Way back, the Mid-Summer Classic might have meant Willie Mays against Mickey Mantle or Roberto Clemente against Al Kaline. Wins and losses were taken to heart. Staunch baseball fans rooted hard for one league over the other. For example, Detroiters were strong American League fans and Pittsburghers rooted for their brethren National Leaguers.
It’s a different baseball world, punctured over the last couple decades by interleague play. The appeal of the traditional All-Star Game has worn off. It’s turned into no more than a showcase or exhibition, similar to the those produced by the NHL and NBA.
Free agency and easy access have also tempered League allegiances, sentimentality and fan fervency.
Baseball responded with the Home Run Derby. Played as part of the All-Star festivities, it has developed into more of a subject of conversation than the game itself.
So Fox was challenged Tuesday to present its game coverage in as stimulating a fashion as Monday night’s Home Run Derby was on ESPN. The view here is that Fox did a nice job.
The NBA has LeBron James, the NFL has Tom Brady and MLB has Mike Trout. But unfortunately, many are unaware of Trout’s greatness. Perhaps it’s because baseball is marketed as a team game.
It’s been suggested that the MLB fathers and the players themselves are reluctant to exalt players by extolling their individual virtues. Last night, Fox and MLB did; focusing on personal achievement and the human element. The network and the commissioner’s office used the primetime opportunity to demonstrate what makes those under the caps tick.
The game served as no more than a backdrop to get the stars to smile, kibitz, rib and demonstrate idiosyncratic traits and characteristics.
For at least one night, Fox transformed Joe Buck’s role from strict play-by-player to a master of ceremonies for some red carpet gala. Buck had to juggle lots of balls all night; keep up with the game, engage his booth partner, John Smoltz and field reporters Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci. Joe was asked to interact with players not only one-on-one, but sometimes a couple at a time. He needed to go from upbeat to somber, asking for a moment of silence for Angels’ pitcher Tyler Skaags who died at age 27 and later drive support for baseball’s cancer charity.
A collection of thoughts:
- For a game that lacked intensity and gripping competitiveness, Fox and MLB pulled it off. The production was solid and innovative.
- Off the field references reached viewers’ hearts, whether it was Skaggs’ untimely death or the Stand up to Cancer moment during the game, honoring Indians’ pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who is currently battling the disease.
- The game production started with a bang. Leadoff batter Freddie Freeman was miked up and he interacted with Buck. It was a flashpoint for traditional baseball fans, a unique moment for others and a terrific experience for viewers.
- The microphones on players continued throughout the night and for the most part functioned smoothly. For a game whose fan appeal has diminished, the focus on player personalities struck a nerve.
- Challenged by having to perform a constant juggling act, Buck presided nimbly.
- Ken Rosenthal was solid in his few appearances. His interview with Mike Trout in the first inning was well done. The writer and broadcaster elicited some personality from the game’s best player.
- Joe Buck was typically short cadenced. Last night, he was less the conventional baseball voice and more a track and field announcer, hopping around, keeping up with tons going on. In an All-Star game where pitchers change continually and pinch hitters pop into the batter’s box all night, Buck adroitly stayed on top of most everything. He made sure to point out that each team was able to identify one player who would be allowed back in the game once he left.
- Buck and Smoltz were also up to the task of summarizing individual player accomplishments through the first half of the season.
- Although a bit wordy at times, Smoltz talked about the intricacies of the game in a way only a Hall of Famer could. Whether it was commenting on the significant differences between Cody Bellinger and Nolan Arenado in approaches at the plate or why Luis Castillo’s change up is as effective as it is, the former Brave star provided quality instructional commentary and insight.
- Best known for his strong NFL calls, Buck made last night’s All-Star event feel less like an exhibition through his natural big game voice. He showed again that he can seamlessly transition from conversationalist to play-by-play announcer when on the field developments merited it.
- All those on the broadcast, including Verducci and Rosenthal, covered first half storylines well and suggested potential developments that might occur in the second half of the season, like the Yankees adding a starting pitcher to their rotation through a trade or the Indians continuing their recent hot streak.
- Back to the live player interviews, there are those who will say that they were cheesy or at times lacked substance. But the feature was something necessary in a game whose results mean little.
- No, in-game player interviews should not be used in regular season games! The constant lightheartedness diminishes the true competitive spirit when the results do matter and are on the line. Still, last night’s genuine reactions were fresh, novel and fun to watch.
- All the happenings, however they’re labeled, even gimmicky, were well done overall, It meant that Buck and Smoltz had to fill less time with inane fluff.