CHICAGO – During Sunday night’s Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game, it’s a safe bet ESPN’s Álex Rodríguez and Matt Vasgersian will speak reverentially about Wrigley Field. They all do.
They will talk about how great it is that the ballpark is packed with Cubs and Cardinals fans now that state and city authorities have approved 100% capacity.
They also will be 881 miles away. In a studio. In Bristol, Conn.
Baseball fans, the ones being urged to pack ballparks, the ones who pay for cable, satellite or streaming subscriptions to watch these games, deserve better.
And not just from ESPN but from local outlets as well.
Forget about all the technical wizardry of wired-up players, special cameras and fancy graphics.
None of it makes up for the absence of announcers in press boxes describing what’s happening in front of them rather than off TV monitors.
Whatever you think of ESPN’s announcers, keeping them off site doesn’t make them better. This supposedly is MLB’s weekly national prime-time showcase. How is remote announcing in the best interests of baseball, Commissioner Manfred?
This isn’t a knock specifically against “Sunday Night Baseball,” which will have Rodríguez and Vasgersian on location for telecasts beginning July 4 with the New York Mets and Yankees in the Bronx.
It’s a condemnation of baseball and its teams for not pushing all of their national and local TV and radio partners to have fully vaccinated play-by-play announcers and analysts at every game, home and away.
This isn’t Twitch. This is supposed to be real live pro sports called by real in-person professionals. The quality suffers when they’re too far from the action.
Anyone who’s any good at calling baseball knows there’s no substitute for hearing the crack of the bat and watching the ball take off when it comes to anticipating how and where it will end up – and anticipation is part of all great baseball broadcasting.
If it’s safe for fans, players and game-day staff to come back in full force, then it’s safe for fully vaccinated play-by-play announcers and color commentators.
Between the Cubs and White Sox broadcast outlets, only WMVP-AM 1000′s Sox tandem of Len Kasper and Darrin Jackson is traveling with the team to away games.
NBC Sports Chicago’s Jason Benetti and Steve Stone, Marquee Sports Network’s Boog Sciambi and Jim Deshaies and WSCR-AM 670′s Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer are all left behind in Chicago on road trips, talking back at TV screens like some guy at the end of the bar.
One out of four is a terrible fielding percentage, but what do you expect when playing that far out of position?
Everyone understood it was a sacrifice that had to be made last season and maybe even earlier in this one because of the pandemic. But now?
Other restrictions are being lifted. A semblance of before-times is returning. There’s no good reason vaccinated broadcasters shouldn’t be back on site. And every broadcaster healthy enough to be vaccinated should be.
Viewers deserve the best possible product, and this isn’t it.
You know who else deserves the best? The bookies, insurance companies and alcohol purveyors buying ads. So do the players. So does everyone out front and behind the scenes trying to do TV and radio work of which they’re proud.
It’s true the best announcers mask the inherent challenges of trying to piece together what’s going on remotely, and they do it effectively most of the time.
But these are people who care about their craft, and even if a sizable chunk of the audience isn’t fully aware of what’s lost, some fans sense it. Some corners simply should not be cut.
The announcers care passionately. At least the good ones do. They know no one wants to hear about video glitching, poor angles and audio lags, so they don’t make excuses.
But they say being there in person is vital in terms of quality and accuracy.
The last thing they – or anyone else who cares about their craft and the games they describe – should tolerate is this becoming the new normal.
When Rodríguez and Vasgersian talk Sunday about how it’s 100% capacity at beautiful Wrigley Field, just know at least two seats will be empty – and don’t for a moment forget just how wrong that is.