On Lousy Announcers, And The Importance Of Being Critical

COOPERSTOWN NY - JULY 25: Jon Miller (L) shakes hands with Hall of Famer Joe Morgan after Miller received the Ford C. Frick award for contributions in baseball broadcasting at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 25 20010 in Cooperstown New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Much like Derek Jeter's defense or the significance of steroid use, announcer quality is one of those automatic conversation starters. In every sport, really; this is by no means limited to baseball. It seems like everyone has an opinion of the announcers, and most everyone agrees that, with rare exception (other than hometown announcers, who tend to be looked upon favorably), the announcers are bad. And a very particular kind of bad - most often, the announcers are considered un- or under-informed.

Entire blogs have been dedicated to the subject, beyond the inimitable Fire Joe Morgan. But you don't need to visit one of them to find a discussion. On message boards, on blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter, you will find during any game critiques of something an announcer has said. No broadcast is immune, although it tends to be the national sort that provokes the strongest reaction. If an announcer says something that is absolutely wrong, or even just possibly wrong, it will not escape the internet's attention.

So it's a popular topic, and, for many, a tired one. The conversation usually ends with someone telling another to simply tune the announcers out, or to otherwise pay them little attention. And, honestly, this can work. If you know ahead of time that the announcers in a given game aren't going to say much of value, you can follow the action while ignoring the words. This makes for a handy solution.

But what if you don't know that ahead of time? What of the more casual or developing fan? I think it's worth taking a quick step back to understand just why the battle against lousy announcers is a fight worth fighting.

This all came to mind while I was watching a hockey game the other night. I was at no point struck by how inaccurate or specious the reasoning of the broadcasters was, but that's just the thing. I didn't know, and my inclination was to trust them.

I understand baseball. Watching a game, I can develop my own narrative, and I have little need for someone else to do it for me. So, I can tune the announcers out, no problem. It isn't the same with hockey. While I've been a fan of hockey for as long as I've been a fan of baseball, my understanding is far more limited, and I find that I rely on the announcers to tell me what I need to know. And, assuming that others are like me, that's problematic.

How much of my current understanding of hockey grew out of what I picked up from announcers and various talking heads on highlight shows? I can't put a number to it, but I think the answer is "a lot". And how much of my current understanding of hockey is factually correct? I have absolutely no idea. I've just learned from that to which I've been exposed.

That's the issue. For so many people, the guys on the air serve as the instructors. They build the foundation of one's knowledge of a game, and from there, they may build the walls and the roof. There are often other contributors - friends, family, people on the internet - but then, one must consider how they've come to know what they know as well. It stands to reason that many of them have also been informed by the mouths on TV, and suddenly, you end up really having to trust that those on-air commentators know what they're talking about.

Which, too often, they don't. I don't need to delve into a bunch of specific examples, but as a hardcore baseball fan, I can tell you that many baseball announcers say an awful lot of things that just aren't true. I imagine this is probably the case with every sport. Every sport has its clichés and its conventional wisdom, and every broadcast has a lot of air time that has to be filled. The more time there is to fill, the more time there is to say something wrong.

The inevitable end result of an erroneous broadcast is the spread of erroneous information, and that erroneous information can and will be assumed to be truthful by those who don't know any better. It isn't their fault. They're trying to learn. They're just being taught by bad teachers. But still, you end up with this huge population of people who don't know that a lot of the things they think are wrong, and they tend to be resistant to attempts to re-educate. Why would announcers - professionals - have led them astray?

I suppose this is only as big a problem as your desire to have enlightened, informed conversation. If you don't care to know very much, fine. You're free to enjoy watching sports however you like. And if you're content to watch sports without interacting very much with other people, that's fine too. But I can vouch for how much more enjoyable the whole experience can be when you're chatting with people who really know their stuff, and developing a more knowledgeable, savvy average fan should be the mission not of the few, but the many.

We can tune bad announcers out. We can ignore the talking heads, and we'll find ourselves annoyed less often because of it. But the fight against lousy announcing isn't a fight we should surrender. We must remain vigilant, endlessly vigilant, because a more informed public is as noble a goal as any I can imagine.

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