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.
Final Grade: 9.5