In 2006 when TBS signed its contract to take over most of the MLB Postseason, it was coming in at a time when ESPN and Fox were reducing their commitments. ESPN was starting its big $1 billion/year contract for Monday Night Football. Fox which was wrapping up its contract airing 3-6 League Division Series games, both LCS and the World Series, wanted to cut back on the interruptions to its primetime schedule.
In came TBS which took all tiebreaking games, all of the League Division Series and one League Championship Series. As this was happening, TBS would end its long-time relationship with the Atlanta MLB team in 2007 and begin a 26 regular season game Sunday afternoon schedule the following year. And while TBS would continue its baseball tradition, it would become a national baseball channel instead focusing on one team.
TBS began with exclusive coverage of the League Division Series and one League Championship Series. In 2012, Turner picked up the new Wild Card play-in games while giving two LDS games to MLB Network.
With Turner Sports’ current contract ending as the National League Championship Series winds down, it will continue carrying the MLB, but with a reduced regular season schedule (13 games), one Wild Card Game alternating leagues with ESPN, two League Division Series again alternating leagues this time with Fox Sports 1 and one League Championship Series alternating with Fox as its has done since 2007.
TBS tried some things like the Hot Corner, an online companion to live action. It got over a million views during the time it was streamed in 2007, but it never ran again. It transitioned to Postseason.TV which allowed fans to see alternate angles and hear the TBS calls, but not the actual feeds.
There were some good things about TBS’ coverage and some bad things. And when they were bad, they were REALLY bad.
Let’s take a look at some of the aspects of TBS’ MLB Posteason coverage.
TBS saved its best studio team for the last year of this contract. Keith Olbermann, Tom Verducci and Pedro Martinez formed the nucleus of a very strong tandem and whether they were joined by Adam Jones, Gary Sheffield or Dirk Hayhurst, TBS was very good in 2013. Olbermann is in his element talking baseball and putting Verducci next to him was a very good move. Pedro was nervous at the beginning, but has become more comfortable and his “Who’s Your Daddy” segment turned out to be a big success.
Any studio show Turner Sports produces is directly compared to the great Inside the NBA and while the MLB studio has paled, this year with Olbermann as host has been a huge success. Yes, the team of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal is leap years ahead of other studio shows, but Turner has to be given credit for blowing up its studio from past years and retooling in 2013. It’s unfortunate that Olbermann may just be a one-year rental for TBS as Keith does have his nightly ESPN2 duties, but if Turner and ESPN can come to an agreement for next year as there is an option for him to return in 2014, it would be beneficial to the viewers.
Ernie Johnson hosted the first three years from 2007-09 and Matt Winer took over in 2010 through 2012. Both men did a good job in hosting the studio, but there were times when the cast of analysts failed them. A lot of it had to do with Turner not having a studio presence during the regular season except for the All-Star Game Selection Show and the last week of the season.
Turner has used a myriad of analysts here from Cal Ripken, Jr., Ron Darling, David Wells, Frank Thomas to Dennis Eckersley. They went from decent with Eck to sluggish with Cal.
Overall, a mixed bag for the studio. We give the Turner studio from 2007-2012 a C. The studio for this season gets an A minus.
With Turner having 12-20 League Division Series in the first five years of the contract to two Wild Cards and 10-18 LDS games in the last two years, TBS needed to utilize four play-by-play men to cover all of the series. When it aired Atlanta in the first year of the contract, it was strange we did not see TV voice Skip Caray or Pete Van Wieren, but TBS chose to go in a different direction. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. The problem was Turner did not have a bona fide number one announcer for the MLB Postseason when it began and it still doesn’t now. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Let’s go over the announcers in three categories, Good, Decent and Painful.
Brian Anderson – Joining the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007 and tapped by TBS to join its coverage a year later, he became the “B” announcer for the network. In 2011, he replaced Ernie Johnson on the “A” team as Johnson cared for his son that season. Anderson is very good and doesn’t try to go overboard in calling the games. Eventually, he would call the bulk of the regular season games on TBS and become one of the trusted voices for Turner on the NCAA Tournament as well. A very good all-around announcer and before he joined the Brewers broadcast team, Anderson was calling the PGA Tour for Golf Channel. Expect Anderson to return next season for Turner’s coverage.
Don Orsillo – Don has only called the postseason for Turner and was offered a job by the network last season to join them full-time. However, he turned it down to remain the TV voice of the Boston Red Sox on NESN a job he has held since 2001. Orsillo is the answer to a trivia question. With Joe Simpson, he called the one game tiebreaker game in 2007 for the National League Wild Card kicking off TBS’ postseason coverage under this contract. For most of his Turner tenure, he worked with Buck Martinez, but this year, he was teamed with his NESN partner, Dennis Eckersley along with Martinez in calling the Detroit-Oakland series. Don is quite good, but it appears that his time in calling the MLB Postseason is over after this season.
Victor Rojas – Victor was only used in the 2011 season calling the Arizona-Milwaukee NLDS series. The TV voice of the Angels of Anaheim for Fox Sports West could have easily replaced Dick Stockton and Turner’s coverage would have been elevated for 2012 and 2013, but alas, it was not to be.
Ernie Johnson – He’s a better studio host than he is a play-by-play man. He has improved since being named as the lead play-by-play man for TBS. Johnson does call a handful of regular season games before doing the postseason and in 2011, called some Atlanta games on Peachtree TV before Turner handed all of the rights to Fox. Still, the inexperience in calling baseball shows at times and it hurts that TBS still doesn’t have a legit Number One announcer. Expect EJ to return in 2014. He’s Turner’s guy.
Ted Robinson – Primarily known for tennis, Olympics and being the Voice of the San Francisco 49ers, Robinson does have a baseball background having called the Minnesota Twins, New York Mets and Oakland A’s. He was tapped by TBS to call the Red Sox-Angels ALDS series in 2007 and did not return after that. The series ended in a sweep and it was too bad that Ted did not do any work for TBS after 2007, but his 49ers duties have precluded that.
Chip Caray – I can make comparisons to his grandfather, Harry, a Hall of Famer, or his father Skip, a revered announcer in Atlanta, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll go over Caray’s body of work from 2007 to 2009. His work on TBS included “Line drive! Base hit! Caught out there!” or “FISTED.” It was horrible. After tremendous criticism from fans, bloggers and sports media writers alike, TBS removed Caray from its Postseason coverage and replaced him with Ernie Johnson.
Caray was awful. He showed a lack of understanding of the American League when he called the Yankees-Cleveland series in 2007 and again during the Twins-Yankees series in 2009. Why Turner chose him to be its “A” announcer for the MLB Postseason is still unknown to this day.
Dick Stockton – Stockton has been a Turner Sports mainstay dating back to 1995 when he joined TNT to call the NBA. Since 2007, he along with Don Orsillo are the only play-by-play announcers to work the entire span of this current contract. And since 2010, he has been calling regular season MLB games on TBS.
Dick used to be one of the best all-around announcers calling MLB, NBA, NCAA Tournament, NFL and the Olympics either for CBS, Fox, NBC and of course, Turner. Over the last ten years, the slippage has been very noticeable. Stockton used to call Red Sox games for WSBK-TV in the 1970′s and MLB for CBS in the early 1990′s then on Fox since 1996. He’s been missing a lot of the action and malapropisms have become more commonplace. It’s really sad because Stockton was once one of the best. It’s probable that he won’t return on Turner’s coverage, but we may see him on Fox Sports 1 next season.
Turner has used Ron Darling and John Smoltz as their main analysts over the years, but this year, chose to hang its hat on Darling as Smoltz was assigned to the “B” announcing team. Since 2007, Turner has used a bevy of analysts including Bob Brenly, Buck Martinez, Harold Reynolds, Joe Simpson and Steve Stone. This season, Dennis Eckersley and Cal Ripken left the studio and were used as game analysts. Let’s take a look.
Ron Darling – Coming over from SNY as a co-analyst on the New York Mets, Darling has become the Number 1 analyst for TBS. Signed to a long-term deal this year, he’ll be the main guy for TBS’ coverage for several seasons. While he has been less outspoken which has made him beloved in New York, Darling still shows signs of brilliance. I would prefer John Smoltz as the main TBS analyst, but that’s me. Darling has served as a studio analyst and then a game analyst on postseason coverage and has been rewarded with the main analyst role.
Dennis Eckersley — This was his first year as a game analyst on the MLB Postseason. Eck was teamed with his NESN partner, Don Orsillo on Detroit-Oakland. Because they had a good chemistry working on Red Sox games over the past few seasons, it was only natural for TBS to team Don and Eckersley this season. Joined by Orsillo’s TBS partner Buck Martinez, Eck was very natural in the booth and showed a lot of humor. Eckersley also formed his own vocabulary with “high cheese,” “punchout,” “lettuce,” etc. If Eck returns to TBS next season and there’s no evidence to the contrary, it would be good idea to put him on the “A” team with Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling.
Harold Reynolds – H.R. was utilized on TBS in 2008 on the Chicago White Sox-Tampa Bay series and worked with Don Orsillo. Reynolds used this and SNY as a springboard to return to television after his notorious dismissal from ESPN. It eventually helped him get his studio analyst position at MLB Network. Reynolds did a good job on this series and he has proven that he can fill this role as well as the studio position. There are times when H.R. will go out of his way not to criticize players and gives them the benefit of the doubt, but he is a strong analyst and there’s a reason why he has won Sports Emmys on the local and national level. Reynolds is a candidate to replace Tim McCarver as the main analyst for Fox and would not be a bad choice.
John Smoltz – Joined TBS in 2008 and became an integral part of its regular season and postseason coverage through this year. He is a very strong analyst and can spot trends at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure why TBS didn’t hire Smoltz as its main guy. Another candidate to replace McCarver on Fox, he’s probably the leader in the clubhouse to join the network. He has proven he can work with multiple announcers whether it be Brian Anderson, Chip Caray, Ernie Johnson or Dick Stockton on TBS or Bob Costas and Matt Vasgersian on MLB Network. Smoltz has shown he is willing to do his homework.
Bob Brenly – At one time, he formed a three man team with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on Fox. He eventually joined WGN on Cubs games and parlayed his work into an annual role with TBS except for 2008. Teamed with Dick Stockton in 2007 and again in 2009 through this year, he’s had to overcome some of Stockton’s maddening calls. I liked Brenly when he worked with Len Kasper on WGN and was a thoughtful analyst on the Cubs broadcasts. I haven’t seen much of his work on the Arizona Diamondbacks with former ESPN’er Steve Berthiaume. Except for 2008, Brenly has been a constant on TBS, but I don’t expect him to return next season.
Buck Martinez – Buck has done a lot of work for TBS since 2007. He’s filled various roles for TBS’ postseason including as a main analyst with Chip Caray on the LDS, but since 2009, been with Don Orsillo. His work sharpened this year when Dennis Eckersley joined the team this season.
Cal Ripken – Freed from the studio and allowed to talk in longer spans, Ripken showed signs that he could be a good analyst. Also working with Ron Darling helped him. When he was in the studio, Ripken was often stiff and nervous. In the booth, he was more relaxed and he showed some of the knowledge that he picked up as playing shortstop for the Orioles. Would be good on the “B” team with Brian Anderson next season.
Steve Stone – Only used in 2007 for the Red Sox-Angels series with Ted Robinson. Once one of baseball’s top local analysts when he was with Haray Caray on Cubs games on WGN, he’s been dragged down by Hawk Harrelson now on White Sox broadcasts. Would have shown some very good work had TBS used him regularly.
Tony Gwynn – Worked the National League Division Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers with Dick Stockton and Ron Darling. You talk about a team that had no chemistry, this was it. Stockton was in the midst of his slippage. Gwynn offered nothing. Darling was the sane one.
Gwynn was also used in the first year of TBS’ contract on the main team with Chip Caray. Holy frijoles.
Joe Simpson – The only holdover from the Atlanta days, I am baffled why TBS did not use Don Sutton instead. Simpson was part of the “B” team this season with Brian Anderson and John Smoltz. Luckily, Anderson and Smoltz were very good and they could hide any silly analysis from Simpson. I’m confused over why TBS continues to use him. I have a feeling he’ll return next season, but I wish they wouldn’t.
TBS has utilized reporters such as David Aldridge, Craig Sager, Jamie Maggio, Trenni Kusnierek, Tom Verducci, Marc Fein, Marty Snyder. Sager is known for his loud wardrobe. Aldridge got the Gatorade bath this season. Overall, I’ll give the reporting a B minus. Some are better than others.
When TBS didn’t have outages and the Steve Harvey Show shown in baseball’s place, TBS did a decent job in airing the games. Unlike Fox, there weren’t excessive crowd cutaways. The coverage was understated and not over the top.
There were excessive promos for Frank TV, The George Lopez Show, Conan, Ground Floor, the Pete Holmes Show, Cougar Town and just about any show TBS was trying to pimp. They got sickening, but when you have a highly viewed event, you’re going to try and take advantage. Still, it was very hard to sample these shows with the promos. Frank TV and George Lopez aren’t around anymore.
The production gets a B minus. Promotion gets a D.
That’s a look at TBS’ coverage.