The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

How Championships are Won - Guaranteed, Fool Proof Analysis

Some people will tell you that pitching and defense win championships; those people are wrong. Other people will tell you that a solid lineup of guys who get on base inevitably will score you a lot of runs and that you will win games (maybe not championships, because the proponents of this style usually also argue that the playoffs today are more of a crap shoot, in that they reward a team that is hot more frequently than they reward the best team). Then, of course, there’s the old school camp that will tell you that bunting and stealing bases, and all other things little-ball, wins championships (although this is probably just a subset of the pitching and defense argument – see Morgan, Joe for examples).

None of these arguments are valid though. There is one clear, common thread in the World Series champions of recent years. Ironically enough, it is something, that in the baseball economics scheme of things, is relatively cheap to acquire, yet Billy Beane and other penny-pinching general managers have not yet latched onto this sure-fire ticket to a World Series ring. The common thread, of course, is having annoying announcers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are visiting Miami this week to face off against the World Champion Marlins in a three game set. The Dodgers, of course, are famous for having one of (if not unquestionably) the all-time best announcers in the game of baseball, Vin Scully. In fact, Vin is so good, that he doesn’t need a color commentator (or two) sitting next to him. Mr. Scully can describe the game all by himself. Part of the reason I buy the Extra Innings package from my cable/satellite company every year is so that I can watch Dodgers’ games and listen to Mr. Scully before I go to bed at night, here on the East Coast. So in thinking about the Dodgers’ visit to Miami this week (yes, I know, I think about weird things), I wished to myself that I could listen to Scully’s broadcast of the games instead of what I will instead be subjected to this week, and for all other Marlins’ games throughout the year.

Marlins’ announcers are cut from a different cloth than Mr. Scully (Boog Sciambi excepted, but they don’t let him talk on the air much anyway, and he’s only on the radio besides). Tommy Hutton, Len Kasper, and Craig Minervini are so grating on my ear drums that this trio actually makes me want to turn off baseball games (or at least to turn the sound down) and go kick my dog (no, I don’t have a dog, so I don’t have anything to kick, and no, I don’t not have a dog because I kicked my previous dog too much – but I hope you enjoyed the double negative). Craig Minervini finds his way around town to just about any sporting event. I’m not so sure though that he actually knows what’s going on at those events; last year Craig borrowed my scorebook to catch up on some of the action that he had missed (I don’t know why he missed anything or why he decided to bother me, but I didn’t exactly want to ask Craig what he was doing other than watching the game either). Craig was keeping his own scorebook (allegedly), but after watching him take a look at mine, I wonder if his book noted hits with a :-) and outs with a :-(. Needless to say, Craig did not strike me as the brightest bulb in the box, and his commentary is nothing to write home about either (but I suppose I’m doing that anyway, so I’ll move on now).

In 2002, the Anaheim Angels (although they’d like you to forget the Anaheim part) won the World Series. In case you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing his dulcet tones, Rex Hudler (yes, that Rex Hudler, the Wonder Dog – could there be any other one?) is a regular in the Halos’ booth. Rex is just plain weird. I suppose if you’re tripping on something or otherwise buzzed, Rex’s analysis might make sense to you. That’s not how I choose to enjoy a baseball game though, so Rex doesn’t really do it for me. He is also probably the only announcer in the history of sports, and quite possibly in the history of announcing, and to be suspended from his job and to be replaced by someone who normally broadcasts in another language (while I never heard any of these broadcasts, I wonder if the work was done partially in English and partially in Spanish).

Prior to the Angels, the Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001. Thom Brenneman is the DBacks annoying announcer, and quite possibly the most annoying announcer in the history of baseball. Fortunately I haven’t had the dis-pleasure of listening to a game this year broadcast by Mr. Brenneman, but I’m sure if I did, I would hear Thom lamenting the Cubs collapse against the Marlins in last year’s playoffs. Thom sounded more depressed about how things turned out than Dusty Baker or Steve Bartman. I guess he forgot that he’s a journalist, and no longer even an employee (or representative) of the Cubs.

Almost everyone will agree that the Yankees announcers, they of recent World Championships of 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000, are amongst the most un-tenable in the league. Analysis is decidedly un-sabermetric and very much based on hokum and rememberances of “back in the day when I used to play.” Besides that, for the most part, the Yes! team is a bunch of homers who can make even the most mundane play seem like an all-time great play (but at some level, that’s just New York being New York; Derek Jeter and Phil Rizzuto aren’t sure-fire Hall of Famers unless they’re in New York; Harold Baines, on the other hand, would have been).

The major kink in this analysis is the Atlanta Braves, who somehow won a World Series title in 1995. Obviously this was a fluke. Not in the sense that the Braves as a baseball team didn’t deserve it; obviously, they did. The Braves have been in the post-season every year they’ve held it since 1991. Their title is a fluke though in that their announcers are good and enjoyable to listen to. Sure, you’ll probably say that Joe Simpson, Pete Van Wieren, Skip Caray and that other guy who used to pitch are full of as much hokum and old-time tales as the Yankees’ crew. While this is probably true, the difference is in the delivery. Yes, the Braves’ broadcasters are just as much homers as anyone else’s announcers, but they’re less over the top and in your face about it.

Prior to that, I honestly don’t remember who everyone’s announcers were, so I can’t really say what happened back then. Maybe we can call the Dodgers’ playoff curse the Curse of Vin Scully. Hopefully for the sake of Vin, and Dodgers’ fans everywhere, we won’t have to wait for Vin to hang up the microphone before the Dodgers win another World Series or playoff game (the Dodgers haven't won in the post-season since their 1988 World Series victory).

In another, partially unrelated note, the generosity of the Florida Marlins was previously cited in how they provided World Championship rings (estimated value of $44,000 or more) to their broadcasters. This is something that is not always done, particularly when the rings are of such value. Given that the nice thing that was done for the announcers was pointed out, it is only fair to also point out that the Marlins were not so kind to some of their ex-employees (read down about half way to where there’s a “Hard to Take” header). While it’s true that the Marlins fired Jeff Torborg, Brad Arnsberg, and others – and probably deservedly so – it seems unusually cruel to send them knock-off, toy jewelry, particularly after everyone in the baseball world was well aware of how grand the actual rings that the players, front office people, and others received (although this article also points out that the Marlins were somewhat arbitrary in terms of deciding who got the good rings and who got the junk stuff).


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