heard the roar of the Anaheim crowd until the picture faded. Can we please have more of this?

I agree with this completely. I haven't watched every single inning of every game this postseason, but they seem to be doing this on occasion, perhaps as much as once a game. I guess they figure it's a nice little gimmick that they might not want to overdo. Overdo it, overdo it!!!

This reminds me of something I read a while back. I'm not sure exactly how reliable it is (I forget the source) but in England for one of their sports (criquet I think?) the TV announcers went on strike and they started broadcast the games without any announcers. Ratings went up by 10%.

Oh how I wish we had the option of announcer-less games here. Mute isn't the same - we need to hear all the game noises and the crowd.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: October 20, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606831)
I think the biggest mistake was not analyzing the play when Anderson didn't score. This was pivotal at the time and, in the end, may well have cost the Angels the game.

But I do get to chide you for not bringing up McCarver's classic comment that in the AL you usually pinch-hit for your DH, unless it's somebody like Greg Vaughn.
   5. Eric Enders Posted: October 20, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606833)
Twenty years ago, players were tougher, stronger, more coordinated, faster, more patriotic and loved their mothers more than they do today. And we know this because people like Tim McCarver say things like, "Nobody today blocks the plate the way (Mike) Scioscia did in his day."

David,
I share your disdain for old fogeyism in general and Tim McCarver in particular. However, McCarver doesn't deserve to be criticized for this statement. He didn't make a sweeping statement about baseball being better in the good old days, but a specific assertion about a particular aspect of the game. And in this instance, at least, McCarver is 100% correct. Anyone who saw Mike Scioscia play knows that nobody today blocks the plate like he did. Blocking the plate, as a strategy, has fallen by the wayside, probably because most catchers realize it is not in the long-term interests of their career. Those few who do attempt to block the plate do so pretty feebly, and there is nobody, absolutely nobody, in the game today who comes close to doing it the way Scioscia did. This is not to say that Mike Scioscia was better than today's catchers, but that he approached the game far differently than today's catchers do. Anyone who watched Scioscia play often (as McCarver presumably did) would know that.
   6. Sean Forman Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606837)
I wanted to give McCarver some credit for pointing out why the Angels may not have sent Chone Figgins (alternate Sean spelling #11) in the 8th, I think. With Palmeiro pinch hitting for Molina, a CS would have made the other Molina lead off the next inning.
   7. Repoz Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606843)
If FOX must insist on showing the on deck heliport rituals of Igor Sikorsky wannabe little 5:6 Little David Eckstein....can they at least mike him to give out Chopper One traffic updates.
   8. Jason Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606845)
MLB as blood sucking corporate business let Fox win the bidding to air the "game of the week", playoffs and World Series. If people making the decisions had any brains, they'd know all Fox does is cheapen everything and anything they get their hands on. Ah, but deep pockets can gloss over any sleezeball television antics. Can't question McCarver's ties to the game; but damn does he say and vehemently argue for some stupid things. And Buck, well, let's just say it flat: he's lucky who is BECAUSE HE IS THE WORST BASEBALL ANNOUNCER EVER; unless you really enjoy hearing the same obvious thing over and over and over again, without any hint of history or knowledge of anything excepct what's on a cue card in front of him coming from the boneheads who run Fox. Here's a tip for the true baseball fan: press Mute and turn into ESPN radio on the AM dial in your area and fondly remember the days when, in recent memory, Costas and crew gave the game the aura it deserves. And remember that in business, what's best for the game is never a real issue. We fans deserve better. But with the marketing suits and their greedy system forever in charge, airhead broadcasting is OUR plight for the forseeable future, not theirs.
   9. Rickey! On a blog from 1998. With the candlestick. Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606849)
"One of my more generic gripes about postseason coverage is the fascination with statistics from this postseason. It's much more useful to tell us what a player did over the course of the season than to tell us what he did during a recent 5-game stretch. During some at-bats, the season stats aren't even mentioned. That's especially frustrating during the World Series, when many viewers aren't familiar with players for the opposing team."

I strongly disagree with this, David. If we know anything about short-series baseball it's that it is a flukish type of animal, not a handily predictable one like the 162-game long haul. Most SABR-metrically inclined fans point out this very fact when discussing the fickle ways of the playoffs, why extra rounds of playoffs are bad (or at least degrading to the regular season), and why a player of Barry
Bonds' (or Willy Mays') calibre could have such crappy numbers in post-season play.

Consider all of this, I think the *only* relevant numbers to post during the playoffs are of the "last seven days" variety. As a fan or an opponent, you don't really care what Reggie Sanders hit in April, or what he hit overall, or since the All-Star break, you care what he's hitting *right now*, and that's all that matters. Playoff baseball hinges on the short and flukey, not the long and predictable. Series turn on Mark Lemke trippling all over the yard, or Adam Kennedy going all Mr. October on the Twins, or on Reggie Sanders hitting like Barry Bonds for a week. Seasonal numbers are not going to add anything to this sort of baseball, and there's no real reason to complicate the broadcast with the meaningless numbers.

Save the seasonal OPS for debates about what free agent to persue this winter. During the WS just show me what a guy hit in the last two series. That's all that really matters now.

s/
   10. Rickey! On a blog from 1998. With the candlestick. Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606858)
I wrote: "Save the seasonal OPS for debates about what free agent to persue this winter. During the WS just show me what a guy hit in the last two series. That's all that really matters now. "

Pat Hobby responded: "I disagree. Anybody can get hot or cold during a two week span. Due to the much larger sample size seasonal stats give a far better indication of a player's true value.

If Shinjo has hit .350 for the last two weeks in just a few at bats that doesn't mean he is a .350 hitter."


Sam>> That's kinda my point, actually, and why seasonal stats are meaningless in post-season games. *Anyone* can get hot for a two week span. While I agree that seasonal stats give a better indication of true value, my point is that a player's 'true value' is irrelevant in the post-season. What a player is really worth over the larger sample-size is meaningless in the playoff structure, so it is pointless to clutter the screen (and mind) with those numbers.

The fact that it's *not* inconceivable that Shinjo could streak for two weeks and become an international superstar because of a .400 average in the WS simply exemplifies my point. Seasonal stats tell us a lot more about a players value, but that knowing that value is completely pointless. It doesn't *matter* that J. T. Snow is a useless hack who drags his entire offense down all year long if he's belting game-breaking homers in the world series.

David's original point seems to be that Fox's use of small-sample, post-season only stats was useless. While that may be the case, any use of season-long, large-sample stats would be useless as well, because the predicitive value of those stats are not single game (or 7-game series) intensive. Having an OPS of 1.000 means you're more likely to contribute to offense over the season, but it doesn't mean you're more likely to hit any given HR in any given at bat.

So we're left with a choice of which useless stat we'd rather see, and I personally would rather see the "last seven days" variety of uselessness, because while I'm well aware that these performances are not indicative of true, long-haul value, I think it's probably more indicative of what player is swinging a hot bad on any given day, and thus which player aside from Barry Bonds you need to "refuse to let beat you."

s/
   11. David Brazeal Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606862)
Sam,

I think you're misreading my complaint about postseason stats. I don't mind knowing whether a guy has performed well over the past week or so. But especially in the World Series, I think it's important to tell us what kind of player a guy is. I know very little about the Angels, because I mostly follow the National League. So it's nice to know who's "hot," but I also want to know who's good. Adam Kennedy, despite his recent performance, isn't a slugger. If FOX only puts up postseason stats, I might be misled into thinking he is, and that affects how I view various situations.

Postseason stats can be valuable, but a lot of fans literally don't know the difference between Adam Kennedy and Scott Speizio, and the postseason stats, without the context of season totals, don't tell us much about their relative value. I just would like to see both.
   12. Flynn Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606866)
"This reminds me of something I read a while back. I'm not sure exactly how reliable it is (I forget the source) but in England for one of their sports (criquet I think?) the TV announcers went on strike and they started broadcast the games without any announcers. Ratings went up by 10%."

Pretty creative way to spell cricket. If that was the case, no one would watch. Anybody who lives in England knows the commentators on Test Match Special are half (or most, depends how England is playing) the fun.

It was actually RDS, which is the French-Canadian version of TSN. The commentators went on strike during the Canadiens' playoff run, and ratings went up anyway.
   13. Ned Garvin: Male Prostitute Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606867)
While I surely don't believe that Barry Bonds would have hit 90 HRs in a more HR friendly park last year, I will say that:

1) He hits in one of, if not THE worst HR park for a lefty like himself.

2) He seems to hit more warning-track flyballs than anyone I have ever seen.

If someone went back through ALL of Bonds' home games on tape from last year and saw how many flyballs probably would have been HRs in Juice Box field or what have you, I would not be shocked if the resulting total was 80 HRs. The guy hits EVERYTHING hard.
   14. Alan Shank Posted: October 21, 2002 at 12:57 AM (#606869)
"I strongly disagree with this, David. If we know anything about short-series baseball it's that it is a flukish type of animal, not a handily predictable one like the 162-game long haul. Most SABR-metrically inclined fans point out this very fact when discussing the fickle ways of the playoffs, why extra rounds of playoffs are bad (or at least degrading to the regular season), and why a player of Barry Bonds' (or Willy Mays') calibre could have such crappy numbers in post-season play.

Consider all of this, I think the *only* relevant numbers to post during the playoffs are of the "last seven days" variety. As a fan or an opponent, you don't really care what Reggie Sanders hit in April, or what he hit overall, or since the All-Star break, you care what he's hitting *right now*, and that's all that matters.

There's an underlying assumption that a player's stats of the "last-seven-days" variety actually represent a current level of ability. "I want to know that Reggie Sanders has hit <whatever> during the playoffs, because that is more predictive of what he might hit tonight than his season or career stats." I don't believe this is true at all, quite the contrary.

"Playoff baseball hinges on the short and flukey, not the long and predictable."

That's exactly why the "last-seven-day" stats are of so little value. It's not just playoff baseball, BTW, but any small set of games.

"Series turn on Mark Lemke trippling all over the yard, or Adam Kennedy going all Mr. October on the Twins, or on Reggie Sanders hitting like Barry Bonds for a week.

Well, here's a good example. Sanders playoff stats, going into Saturday's WS opener were horrendous! I think he was hitting s.t. like .147 for the LDS and NLCS series. What did that tell us? That he was about to bust out and go 4 for 7 with 2 homers, 4 RBI and a walk? No, but if we know more about Reggie Sanders, that he has considerable power potential (which we can tell from his season and career stats), then we aren't really surprised by what he did in the first two games.

"Seasonal numbers are not going to add anything to this sort of baseball, and there's no real reason to complicate the broadcast with the meaningless numbers.

Save the seasonal OPS for debates about what free agent to persue this winter. During the WS just show me what a guy hit in the last two series. That's all that really matters now."

Season and career statistics are not of great value in predicting small-sample performance, as anything can happen in a short series. However, small-sample statistics are even more useless in predicting small-sample performance.

You can't predict what the next few dice rolls are going to be, but would you rather know what the true odds are, or what the last 10 rolls were?

Cheers,
Alan Shank
   15. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: October 22, 2002 at 12:58 AM (#606885)
Maybe players who lift the lead leg when sliding are trying to minimize the risk of injury from jamming the leg on the bag?

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