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.