Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Statistics and Vin Scully

Over on the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America (STAA) discussion board, some of my peers were praising a column by ESPN play-by-player Jon Sciambi from Baseball Prospectus. This led the STAA commentators to develop thoughts on bringing more stats into their broadcasts.

Ugh. Thanks, Billy Beane, Bill James, and your ilk. Again, ugh.

Look, Sabermetrics is wonderful for general managers. Even great for you fantasy baseball types. In a broadcast, it will put people to sleep. Listeners and viewers are a much wider demographic. You have to know your audience.

To that end, our baseball broadcasting god (Vin Scully), once had this to say:
Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
I'm still the old-school kind. You know: "Here's Nick Angotto...batting .312, 13 home runs and 53 runs batted in." Those are the columns I highlight on the stat sheet and write on my scorecard every time. Not to say I won't make exceptions to discuss Angotto's on base percentage or slugging and other numbers, but many of those get thrown in as necessary (after a two-base hit, I might say, "that was his 27th double of the year"). I keep it to the basics. How is he hitting in certain situations? How about day/night, or against a particular pitcher or team?

On the other side, there's only one pitcher to start a game, so the stats can be a little longer (and the same treatment goes to relievers). "Chris Erway gets the start tonight. Erway is five and two with a three-point-one-five ERA. He's appeared in twelve games and started all of them..." From there, I go onto innings pitched, walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed, and so on, normally ending with what opponents are hitting off of "the right-hander from Norwalk, Connecticut, Chris Erway." Something along those lines. Then it's onto perhaps what he did the last time he faced his opponent, or what his last outing was like.

The point is, I generally don't get into stats such as OPS, WHIP, and some of the others. Not to say I won't, especially if it is something garish. Yet baseball, like every other sport I broadcast, is about the game. The stories. The conversation (more prevalent in baseball).

To an extent, and this is where I deviate from my predecessors (especially Red Barber), play-by-play and sports are about fun. That's because I know my audience. We've had numerous people tell us that they enjoy the Mount Saint Mary broadcasts because of the quips. They love the detail, the little bits about the players, and way we sound like we're old friends (even if Christine and I have only known each other for about four months). The same goes for Hudson Valley, where catching Sean Ford off-guard was part of the fun. It was also where Geoff Brault and I could spend two innings talking about Wawa.

In Greenwich, I enjoy the good times with Sean Kilkelly, Chris Kaelin, Chris Erway, John Spang, and everyone else. Plus we often don't have stats to lean on there.

To my broadcasting brethren, I just say to strike a balance between stories, fun, and stats. Yet most of all, describe the game. That's what the listeners and viewers want. The game is the thing.

(Please note I'm not criticizing the guys who were commenting at STAA - I think they're trying figure out the balance...they simply inspired me to write this post)

To finish, check out the video of Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk calling the USA and Canada. This, friends, is a broadcasting clinic. Listen to how much fun Doc Emrick has calling the game. The words! The smarts to let the crowd do the work after a goal. Top that off with the solid analysis of Eddie O and you probably have the USA's top hockey team.

By the way, those USA uniforms make me think I'm watching a Rangers game!

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