Announcers

Fox’ Joe Buck and John Smoltz deliver the goods on-air; They let Game #7 breathe

While anecdotes sometimes lack in the booth, Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal infuse good nuggets from their outside vantage points

Notes and Reflections on Fox’ coverage of stimulating Game #7 of the World Series:

Overview:

  • One last time in 2019, the Nationals popped off the mat resiliently. Their game #7 win brought a divided Washington together for a celebration on both sides of the aisle.
  • At the open and through the early part of the broadcast, Joe Buck resisted the temptation to dramatize game #7. Viewers knew why they put their sets on or found their devices. It was the ultimate game to determine a championship. Joe let the game come to him something that Al Michaels does remarkably well. Al will tell you that when he calls Super Bowls, he almost undersells it.
  • Buck was sharp and circumspect, always cautious before declaring, out or safe; certainly on Howie Kendrick’s home run that hit the foul pole and turned around the Nats’ fortunes.
  • As the game progressed, the natural tension in Buck’s voice was palpable. It wasn’t contrived or scripted. It was redolent of his dad, the larger than life Jack Buck.
  • The pitching breakdown by John Smoltz was strikingly insightful, a hallmark of his analysis
  • Still wish there would be more humor, the kind that Joe Garagiola brought, the storytelling that Vin Scully brought or the vigor of a Curt Gowdy.
  • Often, in fact, when the name Howie Kendrick was mentioned, my stream of consciousness triggered flashback-memories of Scully fondling Kendrick’s pronunciation in Howie’s years with the Dodgers.
  • There wasn’t a lot said about DC not winning a title since 1924 until the 9th inning. Joe mentioned that President Calvin Coolidge was in office at the time. Impertinent to the broadcast, yet of interest in retrospect, Silent Cal used the Senators’ success that fall to help his reelection. As historian Curt Smith wrote this past summer on these pages, “In the melee (after the Senators won), (Hall of Famer, Walter) Johnson found Coolidge, who shook his hand. Cal kept cool: ‘Nice work. I am glad you won.’ The White House was too. Few campaigns have so shrewdly tied politics to culture, Coolidge winning in a romp (over Democratic opponent John W. Davis).”
  • Smoltz who rarely emotes, said it was one of the great World Series he’s seen. He called it, “The Series of the unexpected.” Earlier, he noted how a game #7 will “feel like the longest game of your career”
  • It wasn’t until the 8th inning when the Nationals took a 4-2 lead that Fox took a camera shot of the fans in Washington watching the game together at Nationals Park.

Related morsels:

  • Made a note of the sponsors. Not the typical roster of advertisers you’d expect in a baseball game. There were spots for package goods companies like Downy, Tide and Colgate toothpaste, marketers whose advertising is targeted for women. Fox’ head of sports sales is Seth Winter who for years had the same job at NBC Sports. He and his team were busy selling spots much of yesterday.
  • Interesting to see what happens to the Series ratings. Last time Vin Scully did the Series on TV, 1988, NBC averaged some 35 million viewers. This year, going into game# 7,  Fox was averaging  about 11.5 million viewers. We’ll have to see whether the pulsating finish produced more eyeballs and a direly needed infusion of new, young fans. (Early overnight reports indicate that the game delivered over 21 million viewers.)
  • Don’t remember hearing much about Bryce Harper, the big one who got away, signing with Philly as a free agent before the ’19 season.
  • Kevin Burkhardt and gang were fun in the studio.
  • It was heartwarming to see and hear 94-year-old patriarch Ted Lerner sharp on the set. God bless him.

Detailed notes on game coverage

  • Smoltz, says slow curve in the first inning is an example of Zack Greinke having his emotions in check, which is hard to do in a championship game.
  • Buck comments in the 3rd, “Greinke looks like he is pitching in the middle of May.” He adds how both starting pitchers are former Cy Young award winners
  • Smoltz explains that Jose Altuve’s ability to get hits sometimes require soft contact. He has the knack to find the ball on pitches the hurler believes are otherwise impossible to hit.
  • Buck points out that when Trea Turner gets on base the Nationals usually win, when he doesn’t the Nationals tend to lose. (Turner was 0 for 4 at the plate.)
  • Both Smoltz and Buck acknowledge that Greinke has been phenomenal defensively because he finishes his delivery in a nimble position, enabling him to serve as an “extra infielder”
  • Buck and Smoltz discuss how George Springer doesn’t use data given to him on the stuff pitchers like to throw in given counts. He just wants to go up there, “See it and hit it.” It’s a big deal because the Astros are the most analytic-using team in the Majors.
  • Tom Verducci infused a nugget in-game that home plate umpire Jim Wolf is the brother of Randy Wolf a former teammate of Greinke on the Milwaukee Brewers. Jim is considered the best balls-strikes umpire in the game. Thus, he got the assignment in game #7 behind the plate. (Who remembers American League umpire Bill Haller and his late brother Tom, a Giants catcher?)
  • Buck says it’s the first World Series game seven since 2001 where both starting pitchers go at least 5 innings. Joe has seasoned baseball instincts but accedes to sharing arcane data that he’s given by the computer geeks alongside him. It takes him away from his natural gifts.
  • Good job by Buck asking Smoltz whether the Astros’ Zack Greinke reminded him of his ex-Braves teammate Greg Maddux at reading hitters.
  • Fox cameras show Dave Martinez and Patrick Corbin discussing who will pitch in the 9th. Viewers see Corbin laughing in the dugout. Smoltz: “When a guy chuckles under stress, it means he’s nervous.” 
  • At that point, Smoltz alertly says that reliever Daniel Hudson had been waiting and warming in the pen for more than two innings and that he’s dutifully been getting ready. It was something that manager Martinez had to seriously consider. Hudson pitched the ninth after Corbin’s standout three-inning performance.
  • Buck and Smoltz speculated why Gerrit Cole wasn’t the first pitcher out of the bullpen for the Astros. He never made a relief appearance in the Majors or Minors, so Manager A. J. Hinch didn’t want to bring him in during an inning with a runner on base.
  • With regard to the big Kendrick homer, Smoltz explained that he stayed on the ball and tried to hit it the opposite way. Had he tried to pull it, he would never have been able to hit one.
  • Ken Rosenthal, who too sprinkled in comments from his vantage point outside the booth, said he believed Roberto Osuna should have been the pitcher to come in not Will Harris, off whom Kendrick homered.
  • Smoltz notes how Washington reliever Patrick Corbin’s fastball is critical to his success. If it’s effective and his slider is too, he will be unhittable. The Hall of Famer was on the money.
  • Buck believes the narrative after Game #7 will be why didn’t the Astros go to Gerrit Cole in the bullpen instead of other relievers.

 

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

Brian Seitz
Brian Seitz

Brian Seitz is a student at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and hopes to pursue a career as a sportswriter.

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Michael Green
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I share your feelings about the impressive job they did. I’ll throw in some notes that nobody should care about! –I think the two most influential baseball broadcasters of their generation were Vin Scully and Jack Buck, and Joe Buck obviously learned a lot from both of them. He knows when to shut up, bless him. –It was interesting that they did note a strike Jim Wolf called that, according to the visual that Fox uses, was not a strike. Except that the strike zone is less clearly defined than most people think it is, and it looked to me… Read more »

Barry Kipnis
Member

John Smoltz knows personally how it feels to pitch a game 7 in the WS, having done that himself vs. the Twins in 1991 – and pitching 7 1/3 shutout innings. Besides the “second-guess” whether to go to Osuna over Cole or Harris in relief of Greinke, there was much talk (maybe more so) about Hinch leaving Grienke in the game since he had only given up 2 hits to that point, albeit one was Rendon’s HR (the NL RBI champ) followed by a walk to the dangerous Juan Soto, but had thrown only 80 pitches and appeared in control… Read more »

Myron Rushetzky
Guest

I am not impressed by Joe Buck. IMHO he embellishes, he exaggerates. But then again, Fox Sports always over-produces. He is overrated. John Smoltz is a HOF pitcher who provides HOF-worthy analysis.