Back in the 1970s, when I was a sportswriter for The News American, our travel budget took a hit, and I was told to cover a Maryland basketball road game off TV. Thankfully, we moved some money around and were back with the team for the next away game. Television is terrific for watching sports, but not for covering the events. There is so much more you see, hear and learn by being there. So much more you can share with the reader or viewer.
My TV timeout is almost prehistoric, let alone pre-pandemic. There was good reason not to travel when Covid-19 hit, and for a long time after that. But things are better this spring. Fans are attending games, people are getting together. Broadcasters and sportswriters are traveling again, and calling games in real time and in real locations.
That’s why Monday night’s MASN broadcast of the Orioles-A’s game was so disappointing and distracting. In one segment, reporter Steve Melewski was interviewing Orioles manager Brandon Hyde near the dugout, in the daylight, in Oakland. In the next, game announcers Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald were shown in Camden Yards, a dreary, rainy night serving as their backdrop. The juxtaposition was jarring.
As the game got under way, Brown and McDonald called it as if they were sitting in Oakland, but it felt like a major league game being broadcast in a minor league way. The bad reflection is not on the broadcasters but on the Orioles, who say it’s more of a health issue than a matter of dollars and cents.
But it doesn’t make sense because so many other clubs have decided it’s time to hit the road again. Just about every other TV and radio team — with the exception of the Orioles and Nationals, both run by MASN — are back to in-person broadcasts. No delays between the action and the description of what’s happening. No limitations on the sights and sounds that bring games to life.
MASN made a good move by promoting Brown to lead TV broadcaster. He’s quick and smart, and has a feel for the game. He works well with McDonald and Jim Palmer, giving them space to provide the insight and inside knowledge they bring. Brown was especially skillful when McDonald and Palmer were both in the booth, orchestrating lively conversation throughout without stepping on each other’s lines.
On Sunday, Brown and McDonald had a fascinating conversation about the grips pitchers use and what batters see as the ball approaches the plate. McDonald explained how the red seams look like a red dot coming toward home, conveying how little time batters have to pick up the spin of the ball. The sounds of Orioles and Yankees fans were in the background.
On Monday night, which was Opening Day for the A’s, Brown and McDonald tried to bring that same attention to detail, but it didn’t have the same feel. Brent Musburger used to begin a broadcast by saying, “You are looking live …”
It’s time to allow the Orioles’ broadcasters to do the same.