With coverage of the major league baseball postseason debuting Wednesday on TBS (Rockies at Phillies, 2:37 ET; Twins at Yankees, 6:07 p.m. ET; Cardinals at Dodgers, 9:37 p.m. ET), SI.com media writer Richard Deitsch examines five burning broadcasting questions for the Divisional and League Championship rounds.
1. Is TBS lead play-by-play announcer Chip Caray ready for primetime?
The answer is "no" from this seat, though Caray has marginally improved since his postseason national debut two years ago, a disaster along the lines of The Towering Inferno. Caray, who previously had called Braves games for TBS, was eviscerated by critics for a litany of offenses, from factual inaccuracies to grand pronouncements. New York Times sports media reporter Richard Sandomir accused him of "an annoying air of certitude," among other offenses. Here at SI.com, I received a litany of emails from readers killing TBS for its choice. Caray is lucky that Twitter wasn't around back then, because the real-time criticism of him for his abysmal performance in Tuesday night's Tigers-Twins telecast was endless. The debacle included Caray's epic blown call of Nick Punto's inning-ending double-play in the bottom of the 10th ("Line drive...base hit! Caught out there, running tags...) Caray continues to talk too incessantly for my taste, but he has at least been aided by analyst Ron Darling, an emerging star and thoughtful observer of the game. Caray's critics were quieter last year, though Phil Mushnick of the New York Post offered that "Caray went seven for seven in [the 2008] ALCS, butchering simple realties by soaking them in unfiltered nonsense in seven straight games."
Still, you've got to respect TBS for standing by their man. Caray and Darling (along with reporter Craig Sager) have been assigned to the Yankees-Twins series, and Buck Martinez will join Caray and Darling for the NLCS. "The hits that he took were certainly in the first year of the postseason and I think that Chip learned a lot," Turner Sports executive producer Jeff Behnke says. "We are very comfortable and confident with Chip as our 'A' person....We think he's evolved, grown, matured and we think he and Ron will be terrific."
2. How will Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine mesh on ESPN's Baseball Tonight?
In a city full of tabloid-worthy divorces, the end of the Valentine-Phillips union in October 2002 was particular nasty. As the then Mets general manager, Phillips fired Valentine two days after New York finished with a 75-86 record and its first last-place finish in nine seasons. That prompted Valentine to go off in an interview with Ian O'Connor of the Westchester (N.Y.) Journal News.
Among Valentine's choice cuts:
•"Nobody in this organization has done more for the community than I have. Steve Phillips has done nothing in the community. I went to his church for a father-son night, his church, and he was late."
•"[Owner] Fred [Wilpon] told me I was fired, and I said, ‘What, and Steve stays? I thought we were in this together.' Fred had looked me in the eye and told me we were in this together. He said it to me and Steve. He told the players to their faces in the clubhouse that we'd be back. But I told Fred, ‘You got bad information.' What [Phillips] has done isn't proper. He's done what he could so I wouldn't be around. I told Fred that that he had to give the next manager authority in the clubhouse and on the field, that he had to get Steve off the field and out of the clubhouse. You can't let a GM high-five guys and joke around after a win and then after a loss act like it's the end of the world. Get him out of there for the sake of the next guy."
•"Steve really stepped out of line and Fred backed him to the nth degree. I had five to 10 situations over the years here that were five-day stories -- things with [Todd] Hundley and [Pete] Harnisch and talking about [Roberto] Alomar and [Al] Leiter and their contracts, and I told Fred, ‘All you had to do was back me and those would've never been issues, and you never did that.' But he wasn't listening to me; he was just trying to get through the meeting. Then Steve waits 3½ hours to call me and he starts talking like he's sending me down to the minor leagues. ‘Bobby, we've been through good times and bad times and this is one of those tough times.' I said, ‘Steve, spare me. I thought you and me were in this together and this doesn't sound anything like that.' We were never in it together."
The two are in it together now. Last month ESPN hired Valentine to serve as a studio analyst for Baseball Tonight throughout the 2010 season and contribute to 1050 ESPN Radio in New York. (He has provisions in his contract allowing him to leave if he gets a managerial job.) According to an ESPN spokesperson, Phillips and Valentine will likely appear together on Baseball Tonight during the League Championship Series. Last week Phillips told 1050 ESPN Radio in New York that he and Bobby "had made amends" and "give each other hugs" when they get together at functions.
Phillips sounded convincing. We'll see how convincing in a couple of weeks.
3. Will Yankee fans crucify Ron Darling?
Probably. During the regular season, Darling works for Sports Net New York (SNY) as a Mets announcer. He pitched for the team from 1983 through '91, and was a member of the club's championship squad in 1986. "Not only do I announce games in the town, but I played postseason baseball in the town," says Darling. "I totally understand that some Yankee fans will be like, 'What the heck is that SNY guy doing on there?' I absolutely know that. But as far as doing games for TBS, I did more Yankee games than any other team." The rest of the TBS announcing crew includes Brian Anderson (play by play) and Joe Simpson (analyst) who will call the Phillies-Rockies series. Dick Stockton (play-by-play) and Brenley (analyst) have been assigned to Dodgers-Cardinals.
4. How will hometown announcers play nationally?
Behnke assigned Don Orsillo, who calls Red Sox games for the New England Sports Network, to the Red Sox-Angels series (along with analyst Buck Martinez), which creates both strength and a potential point of criticism. "We feel we have very unbiased announcers that can call it right down the middle regardless of what market they call during regular season," says Behnke. "We feel that everyone is journalistically sound, so we are not concerned about it. We don't go into scheduling thinking, ‘Let's put Don with the Red Sox or Bob Brenley with the Cubs if they make it.' We put our 'A' team out there first, which is Chip and Ron, and then we try to match up [everyone else] with where they will be best served." Behnke told USA Today that he expects Orsillo to be neutral on the air, and I imagine that he will. As far as TBS announcers being journalistically sound across the board, it's hard not to chuckle at that spin, given that studio analyst David Wells told the New York Post on Sunday that he was rooting for New York and Boston.
5. Will the ratings be big?
Yep, and here's why: The postseason is littered with big-market clubs, including the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Phillies and Cardinals. New York is the No. 1 designated market area (DMA) in terms of households (7.4 million) followed by Los Angeles. Philadelphia is ranked fourth; Boston is seventh while Minneapolis (No. 15) and St. Louis ( No. 21) are all in the Top 25.
Last year 13.4 million viewers watched TBS's ALCS Game 7 coverage of the Red Sox and Rays, making it the most-watched baseball game in the history of cable. If the series go deep -- the key to successful ratings in baseball -- the numbers should be there.