A Home Run Derby without Chris Berman’s histrionics?
For better or worse, it will certainly be a different viewing experience on Monday evening, as Karl Ravech takes over for Berman as play-by-play man on ESPN’s coverage of the event from Marlins Park.
Berman, who worked every Home Run Derby since 1994, has assumed a lower-profile role and relinquished several assignments, including the Home Run Derby and hosting Sunday and Monday NFL Countdown.
Ravech, by nature, is measured and even-keeled, with a style devoid of shtick. Berman, by contrast, is loud and demonstrative, always eager to inject his trademark nicknames and back-back-backs into his call.
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“Chris had put the bar so high on that event,” Ravech said by phone. “We have to have him phone in so people will be comfortable with it. He did it in his own unique way.
“I hope to keep it where he brought it and let the athletes bring it to another level. He’s a great friend. For whatever you think of his descriptions, he was a fan. His passion and joy are something I would take and one thing I would learn from him.”
How will Ravech approach the event?
“My approach is conversational, relaxed, chilled, enjoy, sit back and watch,” he said. “My description of the home run will pale in comparison to the actual home run.”
Ravech will be paired with Jessica Mendoza and Mark Teixeira in the booth, with Buster Olney reporting.
• ESPN will use several robotic cameras and the “Phantom High Speed Camera” to offer super slow motion replays of swings, and will utilize StatCast to provide real time home run distance and exit velocity data. Also, ESPN will unveil a new custom graphics package, which will include new looks for the scoreboard and home run distances.
• ESPN’s Baseball Tonight will air live from Marlins Park for two shows on Monday – from 3 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 8, with Ravech hosting the 3 p.m. show and Adnan Virk hosting at 7 p.m.
ESPN has dramatically reduced airings of Baseball Tonight in recent years, and Ravech – one of the show’s signature hosts – said: “I know we have people who do the Sunday Night Baseball Tonight, including myself, who miss Baseball Tonight on a daily basis. I started in 1995 with Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds and John Kruk. It was the go-to program every single night. There were no regional networks out there. I believe there is still a desire for a nightly Baseball Tonight recap with analysis.”
• ESPN2 will simulcast ESPN Deportes’ Spanish-language simulcast of the Home Run Derby, with former Marlins TV analyst and hitting coach Eduardo Perez and former Miami sportswriter Pedro Gomez among those involved. Immediately preceding the Home Run Derby, former Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen will appear in a Spanish version of Baseball Tonight on ESPN2.
• Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton will call the Home Run Derby on ESPN Radio, with 790 The Ticket airing both that event and the All-Star Game.
• ESPN will televise Sunday’s All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game on Monday night after the Home Run Derby.
BUCK WEIGHS IN
Five questions with Fox lead play-by-play voice Joe Buck, who calls Tuesday’s All-Star Game with second-year analyst John Smoltz:
1) Any concern with MLB as a TV product and what can be done about it? Ratings for last year’s Cubs-Indians World Series were great, but audience age skews older than the NBA, for example.
“I agree with the commissioner. The pace of the game is an issue. People ask me all the time how do you speed up the game. In my experience, the only time I see games move rapidly is when you have a home plate umpire that calls a lot of strikes.
“Whatever it may be, a pitch clock, the only in-game let's-get-some- hop is the home plate umpire calls strikes. I would call the strike zone as it's supposed to be called. <aybe add the high strike back to the game and you have a shot at hitters going up ready to swing and pitchers not feeling like they have to set it on a tee to get a strike.
“[With interest nationally], my concern is not on a local level. The local packages are really strong. The concern, and maybe that's too harsh of a word - the focus has got to be on expanding peoples’ rooting interest beyond just the team they follow. While local ratings are really good, you see a trend where unless it’s a really good national story, once your team is out of it they will watch or won't watch.”
He says one way to help fix that is having local broadcasters discuss other teams and players more. “A Marlins fans should hear about as much about Aaron Judge as a Yankee fan should hear about Giancarlo Stanton or Clayton Kershaw. Baseball tends to get really myopic; maybe a little better education of leaguewide trends [would help]. It kind of has to start on the local broadcasts.”
I pointed out how the NBA has the benefit of players’ faces receiving far more exposure.
Buck agrees that’s a factor in the NBA’s popularity.
MLB players are “farther away with a helmet on their head. Fox did inside the helmet or undernearth the helmet [segment] when you see guys like Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant willing to have fun on camera and promote their brand. You need advertisers to latch on to some of these guys and show the fun side and make people fall in love with them because they're interesting, funny and good men.”
2) Is South Florida a good baseball market? Attendance, usually in the bottom five in baseball, wouldn’t suggest that.
“It's a great market. Every market is great if the team wins and if they feel like the front office and ownership is doing all it can to make that happen. If you go long stretches without winning, I don't care what market you're in. The Rams in LA will be a tough sell if they don't figure it out.
“You have to capture the fans’ heart and imagination and their excitement with front office moves that give fans hope. The Marlins tried to do it and it didn't work and then they had to shift course. They're still a middling team. At some point, maybe they are trading Marcell Ozuna. They keep resetting the clock. Eventually the alarm has to go off and they have to win.”
3) Are you surprised the Marlins haven’t won more? They own MLB’s second-longest postseason drought (ahead of only Seattle), dating to 2004?
“I am surprised because every time you look at them going into spring training, you saw they are loaded with young talent. I really like Jeffrey Loria. He's a good person who really wants to win and hasn’t found the right formula to make it happen of late. I know it breaks his heart. I am as baffled as anybody else because you look at the talent and the youth there. That’s a good young base of talent and they can’t seem to put it together.
“They have a competent, winning. tough and a good-sense manager that I thought was a great hire. This organization is going to be sold and the question becomes who. Derek Jeter being part of a group is certainly exciting.. I would be over the moon with the possibility of that. The guy is just a winner.”
4) Is MLB’s All-Star Game the best and if so why?
“I absolutely think it is. Because the essence of baseball is a guy on a mound and a guy at the plate with a bat in his hands and the best guy on the mound or the best guy at the plate or one of in each case.
“It's those individual battles that make the All-Star game and the sport so exciting. There aren't those singular moments in the other sports where you hold your breath and say, ‘can this hitter get out this pitcher. It doesn't get more complicated than that.”
5) As the lead Fox voice on the NFL, MLB and golf, what’s the most annoying criticism you get from viewers?
“The whole, ‘you hate my team.’ Why would I? What is the possible reason why? It goes back to what we talked about in local vs. national. People all year hear their team covered by their announcers and I am screaming and yelling for the other team. It hits their ear funny.
“The national guy, whether it's me or Jim Nantz or Al Michaels, is more of a baseball thing because the games are [broadcast by local regional sports networks, unlike the NFL]. They don't like hearing that the other team is good, too. You just throw your hands up.”
• Incidentally, Fox will install 13 microphones behind the Marlins Park playing surface.
“We experimented with field mics last year in San Diego and got some great results,” Fox Sports senior audio mixer and 10-time Sports Emmy Award winner Joe Carpenter said. “The sounds and grunts you get from guys likes Max Scherzer and Madison Bumgarner as they complete their pitches add so much to the feeling of being there.”