The topic for Friday’s weekly media column is Tim McCarver’s Ford C. Frick Award recognition by the Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday — just the second time in 36 years that an analyst has been recognized with the honor that is usually given to a local market play-by-play legend.
At a time when when viewer consumption of the game changes seemingly on a year-to-year basis, we talked to Vin Scully on Wednesday to get this thoughts about how TV baseball telecasts these days put far more focus on the analyst’s contributions. Viewers can supposedly keep up with what’s happening, along with the replays, by the constant on-screen graphics. The play-by-play man is reduced to putting captions on pictures instead of describing what he sees.
As more consumers follow games with even more prolific graphic presentations on the Internet, iPhones or iPads, will play-by-play be something of a lost art in future Frick Award ceremonies?
“I wouldn’t be selfish to say it, but I sure hope not,” said Scully, the 1982 Frick Award winner for his work with the Dodgers, both in L.A. and Brooklyn, as well as on NBC.
Scully stands by the Red Barber philosophy of having one voice in the booth narrate for radio or TV. He says he saw the trend of analysts taking over came back in the 1970s, when he was asked by ABC producer Chuck Howard if he’d be interested in becoming the first play-by-play man on “Monday Night Football.”
“He said it was going to be the hottest thing on TV — and he was right,” said Scully.
Scully declined, in part, because “the more I thought about it, I realized it would conflict with the Dodgers’ schedule.” But another reason he passed, he said, had to do with how he saw the play-by-play man’s role being diluted.
Keith Jackson ended up with the job for the first year of “MNF” in the debut year of 1970, with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith as the analysts. Frank Gifford replaced Jackson in 1971 and stayed on play-by-play until 1985, when Al Michaels came in, and Gifford moved to an analyst until 1997.
“Because of how football was going to be televised, you’d have one or two analysts now in the booth,” Scully said. “I had been doing games with Jim Brown on one side and George Allen on the other, and there were times I wasn’t sure, ‘Do I turn to him first for an opinion?'”
Scully said the emergence of John Madden, who he had as a partner at CBS, “really put the analyst front and center. And baseball picked up on that. The whole business changed in my opinion because of the way ‘Monday Night Football’ did it.”
Change, maybe not for the better, as far as how local baseball broadcasts were influenced by the national presentation.
“It’s my personal opinion, but more local teams have been taken down this primrose path of trying to be more like the networks,” Scully continued. “They see the network come in, do one game with all their announcers, and they think, ‘If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.’ But they forget the networks are just show biz. The local broadcast isn’t interested in that. They put a face on the day-to-day stories. That’s a big difference.
“In some ways, the local teams make the mistake of loading up with analysts and announcers. But then, I’m old school.”