Fox, more than any other network sports division, likes to push the envelope on outside-the-box innovations, going places where sports television hasn’t gone before.
And with traditional league restrictions loosened for the All-Star Game, Fox injected creative wrinkles into Tuesday’s telecast from Marlins Park.
There were interviews with the leadoff hitters, on the field, just seconds before they stepped into the batter’s box.
“I’m 10 seconds away from swinging at the first pitch and real happy I don’t have to face this guy [Washington’s Max Scherzer] every day,” Houston’s Jose Altuve told Ken Rosenthal.
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Fox’s best idea? Undoubtedly the decision, with MLB’s approval, to have Joe Buck interview outfielders George Springer and Bryce Harper for several minutes during play, while they stood in the outfield.
“You better back up,” Buck told Houston left fielder Springer as the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton came to bat.
“That’s my plan,” he said.
Buck asked if Springer gets a jolt when a power hitter like Stanton comes to the plate. “Yeah, and I’m about 200, 300 feet away.”
Then Buck, “in the interest of being fair and balanced,” interviewed Washington’s Harper while he played right field.
“I feel like you’re good at multi-tasking,” Buck told Harper, who addressed several topics and then asked Buck how Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott would do this season.
Among Fox’s other innovative measures Tuesday:
▪ There were 13 microphones buried underneath the playing field, including mikes by the pitchers mound that picked up Scherzer grunting. “It’s fitting Wimbledon is going on with the way Scherzer is grunting after these pitches,” Buck said.
▪ Fox studio analyst Alex Rodriguez ran onto the field, before the second inning, to interview the National League’s shortstop, and second and third basemen.
Reds shortstop Zack Cosart joked he thought A-Rod came out to take his place.
Buck did his usual exemplary work, humanizing the players by relaying information about their backgrounds.
Fox initially fumbled its attempt to replace longtime analyst Tim McCarver after the 2013 season. Verbose Harold Reynolds and writer-by-trade Tom Verducci lasted only two years before Fox hired John Smoltz to replace them prior to the 2016 season.
Smoltz isn’t especially dynamic but offers smart, measured analysis, and he was an asset Tuesday. But Smoltz needs to be aware there are casual fans in an All-Star Game audience and explain some baseball lexicon, when he makes comments such as this one: “[National League manager] Joe Maddon won’t shift. So we’ll see traditional baseball.”
▪ Fox’s pregame show missed the candor and wisecracks of Pete Rose, whose value lies largely in his lack of filter. Rose couldn’t make it because of a prior commitment, leaving Rodriguez and Frank Thomas as the only studio analysts alongside host Kevin Burkhardt.
▪ Fox couldn’t avoid a reminder of Marlins fans’ skepticism, briefly showing a sign from a fan saying: “If Stanton goes, I go.”
▪ Best graphic: Fox showing that Aaron Judge’s 47 home runs in Monday’s Derby traveled 3.9 miles.
▪ Monday’s Home Run Derby on ESPN was the most-watched since 2008 and the second-most-watched since 1999. ESPN’s total audience of 8.7 million viewers was an increase of 55 percent from last year. A caveat: That total included ESPN, ESPN2’s Spanish-language simulcast, ESPN Deportes, and English and Spanish streaming viewers.
Miami-Fort Lauderdale produced a 5.5 rating, ranking 16th of 56 major markets. West Palm Beach had a 5.2, ranking 22nd. The top five markets for the Derby: Kansas City (13.6), New York (10.8), (Hartford 9.7), Minneapolis (8.7) and Pittsburgh (7.9).
▪ Rodriguez declined to say whether he has been approached about joining any of the three groups bidding for the Marlins. And even though he played with one of the bidders (Derek Jeter), A-Rod declined to name which group he prefers in an interview with WQAM’s Marc Hochman and Channing Crowder.
“It’s really important this next ownership group has a long-term plan to take care of these great fans,” Rodriguez said on WQAM. “Right now, I’m an adviser to and a member of the Yankees organization.”
A-Rod also refused to say if Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had ever offered him a job. “Look, Jeffrey Loria is a good friend and good guy,” he said. “If they called, it would have been a flattering experience, but to me, [the way] Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees treated me was an honor and I wanted it to end as a Yankee.”