Now this cannot be thought of as an exhaustive list or a list that perfectly ranks the quality it seeks to. Rather, this is a list of Nine people who make baseball fun, without a particular guarantee about who is left off and who is ahead of who.
However, let’s also think of this list as one that doesn’t include baseball players. This is about people outside of the clubhouses and front offices. In some cases, like in most good stories, they are composite characters. What follows, is The Nine People Who Make Baseball fun.
Because, after all, that’s what baseball is. Fun.
9. Eric Karabell (ESPN Fantasy Writer, former Baseball Today podcast host)
Here’s what I like about Karabell: He’s not reactive and he loves baseball. So many people who follow and cover sports react to everything as if it dramatically reshapes the landscape of the entire sports world. Karabell says not so fast. He doesn’t accept that one bad game or outing changes a season. He makes for good listening and following because he can walk you down off the edge when things are looking bad and keep you from getting your hopes up when things are great. But on the other side of it, he is such a fan. He openly professes to watching his team when they stink and enjoys going to Fall League games and minor league parks, and once confessed to being disappointed during the postseason because he couldn’t watch ten games at once.
8. The Fan Who Isn’t Quite Up to Date
You all know this guy. The one who still sees baseball through the prism of 2008. Like all of the players he thinks are good are getting old and he’s never heard of anyone under 25. He thinks $10 million is a big salary and can’t fathom why anyone would offer a ten year contract. This person makes baseball fun because you can exploit their ignorance for entertainment. Hey guy, who is better, Jason Heyward or Jason Werth?
7. The Person Who Asks Sportswriters Stupid Questions
I’m not talking about people asking Buster Olney if he thinks the Yankees will trade A-Rod. That’s stupid, but it’s not what I mean. People, mostly on Twitter, routinely ask “experts” to answer factually based questions like “Who is starting tonight?” and “What time does the game start?” Have these people mastered Twitter, but have no concept of Google or MLB.com? How is tweeting at a sportswriter the most effective way to gather that information? These people make baseball fun because they are funny in a sad sort of way.
6. Your Mom
Hear me out. Your mom, while she doesn’t know much about baseball, tries to portray herself as someone who knows things about baseball, leading to endless enjoyment. Specifically, moms can never pronounce/remember players’ names. It has something to do with them only have a little spare time in which to pay attention and their lack of interest in most cases. This is not a comment about women in general or middle-aged women, this is about the stereotypical mom. Below are actual names my mother calls players:
Placido Polanco: “Poblano.” This is a type of chili pepper.
Rick Porcello: “Portabello.” Notice, this isn’t just here replacing a food name for a player name, this is a hybrid of the two.
Al Alburquerque: “New Mexico.”
5. Vin Scully (Dodgers Announcer)
Scully’s pipes are incredible and he’s been working the same glamorous gig for more than a half century. Hiss soothing voice and mix of baseball acumen and catalog of great stories makes him the best announcer who doesn’t work for your team. I love Mario and Rod, but Scully is the best of the best when I take my blinders off. I can’t tell you how often, after a Tigers game ends, I flip on the Dodgers feed to listen to Scully call a Clayton Kershaw start. He’s baseball’s answer to easy listening.
4. The Nine Year Old Kid in All of Us
This is a tweet from WSJ’s Jason Gay, who sums it up nicely:
The kid in all of us makes baseball fun because they enjoy the game with such incredible optimism that can’t be match today, despite my optimistic leanings. I mean seriously, tell nine year old Neil the Tigers are terrible and can’t play worth a damn and he’ll tell you a million reasons why baseball is awesome and he can’t wait to go watch and play. (Full Disclosure: After writing that sentence, it’s entirely possible I am still nine years old. But most of you aren’t.)
3. Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds (MLB Network)
Brian Kenny is MLB Network’s sabermetric mouthpiece and Reynolds is as old school as they come, once saying that the Triple Crown “is the [MVP] trump card.” Kenny draws on analytic thinking and research while Reynolds goes with his gut. If you know something about this site, you might think I’d prefer Kenny (and I do), but they are awesome together. Really awesome. Reynolds has great charisma and knows how to push Kenny’s buttons. At one point during an MLB Tonight episode last season, I literally rolled on the floor (read: couch) laughing at this exchange.
HR: (jokes about Kenny’s use of The Shredder to analyze players)
Kenny: I’ll shred you!
HR: Yeah, yeah whatever, real baseball people don’t care about that stuff.
Kenny: They do, come to the SABR conference with me and see managers and GMs there.
HR: Do you wear your Star Wars costume to the convention?
This would be funnier if I had a clip, but trust me, it was hilarious.
2. The Person Who Runs @CantPredictBall
This and its counterpart @CanPredictBall are must follows on Twitter for their awesome and poignant baseball commentary. The premise for the account is that they post things that happen in baseball that are uncommon and strange. What’s even better is their awareness of strangeness which allows them to almost parody themselves by tweeting about things that are unpredictable in a predictable way. Here is an example of their standard tweeting:
And here is that self-awareness (from the World Series this year):
CanPredictBall does the same thing from the opposite perspective. Awesome stuff.
1. Jeff Sullivan (Fangraphs)
A few weeks ago, Sullivan retired from the Mariners blog Lookout Landing, which he created about ten years ago in favor of spending more time working for Fangraphs and working on other things. At that time, I posted his final column and remarked that if I had been born in the American northwest, I would have liked to have been Jeff Sullivan. He is quite simply, the best. The voice he achieves in his writing is among the best I’ve ever read (not just among sportswriters) and he picks up on the best things about baseball. He writes a lot of posts on pitch framing and pace and weird things that happen like Jesus Montero throwing out Mike Trout attempting to steal. If I write anymore, I think my wife will get jealous, but sufficed to say, Sullivan makes baseball fun.
Who makes baseball fun for you? Can your mom pronounce baseball names?
On Monday, ESPN completed their journey toward becoming the network with the worst baseball coverage. While the quality had been deteriorating for a long time, it finally went over the edge when the powers that be cancelled ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast and replaced it with ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast.
Now the name change might not seem like something getting worked up about if you weren’t a regular listener, but I assure you the entire nature of the program was altered into something perfectly ESPN, which means it is perfectly terrible.
Baseball Today had been “on the air” for the last five years, but existed with its current roster for the last two and a half. The show was hosted by ESPN Fantasy Baseball writer Eric Karabell and co-hosted by ESPN Stats and Info researcher Mark Simon (Monday and Friday) and ESPN senior baseball/prospect analyst Keith Law (Tuesday-Thursday).
The show featured smart, analytical discussions about baseball that covered the entire league (read: not just the Yankees and Red Sox) and embraced sabermetrics and statistical analysis in addition to Law’s scouting chops. It was an excellent program for baseball fans of all stripes because it blended all kinds of baseball discussion ranging from The Ridiculous Question of the Day to analysis of market inefficiencies.
It also helped that the personalities meshed well together and were all genuine fans of the sport. They didn’t grow up as journalists, they grew up loving the sport.
Naturally, ESPN ruined it. My general complaint with ESPN’s sports coverage is that they spend too much energy focusing on uncovering “scoops” through “sources” so that they can bring you sports news first. When it comes time for analysis, they product is pretty awful. For the most part, the people they pay to comment on sports either speak only in clichés or know nothing about the thing about which they are paid to speak.
Does this sound familiar? “Player X just knows how to win. He’s one of the best players in the game, and I tell you what, in (insert league), that’s a really valuable thing.”
That’s pretty much every analyst on ESPN. There are occasional exceptions, but almost all of their coverage is reporting, speculation, and this type of analysis. And it’s just not interesting.
And this is generally what the Baseball Tonight podcast is. Buster Olney is now the host and he has his fellow BBTN colleagues on like Jayson Stark, Tim Kurkjian, and John Kruk. Don’t get me wrong, there is a big difference in buffoonery across that spectrum, but the entire show has become a “scoops” based show. It’s basically just a new forum for Olney to say, “I talked with someone at Yankees camp today and they told me this,” or “A source tells me…”
It’s not analysis, it’s just Olney reporting on stuff he hears. And then he asks people what they think about something and you get the same tired clichés you hear on BBTN.
So the podcast went from interesting analysis like Law breaking down a pitcher’s mechanical problems or Simon providing a very interesting observation about how a player performs against a certain type of pitch in a certain location to more driveling nonsense about contracts and whether or not A-Rod is a distraction.
While my distaste for this type of content is likely clear by now, I think it is important to ask a follow up question. Why did ESPN make this change when they had so much content like this already? Olney has a blog. They have the TV version of BBTN, there are countless other ESPN reporters doing TV spots with the same type of coverage. The Baseball Today podcast was the one place for the baseball fan who actually cared about smart, savvy baseball analysis and they got rid of it.
Mind you, they didn’t just add a new podcast for Olney, they cancelled the old one too. Someone at ESPN decided that it would be a better move for the network to cancel Baseball Today and replace it. I don’t get it.
Why is everyone so obsessed with sports and entertainment “scoops?” Is it so important to know all of this inside information and speculation? What do we gain from Olney having an entire podcast in addition to his writing and TV work to tell us random things people in front offices tell him?
We’d be so much better off hearing from smart people like Karabell, Law, and Simon who talk about interesting aspects of the game.
So I’m upset about this, you can tell. I wanted to write about it to criticize ESPN for being the worst network on Earth, but I also wanted to do it to let the Baseball Today cast know they put on a good show and should still be on the air. We, your listeners, will miss you.
But additionally, I have to share my thoughts about why ESPN made this move. I know they favor scoops and such over analysis, they have for a long time. But I also kind of think this was a subtle statement and punishment from the ESPN bigwigs.
A punishment for what you ask? I think this is a backlash against the Baseball Today crew for going too far into sabermetrics and supporting Trout over Cabrera in the MVP race in 2012. That may seem silly to you, given that a billion network couldn’t possibly care about something so small, but I think they did.
I think they saw their fan base get really upset at people who didn’t buy into the Triple Crown as a narrative in support of Cabrera. ESPN is a hype machine and their baseball podcast was going against the hype. They were a voice for the rational and analytical rather than the good story. I don’t think ESPN liked that at all. I think ESPN thought these guys weren’t company men because they were outside of the ESPN way of thinking, which is to develop inside access and get us scoops, and after that, follow the story we’re selling.
Now I don’t think it was so nefarious in the sense that the people who made this decision actually calculated this all out, but I think it subtlety informed their opinion of the Baseball Today podcast. This was a group of men talking about sports in a way that was very un-ESPN.
And they had to be stopped.
So they were. And Baseball Today is dead. The Bias Cat has been slaughtered for the final time and ESPN has completed its fall.
I listened to the new podcast for a week and probably won’t go back. I might try it out once games start to see if it changes at all, but it’s really mindless news headlines read aloud by ESPN’s top reporter.
And that’s the thing. Olney isn’t a bad reporter at all, it’s that a reporter shouldn’t be hosting a baseball podcast. Those of us who listen to this type of thing do it for commentary, not for news. We want to be entertained during boring points in our day (I listen on the ride home from work and while I’m at the gym). News comes in other fashion and the podcast plays on our iPods hours after its recorded, so we’ve already heard most of what Olney is reporting on through other means.
Maybe, I’m overreacting. Well, I know I am given that this is 1,300 words about a podcast, but I think the point holds up.
ESPN ruined a good thing for no reason. They could have kept the old one and launched the new one. They’re still paying all of the previous contributors to work on other things, so it’s not like this was a cost cutting move. This was a programming choice and a bad one.
Maybe this says more about how I’ve changed than it does about how they’ve changed, but I don’t think it does. Five or six years ago, almost all of my (non-live game) sports content came from ESPN. After the Baseball Today podcast died last week, exactly zero will.
Other than live games that can’t be watched anywhere else, I will not consume any ESPN content or products.
This was the network that changed everything thirty years ago, now it is utterly unwatchable.