The ALCS-Kvetching About the Coverage

During the regular season, baseball fans get their information from a range of sources, including television as well as websites and publications which correspond to their preferred approaches to the game. Some read the local media, others surf websites which focus on more serious historical or quantitative analysis. Some put a lot of stock in what former stars like Joe Morgan have to say, others prefer more rigorous analysis on websites such asFangraphs or Baseball Think Factory. The post-season, however, is something of an equalizer because we all watch the same broadcasts of the same games at the same time. This is an opportunity for some of us to see how baseball is covered in the larger media outlets which we often ignore during the regular season and the off-season.

Two of the most striking things about the coverage of the post-season are the tendency of the broadcasters to both repeat a few maxims, perhaps platitudes is a better word, ad nauseam and their almost principled position to not let a new idea enter their heads. For some reason, this has been most apparent in the ALCS, but examples can be found in all the other series as well.

During the ALCS, every time one of the faster Angels gets on base, which has not been all that often, we get a discussion of how fast the Angels are, but when this speed does not really lead anywhere, the announcers never bother to discuss that. Interestingly, one of the truly aggressive base running move of the series was the decision by Alex Rodriguez to attempt to score from first on Hideki Matsui’s double in the fifth inning of game one. A-Rod, who is otherwise having a fantastic post-season, was out by a few feet ending a Yankee rally and taking the bat out of Jorge Posada’s hands. This did not end up influencing the outcome of the game, but could have been mentioned by the announcers to show that there is a frequent downside to being aggressive on the basepaths.

In general, the powerful Yankee offense has contributed to a narrative about the Yankees that misses a lot. It is almost as if their extraordinary home run power is treated by the analysts on Fox and TBS as prima facie evidence that the Yankees do not play fundamentally strong baseball. This is supposed to be the strength, according to this paradigm, of the faster and scrappier Twins and Angels. Of course, during both series, so far at least, it is the Yankees that have made fewer mistakes, and particularly fewer mental mistakes.

The Yankees won game two, one of the closest, most exciting, if occasionally sloppy, playoff games of recent years with a very un-Yankee like rally. A single, a bunt, an intentional walk and a ground ball to the right side led to the winning run. While power is still a huge part of the Yankee attack, witness the two big solo home runs in that game by Derek Jeter and Rodriguez, the Yankee ability to manufacture a run when they needed one in that game seems to have been largely overlooked. In game two, to the extent speed made a difference, it was Yankee speed, specifically that of Jerry Hairston Jr., that had the greater impact.

Lastly, there is no question that Mariano Rivera has, over the course of his career, been extremely consistent and dominating out of the bullpen. He has not, of course, been invincible and has blown a few big games, but his numbers tell a pretty clear story. In the 2009 ALCS, as well as the ALDS, he has pitched very well again. He has entered the game in the middle of innings and recorded key outs, pitched more than one inning when needed, and has generally been almost unhittable. While Rivera is one of the greatest post-season performers ever, all of the announcers seem constitutionally unable to announce that Rivera is entering a game, warming up in the bullpen, or watching the game from the bullpen, without calling him “the greatest closer in post-season history”, as if that were part of his name. While this description is true, after the third time or so there is no real point in saying it.

The unwillingness to move away from these platitudes has meant that interesting story lines have been overlooked entirely. Mark Texeira’s dismal performance at the plate, with the exception of one at bat, this post-season has received very little attention. Similarly the narrative on Bobby Abreu is so myopically focused on his discipline at the plate, that his failure to get a hit so far in the ALCS, as well as his four strikeouts during the series have received little attention. During the 13 inning game two marathon no announcer on Fox raised the question of Joe Girardi’s roster construction and whether Eric Hinske’s bat might have been more useful than Freddy Guzman’s speed or Francisco Cervelli’s catcher’s glove.

Although the Yankees now lead two games to none, the ALCS is far from over. The initial story lines have all been made clear. The series has already begun to take shape so it would be useful to at least mention some of the newer developing story lines. For example, what will the Angels do if Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero cannot break out of their slumps, how big a weapon is speed for the Yankees or would the Yankees benefit from one more bat off the bench. This has already been a great series which may get better. It would be nice if the announcers rose to the occasion.