Fox World Series: Exit Velocity, Cialis Side Effects, and A-Rod

Metsmerized: I watched this Fall Classic closer than any one in the past, oh, 15 years
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With the Mets in this year’s World Series—I don’t know that I’ll ever tire of writing that--I watched way more of the Fall Classic this year than I have in many years. I thought Fox did a respectable job on the telecasts. The booth guys—Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds, Tom Verducci—were solid, the studio pundits, including a rookie named Alex Rodriguez, mostly entertaining and insightful, and the tech tricks Fox Sports is known for, including measuring a home run’s exit velocity, kept things fresh and fun.

Coming out of the National League post-season encounters on TBS--where I was pleased to hear the Mets’ own broadcast booth guy, the erudite Yalie Ron Darling, while Cal Ripken appeared to be auditioning to be the next Captain Obvious--I got used to the on-screen strike zone box to the point where I lamented its absence when the Series started on Fox. Yet after just a few innings of the Series, I felt Fox had the formula right—clean up the screen by leaving the box off it, unless it was a close pitch that merited a closer look.

There was some grumbling about the hiring of Rodriguez, not to mention Pete Rose, for studio analysis, as both haul their violations against the game along to the studio as baggage. As Steve Smith, editor at large of our sister mag TWICE, tweeted, “One cheated and the other bet on baseball. Two wonderful choices.”

I can’t picture any of the other broadcast nets, or Disney owned ESPN, hiring either, much less both, of these blaggards. But both guys brought keen insights along with their reputations as elite players. In a conference call before the Series, John Entz, Fox president of production, and lead announcer Buck, raved about A-Rod’s preparation, which Buck said runs counter to some elite ballplayers who are invited into the booth.

As a Mets fan and something of a baseball purist, there’s no player I root harder against than A-Rod. Yet I thought he acquitted himself well, astutely comparing the power pitching 2015 Mets to their championship 1986 counterparts. If I didn’t know it was A-Rod in the studio, I would’ve liked that newcomer talking head.  

My one criticism of Rodriguez’s work is his reluctance to take a stand, which fits with his penchant for wishing to please everybody all the time. More than once, he was asked to make a pick—the Series winner, the young Mets hurler he’d take above the rest—then froze as if facing a devastating change-up before offering a carefully hedged answer. Take a stand, Alex. That’s what the studio analysts do. The only wrong answer is a non-answer.  

The in-game guys were quite good. Buck was professional and polished; I don’t know why he stirs up such distaste among viewers, although man-cave dwellers seem to take delight in ripping on sports announcers, especially if they didn’t play the game at a high level, and maybe even a bonus point if their dad was a famous sports announcer.

Harold Reynolds offered an engrossing mix of baseball-lifer observations and off the cuff musings. But like a pedantic elementary school teacher, I found myself wishing he’d pinch hit the word “well” instead of “good”, as in, “Conforto is seeing the ball well”--whereupon I’d give him an A instead of a B.

Verducci of course made his bones as a sportswriter—at Newsday, covering the Mets, then Sports Illustrated. He’s well spoken and incredibly knowledgeable about the game, yet even a baseball geek like me can get lost in his two-seam/four-seam analysis of the game within the game. It’s a bit, well, inside baseball.

Verducci coined the nickname “Dark Knight” for Mets hurler Matt Harvey—it was in the headline of his 2013 cover story on Harvey--and while that certainly lent itself to plugs for Fox drama Gotham, I thought Fox showed way more restraint for touting its primetime properties than in years past.

The close-ups of the managers were intriguing—the Yoda-esque calm of Royals skipper Ned Yost, the anxious clicking of a pen top by grim-faced Mets manager Terry Collins. The Mets’ primary source of runs was the home run; I wish the camera had showed the giant mechanical apple coming out of the top hat in centerfield at CitiField— like the “Meet the Mets” song, it’s cheesy as hell, but it’s part of Mets culture, and we love it. The SNY crew never misses it in the regular season. (In a NY Times story, Collins said his grandchildren asked after Saturday's game why the apple did not pop up, so maybe it's not Fox's fault.)

The Series featured a couple extra-inning games, including last night’s finale. As such I got a bit sick of seeing the same commercials over and over. Off the top of my head, here’s what I remembered among the spots—Twitter’s Moments, IBM Watson (how one gets Bob Dylan to agree to be in your commercial, I’ll never know), the guy with the thick beard ringing the buzzer prematurely in the smart car spot, Jan from Toyota reminding us that the Corolla is still being made. My son liked the Samsung phone that charges from a wireless pod, although I could not see how that would be much easier than plugging in my phone’s charger. I’m glad my kid didn’t ask about the harrowing potential side effects for the numerous prescription drug ads we sat through.

I noted a good half dozen times when Fox would come out of a commercial break to find the pitcher already in his wind-up; with the extended commercial breaks in the post-season, there’s no reason to have your ad pods nip into the action.

I enjoyed the Statcast figures on how fast and how far a home run traveled, though seeing these figures a few innings after the event happened takes away some of the novelty. I also liked the mic'd up second base, which revealed Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores chirping behind a speedy Royals runner last night in an effort to keep him closer to the bag.

My son is 10 next month and this is the first time he’s ever showed real interest in baseball. Visits to Citi Field with him in the past were largely spent staring at the airplanes cruising overhead to and from LaGuardia. Corny as it may sound, I’ve long dreamed about something that occurred the past few weeks—he and I sitting around, eating Cheetos, watching our team in the post season.

I realize I’m about the millionth person to grouse about this, but really, could we not have a single day game that my son (and I) could watch from start to finish? Even the faster, well pitched duels go well past 11 p.m. on the East Coast, meaning my kid would be lucky to see three inning before bedtime, more likely two innings on a school night.

And an “8 p.m.” game starts at 8:15, following 45 minutes of chat. Throwing the first pitch at, say, 8 would mean an extra inning of viewing for the other 9-year-old fans around the country. You don’t create lifelong fans by sending them to bed in the third inning.

These post-midnight finishes are not easy on us grown-ups either. While I’m sad about last night’s result, I am looking forward to catching up on my sleep.

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