Even after the Braves pulled their annual October disappearing act losing a heartbreaking one-game playoff to the Cards, Atlanta continues to shine in MLB's postseason thanks to TBS' terrific coverage of the League Division Series games.
It all starts with the studio team in the A: Matt Winer, Dennis Eckersley, and David Wells who deliver "On-Deck presented by Dodge Dart." While Winer plays straight man, former pitchers Wells and Eckersley dish and verbally jostle like two smartass guys at the end of the bar. Their anecdotes are endlessly entertaining, as is the insight they bring to the game. Killing time during a rain delay, Wells, a former Baltimore Oriole and former New York Yankee, discussed the rivalry—which may pale in comparison to Sox/Yanks (Wells also pitched for Boston) but burns just as hot in the postseason. Eckersley, on the other hand, shared his personal reflections of his most infamous postseason moment: giving up a game-winning homer to hobbled Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series vs. the Dodgers. Despite a brilliant career, Eckersley now embraces the fact that this time of year, his dinger is the climax of every dramatic postseason highlights package. Even as Eckersley was dropping Kung Fu/Grasshopper-style wisdom about accepting his Nietzchean fate to relive this moment in perpetuity, Wells saw fit to comment on how uncomfortable Eck's old school nut-huggers look. Pull up a stool, watch and learn.
In the booth, the three-man team handling the Orioles/Yankees series bears a strong Atlanta pedigree: Ernie Johnson, Jr. (son of late Braves broadcaster) handles the play-by-play, with color from Braves Hall of Famer John Smoltz, joined by Iron Man Cal Ripken.
Compared to the freewheeling loose cannons back in the studio, Smoltz and Ripken are buttoned down, and consummate professionals—with the exception of Smoltzey's tendency to pepper the dialogue with groan-inducing puns.
The inside baseball stuff Smoltz and Ripken discuss is far more pertinent than the nonsense Fox's Joe Buck and dottering sidekick Tim McCarver dish up. While the game has passed McCarver by, Smotlz and Ripken effortlessly describe scenarios, discuss strategy, and forecast pitches. Ernie Johnson asks pointed questions, tosses asides, and calls a smooth game, unlike Fox gasbag Joe Buck who hurls himself into every syllable like he's Russ Hodges calling the shot heard round the world.
Often, folks complain that national announcers favor one team over another. This is especially challenging when a lifelong Oriole like Ripken is covering his former team, but his insights, knowledge and professionalism carry the day. In addition, having played against and along side (in All Star games) on the field, he is a peer of Yankees Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, both of whom site Cal as a mentor. He references personal conversations he's had with the stars, while maintaining enough distance to critique their on-field performances.
NY Daily News' Bob Raissman writes:
For such a limited time working together, the three voices had major chemical balance. Their roles are defined. And while Smoltz is a mastermind when it comes to predicting what a pitcher will do — he had a great night thinking along with the brilliant CC Sabathia — he also provides a unique perspective on the emotional side of the game.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/cal-ripken-jr-a-hit-behind-mike-article-1.1177356#ixzz28ndWNKEB
In addition to praise for the booth ("the broadcast team of Ernie Johnson on play by play and Cal Ripken and John Smoltz as analysts is a winner") Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik, wearing his orange-and-black heart on his sleeve, compliments the production team behind-the-scenes:
What I really liked Sunday was the effort by the camera persons and the director to allow viewers to feel some of the emotion at the park.
When Alex Rodriguez struck out in the first inning and wheeled on the home plate ump because he didn't like the call, the director took us instantly from A-Rod to the umpire up into the stands alongside home plate to show us in close-up the faces of the Orioles fans rising to their feet. We were close enough to read see some of them yelling, "sit down," to Rodriguez. One or two might have been a little more graphic.
But it was the perfect extension of what I was doing in front of my TV at home as I saw A-Rod start to complain about the call. I came out of my seat and yelled at him to quit crying.
I can't recall the last time I felt so connected to a TV sports moment. But going that extra step and moving the cameras into the stands for close-ups of the fans rather than just holding it on A-Rod and umpire was a brilliant directorial choice.
From that point on, TBS had me in its pocket. I trusted myself to the director, producers and the team in the booth, and I never felt they let me down.
High praise indeed.
The X factor, of course, is Craig Sager, who is Turner's version of former Howard Stern lackey Stuttering John, with the brass balls to ask anyone anything anytime. Best known for his baseketball coverage on TNT, Sager's jumped from knowing drama to being very funny as he unleashes havoc on the diamond. If you are an athlete and a clown dressed like he's ready to host "Let's Mack a Deal" is coming at you with the mic...run.
Here's a great sequence of Sager and Phil Jackson clips:
He's offscreen in this one—but it's worth sticking around for Charles Barkely's assessment of Sager:
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