Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fox Hits Home Run with All-Star Game Telecast/Cubs, Sox outlook

This one didn't count, but count the 2017 Baseball All-Star game among those that were very enjoyable to watch.   Fox was able to do things this year it couldn't in the past because the game counted.

In the past (since the 2002 tie in Milwaukee) the winning league took home field advantage in the World Series.  Ludicrous on so many levels. Enter new commissioner Rob Manfred and order was restored and the game went back to its original roots as an exhibition game. 

With so many young "faces of the game" on display, Fox was able to take us into their livelihoods while actually on the field.  Play-by-play man Joe Buck and analyst John Smoltz conducted interviews with Astros outfielder George Springer while he played left field and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper while he patrolled right in separate innings.  What followed was awesome. 

While interviewing Springer, normally a centerfielder for the Astros, the crew asked him about the difference between CF and LF.  Then with Giancarlo Stanton at the plate Buck deadpanned, "You better back up," to Springer who followed with “That’s my plan."  Buck then asked Springer if he gets amped up when a power hitter comes up to bat, "Yeah, and I'm about 200, 300 feet away." 

The Harper interview was even better.  Harper has been portrayed by some as a "spoiled brat" type player, but he embraced the time and showed well for himself.  He had a fun time with the "imposition" during the game.  Buck said something to the effect of "I'll bet you're good at multi-tasking", then the conversation shifted from baseball to the NFL.  Of course Buck is the lead voice of the NFL on Fox, so Harper said he felt like he was "commentating on the NFL Network" and shifted the talk to his team, the Dallas Cowboys.  "Hey Joe how's Dak (Prescott) going to be this year?", Buck then waxed poetic on the Cowboys quarterback and team. A pretty cool moment during a baseball game.
Bryce Harper interviewed on Fox in game (Courtesy Fox Sports)

Getting into this decade, the folks at Fox with MLB's blessing took to Facebook Live for an inning. Buck and Smoltz were on camera in the booth during the 5th inning.  Not sure if the casual fan enjoyed the look in, but I found it very interesting as a veteran of MLB booths.  The announce team was informed by their associate in the booth that after the inning they would be on camera on Fox.  Smoltz asked if they needed to wear their sport coats, and I think Buck said he 'had to" because his tie was so short. 

Fox tried to force a couple of things that maybe they should re-think for next year.  The interviews with the lead-off hitters for each team, Charlie Blackmon for the NL and Jose Altuve for the AL were uninformative and just not worth the effort to me.  Also the whole A-Rod on the field interviewing the National League infield seemed forced and didn't give me much.
Rodriguez interviews Arenado
(Courtesy Fox Sports)

There was a strange moment in the game.  Nelson Cruz came to the plate and took out his cellphone and asked National League catcher Yadier Molina to take a picture of the Mariners DH and home plate umpire Joe West.  Why? Because he could, "(MLB) didn't say I can't have a cell phone on the field so," Cruz said on Fox. "I'm a big fan of Joe West. He's been around for a while. I was like, I have to do this." West wouldn't have been my first choice for a photo op but oh well.
Cruz and West pose for picture in 6th inning (Courtesy Fox Sports)

Speaking of West, he had to be going out of his mind during this game.  The "inning breaks" seemed like they were double what a normal MLB game would be.  West has notoriously been a vocal critic of how long games take, yet he does nothing about it when umpiring a game.  Hmm.

Other quick thoughts about the game:
- What the heck was Yadier Molina thinking? I agree with Buck, it looked like he ripped off C3PO before the game.
Yadier Molina (Courtesy USA Today)

- The tribute to the Latin Hall of Fame baseball players was very cool.

- Is it me, or does Fox always seem to have too much "crowd noise" when doing interviews? Was very hard to hear some of the in game interviews handled from the booth.

- Glad to see that Commissioner Manfred is not opposed to bringing the game into this century and agreed to all the things Fox wanted to do and made sure this game was an exhibition as intended.

Why are the ratings so poor for the All-Star Game?
Ratings were a little better than last year's telecast but not by a whole lot.  Baseball has really harmed itself in the All-Star game ratings game and popularity.  What I mean by that is with the advent of Inter-league Play it's no longer a "novelty" to see teams from the opposite league in which you root for. Accessibility has also hurt the popularity of the game. It's not over saturation, but now you can subscribe to "Extra innings" or "" and see pretty much every game played in a baseball season.  That wasn't the case obviously when the All-Star game was a highly rated, must watch option.

Cubs/White Sox 2nd half outlook
It's been a strange first half for the Chicago baseball teams this year.  The Cubs have not been able to put anything together consistently and find themselves 5 and a half games back in the awful NL Central Division at the break.  The White Sox have an awful record, but the rebuild is continuing with some flashes of hope for the future.

For those that thought this year would be a "cake walk", you're finding out how wrong you were now. Last season was magical, this has been, well interesting.  The Cubs haven't won back-to-back games since winning 3 in a row June 18-20 at Wrigley Field.  The combination of a lack of starting pitching and consistent offense has spelled doom over the course of the first half.

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle here and the law of averages would tell you that things will brighten a bit in the 2nd half especially for the starters with the return of Kyle Hendricks.  For me, I'd like to see Joe Maddon figure out a way to let the young players like Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Javier Baez more regular playing time.  The platoon system with Baez and Russell isn't working.  Albert Almora Jr also needs to play a lot more than he is.

Cubs will make a deadline deal to try and acquire a controllable starting pitcher, the price will likely be Schwarber.

Stay the course.  Things are going well with the rebuild. Fans are getting a chance to see the future of the club and it looks good.  Yoan Moncada hasn't even been up yet and there's some good arms in the farm system that will be along sooner rather than later.   38-49 sounds bad and it is, but in this case, the intensity the team plays with and the never surrender attitude instilled by Ricky Renteria makes it easier to take.

The Sox youngsters are being given the chance to succeed and fail at the big league level, both are critically important for their development as they move along.   Matt Davidson is showing power, Yolmer Sanchez is playing 2B well and providing some offense, and Carlos Rodon has looked better each time out after starting the year on the disabled list.

Next for the Sox is making a good deal for Jose Quintana.  He may wind up with the Astros after all is said and done and would bring back a nice bounty of young talent. 

Andy Masur is a veteran MLB play-by-play announcer, having worked with the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs broadcast teams. 

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