I’m not sure what has been the most eventful aspect of Fox’s World Series coverage through two games, but there is no shortage of candidates and considerations.
It’s telling that so much has gone on that the record-setting length of the opener — the Royals won the longest Game 1 in history, 5-4, in 14 innings and 5 hours and 9 minutes — barely registered any buzz.
It’s understandable, too. There has been so much — let’s say unexpected — about Fox’s broadcasts that the actual game (at least if you have no rooting interest) sometimes feels like a secondary plot.
This vibe started early, when the Fox production truck lost power during Tuesday’s opener for nearly a half-hour. That created some awkward moments (anchor Dan O’Toole in the Fox Sports studio seem bewildered when initially charged with explaining what had happened) and an eventual resolution that proved all too temporary.
While Fox scrambled to repair the problem that had left play-by-play voice Joe Buck and analysts Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci silent, Fox switched to the MLB International feed, with Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz. I say this as someone who likes Buck and Verducci: The international feed was a significant and welcome upgrade.
In case your powers of deduction are on the fritz, I’ll explain: Reynolds was nowhere to be found, and that was a temporary relief. He is an affable man but an insufferable analyst, one prone to hyperbole and non sequiturs that stem from an old-school approach thinly veiling a lack of curiosity about baseball’s newer trends.
He spouted a prime mind-bending Haroldism during Game 2, noting that Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes reminded him of Willie Mays. It’s not so much that he said it. It’s that he meant it. Have I mentioned that Reynolds has won more Sports Emmys than Charles Barkley? It’s a cruel and unfair world, people.
The eclectic studio team Fox has assembled offers much more enjoyable analysis before and after the game than Reynolds is capable of during the action.
Pete Rose, whose awkwardness on camera has made him something of a social media phenomenon, comes across as the black-sheep uncle who is rarely talked about but occasionally encountered in random corners of Las Vegas.
Who knew that would make for such amusing television? Yet it does, especially when bantering with Frank Thomas (a much-improved analyst who chuckles through his exasperation with Rose) as well as ex-players Raul Ibanez and C.J. Nitkowski, who have each appeared on one game broadcast so far and are both easygoing, engaging talkers.
If Rose isn’t the star of the show (almost in spite of himself), then it is Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who has joined the aforementioned analysts as well as host Kevin Burkhardt in the studio.
What a revelation he has been. A-Rod is an excellent analyst, especially for a novice filling the designated “active player” role on the set. He’s articulate, self-deprecating, and uses knowledge gleaned from competing against many of the Royals and Mets to offer sharp but concise observations. He’s everything the rigid Cal Ripken Jr. was supposed to be for TBS but was not.
Rodriguez, who is 40, said on a conference call this week that a career on television isn’t in his post-playing plans right now. I suppose since he’s made more than $375 million in his career he can afford to be vague with his future plans. Here’s hoping he reconsiders, and social media interactions have suggested a consensus of viewers do too, which is rather remarkable. Given how easy it has been to vilify Rodriguez during his career, he must truly be excellent on television for so many viewers to actually acknowledge as much.
The Fox broadcasts haven’t been all fun and games (and the occasional power outage). The network received some criticism when it chose not to inform viewers during Game 1 that Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez’s father, Daniel, had died earlier in the day. There were conflicting reports as to whether Volquez had received the news, which had been reported by the Associated Press and ESPN, before the game. It was unavoidable on social media.
Volquez’s family had reportedly asked that he not be told. After consulting with the Royals’ public relations staff, Fox decided to heed the wishes. Reporter Ken Rosenthal explained the decision during the game with two tweets, noting that the network was aware of the reports but explaining with a tweet at 9:15 p.m.: “Broadcast generally on in clubhouse. Conflicting reports on whether Volquez knows. We are not taking chance he would find out through us.”
Fox took some grief for choosing not to report the story until, ultimately, the eighth inning, when Volquez had left the game. The suggestion was that it had not heeded its journalistic duty. Perhaps there’s something to that, but given that Fox is typically a network that cannot resist a compelling story line — and sometimes cannot resist exaggerating one — it seems to me the network deserves credit for its delicate and compassionate handling of Volquez’s situation.
The player’s father died. He may or may not have known. Kudos to Fox for resisting any temptation to calculatedly emphasize such a sad and personal moment.
A baseball telecast is hardly a bastion for hard-hitting journalism beyond informing viewers of the minutiae and strategies of the game. It is entertainment above all else.
So far, Fox’s broadcasts, by design but also frequently for reasons beyond their control, have at least been a welcome form of that. Haroldisms excepted, of course.