Sunday, August 31, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: The Final Standings

Los Angeles Dodgers (Vin Scully): 34
Atlanta Braves (Jon Sciambi & Joe Simpson): 33
New York Yankees (Michael Kay & David Cone): 31
Texas Rangers (Josh Lewin & Tom Grieve): 30
San Francisco Giants (Duane Kuiper & Mike Krukow): 28.5

Minnesota Twins (Dick Bremer & Bert Blyleven): 28
Kansas City Royals (Ryan Lefebvre & Frank White): 25.5
San Diego Padres (Matt Vasgersian & Tony Gwynn): 25
New York Mets (G. Cohen, R. Darling & K. Hernandez): 24.5
St. Louis Cardinals (Dan McLaughlin & Al Hrabosky): 24

Arizona Diamondbacks (Daron Sutton & Mark Grace): 24
Chicago Cubs (Les Kasper & Bob Brenly): 24
Baltimore Orioles (Jim Hunter & Jim Palmer): 23.5
Boston Red Sox (Don Orsillo & Jerry Remy): 23.5
Washington Nationals (Bob Carpenter & Don Sutton): 23.5

Florida Marlins (Rich Waltz & Tommy Hutton): 22.5
Tampa Bay Rays (Dewayne Staats & Joe Magrane): 21.5
Seattle Mariners (D. Niehaus, D. Sims & M. Blowers): 20
Oakland A's: (Glen Kuiper & Ray Fosse): 19
Los Angeles Angels (Steve Physioc & Rex Hudler): 19

Milwaukee Brewers (Brian Anderson & Bill Schroeder): 18.5
Chicago White Sox (Ken Harrelson & Darrin Jackson): 18
Detroit Tigers (Mario Impemba & Rod Allen): 16.5
Toronto Blue Jays (Jaime Campbell & Rance Mulliniks): 13.5
Cincinnati Reds (George Grande & Chris Welsh): 13.5

Pittsburgh Pirates (Greg Brown & Steve Blass): 13
Colorado Rockies (Drew Goodman & George Frazier): 12.5
Cleveland Indians (Matt Underwood & Rick Manning): 9.5
Philadelphia Phillies (H. Kalas, T. McCarthy, G. Matthews & C. Wheeler): 7
Houston Astros (Bill Brown & Jim Deshaies): 5

One more sincere "thank you" from me to everyone who took the time to follow this feature. Over the last month, I've heard from longtime readers dating back to the Bootleg music column days and new readers who found TBG for the first time. I really appreciated the encouragement, kids.

And, I'd be remiss if I didn't single out my wife and son. This may not mean much to most of my readers, but Mrs. Bootleg let me out of TWO preschool-aged birthday parties in August so that I could work some of the above write-ups. Trust me on this: for most fathers, such a furlough is unheard of. Meanwhile, Jalen has perfected his mom's disdainful, dismissive "Are you writing for your blog?" query.

Looks like I'll have to go back to being at least a part-time father and husband.

Damn it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

TBG Eats: Taco Bell's New Volcano Taco

Current Weight: 173.0 lbs.

173 pounds?! How'd my Black ass lose close to 10 pounds in the last month? Long story, actually, and one of many that was unfortunately shoved aside in favor of that 30-part, 30-day baseball feature "Sounds of…uh, Something".

Anyways, it had been several weeks since I last patronized Taco Bell. I hadn't seen any new menu items recently advertised, so I was straining to read the drive-thru menu from four cars back. "Does that say…'Volcano'?", my thought balloon read. Indeed it did. Would this be the death of my diet? Nah…more like a trial separation from sensible eating.

The Volcano Taco is actually quite the fast food marketing coup. It's really just a regular crunchy taco with a red corn shell and something called "cheesy lava sauce". But, don't ever underestimate the power of packaging, kids. Along with a worthless degree, that's one of the few things I took away from my myriad of marketing classes at San Diego State.

Perhaps I'm heaping faint praise here, but the bright red Volcano Taco looks good compared to the original – even if there's no discernable difference in taste between the two shells. The "lava sauce" is surprisingly peppery with a bit more kick than you'd expect from Americanized Mexican fare. The usual ground beef, lettuce and cheese round it out.

At only 89 cents, the Volcano Taco is the latest addition to TB's value menu and, personally, a damn fine apology to me for the chain's removal of the Grande Soft Taco from the cheap eats section a few months back.

Grade: 5 (out of 5)

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Chicago Cubs

Game: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates
Date: August 27
Network: Comcast SportsNet

Play-by-Play: Len Kasper
Color Commentator: Bob Brenly

Twenty years ago, the sports hype machine was still a work in progress. Take the 1989 Chicago Cubs, for instance. Despite featuring established All-Star talent like OF Andre Dawson and 2B Ryne Sandberg, the spotlight arguably shone just as bright for future journeymen OFs Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith. Back then, baseball celebrity began and ended with the baseball card industry. I'm serious, people. Smith and (especially) Walton were exciting rookies who were both tremendously flawed. But, in the agate type on the back of bubblegum cards, both were superstars. A year or so later, "greatness" would be determined by superficial sound bites and highlights on ESPN's Sportscenter. The end.

Chemistry: Brenly has a tremendous presence on the microphone – proving his underappreciated work on FOX was no fluke – and in an odd, but entertaining way, he's the only color analyst I've listened to that can dictate the pace of a broadcast. Kasper is perfectly competent calling balls, strikes, hits and outs, but he gladly cedes the microphone to Brenly for detailed explanation on even the most mundane plays. Critics might complain that Brenly talks too much, but he manages to cram a lot of insight within his words, so it's not like he's mimicking Tim McCarver. Around the fifth or sixth inning, Kasper was discussing Carlos Lee's fractured finger (in relation to the Cubs' September schedule) and, in the same breath, called it "a break" for the Cubs. That neither man picked up on the unintentional pun was only mildly disappointing. Grade: 7.5/10

Knowledge: In the top of the first, Brenly immediately recognized that Ryan Theriot's had tweaked his swing in an attempt to hit to the right side and move the runner over. One pitch later, that's just what he did. Brenly later explained how a weak ground ball turned into a single due to the second baseman cheating up the middle "by half a step or so". Seriously, you can count the number of color guys who'd make this point on one hand. Random other things I learned from Brenly: (1) how the third base coach positions himself for a runner on first base, second base or both (2) when it's too early to leave third base on a squeeze play and (3) why hitters should bunt the ball at the end of the bat. Kasper, umm…looked razor-sharp in his Comcast golf shirt. Grade: 7.5/10

Enthusiasm: In a lightning fast 2-0 win, Kasper and Brenly were seemingly calling one 1-2-3 inning after another. That said, if you've read this far, you can probably ascertain that Bob Brenly digs his gig and it comes through loud and clear with his cadence. Kasper might've been a little too worked up, though. He misread a flyball by Cubs OF Alfonso Soriano in the top of the first inning and then did it again in the bottom of the second on a ball he'd already conceded into the gap when Soriano casually caught it. Grade: 6/10

Bar Stool Q: As good as Brenly was, I wouldn't be doing my unpaid job here if I didn't mention that he compared Pirates OF Nyjer Morgan with Dodgers OF Juan Pierre – both in playing style and facial features. Yes, both Morgan and Pierre are phenomenally awful hitters who happen to be fast on the basepaths. But, facially? Here's Pierre. Here's Morgan. C'mon, Bob. As for Kasper, I suppose I'll need someone to show me around Chicago. Oh, and maybe he can explain the reasoning behind all this superfluous sh** on the hot dogs they serve there. Grade: 6/10

Camera/Production: In the top of the first, Comcast's picture went out in the middle of a replay. For what it's worth, the clip was run later that inning. From the fourth inning until the middle of the seventh, Brenly's microphone crackled with static intermittently – an annoyance that was never acknowledged by either announcer. And, I get that Cubs fans always show up for road games, but can some of you complain to Comcast about all the ugly ones getting on camera? Didn't Obama mention the "beautiful people" at Wrigley in his speech at the DNC this week? Well, he said it somewhere. Can't we get those folks on HD, instead? Grade: 3/10

Homerism: Anyone's who's heard Ron Santo on Cubs radio knows that Kasper and Brenly have a long way to go before they ascend to the throne of homerism. I haven't looked at the NL Rookie of the Year field, but I might be inclined to agree with Kasper's hometown nomination of Cubs catcher Geovany Soto. I cannot, however, get on board with Brenly's endorsement of Soto as an MVP candidate. Hey, you finally won one, Len. Also, Cubs OF Mark DeRosa was shaky all game long. He played a Freddy Sanchez single into a triple and froze up after a catch, which led to a Bucs runner advancing. Brenly and Kasper didn't say a word. Grade: -6

Commerciality: I'd never even heard of Jimmy John's before this game, but their gourmet sandwich delivery concept won me over in record time. Looks like I'll be adding to my nightly prayer list of eventual Southern California fast food franchises. Menard's, meanwhile, needs a crash course in desirable Cubs-related sweepstakes. Or, don't you want to be the Wrigley Field Groundskeeper for a Day? Livin' the dream.

AFLAC Trivia Question: "Who holds the single season home run record for the Pirates?" (My answer: Ralph Kiner; Correct answer: same) 13 for 25

Final Grade: 24

Friday, August 29, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Washington Nationals

Game: Colorado Rockies at Washington Nationals
Date: August 16
Network: Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN)

Play-by-Play: Bob Carpenter
Color Commentator: Don Sutton
"She's a Handsome Woman": Debbi Taylor

The sad demise of the Montreal Expos and the despicable Washington DC stadium deal that hastened their relocation is one of the most surprisingly underreported stories in years. Major League Baseball's bloody hands have been wiped clean and blown dry with the windfall of funds that Commissioner Bud Selig and his cronies squeezed out of an area that sold its soul to be a part of a 30-team fraternity. Although I grew up in Southern California, I have a lot of fond memories of the Expos. There was the great NLCS against the Dodgers in 1981. All the 1989 card sets featuring a young Randy Johnson rocking that goofy, tri-color cap. OF Curtis Pride, who is 95% deaf, hitting a 7th inning game-tying double in late September 1993, with the 3rd base coach motioning for Pride to tip his hat to the standing ovation he couldn't hear. 1B Cliff Floyd's 3-run bomb off of the un-hittable 1994 version of Greg Maddux that signaled a new guard in the National League East. Les Expos sont là.

Chemistry: Carpenter is quick to agree with every point Sutton makes, challenging nothing, while Sutton leans hard on his "back in MY day" resume to add gravitas to his commentary. The highlight of the evening was listening to the two of them simply eviscerate unsigned Nationals first round draft pick Aaron Crow. Throughout the entire fifth inning, Sutton and Carpenter (even Debbi Taylor got in on the discussion) assured viewers that Crow had made a mistake as he would've "started at Double-A" and been "a probable September [2008] call-up". Someone must've got in their ears, because with 2 outs in the bottom of the fifth, everyone fell over themselves to take turns wishing Crow "well in his future endeavors". Grade: 7.5/10

Knowledge: Sutton admired Nats SP John Lannan's fewer hits-than-innings pitched totals, while ignoring the kid's mediocre 87 strikeouts to 50 walks ratio. A half-inning later, Sutton made a half-hearted attempt to blast Rockies SP Livan Hernandez's reputation as an "innings eater" (paraphrased, his point was "what good is that if his innings aren't any good?") but, seemed like he didn't want to offend Livan. Later in the game, Sutton actually took a stab at explaining the "play the game the right way" cliché. His rambling dissertation included: the importance of the name on the front of the jersey rather than the back; showing up between five minutes and one hour early for extra work and sacrificing ones home run swing to get the run in from third. Mystery solved, then. Grade: 5.5/10

Enthusiasm: Carpenter is an old pro and while his delivery is a bit stilted, he does an OK job of getting the disinterested fanbase invested in a game. Sutton, on the other hand, cribs from Tim McCarver's contrived approach to commentary. Sutton actually fixed his mouth to say, in a pretend deadpan delivery, "Ho hum. Another highlight reel play for Willie Harris." Later, as Lannan was getting torched by the Rockies' bats, Sutton combined Nats pitching coach Randy St. Claire with a biblical tale involving Job and "the patience of…St. Clare". Hard to believe he waited until August to drop that gem, no? Grade: 5/10

Bar Stool Q: Sutton saw a lot of good baseball during his years calling the Atlanta Braves on TBS. When my A's were suffering through their mid-90s malaise, I watched a lot of Braves games. I'd love to hear Sutton's tales on David Justice's conquest of Halle Berry and the early recording sessions of Deion Sanders' Must Be The Money CD. Carpenter would, of course, be invited to drink with us. After a season like this, he's probably got shots of rotgut aligned alongside his microphone. Grade: 6.5/10

Camera/Production: Thanks to a well-miked field and an absolutely deserted sea of seats behind home plate, umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's calls came through crystal clear. Did you know he even adds things like, "That was outside!" to his calls? Me, neither. Huzzah, empty seats! A replay of the double play that ended the bottom of the first inning wasn't shown until the bottom of the 2nd inning. When a right-handed hitter stepped to the plate, the low-angle camera would catch the Ben's Chili Bowl stand over the hitter's shoulder. Mrs. Bootleg tired of my "hey, I ate there!" line by the third inning. Grade: 5/10

Homerism: Sutton had some fun at the expense of Rockies OF Willy Taveras. He correctly shredded the kid's resume as a leadoff hitter, then openly mocked Taveras' "big boy swings" at the plate. Entertaining, yes, but there's no way he's that condescending to the home team. Carpenter and Sutton were pretty even-handed with Nats 2B Emilio Bonafacio. They got on him for a first inning error, but later Sutton said he had the best range of any second baseman in the league. Let's assume that Diamondbacks broadcasts come on too late for Sutton to watch. Grade: -6.5

Commerciality: So, what was the single greatest in-game promo I've heard all year? Well, listening to Carpenter read a spot hyping the move of WWE Smackdown to a new local channel is the current leader in the clubhouse. "Triple H, Edge, The Undertaker…" MASN sent Taylor to the ballpark's "Playstation Pavilion" to interview an 8-year-old playing Guitar, uh…Something. Yep, that was the whole segment. And, the MASN Fantasy Camp spots continued with this one being my personal favorite. Titmouse. Continuing this immature angle, your August 26 giveaway Ryan Zimmerman T-shirts are brought to you by Nick's Sausage. Yuck.

AFLAC Trivia Question: "Which two players have the most 30+ home run seasons with the Rockies?" (My answer: Todd Helton/Larry Walker; Correct answer: Todd Helton/Vinny Castilla) 12 for 24

Final Grade: 23

Thursday, August 28, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Atlanta Braves

Game: San Francisco Giants at Atlanta Braves
Date: August 18
Network: SportsSouth

Play-by-Play: Jon Sciambi
Color Commentator: Joe Simpson

In last month's introduction to this silly little feature, I mentioned the handful of ways I enjoyed A's baseball – during my dateless youth – before the advent of the 24/7 sports cycle. Of course, there was other baseball to watch back then and most of it came from Superstation (W)TBS. Skip Caray's nasal hysteria served as the soundtrack for Sid Bream's 16.6-second 60-yard dash from 2nd base in 1992 and the Braves eventual World Championship clincher in 1995, but I'll remember him most for all those seasons when the Braves were at their most execrable. I'd love to hear the bespectacled curmudgeon – just one more time – utter the words "Boever the Saver" or hype the hell out of hot prospect Brad Komminsk or call the game-tying home run from reliever Rick Camp in the bottom of the 18th in a July 4th (by then, July 5th) game. Godspeed, yo.

Chemistry: This was a sparsely-attended Monday day game (official attendance: 18,113…actual: about half that) between two also-rans and I couldn't turn away. Sciambi's got a strong mic presence with just enough snark to keep things interesting, while Simpson is quick with analysis and able to keep up with his more flamboyant partner. Giants SP Barry Zito had his stirrups on backwards, so Sciambi (awesomely mocking a few condescending broadcasters I've heard) lectured the kids in the audience on how to wear them. Sciambi chided Simpson for briefly confusing Giants 3B coach Tim Flannery with a Giants runner trying to score. Later, while knee-deep in a cesspool of insincerity, the two derisively celebrated Shea Stadium's final season. Grade: 9.5/10

Knowledge: Has Simpson always been this good? My earlier memories of him are lost in that overcrowded TBS broadcast rotation of Caray, Don Sutton and Pete van Wieren. His breakdown of Giants OF Fred Lewis properly positioning himself to throw to third base after a catch was terrific. Earlier, Braves OF Omar Infante forgot the number of outs after a sacrifice fly, but Simpson correctly pointed out that Infante had no chance to nail the runner at home. Surprisingly, both Simpson and Sciambi had insight into slowing the hitters' approach vs. hard-throwers, while Sciambi – in a discussion of Zito – mentioned the A's series of first round playoff failures this decade without once using the words "bunt" or "Moneyball". I'm shocked, too. Grade: 9/10

Enthusiasm: In a 5-0 Braves loss, Sciambi and Simpson had to find ways to entertain themselves. Normally, I'm sickened by broadcasters who attempt to answer their own trivia question, but these two were so endearingly over-the-top in their "celebration" when they got it right (including an on-camera "facial" hand-taunt from Simpson) that I'll let it slide. Later in the game, Simpson verbally accosted a Turner Field security guard for "clotheslining" a fan who fell over the rail while reaching for a foul ball. But, I thought the (pretend) police were our friends? Oh, why didn't the world listen to N.W.A. twenty years ago? Grade: 7/10

Bar Stool Q: During the sixth inning, Sciambi and Simpson spent several minutes discussing who would win in a fight between umpires Tim McClelland and Ted Barrett. The conversation included a tale of the tape and some insightful commentary ("If McClelland is as slow to throw a punch as he is to call a strike, Barrett will knock him out in three punches"…paraphrased, but you get the idea). This all ended with an acknowledgement that they'd inadvertently left Fat Joe West out of the discussion. I'm buyin', guys. Grade: 10/10

Camera/Production: Two moments stand out for me… (1) SS Yunel Escobar managed to break his bat while pounding dirt out of his spikes. Although the cameras missed it the first time, a replay was instantly queued up followed by a close-up of Escobar reacting to some merciless razzing from the Braves' bench. (2) Coming back from a commercial, a shot of an infant being placed on its back in advance of a diaper change was shown, leading to the line of the day from Sciambi: "Boy, I'm glad we didn't stay with that." Grade: 6/10

Homerism: And, things were going so well. Braves' SP Jorge Campillo has had a pretty good season. Sciambi and Simpson, however, made him sound like a Mexican Juan Marichal before the game (then, in the first inning, Campillo gave up three singles, a triple and a hit batter). Later in the game, Simpson blasphemed blurted out, "God…" to express frustration after the Braves lined into a double play. Pretty sure that didn't play well over the airwaves down there. Grade: -8.5

Commerciality: SportSouth ran a truncated version of this music video about a half dozen times during the game. The short version included clips from the Braves' pre-game show featuring analysts (and former Braves) Ron Gant and Brian Jordan. Mrs. Bootleg's panties still moisten at the mere mention of their names. Throughout the month of September, SportSouth is running In My Own Words: Bobby Cox. How many of those words will be about this? Checkers has a 2 for $3 Buffalo Chicken Sandwich deal…then, they ruin it all by topping them with ranch instead of blue cheese dressing. That's why we have no respect for the South. Well, these guys don't help, either. Also, this spot = all kinds of awesome.

AFLAC Trivia Question: "Mark Kotsay is one of five Golden Spikes winners to play for the Braves. Name the other four." (My answer: Mike Kelly and…nothing; Correct answer: Kelly, J.D. Drew, Oddibe McDowell and Bob Horner) I'm awarding myself TWO full points since I named the single most obscure player of the lot. C'mon…have you guys ever heard of Kelly OR the Golden Spikes award? Exactly. 12 for 23

Final Grade: 33

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Colorado Rockies

Game: Cincinnati Reds at Colorado Rockies
Date: August 23
Network: FSN-Rocky Mountain

Play-by-Play: Drew Goodman
Color Commentator: George Frazier
Greater Colorado Payback Sideline Reporter (Yes, he's sponsored): Marc Stout

The Rockies' first regular season game came on April 5, 1993. And, while their opening day lineup is a trivia question unto itself (Joe Girardi was their Opening Day catcher?) the fact that they played the Mets – the 1993 Mets – is what makes this game all the more fascinating. I mean, I know I should be writing about Dante Bichette and Andres Galarraga and David Nied, but I can't turn away from Vince Coleman, Bobby Bonilla and Doc Gooden. Let's split the difference and talk about former Met and '93 Rockie ("Rocky?") Daryl Boston. In their enjoyably mean-spirited and one-sided The Worst Team Money Could Buy, Bob Klapisch & John Harper wrote Boston had the style and grace of a star…at least after the final out. What an epitaph!

Chemistry: Frazier sounds little bit like former ESPN, current XM Radio/Orioles personality Buck Martinez and is surely the cheesiest, most irritating voice a lot of you have never heard. He and Goodman are cut from the exact same corporate cloth – they wear their hard-earned National League Championship rings on camera during the pre-game segment – and therefore OWN this category. The pace of the game was glacial at times, which allowed for Goodman to get a few good shots off. Goodman was lamenting the traffic and secret service teams in town last weekend, when Frazier – in all seriousness – said, "Well, that's for the Democratic National Convention next week." Goodman's sarcastically barbed "thanks" in response was gold. Grade: 7/10

Knowledge: Did you know that Reds 3B Edwin Encarnacion has NOT been helped by the bandbox he plays his home game in? Just ignore his SLG pct. splits, because Goodman and Frazier used home/road batting average and…RBI to show how similarly he hits everywhere! Frazier also let us know that despite OF Matt Holliday's recent struggles, he was going to do well in this game because, in his words, Frazier's got "a feeling". However, one of my highlights of this feature came when Marc Stout COMPARED the "issues" that Reds SP Edinson Volquez overcame with those of the player he was traded for (Josh Hamilton). These "issues" included being told by Rangers' management to cut his hair and wear his uniform "the right way". I re-watched this segment three times to make sure Stout couldn't sue me. Grade: 1/10

Enthusiasm: Goodman and Frazier's love for OF Willy Taveras knows no bounds. Taveras stole a base early on and Frazier actually said that Taveras can anticipate where the throw will be and slide around it. Please. Their rah-rah schtick is probably needed in a town that primarily bleeds Broncos, uhh…whatever the hell their colors are this season (mauve?) Grade: 7/10

Bar Stool Q: Nope. Grade: 1/10

Camera/Production: In the top of the first, the "Hyundai Cam" (similar to the X-Mo camera used on Angels and Dodgers broadcasts) showed a great replay of Rockies C Yorvit Torrealba getting a foul ball off his…uh, balls – complete with slow motion rippling of the flesh under his jersey. Ouch! In a nice touch on the "scouting report" graphic, a line for the starting pitcher's "out pitch" is included. Along the same lines, a really low-budget looking graphic showed "Where Will He Live" – a breakout of where the pitchers need to throw the ball in the strike zone. For some reason, there was real-time onscreen updating of Ian Stewart's post-All Star Break RBI total throughout the game. Grade: 6/10

Homerism: On a bang-bang play at third, Goodman called Reds 2B Brandon Phillips out before the umpire signaled him safe. This drew dramatic groans from both Goodman and Frazier. On the first two (obstructed) replays, the broadcasters only got more indignant. On the third replay, which clearly showed Phillips WAS safe, Goodman played the "well…it's hard to tell" card. Earlier in the game, a Rockies player was called safe at third when he was clearly out. Goodman just shrugged and said, "Well, if I have a call…I call him safe." Also, memo to both guys: OF Willy Taveras is not "amazing". In fact, he's the triple-f'ing antithesis of the word. Grade: -9.5

Commerciality: This can't be right. During a PSA for manager Clint Hurdle's Wins for Kids charity, Hurdle said that they've raised $90,000 this season. $90,000?! The Rockies have drawn 2,192,974 fans to Coors Field in 2008, which comes out to less than a nickel a fan…and that doesn't include the shut-ins. I'm donating $25 on payday, just so I can say I'm 500 times better than a Rockies fan. Coors Light pollutes the airwaves with their "most refreshing beer" nonsense. Sherbet is "refreshing" guys. Colorado's in-house ad campaign included this terrific spoof on last year's tainted entry into the playoffs.

AFLAC Trivia Question: "Who is the Rockies all-time leader in complete games?" (My answer: Jason Jennings; Correct answer: Pedro Astacio) 10 for 22

Final Grade: 12.5

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: New York Yankees

Game: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees
Date: June 8
Network: YES Network

Play-by-Play: Michael Kay
Color Commentator: David Cone

Say what you will about the Yankees and their satanic ways, it's actually pretty refreshing to watch a baseball broadcast that doesn't involve Fox Sports Net or Comcast's cookie cutter approach. The YES Network is relentlessly self-serving and exquisitely aware of its importance in the sports-shape-my-identity existence of Yankee fans. That's to say that all of the network's own back-patting serves a purpose and, more importantly, at least Michael Kay and his revolving door of color commentators aren't John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman.

Chemistry: Kay and Cone were quite good together. I don't watch enough Yankee games to know how often they're paired up, but the banter between them didn't seem the least bit forced (often a problem with Kay) or insincere. There were a few times when Cone would cackle at his own inside joke to no reaction from Kay, but otherwise, there was effectively analytical give and take with enough levity to keep things loose on this Sunday afternoon. Grade: 8/10

Knowledge: Cone could probably have any major network gig he wanted. His breakdown of how Royals 2B Mark Grudzielanek managed to elevate a high fastball for a hit was dynamite. Later, he carefully explained the "blind spot" concept regarding a Jorge Posada passed ball followed up by a perceptive quip that Posada doesn't like to be shaken off by the pitcher. Even Kay had his moments with good points on the folly of sacrifice bunting early in the game. Kay did mispronounce "Hochevar", but we'll let it slide. This time. Grade: 8.5/10

Enthusiasm: Kay was able to drop in his infamous "See ya!" home run call here. It was a 95 degree day in the Bronx, so that might explain why it sounded more restrained than usual. Cone and Kay probably overdid it with the resonance of Joba Chamberlain's second career start, but if you were expecting posturing akin to New York's sports talk radio callers, you'd have been pleasantly surprised. Grade: 7/10

Bar Stool Q: Cone is terrifically glib with a baseball mind able to remember obscure facts from some of his long-forgotten starts. Plus, he once (allegedly) exposed himself to some women out near the Mets' bullpen in the late '80s. That covers his half of the deal here. Kay seems like he'd be a real-life Ron Burgundy ("I'm kind of a big deal.") away from the ballpark. I did like Anchorman, but I don't wanna sit next to him for an entire evening. Grade: 5.5/10

Camera/Production: In one of the more unintentionally funny moments I've seen for this feature, YES flashed a "scouting report" graphic on the Royals' Alex Gordon that included the line "Joba's Mate". Oh, come on…baseball and lowbrow were born to be together. I assume there wasn't enough room in the graphic for "Joba's former roommate", which isn't nearly as funny. Otherwise, YES has all of the excellent production graphics that you'd expect from an ESPN mid-week broadcast. Grade: 7/10

Homerism: I expect this won't make me any new friends, but Kay actually kept his team colors in check. The bunting criticism I mentioned earlier was directed at the Yankees. And, while I've heard and read some of his insanely slanted rants against Trevor Hoffman (vis-à-vis Mariano Rivera) and Johnny Damon (Red Sox caveman version), Kay was about as even-handed as I've ever heard him here. Ditto for Cone. The Joba man-crush was a little much, though. Grade: -5

Commerciality: Pure f*****g gold. I know that my NY readers have probably seen the "wicked psyched to be heah" Avis spot before, but it killed me. And, the Derek Jeter-in-disguise Ford commercial is one of those that's so howlingly awful, it ends up doubling back to be (kinda) good. I haven't seen enough of that "little bit of luck" guy from the Take 5 Lottery for it to annoy me yet and seeing pro wrestling personalities Chavo Guerrero and Jimmy Hart in a hair restoration ad almost made my day. But, the clear advertising winner? A 60-second ad featuring…this.

Smokers Quit Line Trivia Question: "David Cone debuted as a reliever in 1986 with the Kansas City Royals. Who started that game?" (My answer: (expecting it to be anyone but the easy call, Bret Saberhagen: Bud Black; Correct answer: Bret Saberhagen) 10 for 21

Final Grade: 31

Monday, August 25, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Cleveland Indians

Game: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians
Date: July 30
Network: SportsTime Ohio

Play-by-Play: Matt Underwood
Color Commentator: Rick Manning

Some of you might remember that the Bootleg Family took a vacation to the Bay Area earlier this year. During our stay, we caught a ballgame in Oakland between the A's and the Indians. My son, Jalen, was mostly jazzed about meeting the A's mascot, so imagine my surprise when he made it through the entire game (Cleveland: 2, Oakland 1). An unintended consequence of that event is that it turned the Indians into his "other favorite team", resulting in four straight months of "Why did Oakland lose to Cleveland?" and mocking "Let's go, Cleve-land!" chants. Still, what are the odds that a young child can pledge allegiance to one team, then switch simply because of one game? Uh oh. I have NO son!

Chemistry: Manning is one of those ex-ballplayers whose unrefined style may be appreciated by some, but it's eight kinds of annoying to me. His approach is to shoehorn himself right over Underwood's competent play-by-play with expressive grunts, moans and whooping whenever the Indians do…well, whenever they do their jobs like catching, hitting or throwing. Underwood didn't seem to mind – or, maybe he's just used to it – as his flow was never interrupted despite Manning's pushy attempts to interject his pie hole into every moment of the game. Grade: 2/10

Knowledge: Early on, Manning speculated that if Tigers OF Curtis Granderson ever started hitting left-handed pitchers like the Tribe's Grady Sizemore, he'd be a .300 hitter. This didn't sound quite right to me and, sure enough, Sizemore is a career .243/.334/.398 "hitter" vs. LHP. Also, Granderson DID hit .300 last year and (at this writing) is exactly at .300 this year. Underwood didn't help his cause by expressing surprise that a "veteran team" like the Tigers could be so poor on defense (old guys don't make errors?) or his passive-aggressive attempt to link Tigers C Brandon Inge's "game-calling" with the 119-loss Tigers season in 2003. Grade: 3/10

Enthusiasm: Manning got giddier than a schoolgirl at the sight of Indians SP Jake Westbrook ("There's Jake the Snake!") This led into another silly discussion on "veteran presence". It's really working for the Indians this year, no? Manning's cheering on a Sizemore drag bunt was passionately nauseating ("Isn't it a thing of beauty?!") But, my favorite moment came when Manning implored viewers to "Watch this!" immediately before a replay. What the hell else are we going to do? Underwood got several chances to use his home run call in this game and even dropped "…going to 'souvenir city'!" on me. Did he steal that from Baseball Tonight's Eric Young or vice versa? Please note: I don't care. Grade: 8/10

Bar Stool Q: I'm convinced that if notorious "homers" like Rex Hudler and Ken Harrelson played it straight, they'd be excellent broadcasters. Manning can't claim any such caveat and, as a result, he'll be drinking alone. It's my fervent hope that Underwood stands up to Manning at some point and tells this blowhard to put the pom-poms down, but until that day comes, Underwood will always be an enabler. Grade: 1/10

Camera/Production: The STO HD opening is cheesy, but kind of cool – various players standing in front of ominous storm clouds, before it all dissolves into a trippy array of red and blue floating discs. At first pitch, there was a neat little pop-up graphic that showed the weather conditions. In the 3rd inning, then-Indians SP Paul Byrd put on a headset for some in-game comments. Reason #181 why I hate this practice: Byrd was nearly drilled in the head with a foul ball in mid-sentence. On the plus side, he was actually pretty insightful. Grade: 5.5/10

Homerism: OK, just a few more to finish my earlier points: In the 5th, Manning called Indians C Kelly Shoppach "sloppy" on a passed ball, before rescinding that comment and chalking up the misplay to just getting crossed up with this pitcher. How is that not "sloppy"? More Manning: "Uh oh!" (on a home run by Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera before it left the park); "Whoa HO!" on a nice catch by Shoppach; "That (long pause) is very good!" (on an Indians 3-run home run). Grade: -10

Commerciality: Molson Beer is big in Ohio. Pfft, socialists. A place called Alvin's will refund your engagement ring purchase if it rains on your wedding day (or send the guy in that picture if you miss a payment). It rained on my wedding day and, believe me, even a free engagement ring couldn't turn around the last 5 ½ years. Although, it would be nice to have that $75 back in my pocket. Want to win a bet with friends? Tell 'em that hhgregg is the real name of a regional appliance store.

AFLAC Trivia Question: Who is the youngest player to win an American League batting title? (My answer: Norm Cash; Correct answer: Al Kaline) 10 for 20

Final Grade: 9.5

Sunday, August 24, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Florida Marlins

Game: St. Louis Cardinals at Florida Marlins
Date: August 11
Network: Fox Sports Net-Florida

Play-by-Play: Rich Waltz
Color Commentator: Tommy Hutton
Former WWE Superstar Craig DeGeorge: Craig Minervini

Believe it or not, there was a time when I was an even bigger baseball geek than I am today. Case in point: where were YOU on November 17, 1992? That was the day of baseball's Expansion Draft, fielding the core of the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins. My boy Vig and I blew off our afternoon classes, picked up a pizza and sat transfixed in front of…get this…a picture tube television set, watching the event unfold. The Marlins' inaugural outing against the Dodgers on April 5, 1993 was a HUGE deal, people. Charlie Hough, 66, beat Orel Hershiser and America was convinced that teal would always be in style. Quick aside: if anyone is interested in some bulk Nigel Wilson rookie cards, lemme know.

Chemistry: Waltz and Hutton have been together since 2005, developing a pleasant rapport with each other. Obviously, I don't watch a whole lot of Marlins baseball (neither do the locals…n'yuk n'yuk n'yuk) but, there appears to be something of a running joke as it relates to Hutton's love of sweater vests. This unusual in-game subject segued into a discussion about San Francisco – where the Marlins would be travelling on their next road trip. An unfunny jab from Waltz about a "sweater vest convention" led to Hutton – without missing a beat – firing back: "Well, we've been [in San Francisco] when there've been all kinds of conventions." Everyone's microphone was quickly killed for a few moments while they all got their giggles out. No one ever said "chemistry" couldn't be adolescent. Grade: 7/10

Knowledge: I think we can all agree that the Cards' Albert Pujols is one of the best hitters of this generation. Still, when Waltz – in mock exasperation – asked Hutton how the Marlins could get Pujols out, Hutton could only offer that Pujols was hitting .350 and "that shows he does make outs". It was like listening to Joe Morgan not answer a question during his chats. Several times during the game, however, Hutton dropped in critiques of varying sharpness when it came to the young Marlins. His delivery was what you might expect from a coach or manager – lacking in technical sophistication, but it was straightforward and easy to follow. Grade: 6/10

Enthusiasm: Waltz's home run call is raw and could use some work ("Cody Ross! Leftfield! Get outta here!") Also, for some inexplicable reason, in the fifth inning, Hutton left the booth and Cardinals' color man Al Hrabosky joined Waltz. This turned into a bizarre sidebar in which Waltz sounded positively star-struck by The Mad Hungarian. Hutton was having fun out there and really seems to embrace the abrasive tough-love style of analysis. Grade: 6.5/10

Bar Stool Q: Hutton played with some of the most interesting and successful teams of the '60s (Dodgers), '70s (Phillies) and '80s (Expos). His name also carries a bit of broadcast cache as a result of his work with the Yankees and ESPN. Hard to believe he hasn't penned an autobiography, but there's still time, Tommy. And, if you need a ghost-writer, I know a certain 2x Writer of the Year with a lightly-read blog who could add passion to your perspective. Waltz is originally from the Bay Area, but since the likelihood of me making a buck off of him is nil, he can buy his own fried mozzarella. Grade: 5/10

Camera/Production: Minervini's showed up during the game to interview a Marlins fan who'd finally realized his dream of being on TV during a broadcast. I'm serious. Viewers got to hear how he traveled to Tampa during interleague play, with handmade signs in tow, in a failed attempt to catch the attention of FSN-Florida's TV cameras, before finally catching a break. The Marlins get about 1,000 fans/homestand. Pretty sure they'll get everyone on camera, eventually. In the top of the 7th, the broadcasters engaged in some awkward conversation with the Marlins' Spanish announce table team. More on that in a moment. Grade: 3/10

Homerism: Hutton was brutally honest in knocking the Marlins when necessary. All-World SS Hanley Ramirez stole a base early on, but Hutton insisted that Ramirez still needed to work on getting good leads from first base and improving his first step to second. Marlins SP Anibal Sanchez went to a full count on the opposing pitcher and Hutton was almost apoplectic. At the start of the game, however, Waltz lamented the condition of the Dolphin Stadium playing field (a preseason football game had been played there a few days earlier) and whined, "The days of multi-purpose stadiums are gone." Translation: buy our obscenely rich owner a new ballpark, please. Grade: -5

Commerciality: The SAP Marlins broadcast is brought to you, in part, by Kentucky Fried Chicken. I remembered seeing a KFC in Mexico on my honeymoon, so I guess it's not that unusual. Then, the camera crew caught the Spanish announcers in the booth with a giant bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken in front of them. This killed me. Speaking of death, Robert Wagner showed up several times to shill the Senior Lending Network. They'll send out a free DVD with more information, which I'm sure instantly lost their intended audience, all of whom remain frightened of technology. And, the look of those teenagers.

AFLAC Trivia Question: Who did Stan Musial pass to become the all-time Cardinals leader in hits? (My answer: Enos Slaughter; Correct answer: Rogers Hornsby) Sorry, Thai…I really should've known this one. 10 for 19

Final Grade: 22.5

Saturday, August 23, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Houston Astros

Game: Arizona Diamondbacks at Houston Astros
Date: August 16
Network: FSN-Houston

Play-by-Play: Bill Brown
Color Commentator: Jim Deshaies
"Patti" with an "I", Annoying with an "A": Patti Smith (Sorry, kids…the Astros have someone who's even harder to find a picture of than Arizona's "interview bunny".)

20 years ago, I played with the Houston Astros…on the old Nintendo Entertainment System video game RBI Baseball. In fact, I vividly remember a dramatic seven-game series that pitted me against m'boy Smitty. I'd exhausted Nolan Ryan's arm in an earlier game and none of Mike Scott's Vaseline balls were crossing the plate, so I went to the bullpen for Charlie Kerfeld. Miraculously, he gave me six shutout innings, picking up the win and clinching the '88 Dork Series for my imaginary electronic team. Good times. While you can't see me in the postgame celebration, Charlie Kerfeld comports himself well, don't you think?

Chemistry: These guys. This was an odd little pairing as Brown is cold and rigid, while Deshaies – the former Houston Astro – poorly plays the role of "storytelling broadcaster". Deshaies spun a yarn about Nolan Ryan - during Ryan's days with the Angels - apologizing to a batter before he hit him with a pitch. It wasn't funny in the least, but Brown's overselling belly laugh was positively noxious. Deshaies spit out similar groaners ("Cy Young? Maybe if that's 's-i-g-h'!") all game long with Brown as his unlovable laugh track. Everything between them felt forced and phony. It was like watching two white men mimic my marriage. Grade: 1/10

Knowledge: By the time you're reading this, I will have sat through 30 different broadcast teams for this feature. I've never heard anyone call a game like Bill Brown. He speaks entirely in factoids and clipped bits of trivia. Y'know those silly little "stats" that accompany a player's picture on the JumboTron? ("Tejada is 8 for his last 15…") Well, that's the extent of Brown's play-by-play. "Berkman's got X runs batted in this month."; "He's hitting Y since the All Star Break."; "He's hit Z home runs at home this year."; "It's a single to centerfield…he's now 4 for 5 off this pitcher". Deshaies is just brutal. Astros SP Brandon Backe gave up five in the first inning, but not once did Deshaies attempt to analyze. Ever. All game. He dredged up some astrological nonsense about kids who are born in August having the best chance to be big leaguers. When the crazy man came in off the street corner, Brown called his notions "plausible". You have my sympathies, Astros fans. Grade: 1/10

Enthusiasm: All game long, Brown and Deshaies seemed to get excited about everything but the game. After the answer to the trivia question was revealed, Deshaies made a comment about K-Rod's five postseason wins in 2002 and called it "ironic" since he only appeared in five regular season games that year. Brown brought out the fake laugh, loudly exclaiming "That IS ironic!" It's not irony. It's "coincidence", you dolts. I guess I have to give them some credit for occasionally appearing interested. Grade: 2/10

Bar Stool Q: Deshaies was once a clean cut, inconspicuous pitcher from the late '80s. Today, he sports a shaved head, black-framed glasses and evil goatee. The original Deshaies has obviously been replaced by his doppelganger from some parallel universe. Normally, I'd be all over this…asking him about the evil Superfriends and pushing for parallel universe Uhura's evil e-mail address. But, Deshaies is just so…I mean, here's his work on the replay of a double play: "A quick two hopper…boom, boom, boom. Two outs." What are they paying him for? And, after two hours of conversation with Brown ("That's Aaron's fifth bourbon of the evening, two in the last 25 minutes.") I'd wanna punch him. Grade: 1.5/10

Camera/Production: Patti Smith pimped FSN's weekend coverage of Wee Craig Biggio's number retirement ceremony about a billion times. I exaggerate, of course, but trust me when I say that a billion Biggio network promos wouldn't have been worse than the top of the fifth inning here. Smith interviewed the CEO of the Houston Golf Association right over the first two outs of the inning. He was there to hype a golf tournament that starts on March 30, 2009 and runs through April 5, 2009. Earlier, some cell phone company sponsored this question: Who had a greater impact in their field: Babe Ruth or Elvis Presley (both of whom died on August 16)? Brown called the question "intriguing" and Deshaies said the query would "divide households". Jesus. Grade: 2/10

Homerism: Newly-acquired Diamondback Adam Dunn came to the plate early on and, to their credit, both Brown and Deshaies sang his praises (even mentioning OBP and SLG) without once mentioning Dunn's strikeouts. Too many lazy journalists and fans act like the K's somehow negate Dunn's entire offensive skillset and for a road player he's an easy target. Good job, gentlemen. See? I'm fair. Grade: -2.5

Commerciality: Your Houston-area Ford dealer sells something called an F-180 "Texas Edition". I'm guessing the glove compartment doubles as a cooler and the passenger's side airbag can be driver-deployed to assist in spousal beatings when both his hands have a beer. Mesquite Championship Rodeo is running show at – and I quote from the graphic – "The Air Conditioned Resistol Arena". I don't know why this tickled me. Maybe because I've seen the opening credits of old shows that included the words "In COLOR!"

AFLAC Trivia Question: "Other than Randy Johnson, which active pitcher has won five games in a single postseason?" (My answer: Andy Pettitte; Correct answer: Francisco Rodriguez) 10 for 18

Final Grade: 5

Friday, August 22, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Arizona Diamondbacks

Game: Washington Nationals at Arizona Diamondbacks
Date: June 1
Network: FSN-Arizona

Play-by-Play: Daron Sutton
Color Commentator: Mark Grace
Intrusive In-Game Soft Focus Feature Chick: Kyndra de St. Aubin (sorry, kids…there is not ONE picture of her online. Not one!)

I'd forgotten how name-droppingly awesome that inaugural Diamondbacks squad was. Imagine, if you will, opening a pack of Upper Deck baseball cards in 1992, silently promising yourself that one day you'll own a team…and, when you do, these will be your players: Devon White, Matt Williams, Andy Stankiewicz, Hensley (Bam Bam) Meulens and Bernard Gilkey. Of course, Arizona would go on to win the World Series in 2001, finally delivering a baseball championship to the hundreds of thousands of transplanted Chicago Cubs fans out there who were actually alive in 1908.

Chemistry: During the pre-game segment, Sutton and Grace seemed determined to shatter my ear drums. Their primary screaming point was that the month of May had passed (in which the D'Backs went 11-17) and that every team is 0-0 in June. The whole thing was just another silly means of motivation for athletes (and fans, too, I guess), so to that end, at least Sutton and Grace were on the same page. Thankfully, they toned down the bombast once the game started and were actually a lot of fun together. Sutton screwed up an in-game promo – having to stop and start over again several times – with Grace needling him about it throughout the rest of the game. Grade: 8/10

Knowledge: Grace can be frustrating at times because he's capable of much more than lazy ex-jock phraseology. He and Sutton sarcastically shot down the importance of team meetings and wondered aloud why they're always scheduled hours before a team faces the other squad's worst starting pitcher. But, earlier Grace droned on and on about the D'Backs "going back to the running game". As if the drop of six team stolen bases from April (19 wins, 8 losses) to May could make up for the 60 point drop in SLG from the same two months. Grace is another old school guy who gets all ornery at all the newfangled stats out there, but really, Gracie…you hate OPS? It's on-base plus slugging. A+B = C. The eggheads aren't reinventing the wheel here. Grade: 5.5/10

Enthusiasm: Conceding that I've never broadcast a baseball game in my life, I daresay that my make-believe home run calls while playing Baseball Stars were better than Sutton's ("Driven! [Elijah] Dukes! Back! Gone!") It was like a bad simulcast of $25,000 Pyramid. Sutton got a little too gooey over IF Chad Tracy's home run ("That is a redhead leaving the ballpark!") and made a dated reference to something called a "rave", then chuckled as if anyone under 30 (or over 35) knew what the hell he was talking about. Grace is a little out of control at times and his phlegm-filled vocal chords get especially grating when things go well for the home team. Grade: 7/10

Bar Stool Q: Grace has the disheveled, looks-older-than-he-is appearance of a man who was quite the show on road trips during his playing days. Let's stop short of a libel lawsuit and suggest that he might know the best places in Phoenix for bourbon and a Cuban. And, women. That's all I'm saying. Sutton doesn't have the name recognition of his partner and I can envision his best pick-up line: "I'm sure you've heard of Mark Grace. Well, I sit on his left!" Actually, I'd buy him a beer to hear him use it. Grade: 7.5/10

Camera/Production: De St. Aubin practically hijacked the entire third inning for a feature on FSN's "Good Sport of the Week". It's absolutely a good cause, but I don't think it's insensitive to ask that a baseball game remain separate from an extended PSA. I was surprised to see that even during games broadcast to their home audience, FSN shows a lot of shots of the swimming pool beyond the outfield wall. The novelty hasn't worn off of you guys yet, Arizona? Grade: 3.5/10

Homerism: Grace does have that Rex Hudler vibe about him – undeniably knowledgeable, but content to be the peak of the D'Back Cheerleaders' Pyramid. He's also got a surly edge that is probably more endearing to those who watch him everyday. Sutton and Grace did a bit of quibbling with the umpire's strike zone, which wasn't nearly as absurd as the comparison of an opposite field single by 2B Alex Romero to Tony Gwynn. Grade: -7.5

Commerciality: Diamondbacks SP Randy Johnson, in the obligatory local car dealership advertisement, sounds like he's over-dubbed from inside a wind tunnel while hawking Van Chevrolet. My favorite line: "I can buy a vehicle anywhere…" That's how you relate to the working class fan, kids. You won't see too many creepier ads than the one for Riviera Pools with a guy in the stands forcefully gesturing with a half-eaten hot dog in his hand.

AFLAC Trivia Question: "Who was the last team to play in Washington DC before the Nationals and who are they now?" (My answer: Washington Sentaors...Texas Rangers; Correct answer: same) 10 for 17

Final Grade: 24

Thursday, August 21, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Baltimore Orioles

Game: Texas Rangers at Baltimore Orioles
Date: August 8
Network: Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN 2)

Play-by-Play: Jim Hunter
Color Commentator: Jim Palmer
Almost Prettier than Jim Palmer: Amber Theoharis

M'man Josh warns:

Try'n get the Orioles when they have their "A" team of Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer, or at least their "B" team of Thorne and Buck Martinez. Sundays when Thorne is doing national radio and they have Jim Hunter can be painful, especially if he works with Rick Dempsey. Hunter does every Sunday and sometimes gets a weekday series, and Palmer basically never travels unless it's to a big city where they have his proper hair dye.

I ended up with a Friday night home game, but Gary Thorne was nowhere to be found. Thorne was one of the first play-by-play voices on ESPN when the network grossly overpaid for baseball's weekday broadcast rights in 1990. The weird thing is that he's a screamer of the highest degree and notorious for injecting contrived drama with his maudlin inflections, but I like the guy. It probably helps that I still have a VHS copy of a 1990 Red Sox vs. A's game, in which he called a rare Felix Jose home run. Plus, Thorne (briefly) called bullsh*t on Curt Schilling. Approve.

Chemistry: I'm old enough to remember when Jim Palmer was a spokesman, sex symbol and broadcaster. See, in MY day, the middle-aged hotties multi-tasked. Anyways, 25 years of acclaim, regard and women half his age have turned Palmer into something of a "color commentator emeritus". Consequently, his spectacular ego is a show unto itself. Hunter took Palmer's condescension in stride (during an especially long-winded Palmer point, a graphic for an in-game promo popped up…Palmer said, "I'll let you do this, so we can get back to my thoughts.") Later, during the trivia segment, Hunter ventured a guess to which Palmer, in a hilariously dismissive tone, responded, "No! No way!" It was like watching Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone for the first time. Grade: 5/10

Knowledge: Hey, did you know that Palmer once played baseball? He dropped his first old-school reference in the bottom of the first, when he explained that teams should pitch to O's star Nick Markakis in the same way that teams approached George Brett. First Earl Weaver reference: top of the 2nd, for those scoring at home. Palmer's not much of an analyst ("The reason you have seven players behind you is because they have gloves. They'll help you") and it doesn't help Hunter's credibility when claims, "[Juan] Castro's not much of a hitter, but he'll get you that timely hit." No, he won't. Grade: 4/10

Enthusiasm: Palmer was a LOT more animated when he was sharing a three-man booth with Al Michaels and Tim McCarver in the 1980s. He seemed absolutely bored at times and I'm certain I heard his voice crack on a couple of occasions. Hunter was actually OK. Grade: 5/10

Bar Stool Q: I don't want to oversell this, but an evening of drinking with The Legend of Jim Palmer would probably be the greatest night of my life. I see him as a guy who takes bottles of hand sanitizer and cans of Lysol everywhere. He probably demands restaurant seating "away from my fans" and travels with dozens of autographed 8x10 headshots for the ladies – all of whom he derisively calls, "doll-face". And, I'm not going to lie…the prospect of some soccer mom sloppy seconds intrigues me. I imagine Hunter's role on road trips is to fetch Mr. Palmer his martinis and weed out the cougars from the cattle. Grade: 10/10

Camera/Production: Thank you, high definition! In the stands, I was able to clearly see a female fan texting friends during the entire 4th inning AND saw a group of three women posing for pictures in their seats during a Melvin Mora at-bat. Lots of silly, meaningless on-screen "stats" (the O's are 24-13 in the first games of a series this year; 2-0 vs. Texas!) And, speaking of superfluous, Dick Vitale joined the booth in the 3rd inning. Dick Vitale. His reason? He's taking his grandkids to every ballpark. Seriously. Although, watching Jim Palmer visibly recoil every time Vitale put his hand on Palmer's shoulder was HIGH comedy. Points, also, for Vitale making a reference to his and Palmer's work on The Naked Gun. Grade: 5/10

Homerism: In the first inning, Palmer was already moaning about Rangers SP Luis Mendoza getting calls "three inches off the plate" from the umpire. Then, no lie, Mendoza started getting squeezed by the same ump, before melting down entirely. My guess is that Mr. Palmer sent a note down to the ump, voicing his displeasure with the early strike zone. He's a Hall of Famer, y'know. Hunter was absolutely pro-Orioles, but not obnoxious about it. Grade: -5.5

Commerciality: MASN airs a series of "fantasy camp" commercials in which on-air personalities teach fans how to call a game, interview a player, etc. Some of these aren't bad, but there's one with Amber Theoharis where her acting and line-reading skills are positively pornographic. The Inn at Charles Town Races & Slots ran an ad that ended with the tagline: "West Virginia…wild & wonderful!" And, the overpriced, untalented hacks at Northrop Grumman want YOU to work for them.

Toyota Trivia Question: "Who was the last Baltimore Oriole to win a batting title?" (My answer: Frank Robinson; Correct answer: same) Hunter's answer: Melvin Mora. Remember, Jim Hunter…your ignorance makes Mr. Palmer look bad. Mr. Palmer doesn't like to look bad. Mr. Palmer NEVER looks bad. 9 for 16

Final Grade: 23.5

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Philadelphia Phillies

Game: Cincinnati Reds at Philadelphia Phillies
Date: June 5
Network: Comcast SportsNet

Play-by-Play: Harry Kalas (1-3, 7-9 innings) Tom McCarthy (4-6 innings)
Color Commentators: Gary Matthews, Chris "Wheels" Wheeler

[TBG Note: The following post was written in August 2008, several months before the death of long-time Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.]

The 1994 strike effectively ensured that there'd never be another team like the 1993 Phillies – a mulleted collection of trailer park trash, pot-bellies, neck beards and Kim Batiste. When baseball returned in 1995, the game had irrevocably changed. Simply put, a lot of the fun had been sucked out of the industry as the mainstream media demanded fans accept the self-servingly robotic Cal Ripken, Jr. as our "savior". From there, baseball sat through the boring corporate championship reigns of the Braves and Yankees, with a bought-n-paid for Marlins run mixed in for kicks. So, a toast to you, Mickey Morandini, Larry Andersen and Dave Hollins. And, f*** you, Curt Schilling.

Chemistry: OK, try'n follow along. Immediately after the Comcast intro, Harry Kalas and Gary Matthews (rockin' a pretentious Panama Hat) welcomed viewers to the game. Sometime between these three minutes and the first pitch, Matthews was gone and Chris Wheeler assumed the color commentary role without any mention of what Comcast had done with Matthews. Later in the first inning, Tom McCarthy joined us on camera from the stands with a mic in hand…only to pop up in the booth with Matthews (who'd actually joined Kalas in the top of the 3rd inning, with Wheeler leaving) at the start of the 4th inning. Jesus, people. The only satisfaction I took from this car wreck was a quick jot in my notes that read, "Kalas and Wheeler don't seem to like each other." Then, while researching this segment, I discovered I was right. Every time Kalas spoke, Wheeler would jump right in with a tone that hinted, "Well, fans, here's what the old man MEANT to say…" Grade: 1/10

Knowledge: We must find a way to get Gary Matthews his own urban '70s sitcom. Here were the first words out of his mouth when he got around to joining us in the 3rd, "I've always said good pitching stops good hitting." Really? That was you, Gary? Someone should trademark those never-before-heard words, immediately. Other jive-time Gary gems, "That's altogether a lot different."; "The Griffeys are the only dad/father combination to go back-to-back."; "My first pro team was in Decatur, Illi-noise." Kalas has obviously seen a lot of baseball in his 200 years, but he adds nothing beyond several oddly-placed birthday wishes. McCarthy is actually very good and was the first to suspect that Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins had been removed from this game for lack of hustle. Grade: 3/10

Enthusiasm: Maybe someone from Philadelphia can clue me in on why Comcast just doesn't go with a McCarthy/Wheeler booth. In a town that gets off on describing itself as the most passionate collection of sports fans on earth, these two do the best job of capturing the city's doughy, triple-chinned posturing. Kalas' 21-year-old great-great grandson sang the National Anthem for this game and, afterwards, there was a palpable pride in his voice. Sadly, that was as jazzed as he'd be all day. M'man Matthews needs to quit mimicking ESPN's Emmitt Smiff – shouting isn't the same as "excited". Grade: 3/10

Bar Stool Q: As much fun as Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman seemed to be having in Weekend at Bernie's (timely!) I can't say I'd enjoy an evening out with the Honorable Harry Kalas. As for Wheeler, everyone called him "Wheels" during the broadcast, which leads me to believe he gave himself that lazy nickname and insists that's what he be called on the air. Matthews doesn't have much going for him, either: his son plays for the hated Angels, he's a terrible broadcaster, but, he was the featured guest on an episode of The Baseball Bunch back in the day. Nope, can't do it. I'm sure his "steppin' out" threads include several faux gold ropes, tight seersucker slacks and white patent leather shoes – all of which have been observed on my recently-divorced dad. Grade: 1/10

Camera/Production: Things were perfectly acceptable from the production truck. In fact, this game featured several moments where immediate highlights from previous games between the Reds and Phillies were needed for reference. They came right up whenever a point needed to be made, such as the difficulty with tracking fly balls in the outfield at Citizens Bank Park or a minor defensive adjustment for Phillies C Carlos Ruiz since his last start. Grade: 6/10

Homerism: Kalas is famously deadpan whenever the Phillies' opponent scores a run or makes a great play. It's been a part of his schtick since the beginning of time, so I'll give him a partial pass. Matthews seems to moisten at the mere mention of Jimmy Rollins, but saved my favorite hyperbole for 3B Pedro Feliz, whom he dubbed "vacuum cleaner". Oh, yeah…Brooks Robinson…Pedro F'n Feliz. Good to see the links in that Hall of Fame chain continue. Grade: -7

Commerciality: The makers of Herr's Potato Chips embrace the greasy, messy quality of their product. Those old Pringles commercials that made oily potato chips seem repulsive can kiss my Black ass. Mitch Williams(!) is apparently a part of the Phillies postgame show, but he stars in an unfunny rip-off of that Bud Light "dude" campaign – which I happened to like, believe it or not.

Dodge Stump the Fans: "What year was baseball's first amateur draft?" (My answer: 1965; Correct answer: same) Didn't I tell you how often derivatives of this question were asked…? 7.5 8 for 15

Final Grade: 7

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Los Angeles Dodgers

Game: Florida Marlins at Los Angeles Dodgers
Date: July 10
Network: FSN-Prime Ticket

Play-by-Play: Vin Scully
Color Commentator: None
Pre-Game Stooge Troika: Patrick O'Neal, Kevin Kennedy and Steve Lyons

"High fly ball into right field, she is GONE!" With those nine words, the venerable voice of Dodgers baseball ripped my heart out on October 15, 1988. It would be years before I could watch the highlights of Kirk Gibson's Game #1 deathblow to my A's. Yet, as much as the end result (still) pains me, I've grown equally disdainful of Jack Buck's national radio call of the home run ("I don't believe what I just saw!"), which has unofficially become the moment's historical record. No disrespect to the late Mr. Buck, but Scully's is arguably the greatest home run call of our generation. Vin Scully's words should be how that home run is remembered. 20 years of my own shock treatments, notwithstanding.

Chemistry: To the best of my knowledge, Scully is the only Major League Baseball TV broadcaster to work solo in the booth. I started listening to him on KTTV-Channel 11 in LA when I was seven years old and in all that time, he's been by himself – save for his appearances on NBC's national Game of the Week when he was often paired with Joe Garagiola. It's amazing how much dead air I've heard while tuned in to two and three-man booths during this feature. Scully keeps a natural, measured pace and connects with his audience like few others can. Unfortunately, he's a victim of my own scoring system. Grade: N/A

Knowledge: I've read some criticism over the years that basically accuses Scully of leaning too heavily on his producers for in-game notes and situational analysis. And, to those people, I officially call bull-plop. On a stolen base by Dodgers OF Andre Ethier, the throw went into centerfield, but Ethier failed to advance to third. Scully immediately noted that Ethier was looking for the ball when he should've been looking towards the third base coach, Larry Bowa. Scully followed that up by suggesting the tempestuous Bowa would let Ethier know about it. Earlier, Marlins SS Hanley Ramirez was thrown out attempting to stretch a single into a double. Scully recognized that the leftfielder was shading towards center, which gave Ramirez the false confidence to try for two. If those are someone else's observations, I'd argue that he learned to recognize them from Scully. Grade: 10/10

Enthusiasm: Former Oakland A's prospect John Baker finally got the call to The Show with the Marlins on the night before this game. Scully spent a few moments before Baker's first at-bat detailing his long journey to the bigs. A pitch or two later, Baker homered over the right field wall for his first Major League hit. Scully's call of the shot was thrilling, as he topped it off with a genuinely sincere "Wow" and an expression of congratulations for Baker and his family in attendance. Again, this was for the road team. His voice will raise a couple of notches for the Dodgers (as it did on a Russell Martin bomb in the sixth inning), but the next time Scully screams over the air will be the first time I've heard it. Grade: 8/10

Bar Stool Q: Scully's memorable calls include Hank Aaron's Ruth-breaking home run in 1974, Bill Buckner's error in the 1986 ALCS and, of course, that Gibson thing. No one can argue that he hasn't lost a little off his fastball ("The league is hitting (pause) a 1.80 ERA off of [Chan Ho] Park"), but this is the same guy who called a lazy fly ball to right field, thusly: "…looking up into the powder blue is Ethier, who makes the catch." Hell, I'd even eschew booze for the evening if it would make Mr. Scully feel more comfortable. Grade: 10/10

Camera/Production: I don't know if the "X-Mo" super slow motion camera is exclusive to Los Angeles and Orange Counties (the Angels use it, too) but, more teams should spring for the technology. It's a terrific way to watch replays of hitters making contact and pitchers throwing breaking stuff. An unintentionally hilarious side effect of Scully's folksy style is listening to him talk over the crappy pre-at bat rap music used by the likes of Dodgers Matt Kemp and James Loney. Grade: 7/10

Homerism: I know that this is reading like a mash note to another man, but if you haven't heard Scully you'll have to trust me when I say there's not a more unbiased broadcaster in the business. He'll gently chide either side when it's deserved, yet can still find time to read the following scouting report on Marlins SP Josh Johnson: "Height: 6'7"; Weight: 240 lbs.; Throws: Right and he's got a little facial hair." But, just so the praise party doesn't get completely out of control, we'll deduct a point since it's still the Dodgers. Grade: -1

Commerciality: This may get my California citizenship revoked, but I've always thought In-n-Out Burger to be WAY overrated. Their commercials are usually just short, simple shots of a Double-Double followed by the "that's what a hamburger is all about" catchphrase. Based only on their great sales and shoddy ads, I'm not sure why they bother. I've long been bugged by that silly "wide-mouthed can…LET'S VENT!" spot for Coors Light. The narrator hypes a "better pour" as one of the can's benefits, but every actor in the ad is swilling straight from the can.

AFLAC Trivia Question: "Jeff Kent has 16 straight seasons with 10 or more home runs. Who holds the record?" (My answer: Hank Aaron; Correct answer: same) 6.5 for 14

Final Grade: 34

Monday, August 18, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Chicago White Sox

Game: Oakland A's at Chicago White Sox
Date: July 4
Network: Comcast SportsNet

Play-by-Play: Ken "Hawk" Harrelson
Color Commentator: Darrin Jackson

This should be fun. Harrelson is almost universally despised by baseball fans and considered the biggest "homer" broadcaster in any sport. You've surely heard his "You can put it on the board, YES!" home run calls or his repeated references to the White Sox as "the good guys". For years, he shared the booth with Tom "Wimpy" Paciorek – another unabashed cheerleader – who was replaced in 2001 with former Southsider, Darrin "DJ" Jackson – the laziest nickname in sports.

Chemistry: Well, I guess it's unavoidable. There are actually some aspects of a baseball broadcast in which Harrelson and Jackson excel. Hawk is almost all schtick and Jackson plays a great, understated straight man. I say this even accounting for a sixth inning sidebar into their respective golf games and DJ literally shrieking like a vulture during a discussion on relief pitchers who sometimes back into wins. DJ is several notches beneath Paciorek in his interaction with Harrelson, but the current broadcast team is definitely on the same page. Grade: 8/10

Knowledge: Harrelson spent some time discussing how well a few A's had hit Sox starter Mark Buehrle and making it seem like Kurt Suzuki's lifetime 4 for 6 meant something. Sample size, Hawk, sample size. As the A's extended their lead throughout the game, both broadcasters stopped breaking the game down (which they hadn't been doing much of) and started whining about the umpiring. DJ did have some insightful words on how outfielders track a flyball, but hurt his own point by using the phrase "…long, gaping [sic] strides…" to describe a player running. Grade: 4/10

Enthusiasm: In an A's blowout win, Hawk and DJ kept a sock in it, for the most part. I hadn't listened to them all season, but I was surprised by how much dead air there is between them during a game. On more than one occasion, a couple of pitches would pass before either one said a word. By the last out, it seemed like no one was taking the loss worse than them. I'm torn here. I know that these guys are a "10" in this department during a Sox win. Let's split the difference. Grade: 5/10

Bar Stool Q: Jackson's playing career ran concurrently with my first stretch of baseball infatuation (starting in the late 1980s). The fact that he didn't play in the bigs from 1995-96 (during my waning interest in the game, post 1994 strike) further endears him to me. As for the Hawk, he seems like the type that would have us thrown out after grabbing the server's ass on the heels of six Scotch bender. Then, he'd feel bad and buy us all lap dances down the street, before getting us thrown out of there, too. What can I say? I've got friends like that, now. Grade: 8/10

Camera/Production: It might've been due to the holiday, but there were a TON of crowd shots of fans decked out in patriotic gear. A little too many for my taste and almost always without any reaction from the broadcasters. Someone on the production team also left a mic open that was close to home plate, thereby picking up a bunch of inane heckling from someone who had to have paid $200 for his seat. Douche. Grade: 3/10

Homerism: Umm, yeah. Seriously, I counted…Hawk dropped his first reference to "we" as it relates to the White Sox at four seconds into the broadcast. DJ followed with an "our". Repeat, to varying degrees of annoyance, over nine innings. Grade: -10

Commerciality: The good people at White Castle offer up a "sack of 10" giveaway, which sounds awesome enough for even me to enter. The Sox have an in-house ad campaign that's harmlessly amusing.

AFLAC Trivia Question: Damn it. I watched the whole game, but don't have anything in my notes on the question. And, I know that there was one and that I got it right. So, in interest of fairness to me, I'll come up with my own question: "Before the Nick Swisher deal, who was involved in the last trade between the A's and the White Sox"? Honestly, I'm just guessing here, but I'll say Ray Durham (and others) in 2002. After a quick check, I see that I had the year right, but I was a few months off. It was Keith Foulke (to the A's) for Billy Koch. I'll give myself half a point here. 5.5 for 13

Final Grade: 18

Sunday, August 17, 2008

TBG's Sounds of Summer: Minnesota Twins

Game: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins
Date: June 2
Network: FSN-North (MN)

Play-by-Play: Dick Bremer
Color Commentator: Bert Blyleven
Ummm…"Telly"?: Telly Hughes
Uncomfortable Looking Ex-Player in an Ill-Fitting Suit: Ron Coomer

I've never really had much love for the Twins. In 2002, they bounced my A's out of the postseason in five games and then absolutely laid down for the hated Angels. 11 years earlier, they ruined the storybook season of the not-yet-insufferable Atlanta Braves, costing Steve Avery, Deion Sanders and Dhalsim Nixon their shots at World Series rings. That '91 Series also featured Twins SP Jack Morris' famous Game Seven performance, which is often mentioned as his entire inane Hall of Fame argument. Yeah, yeah…"winningest pitcher of the 1980s"! Fun fact: Dave Stieb had the second most wins in the '80s and, at his peak, was a much better pitcher than Morris ever was. Zing!

Chemistry: Bremer and Blyleven are quite the amiable arrangement. Bremer was born and raised in the Gopher State. His pleasant delivery and slightly nasal Midwestern twang make for an authentic Minnesota sound. Blyleven had long ago cemented his goofball reputation during his playing days and is as much of a natural on camera now as he was in 1990, when he filmed a cameo for Jim Belushi's Taking Care of Business. (This, of course, was part of an odd 18-month arc from 1989-90 in which Belushi tried to position himself as "family friendly" with films like K-9 and Mr. Destiny) I'm not sure their style would play as well in Capitol City, but there are few combos who reflect their home market as well as these two. And, there's NO way either would be as effective away from the other. Grade: 9/10

Knowledge: Sorry, Twins fans, but I remember Blyleven mostly from his 1989-91 stint with the California Angels – especially his excellent first season in Anaheim and how he nearly carried the Halos into the playoffs. Not surprisingly, his breakdown of the spin on a curveball (Bert's best pitch) that turned into a wild pitch was terrifically detailed. He opened the game with a strong, relevant scouting report on SP Livan Hernandez and later chimed in with good analysis of SP Andy Pettitte's ability to control the running game. Bert's less sure when it comes to hitting, but that's a minor nit. Bremer, on the other hand, read straight from the on-screen graphics and added little beyond the call of the game. Grade: 7/10

Enthusiasm: Folks in this part of the country simply don't do enthusiasm. It's a little jarring to hear so much dead air when the game is already being played within the confines of an airplane hangar, but both Bremer and Blyleven call the game in a plain, straightforward style (even Bert's comic relief is freeze-dried). When the Twins made a nice play or scored a run, the broadcasters' voice inflections showed it, but their well-worn rocking chair style could use a bit more oomph. Grade: 5/10

Bar Stool Q: Blyleven got into a bit of hot water when he inadvertently uttered an expletive over the air. His potty mouth gets him in the door with me, while the potential for poop from the one movie he did intrigues me even more. I mean, really, how did Loryn Locklin NOT become a star?! Bremer appears to be a wonderful gentleman and all, but he seems more at home MCing a Little League banquet at Tim Horton's. Grade: 5.5/10

Camera/Production: Give FSN-North points for including pre-recorded in-game thoughts from Twins coaches on how to play the Yankees, but it was often intrusive and the cameras were late to return to the action on a couple of occasions. I'm still not sure what purpose Telly Hughes served, other than guiding the extremely awkward Ron Coomer through the reminiscing of Coomer's playing career. Grade: 4.5/10

Homerism: Even with the Yankees in town, Bremer and Blyleven rolled out the broadcast welcome mat for the evil empire and refused to play into the "heroic underdog" mentality. It sounds like a little thing, but you'd be surprised how often this pandering tactic is used on local TV when New York is in town. The two played up the home team, certainly, but without ever throwing it in our face. Grade: -3

Commerciality: Quite the smorgasbord of awesome, including a spot for Kent Hrbek's Outdoors show. I could watch him kill innocent animals with a bow & arrow for hours. A local brand called Cub Foods sponsors "Fantastic Fridays" at the Metrodome with the enticement of free milk or orange juice coupons in certain sections! Finally, an ad for Cenex Propane had everything but Hank Hill and his "taste the meat, not the heat" tagline.

AFLAC Trivia Question: Hmmm…it seems I omitted it from my notes. Nice. I write down Blyleven's Ed Whitson joke, even though no one under 35 will get it, but I forget something that's an actual piece of this damn feature. I'll have to think of one on the fly, here…uhh, who did the Twins receive in exchange for former All-Star Chuck Knoblauch? I know Eric Milton was part of that deal, right? That's all I got.

Final Grade: 28