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Sports media: Baseball’s the best; here’s how to make it better — on TV

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I love baseball.

I buy the MLB.TV package and watch games I have no connection to. I play fantasy baseball. Family vacations must be in cities that have a major-league team. I’d watch games — and keep score — all afternoon and night if I didn’t have, you know, a life.

When I was a kid, I’d video-tape every baseball game I attended so that if something crazy or significant happened, I could see it again and hear how the announcers described it. Or I’d just re-watch the game. Baseball broadcasts are important to me because most of my TV viewing from March to October is spent on them. In fact, if I could quantify my lifetime TV viewing, baseball games would rank first.

So when I’m watching a ballgame, I have critical eyes and ears. You might have read my rants on WGN’s baseball graphics in the last year, and thankfully the powers that be changed their score bug this season. But there’s more to be done – and not done – to make baseball broadcasts better.

Take it ‘inside’: Nowadays, the phrase “inside baseball” has nothing to do with the game. A subject is “inside baseball” if it’s appreciated by a small audience and is so intricate that it would draw blank stares from others.

But the term was derived from baseball. It dates to the 1890s, according to Merriam-Webster, originally referring to a style of play that relied on bunting and stealing rather than home runs. The phrase soon was used in reference to inside knowledge of the game before it transcended the sport.

Broadcasts need to be even more “inside baseball,” no matter how minute the detail. Sabermetrics come in handy here. Use them to set up situations and explain probability. Define the popular terms and why they’re important. Don’t turn the broadcast into a math class, but occasional overviews would help.

Not everyone is into analytics, so tell viewers what’s happening that they’re not seeing. Explain what goes on between pitches. Use video overlays to show the difference in pitch types and explain how they’re thrown. Explain how a batter can decipher pitches in seconds.

<em>Long before Tony Romo was predicting plays on football broadcasts, White Sox analyst Steve Stone (right, with Jason Benetti) was calling pitches in baseball games. NBC Sports Chicago</em>
Long before Tony Romo was predicting plays on football broadcasts, White Sox analyst Steve Stone (right, with Jason Benetti) was calling pitches in baseball games. NBC Sports Chicago

Tony Romo took the football-broadcast world by storm predicting plays, but White Sox analyst Steve Stone was predicting pitches decades ago. We need more of that, especially from former pitchers in the booth. And if they’re wrong, they could explain what the thought process might have been. It would create more discussion, which beats reciting the out-of-town scoreboard.

You’ve got me for three hours. Overload me with information.

Teach the kids: One phrase that has stuck with me from my baseball viewing as a kid is Stone saying, “For all you youngsters out there …” before imparting some wisdom. It was like a cue to listen closely because what he was about to say could help on the Little League field.

Kids aren’t watching baseball like they used to, so give them a reason to, particularly the ones playing the game. Have a demonstration during the broadcast or explain a drill. It might even pique the interest of adult coaches in the audience.

Make it exciting: I have a memory of Harry Caray calling a first-inning run like it had won the game. The Cubs were scuffling and needed a good start, and Mark Grace provided it by scoring on a wild pitch, then celebrating. Caray got caught up in the moment and went berserk. It was fantastic.

Was it over the top? Sure. But I’ll take that over a mundane call any day. Hawk Harrelson was the same way for the White Sox.

I understand these were unique announcers and there are 162 games and all that. But to me, game broadcasts have two purposes: teach and entertain. The analyst better teach, and the play-by-play voice better entertain.

It’s about the game: I watch baseball games to watch the game. ESPN sometimes tries to show you anything but. They’ll run pre-taped interviews during the game that cuts the screen in half and silences the announcers. Not only is my picture smaller, but I’ve lost any analysis of what’s going on. Those interviews are for pregame shows. Stick with the game.

Spiegel to host Score’s ‘Hit & Run’

Matt Spiegel takes over as host of The Score’s weekly baseball show “Hit & Run,” which airs at 9 a.m. Sundays. Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner had held the spot for the last 10 years. Spiegel will have rotating co-hosts, starting with former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster this week.

Rozner was an outstanding host, having covered baseball for nearly 35 years. But Spiegel is one of the best baseball talkers at the station, and he should have no problem handling a revolving door of hosts, considering that was his lot during his run as midday host. It makes for a perfect run-up to the Cubs game that generally follows.

White Sox home-opener coverage

NBC Sports Chicago will air the Sox’ home opener Friday. Coverage begins at noon with an expanded “White Sox Pregame Live” from Guaranteed Rate Field, where Chuck Garfien will be joined by Ozzie Guillen and Bill Melton. With Harrelson in retirement, Jason Benetti will call his first Sox home opener in his fourth season with the team.

Rose documentary premiere

“Pooh: The Derrick Rose Story” will premiere at 6 p.m. Thursday on Stadium and WatchStadium.com/Live. The film features never-seen footage of Rose, who was an executive producer of the project. Stadium also will air a 30-minute pre-show at 5:30 p.m. and follow the film with a one-hour post-show at 8.