Gene Collier: TV of today makes a fan miss Kiner

Don't suppose you noticed, but somehow we allowed Father's Day to come and go without the proper baseball blessing. So if you'll allow me, in the words the late Ralph Kiner gave us: "It's Father's Day today, so to all you fathers out there, happy birthday!"


That circled '4' the Pirates are wearing on their uniform sleeves this summer is for Kiner, in case you're still wondering, and it's more because Kiner's baseball career in Pittsburgh was certifiably phenomenal than that his broadcasting career with the New York Mets was even better.

I'm missing Ralph these days because he represented an era when baseball on television was zoned for total viewer comfort, for relaxation, contemplation and laughter, and where the people with the microphones let the game come to you rather than shovel it at you with both hands.

In that place, you were basically just hanging out with Kiner and with his broadcast partners Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy at WOR, or you were hanging out with Harry Kalas and his Phillies sidekick Rich Ashburn on WPHL, or you were hanging with the Gunner or with Harry Caray or with Jack Buck or Marty Brennaman or, on occasions too rare, with Vin Scully, the ultimate in plush baseball monologue.

You enjoyed their company, even if Ralph's essential contribution for nine innings was to say that all of so-and-so's saves had come in relief appearances.

Ha ha, no problem; we're just hangin' out.

But no more.

When I've got baseball on TV now, I'm involved.

For a big part of it, I'm in math class.

Wait, give me that flyball-to-groundball ratio again. Does that ratio work with this shift? Are the shift analytics compatible with this guy's splitter percentage? Because look at this pitch sequence right here. Was it two four-seamers and four two-seamers, four four-seamers and two two-seamers, or was that last pitch "the little cutter?" It's never a big cutter. Check the velocity differential, fastball-to-slider. What, only 6 mph? He might be having some velocity degeneration. The problem is a serious lack of command. He can't backdoor that slider. What's his pitch count?

It's all a huge crisis, either in progress or waiting to happen.

Then, though I'm still ostensibly just watching a baseball game, I change classes and go to advanced graphics.

What's this, the hitter's hot zone, or is it just the Heartless MultiNational Corp strike zone? Now what, a graph showing this guy's career numbers with the bases loaded against left-handed pitching this year and last year? It looks like my IRS Form 2106. Oh my god is that my signature?

It's exhausting.

It's mostly not the fault of the broadcasters, who are yoked with disadvantages. They can't bring you relaxation because they are not relaxed themselves. How can they relax when they've got to shepherd an unpredictable baseball game through a labyrinth of ads and promotions, from the Verizon hurry-up call to the bullpen to the mandate that someone who has been warming up for 15 minutes in the bullpen reminds us that 15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance and don't forget Saturday's looming appearance by the Goo Goo Dolls at Fan Jam.

You know, I'd forgotten about the Goo Goo Dolls and was perfectly comfortable with it!

The other serious impediment for 21st century baseball broadcasters is the length of games, which now average more than three hours and have gone to more than four hours for just nine unremarkable innings. The more time you spend behind a microphone, the more likely you're going to say something stupid, and few people I've heard this year have avoided it.

John Kruk told ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" audience, "that's what happens when you try to overthrow it."

Seriously, he tried to overthrow it?

Broadcast partner Dan Shulman, later describing a player who had come back from some kind of hand or wrist surgery, actually said to Kruk, "John, how important are the hands?"

Oh stop it.

Not very important at all, Dan. In fact, these guys might as well be soccer players.

Someone on MLB Network said recently, "McCutchen breaks his bat and wants another."

Oh he wants another? I thought maybe he would say, "Naw, I'm good," and just stand there with that little wooden shiv in his hand and take his chances with a 93-mph two-seamer with sink.

Why does Root Sports show me four replays of a groundball to short? Why does Root put the pitch count of the relievers in the graphic box next to the balls and the strikes and the outs and the little diamonds where the runners are, or aren't? So when Mark Melancon comes in to pitch the ninth, he goes 1-2 on the first hitter, and a '3' appears in the graphic box.

Three pitches? Oh my god get him out of there his arm is going to fall off.

There's no time, no space in this experience, to just think about the game, or, just as importantly, to not think about the game. Thinking about the game, or anything else, was a great source of pleasure while watching the game. Noticing something about the game as it unfolded, something that maybe no one else noticed, was also a great source of pleasure once upon a time. But for the Pirates-Dodgers national game a couple of Sundays ago, ESPN had Karl Ravech in the studio, Barry Larkin sitting next to him, Buster Olney in the press box, Eric Wedge behind home plate, Aaron Boone in the first-base dugout, Mark Mulder in the third-base dugout and Doug Glanville in right field, all talking to each other.

They not only did it on purpose, they were downright gleeful about it.

"We regularly ask ourselves," an ESPN production official said for the record, "are we really doing enough for the viewer?"

No one in TV wants to hear the answer to that, because the answer to that is, "Yes, in fact, you're doing so much for the viewer that the game is now spectacularly better on the radio."

Not to be cranky.

Damn I miss Ralph.

Gene Collier:

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