The Rangers’ lost season has been tough on the broadcast team, too

09/01/2014 7:53 PM

11/12/2014 8:26 PM

Finding the silver lining in a cloud. Seeing the glass as half full. Viewing life sunny side up.

However you choose to phrase it, watching this Texas Rangers season has required rose-colored binoculars.

It wasn’t that long ago — was it? — that Rangers fans were having to endure, “Into right, well hit. Back at the wall, and it’s off the wall! One run scores! Here comes Berkman! Freese has tied it! 7-7! Unbelievable!”

Now those fans are having to endure a team on the verge of owning not a World Series championship, but the first pick in the draft.

This season, too often, the late-inning drama develops coming out of a commercial break when the television screen reveals which position player is taking the mound to spare the Rangers’ taxed bullpen.

It can’t be a great season to be a Rangers announcer.

The 2014 Rangers won’t produce any memorable announcer calls to rank alongside, “Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right,” or “The Giants win the pennant!” Instead, the words the history books just might record for this season could be something along the lines of, “Mitch Moreland into the windup …”

At least that would be better than something about pedicures or Speedos, which actually came up during a broadcast on the Rangers’ last homestand.

The intent here is not to mock, but to point out the challenge at hand.

Who doesn’t want to be a TV announcer? You get the best seat in the house for the best games involving the best players. Except when a 2014 happens. The seat’s still great — as are those empty ones below you leading toward home plate — but the games aren’t the best and the players, well, most of the best aren’t on the field because they’re injured.

Announcing is like a TV game show: It’s so easy from the living room couch. But take it from someone who has made a few attempts, announcing is much, much, much more difficult than it appears.

It becomes increasingly difficult when the product on the field becomes increasingly lacking. That’s when it can help to divert the viewer’s attention away from the field. And that leads us to pedicures and Speedos.

In an Aug. 24 game against the Kansas City Royals — and that was a Rangers victory, mind you — dugout reporter Emily Jones informed Steve Busby and Tom Grieve up in the booth that Elvis Andrus says Adam Rosales is the Ranger most likely to give a teammate a pedicure.

“It’s a looong season. It’s a long season, fellas,” Jones added. “We’ve got to find stuff to talk about.”

“Yeah, it’s a long season,” Busby agreed.

Then Jones teased an upcoming question that she had posed in the home clubhouse: Which Ranger is most likely to wear a Speedo?

That led to Busby and Grieve speculating to whom that honor belongs. They discussed the topic briefly (pardon the pun) before shifting back to baseball.

If you’re thinking you’d rather hear Buzz and TAG talking about baseball than Speedos, put yourself in their headsets and see what you’d come up with to talk about with the Rangers limping toward a 100-loss season.

Win streak!

In baseball, it always is a long season.

When the losing streaks are lengthier than the winning streaks, it becomes a looong season.

That’s why Busby had what seemed to be an extra lilt to his voice when he closed out a 2-0 shutout of the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 25 by stating, “The Rangers get back-to-back victories, yesterday over Kansas City and tonight against Seattle.”

It had been 19 days since he had last been able to say that. Imagine going almost three weeks without being able to promote even one, measly, two-game winning streak.

Dana Larson had opened that night’s pregame show by noting that the Rangers had won four of their past seven road games. That’s a 4-3 record, which in recent seasons wouldn’t have been too noteworthy unless it carried with it some type of qualifier like “in games they trailed by five runs or more entering the ninth inning.” But this year, any kind of 4-3 record is worthy of opening a broadcast.

Before the first pitch, Grieve had informed viewers that the Mariners were one of three teams against which the Rangers sport a winning record this season. Subtle but good broadcasting to provide enough optimism to keep viewers tuned in while still accurately painting what this season is: ugly.

Sometimes, though, the numbers just aren’t spinnable. A losing series against the Los Angeles Angels forced Erin Hartigan, a bright addition to Rangers broadcasts, to open a pregame show with, “After taking one of three from the Angels …”

Winning one of three is the same as losing two of three. But try saying it the latter way, or pointing out that the Rangers had won only one of their past nine series, without watching the Nielsen numbers plummet.

At least that was a home game. How would you like to broadcast a Rangers game this season from the West Coast, fully aware that if the scoreboard isn’t favorable to your team in the middle innings, you just might spend the rest of your night talking to tens and tens of Rangers fans?

Grieve seemed to acknowledge that added challenge during Tuesday night’s game in Seattle. It was the bottom of the sixth and the Rangers were losing 5-0. The time was approaching 11:30 p.m. back home in Rangers Nation, when M’s catcher Jesús Sucre scratched out a spot for his back foot in the right-hand batter’s box.

Grieve wondered if anyone could text him with the answer to this trivia question: What movie character also was named Sucre? Grieve recognized on air the obstacles for answering the question.

“You’d have to have seen it and know it — and you’d have to be up right now to do it,” he said. Plus, apparently, be friends with Grieve.

Two innings later, with the score still 5-0 on the negative side, Busby asked his partner if he had received the answer to his question.

“No, I never did get an answer,” Grieve replied. “But then I stopped to think, ‘How are they going to text me anyway if they don’t know my phone number?’ ”

Buzz and TAG laughed, as Buzz suggested Tom go ahead and make his number known to anyone still watching. Then Grieve revealed that he had once given out his parents’ phone number on the air, and a viewer surprised them with a phone call.

That exchange wasn’t exactly pedicures and Speedos, but it was a reward for staying up late while enduring loss No. 80.

By the numbers

It has been said that statistics don’t lie, but statisticians do.

So which to believe in a situation like Sunday, Aug. 24, when Jones touted pitcher Scott Baker as a bright spot and “an up” in a season of ups and downs, and then Busby and Grieve agreed after his statistics — a 1-3 record with a 5.75 ERA — had appeared on the screen?

Of course, in a season as bizarre as 2014, you agree with both.

Baker has been valuable in assuming a more detailed job description than others on the pitching staff. As Grieve noted, “Whatever role he’s needed in, he’s answered the bell.”

He truly has. And, ding-ding, Baker answered the bell again that Sunday, allowing one run over five innings in a spot start and — more important — a Rangers victory.

But, still, the numbers don’t lie. As valuable as Baker has proved to be, you’d still prefer that someone who had just improved his record to 2-3 and his ERA to 5.45 was not one of the bright spots in a season.

See, it isn’t easy talking about these Rangers for a living.

This was supposed to be the season that newcomers Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo — combined salary of $38 million this year — figured to be the big story in the lineup all season. But neither is in the lineup now, so instead, there was the graphic before the Aug. 25 game in Seattle touting the impressive post-All Star break batting averages of “The R&R Boys” — Adam Rosales and Daniel Robertson, combined salary of about $1.25 million.

The Fox Sports Southwest crew has probably had to work overtime to mine the gold in the river of statistics.

Yes, Nick Tepesch (as said before his start against Kansas City) has pitched well even though it’s not reflected in his win-loss record. Yes, Miles Mikolas (as said before his start in Seattle) has pitched much better on the road than at home. Yes, Colby Lewis (as said before his start against the Mariners) has pitched really well since the All-Star break.

But, no, with J.P. Arencibia in a 2-for-28 slump before the Aug. 24 series finale with the Royals, it was too much to tout that his two hits had been pretty productive.

Even counting the Arencibia claim, that’s still a pretty good batting average for the team televising the team that is ranked near the bottom of the majors for batting average against.

Perhaps the great Pudge Rodriguez said it best from the studio following Tuesday’s 5-0 loss in Seattle. It should be noted before reading his optimistic statement that over 13 seasons with the Rangers, Rodriguez never lost more than 91 games in a season.

“We made some good plays,” Pudge said. “Adrian [Beltre] made a couple of good plays at third base, and he had two hits. We battled, and tomorrow’s another day.”

Yes, it is, Pudge. Thank goodness. And there’s always next year, too, right?

Except there’s this matter involving the Houston Astros, who just a year ago lost 111 games, and the fact that for the first time since 2006, the Rangers lost the season series. Try as you might, there’s no way to spin that.

(Sigh.)

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