A near-midseason scouting report on NESN’s quartet of Red Sox color analysts, all the while missing Jerry Remy . . .
Kevin Youkilis: If there’s a Most Improved in the group, it’s the former Red Sox corner infielder known to most upon first reference as “Youk” … or precisely, “Yooooouuuuuk.”
That makes sense considering he’s about halfway through his scheduled slate of approximately 50 games, the second most to Dennis Eckersley. The reps have paid off for the broadcasting novice, as has his willingness to put in the work, getting to the ballpark early and gathering information from talking to players and personnel.
In his first batch of broadcasts, Youkilis was too quick to go off track talking about subjects other than the game; you got the sense that he felt like he had to prove he could be fun and silly like Remy, overlooking that Remy only went into that mode when a game was dull or the score was lopsided.
Youkilis, like Kevin Millar, is understandably pro-player, but he is willing to be critical when a moment calls for it, such as calling out Christian Vázquez for a base-running blunder during the recent series in Toronto.
Youkilis also seems at ease at one of those nuisances that sometimes are a struggle for fledgling broadcasters: ad reads. NESN certainly has plenty of those.
Youkilis should remain a significant part of the booth going forward if he desires to be, though it wouldn’t be a shock to see him end up as a hitting coach at some point.
Kevin Millar: Mr. Don’t Let Us Win Tonight is scheduled for the fewest number of games of all the color analysts, around 20. That’s probably a good thing. That’s not to suggest he’s bad, but that he’s better in small doses. His gregarious personality can be so overwhelming that the viewer is left wondering whether he’s getting paid by the word. Anecdotally, of all the analysts NESN is using this year, Millar by far draws the widest range of reactions from viewers.
Millar did develop an entertaining rapport with Eckersley in the booth recently after overwhelming Eck a little the first time they were together in a three-person booth, and he helped make a recent booth visit by former teammate Manny Ramirez a lot of fun.
Millar, whose primary gig is as a co-host of “Intentional Talk” on MLB Network, tends to look at baseball more on a national scale, which doesn’t always work on a regional broadcast. His dance card is fairly full with his MLB Network gig, and it’s doubtful he’s a long-term answer in the booth. But NESN is getting what it wanted: A character who is good company, at least in short bursts, and a talking totem of a glorious time in Red Sox history.
Tony Massarotti: If there were any lingering doubt that his “Here’s why this thing you like stinks” approach to co-hosting 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Felger and Massarotti” program is mostly shtick, his rational approach to color analysis should smother the last embers of that doubt.
There shouldn’t have been doubt anyway — Massarotti always has been calmer and more reasonable when hosting the Sports Hub’s “The Baseball Hour” than he is on Felger and Mazz. As frustrating as it may be sometimes, and as hypocritical as the disparate personalities can seem, the afternoon-drive program’s massive ratings validate their approach. There’s no reason for them to change until their ratings do, and after more than a decade, there are no signs of a decrease in their dominance
On the Red Sox broadcasts, Massarotti’s style serves as a reminder that before he became a radio personality, he was a longtime, well-respected Red Sox beat reporter and baseball columnist at the Herald (1994-2008) before joining Boston.com and the Globe for a year until the Sports Hub beckoned.
Because he’s not an ex-player and can’t come at it from an “I’ve been there” angle, he has the highest degree of difficulty in the job. He’s handled that well, leaning on those ex-beat reporter’s instincts to quickly identify angles and story lines.
Of course he is critical — on the Red Sox’ recent West Coast road trip, he let Chaim Bloom have it for his haphazard bullpen construction — but he isn’t negative for negativity’s sake like he can be on his radio show. He knows the game well, and his appreciation for baseball comes out. He sounds happy to be back at the ballpark.
Dennis Eckersley: Hard to believe, but Eck has been retired from baseball for 24 years — the same number of seasons he pitched in the majors in his Hall of Fame career. He started with NESN in 2003, mostly in a studio role, and eventually developed his own devoted following in the booth while always remaining respectful of Remy’s place. Over the previous couple of years, Remy and Eckersley’s banter and candor in the booth, with Dave O’Brien on play-by-play, was as insightful as baseball broadcasting gets.
There’s really not much new to add here. This remains the same: If there’s a more entertaining, enjoyable color analyst in baseball, I haven’t heard their voice. Think about it: the most prominent color analyst right now nationally is Fox Sports’ John Smoltz. Would anyone rather listen to him than Eck?
Eckersley is working in the range of 75 games this year. He should be able to have the schedule he wants for as long as he wants.