It was a slow, lazy Saturday afternoon. It would have to be for me to turn on the Mets when Jacob deGrom isn’t pitching (though Marcus Stroman can be a very entertaining watch, too). I grew up at a time here in Chicago when we hated the Mets as much as the Cardinals, and those instincts still flicker from time to time. But the Mets are also one of the few teams actually trying in the National League, so that requires some amount of monitoring.
So I flipped on FS1 somewhere around the 4th inning of Mets-Nats, in between all the soccer watching I was doing. And by the time I was done watching, somewhere around the 7th inning, I felt a sense of dread akin to Atlas’ burden. I didn’t have anywhere to go, or anything to switch to, and I simply couldn’t get through more than three innings without longingly looking at my bathtub as a final resting place. This wasn’t the fault of the Mets or the Nationals.
It was John Smoltz.
Smoltz spent a full three innings bitching, wailing, complaining, bemoaning, decrying the state of the game today as he saw it. I’m not sure he ever once commented on the game in front of him. If it wasn’t about how starters don’t go deep in games these days, it was how they’re managed. If it wasn’t how they’re managed, it was about their lack of repertoire. If it wasn’t that, it was about their lack of appetite to go deep in games. If it wasn’t that, it was how pitchers are developed. And if it wasn’t that... well, I don’t know, because I lost consciousness in there. Three full innings, one long complaint. It was like if Eugene O’Neill wrote a play about baseball commentary, except it felt even longer and more meandering.
I have spent time in this space criticizing various lead analysts of every sport. Tony Romo, Pierre McGuire, Cris Collinsworth, whoever else. And they all have their issues. But what I can say about all of them is that they at least sound like they enjoy watching the games they’re covering. Maybe they don’t, but they at least make it sound like they do.
Romo may just be a soundboard composed of noises you make when poked in various spots with a wooden spike, but he gives off a feeling that there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. He’d be watching football anyway if he weren’t being paid to do so. McGuire may be a creepy, weird reptile/human experiment, but he genuinely loves hockey and wants nothing more than to talk about it all the time. He really does think all these players are that amazing, and he sounds like he feels he’s been blessed to get to watch them up close.
And you really do believe Collinsworth spends all that time watching film, and as scary as that might be if you think about it for more than seven seconds, it certainly comes from a place of loving the game. Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Grant Hill, Doris Burke, they all make the game they’re covering better because they actually enjoy being there. They are trying to sell you something, a bit, but that’s the job.
Smoltz gives off all the affection and joy of finding out he’s drawn #92 at the DMV when they’re calling #3. He makes it clear this is all a chore for him, which makes it a chore for us. If you’re MLB, and one of your stated problems is you can’t attract newer, younger fans, how is that caused help by some guy telling you how much the game sucks every goddamn week on what are supposed to be your showcase games? I’m sure it really attracts people in their 20s to turn on their TVs and be pelted for two hours or more of, “Boy this is some real reheated shit compared to when I played when you weren’t even born, you young fuck!”
Smoltz’s act isn’t any different than Shaquille O’Neal’s, I suppose. Except O’Neal makes the news as much when he’s being pantsed and countered on pretty much every broadcast by either NBA players themselves or Candace Parker in the studio. No one tells Smoltz to shut the fuck up, which gives off the impression that everyone at Fox and MLB is just fine with this. So everyone thinks the product sucks?
And, yes, the product might suck, but isn’t it the broadcaster’s and league’s job to try and highlight why it doesn’t? Obviously, no sport defines itself more through backwards navel-gazing than baseball. Baseball is almost built on a foundation of pining for a simpler, better time that people think came before but probably didn’t (America’s pastime, indeed). But this is so far beyond to its own detriment it’s laughable if it wasn’t such a slog to hear.
Baseball assuredly has its problems right now. And those problems warrant intricate discussion. And at times, that would be welcomed on a national broadcast. But what Smoltz is doing isn’t discussion. It’s this:
(And yes, I realize citing a skit that’s some 50 years old isn’t exactly relating to the kids, but just go with me here.)
I don’t need a sport’s national broadcast to try and brainwash me and convince me that I’m watching something that isn’t actually there. Unless it’s Bill Walton, who’s just trying to convince me what he’s seeing, which could be just about anything and I need to know. But what I certainly don’t need, and MLB needs even less, is three hours of a broadcaster telling you why you shouldn’t be watching.