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The World Series would be better without John Smoltz

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Well, at least Smoltz isn’t paired with fellow curmudgeon Bob Costas during the World Series.

National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

John Smoltz hates baseball, which wouldn’t be much of an issue if he was just grumbling about the state of the game in 2018 on his couch while thinking about the next morning’s tee time. No, instead, Smoltz gets to do that from the comfort of the announcers’ booth broadcasting World Series games on national television.

It actively makes the World Series worse, which seems counterintuitive!

There’s the little stuff, like calling players by the wrong name — Smoltz called Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes “Hembree” twice in one inning in Game 1, even though Hembree had not appeared in the game nor had been mentioned in any other context — and the bigger stuff, like spending the entirety of the replays of a key Yasiel Puig home run complaining about how he’s too energetic and it annoys everyone around him. Smoltz was also giving this speech while the Dodgers’ dugout was losing their minds celebrating said homer with Puig. Reading the room isn’t exactly a Smoltz trait.

He’s a living, breathing Back in My Day, which would be fine if he had retired more than a decade ago — Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Ryan Madson, David Freese, Justin Turner, Matt Kemp, Steve Pearce, Ian Kinsler, Rick Porcello, and David Price are all on the World Series rosters and were active the year Smoltz retired, and so were Chase Utley and Daniel Hudson, two more Dodgers who contributed through much of 2018. Dustin Pedroia was once Smoltz’s teammate! Baseball was a different game even nine years ago, yes, but it can’t be that hard to find an analyst who understands the game on a deep level while not actively hating what they see in front of them during the series where MLB should be making brand new fans and appealing to current ones.

Instead, we get a curmudgeon paired with Joe Buck, who is good, but sometimes can’t escape the event horizon of Smoltz’s crankiness singularity. It’s not Buck’s fault: he can’t openly yell at Smoltz for using most up most of the oxygen in the booth to complain.

He should, though, that’d help the broadcast out.

Smoltz complains about excessive celebrations, which for him is any celebration beyond a stoic nod or reserved fist pump. He complains about shifts. He came up with various ways to discredit Matt Kemp for hitting a homer early in Game 1 by saying that some other hits the Dodgers had were good examples of good hitting, while Kemp was simply lucky for being good enough to capitalize on a mistake by hitting a home run off of Chris Sale, who by the way just does not give up home runs. Grudges carried across innings that didn’t make sense when they started, and God help us all if Fox shows a replay of something that annoyed him earlier.

Remember Dennis Eckersley’s genuine, impossible-to-contain enthusiasm during the ALDS? Remember David Cone’s run this postseason as a former MLB starter who knew how to talk about the game? I get that television network contracts are a thing so Fox can’t just use whoever does a good job for TBS or MLB, but it’s just a reminder that it doesn’t have to be Smoltz during the World Series.

Smoltz had real promise as an announcer once. I commented last October that he often got so close to actually being good, but then he’d just keep talking. This year, he occasionally flashes reminders he does know the game he’s paid to announce, but he’s time and time again showed a preference for using his mic time to complain instead. The World Series deserves better, and so do the people watching it.

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