Hmm: FanGraphs readers indicate the Jays radio crew isn’t quite as beloved as it used to be

Every year FanGraphs crowdsources opinions on the various broadcast crews — both radio and TV — throughout the game, and uses the data to compile rankings. These are hardly be-all, end-all pronouncements on the quality of a club’s broadcast, but it’s an interesting project nonetheless. Especially, it turns out, when you look at trends.

Or, at least for our purposes today, when we look at one trend in particular.

As far as the Jays’ TV crew goes, there really is no trend; they’ve always ranked poorly in this exercise, and this year was no exception. Initially ol’ Buck and Pat were said to have ranked 31st of 32 crews, though that number was eventually amended up to 25, as there was an error made in tallying their score. Still, not good. And maybe to be fully expected, given that it’s coming from a sabermetric-heavy crowd like the audience at FanGraphs (though I’d argue it isn’t lack of *sabermetric* insight that makes them bad — and also, in saying that, I should note that the rankings I submitted for them were above their average scores across the board, which I believe was mostly because of my since-abandoned attempt to appreciate them as comedy).

What is much more interesting, however, is the ranking for the radio crew. They placed a respectable 13th, but that’s quite a bit down from where they’ve been in previous iterations.

Carson Cistulli proffers a theory as to why that might be the case, but in my view, while it’s probably as good a guess as someone could make from his vantage, it misses the mark.

FanGraphs readers ranked Howarth and then-partner Alan Ashby fifth overall among the league’s radio broadcast in 2012. Ashby, however, has since assumed television duties for the Astros. It’s notable that the reviews of Siddall’s work are generally positive. It merely seems that he doesn’t (yet?) possess the gravitas of Ashby.

Ashby was an old pro by the time he got here, and his few years calling games were indeed a real treat — and the fact that he ended up back in Houston, and back on the higher-paying TV side is a testament to his reputation as a broadcaster. Given that, I suppose it’s fair to wonder whether Siddall is some kind of a weak link (though, personally, I like his work quite a bit, and find that he has many of Ashby-like qualities).

However, my theory (and you probably know where this is going) looks elsewhere. Specifically, it looks straight at the voice of the Blue Jays, Jerry Howarth.

To be blunt, it has not been the finest few years for the man who has been calling Jays games since 1981.

Late in the 2013 season, and in the weeks following that season’s conclusion, Howarth led a drumbeat that he hoped would march the team’s best player out of town. In an October 2013 radio session with Jeff Blair (some of which I transcribed in a former life that is only accessible via the Wayback Machine), Howarth absolutely and unequivocally hammered Jose Bautista, not only for what he perceived as a lack of leadership, but for an attitude he depicted as insidious.

Here’s what I saw: that, where the leadership went from being positive to being negative. And then that negative attitude– especially with umpires, and his continual complaining, and giving up at-bats. And one time, with a runner at first base and one out, hitting a fly ball to right field, and he turned and walked back to the third base dugout. What is going on here?? Here’s what happened: Jose Reyes, a good kid, a four-time All-Star, he started to complain about the umpiring because of who? Jose Bautista. When Bautista wasn’t there, the last month-and-a-half, that allowed Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion to emerge as leaders. That’s what you want in 2014. And if Bautista can give you something– a piece that you don’t have right now– do it, because the other leaders are in place, and all they need is that opening to take and run with it, and I can see them doing that.

In 2014 it was R.A. Dickey’s turn for the Howarth Treatment, as quoted at the time by the Blue Jay Hunter:

R.A. is kind of a man unto himself on an island, and you don’t want that in your clubhouse. He gives you 200 innings, he goes out there and starts 30 games, that’s great; but you need more than that.

You need someone who is right there with his team, communicates with his team, listens, gets involved with his team; I don’t see R.A. doing that. For me, I can already see the team moving in a different direction.

You have to have people who are part of a 25 man roster, not a separate entity.

Only two years removed from the Bautista rant “good kid” Reyes had become a pariah, and Jerry was somehow even more relentless in his transparent disdain (and bizarre championing of replacement level Ryan Goins), which culminated in this ugly bit of dog whistle (which you can find in my rant on the subject from last summer):

Now remember, this was a 19-year-old kid who broke in with Mets, he was a four-time All-Star, he was one of the best athletes on the planet. But having said that, too, he played the game and had fun. It’s almost like — I relate it to a basketball coach: street ball. He likes to play street ball — that’s great — and when you’re that young and that talented for years, you can do that with the Mets, and you go to All-Star games, and then you go to the Marlins. But, when you continue — mentally that’s what you are is a street ball player, you’re out there playing street ball baseball — the rest of it is going to naturally take care of itself, but when you start to decline like that, and physically you’re not the same player you were — that’s the decline that I see. And then mentally you were never really that attuned to being fundamentally sound with everything that’s involved to be Major League player, because you were so good having fun — just having fun playing street ball — that’s the difference in Jose right now, where I think he’s declined in one area significantly, that’s the physical part, the mental side, he’s always just been a fun-loving kid out there having fun. The problem I have, too, sometimes now, is too much fun, too many smiles when he is in decline and making mistakes and hurting his team losing.

Maybe I’m completely mistaken that these sorts of things — not to mention counterproductive suggestions that promote a seemingly (and oddly) favoured player, like “move Tulowitzki to first base to accommodate Goins!” — have turned people off the way that they have me, but that’s the theory I’m going to go with here.

And it’s not one that says people immediately stopped listening after any of those eye-rolling episodes. But when you’re “the voice of the Blue Jays,” there is gravitas implicit within everything you say, so it best not be, at least for those of us who are pretty immersed in the goings on of the team, what I might be inclined to call “idiot-empowering horseshit.” I remember joking at the time of each of these incidents that the players must not have afforded Jerry his due respect, and maybe that sort of thinking has bled too deeply into how I see it today, but for me those incidents, in particular, served to erode the veneer and expose a petty core that simply doesn’t jibe with his otherwise saccharine persona, which makes even that harder to swallow.

Taken as isolated, off-putting incidents they’re maybe not as significant as I’m holding them up to be (well, except “streetball,” because… woof), but if those sort of comments from Howarth served as tipping points for other fans the way they did for me, I can certainly see this as a better explanation for the sagging favourables.

  • Barry

    It’s hard to guess why others have been less positive about the radio crew without having their actual opinions, but I think it is fair to say that some of the shine has come off Jerry in the last few years. He used to be Teflon — the warm fuzzies over the Tom and Jerry days served him well. But he’s been ornery at times in recent years, and you’ve pulled out the highlights.

    I think people loved Jerry when all he did was sit in the booth, call the games, and dig into his bag of catch-phrases. When he started being opinionated — and those opinions started to be about the players, some of whom are popular — it wasn’t a good sound for Jerry. It didn’t match our perceptions of him.

    I don’t think that’s the sole reason for the drop, though. Remember, too, that Mike Wilner is now more involved with the games and calls middle innings. Personally, I like Wilner a lot when he’s in the booth. I don’t listen to Jays Talk (because who the hell needs to listen to the bloody morons who call a radio talk show?) but I’ve heard enough of his combativeness there and on Twitter to know that there are a lot of people who don’t like him.

    I think people judge Wilner the play-by-play guy based on Wilner the fightin’ Jays Talk host, and they’re two different things.

    As I said, I think Wilner is quite good in the booth, but for many fans, when they hear him call games they’re hearing the guy they dislike on Jays Talk.

    So, yeah, the shine is off Jerry and I think his likeability has dropped, but I think there’s a Wilner factor too.

    The moral of the story is: don’t express opinions. Wait, that’s a crap moral.

    • MikeB

      I like Wilner in the booth as well – especially for a guy who doesn’t have the classic baritone pipes (as he himself would say). He calls a good game.

      I do listen to Jays Talk, but only in podcast form a couple of hours after games are over, as I go to sleep. The moron levels are off the charts, but on par with almost any other form of talk radio. I mean, should we expect something else?

      I mean,almost every caller starts off with a throwaway “How’s it goin'”, even though the caller doesn’t expect an answer and Wilner has answered it multiple times already. It drives Wilner nuts.

    • Steve-O

      I like Wilner a lot (both the play by play and the fightin’ Mike versions) but I do wonder if you might have hit on something. He can smack down the dumb calls on Jays Talk as well as anyone on talk radio – and good for him! – but I know some folks take it badly. The poor dears.

  • Rob Ray

    As obsessive compulsive as Jerry is (you know, going in the booth and giving it a thorough cleaning every time they arrive in a new city, which he admitted he did), it’s hard to believe his office is that cluttered. Having said that, I agree, his attacks on the players are both uncalled for and unprofessional. Having a 83rd rate skank like Wilner around sure can’t help.

  • fatblip

    i still prefer the radio (minus wilner, who is a jackass, a blowhard, and just generally self-aggrandizing at every opportunity) team over the TV crew (altho shulman is great; but it’s painful to have to listen to him carry the unbearable pat tabler).

    here’s the thing; stoeten is and always has been the garbage clown he so repetitively claims that everyone else is. it’s so obvious that AS has a grudge against Jerry and here again is another passive/aggresssive attempt to turn his dull-headed readership against a true class act in broadcasting. shame on you stoeten.

    remember, jerry called Reyes’ decline; and all of you jumped on Jerry and called him names and rushed to defend reyes. so you’re all just as lousy and garbage as the people youre pointing your fingers at.

    anyways, this site is lame; bluebirdbanter is far less ridiculous and much more balanced. if you’re a real baseball fan, you’d leave this dump for greener fields.

  • ErnieWhitt

    I listen a lot on the radio while preparing dinner. I usually switch to TV when we eat so these rankings strike home with me.

    Shulman – what a breath of fresh air he is. He tightens the ship on TV and makes each of his games so much better. The best part is that he tends to keep Buck in line. He knows the game on such a wide spectrum that the broadcast can’t help but be improved by it.

    Buck – I do not like Buck as the play-by-play guy. He’s much better suited to feed off of a guy like Shulman, which allows him to be pretty insightful. His analysis tends to the folksy “what its like to play the game” type, but as long as Shulman is driving the game, its usually pretty ok.

    Tabby – Tabby is pretty terrible. I feel like he would be a fun person to watch a ball game with and he has improved over the years, but that is as much of an indication of how bad it started than how good it is now. He strikes me as a guy who would like to dip his toes into advanced metrics but it certainly doesn’t come intuitively and listening to him explain anything other than hitting technique is a little cringe worthy.

    Jerry – To me, Jerry is what listening to ball games sounded like growing up. Because of this you would think that I feel like he is good. He is not. Not only has the game passed Jerry by, but his folksy delivery is driving me even more crazy then in past years. His style is wack. His opinions are wack. You can literally hear Siddall’s brain breaking in some moments searching for something to say after Jerry drops another smarm-bomb on the broadcast.

    Siddall – Joe the radio colour guy is actually pretty solid. I like his insight and analysis. He seems pretty comfortable with both the scouting and analytics of today’s game. His personality is a little dry and when he tries to play the Howarth “and that’s what baseball is all about” smug-off game it can seem very forced. Still, on a basbeall level I like him and that is very important. This however completely changes the minute he tries to call play by play. That is awful. Almost un-listenable.

    Wilner – To me Wilner is a bit of a surprise. His call in show is garbage (mainly for the callers). What surprised me was his natural rapport with Siddall. I think they tried it in Spring Training one year and they were actually hilarious. Say what you want about him, but Wilner knows a lot about baseball and it comes through on the broadcast. He is very in tune with MLB and that is something that is so beneficial in a broadcast team. For me I would vastly prefer Wilner and Siddall on the radio but I can’t see how they ever ditch Howarth.

    • MikeB

      Shulman is awesome – it’s great to have him back.

      But he has an interesting quirk: he adds syllables between words sometimes, almost like a horse-racing announcer. Matt Devlin (who does the Raptors games) has the same…affliction? Affectation?

      Example: “…and the runner slides into second-a-base”, with the “-a-” part being very quick.

      Random tangent: I loved the nickname Jimmy “Plan The” Paredes”. Seeing someone mention Zaun above, (and how often people spell his last name incorrectly, not to mention his first name) how about: Gregg “Don’t Call Me Steve” Zaun? I kind of like it.

      • ErnieWhitt

        I don’t know this to be true in Shulman’s case but I did know a guy who had a pretty noticeable stutter who used that as a technique to help him speak more smoothly. The “second-a-base” thing could be that though, is most likely a quirk of his delivery.

  • sons_2.0

    I never listen to the radio anymore because I use MLB.tv and the two are wildly apart timewise. Like not just a few seconds but like 2 or 3 pitches apart.

    And yeah spare me people trying to be edgy and call out bad players the way Jerry has done. Same for Zaun. I’m just trying to enjoy a damn ballgame. Spare me all the deep thinking over every little aspect.

  • Kate

    I enjoy Joe and Jerry for the most part. But Jerry does have a thing for Ryan Goins and it’s weird. It’s like he has a vested interest in Goins playing and gives him a tonne of rope. I do not enjoy Joe calling the 5th and 6th innings of away games. Maybe he just needs more practice but he just doesn’t sound comfortable.

    • ScottyT9041

      I agree Kate. Not a Siddal fan. And not because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, on the contrary I think his knowledge is excellent. I just don’t like his voice and his inflections. He has a way of speaking that irritates me.
      Love Wilner, great entertainer. Almost always agree with what he has to say to those callers on Jays Talk and I really enjoy when he calls the games. He has had some epic calls while he’s been doing the play by play. Especially last year’s playoff run.
      Jerry is just classic. Don’t always agree with his take and can’t stand the religious crap but he is a classic and I enjoy his voice and the way he calls a game. I especially enjoy his “routines” such as “AND THE JAYS ARE IN FLIGHT!” Etc. He has a few of them and they are great.

    • fred2

      Either Goins goes to the same church, he plays ‘the right/white way’, or Jerry has a bit of a thing for a slim young man with soft hands won’t overwhelm you with power. Possibly all three.

      Ironically, Jose Reyes’ crime was smiling too much. Tulo is now being criticized for not smiling enough. Seriously … the guys who spout this stuff are very well paid.

  • philososcience

    While I agree that the things brought up are problematic at best I think you may be overthinking it a bit. I imagine there are a lot of people who here Jerry say those things about RA et al and think “it’s about time someone had the courage to speak up, kudos to Jerry for doing so.”

    For me I’ve noticed a very real decline in Jerry’s game calling. He stumbles over a lot of names, balls and strikes, and relatively simple plays such as whether it was a double play or safe at first. It seems to be getting more regular. I started noticing a couple of years ago. I was still listening to Jays Talk back then and a caller asked Wilner if Jerry was okay because he noticed the same thing. Wilner stated he was fine, and that was that, but it made me suspect I wasn’t the only one feeling the same way.

  • b4 the windup

    I’ll be way outside the majority on this but I don’t get the big deal about Dan Shulman at all. I just never heard a guy who’s SO thrilled by the timbre of his own voice … I’m only good for a couple innings before I mute. I much prefer Buck and Tabler on their own. Nutty, huh?

  • Fangarello

    I have a great deal of respect for Wilner’s analysis and knowledge of the game. On Twitter, however, he revels in arguing with meat heads. He ignores the level-headed questions put his way, while tweet shaming the idiots & the ignorant. I have no interest in this. It’s like he has to massage his self-esteem by fighting with fools. This is unfortunate because instead of playing the role of an intelligent analyzer of baseball, he comes off as a belligerent crank. I can’t listen to the guy any more. Which is too bad, because I appreciate his analysis. Too bad he’s such a jerk about the presentation.