Next to Sam Dyson’s accuracy, Adrian Beltre’s legs and Cole Hamels’ oblique, a primary crisis and concern about the 2017 Texas Rangers has been ... the television broadcast team.
Whenever this franchise makes a change in the TV booth, a portion of this devoted and territorial fan base howls with complaints that the new guy isn’t the old guy. That everything would be better if they just brought back old such-and-such.
When Bill Jones left the booth, people decided they hated his replacement, Josh Lewin. When Lewin left, they couldn’t stand John Rhadigan. Dave Barnett, Vince Cotroneo, et al. ran into the same problems.
Rangers fans are set in their ways and prefer their routine to remain cast in iron and encased in cement. The Rangers’ new broadcast team changed that routine, and the dynamic of a living-room soundtrack.
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Accordingly, Emily Jones should prepare to be the Rangers’ TV sideline reporter until 3020, at which time the team will be leveraging the city of Arlington for its 25th baseball stadium.
The new TV lineup of play-by-play man Dave Raymond and color analysts C.J. Nitkowski and Tom Grieve is good. Leave them alone and they will do nothing but improve, and eventually they will grow on you.
“I understand it takes time and there is a getting-to-know-you part of this,” Raymond said Monday. “They need to get to know us.”
(For the record, I am also a forever loyal homer of the previous TV play-by-play man Steve Busby, too.)
These are pros who take their job and craft seriously and produce a professional product for each telecast. That is all you can ask for as a viewer. If you have a problem with the Rangers’ TV production it means you have issues with the game itself. Or the team.
During the off-season, the Rangers and their broadcast partner Fox Sports Southwest changed some aspects with their TV production. The idea was not to “make the game appeal to younger viewers” but an attempt to find a pair of capable TV broadcasters. To decrease the workload for Grieve. To create a slightly different feel for its telecast.
They hired Raymond, and the club was thrilled at the availability of Nitkowski.
“I don’t think the broadcasters have much effect on TV ratings unless you are absolutely horrible,” Nitkowski told me Monday. “I don’t think it’s a, ‘Well, C.J. and Dave are doing the games so I’m not watching.’ Or vice versa. Can you do something to affect ratings? Maybe. Maybe not. We’re trying to push and be creative and to be the best, but I don’t think that means getting too quirky and leaving behind your base.”
As witnessed with the ESPN telecast of the Rangers’ game at Detroit on Sunday night — when the three announcers were put in the left-field seats and apparently instructed to talk about nachos, the Tigers’ logo, the city of Detroit, and anything else other than the game — some creative ideas simply swing and miss.
When Hall of Fame Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray called a game from the Wrigley Field bleachers in the 1980s, it was not perceived as a desperate attempt for ratings. It was fun and a way to enliven another telecast in a 162-game season.
Now we live in a ratings-driven culture where success is defined by fractions of a decimal point.
Accordingly, for most of this century, TV executives, producers and directors have slammed their heads into a pile of bricks in an attempt to make baseball a combination of football, hockey and UFC. They seemed to be convinced these darn millenials and the younger generation don’t watch baseball because it’s a 25 mph ride to grandma’s house with Lawrence Welk blasting over the heater.
Personally, I would have agreed with this until I watched my daughter. A soccer/swimmer/tennis player, she was not introduced to softball until she was 7; now she can’t watch softball or baseball enough. The pace doesn’t bother her. She loves the game. And she is not alone.
Per an annual report conducted by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, baseball and softball combined to rank as the most participated team sport in the U.S. in 2016. Yes, that includes football.
The concern over concussions in hockey, soccer and football is cited as a reason for this rise in baseball participation, but the idea that kids simply hate the game because it’s slow is a “South Park”-episode only (BTW — that’s a great episode, too).
What the Rangers and Fox Sports Southwest have done is to produce a high-quality broadcast. Watch telecasts of other teams, and you will soon see the quality here is as good as any.
Since Vin Scully retired as the TV man of the Los Angeles Dodgers, there are few baseball voices viewers tune in to specifically watch. The only exception is Cincinnati’s longtime voice Marty Brennaman.
All the Rangers and their TV partners have done for decades is to create a broadcast to keep viewers from flipping to “America’s Next 600-pound Talentless Loser.”
The team on the field might be a reason to change the channel, but guys like Raymond, Grieve and Nitkowski are quality pros who deliver insight without over-talking the game. They get it.
Give them a chance, and eventually you’ll be complaining whenever they leave, too.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof