Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler: Not That Bad
The sky is blue. The sun is yellow. Edwin Encarnacion mashes home runs. Hawk Harrelson is the biggest homer in all of baseball. By now, these statements shouldn’t surprise anyone.
As an outsider with no vested interest in the Chicago White Sox, watching a White Sox game with Hawk Harrelson’s play-by-play is nearly insufferable. So I can only imagine what it must sound like for a White Sox fan.
I mean, I appreciate Hawk’s enthusiasm for the hometown team … because the last thing you want is your television play-by-play guy to call a walk-off home run as if it were a routine ground out. But I guess that’s the fine line TV broadcasters must ride.
For as much flack as Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler catch from time to time, they’re actually not the worst TV broadcast team in baseball. In fact, that Wall Street Journal article discovered the Sportsnet team was actually one of the least biased in baseball.
That’s not to say they were one of the best, but it’s nice to know that Buck and Pat are at least looking at the Blue Jays subjectively. I’ve never heard Buck and Pat use the phrase “us” or “we” … unlike other team’s broadcasters.
In recent years, Pat Tabler has gotten better at weaning off the “so strong” phrase and generally approaches the game sounding less like a fan and more like a professional. Buck Martinez still has his quirks of course (his pronounciation of “Encarnacion” for one), but overall he’s not that bad.
I guess my only point of contention with Buck and Pat is they occasionally tend to fixate on a certain opposing player during a broadcast; Derek Jeter and Michael Young are prime examples. There’s being unbiased, and then there’s being biased towards the competition.
So in that aspect, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler aren’t really guilty of being homer broadcasters. The odd time they’ll fawn over Brett Lawrie, but then again I’d probably do the same thing if given the opportunity.
As former players, I also find that Buck and Pat don’t really add too much to the game in the form of personal experiences. Being a catcher by trade, there isn’t really much into the way of insight from Martinez in the way of the pitcher/catcher relationship.
Buck will reflect on his playing time with some self-deprecating humour, which I can always appreciate. Because there’s nothing like having a broadcast team which speaks like they’re on a high horse and that much better than any player on the field.
By comparison, I find Alan Ashby on the radio broadcast does a tremendous job of dissecting the battery fellowship. In fact, Ashby isn’t afraid to criticize a Blue Jays player if they commit a baserunning blunder, fan on a particularly bad pitch or boot a routine ground ball.
That kind of honesty in a broadcaster is refreshing and something I wish we’d see more in the Blue Jays broadcast team. I’d rather have the commentators call it like it is rather than sugarcoat things, even if it does criticize the hometown Blue Jays.
For all intents and purposes, being a play-by-play or colour commentator for a Major League baseball team is not an easy job. Covering a team every night for 162 games a year requires a lot of patience. Night-in and night-out, you’re being asked to fill 3-4 hours of programming, which is no easy task.
And sure, after all those games, commentators will develop certain crutches and catchphrases … it’s just the nature of the beast. Watching a Blue Jays game, you will surely hear plenty of baseball cliches. But as Drew indicated over Getting Blanked, less really is more.
Vin Scully has undoubtedly perfected the art of calling a game. Scully could read the phonebook from front to back and still have a captivated audience by the time he got to “Zobrist”.
What Vin Scully does so well is that he doesn’t fade into the background, but at the same time he’s a great companion during a broadcast. The same can be said for Jerry Howarth; every time he opens the game with his greeting of “Hello, friends” … I feel like Howarth’s genuine friend.
A radio baseball broadcast is a bit of a different animal though, as Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby are tasked with presenting “theatre of the mind”. The radio broadcasters have to paint a picture with their words; something Buck and Pat don’t have to worry about.
That’s why less is more in TV; dead air may be a detriment in radio, but in television, occasionally it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have brief moments of silence and let the magic of the game unfold all by itself.
Here’s where I’m torn as a fan; on one hand, I want the commentators to care about the team just as much as I do. I want their thoughts to echo mine during the TV broadcast. After all, what’s so wrong about getting excited about a walk-off home run?
However, being a fan doesn’t necessarily equate to a great broadcasting experience. I think a clear divide provides some perspective and allows a broadcaster to call a game subjectively. Most broadcasters try to keep the fans on an even keel rather than send them on a roller-coaster ride from first to last pitch.
I can’t recall where I heard this (might have even been the DJF podcast) but I remember Jerry Howarth said something to the effect that he tries not to get too emotional and ride the highs and lows that come with a Blue Jays season, rather he just calls it right down the middle.
So keeping all this information in mind, it seems like Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler aren’t nearly as bad a broadcast team as some would believe. Just remember … it could always be much, much worse.