Michael Saunders, a potentially great Canadian hitter? Depends if Rick Sutcliffe or Jeff Nelson is the analyst.
It seems there is no sports tournament that can end a team’s hopes of a victory faster than the World Baseball Classic. It was only some 75 hours ago that Canada was preparing for first pitch of their first game against Italy in Phoenix. Now after three games in three days they are eliminated. The only good news, that’s three days of television coverage that I can pack into one post.
Sportsnet is using the international feed for all World Baseball Classic games, including those involving Canada. In Phoenix Matt Yallof and Jeff Nelson called Canada’s first game against Italy on Friday. Yallof is a studio host for MLB Network, while Nelson is a Seattle Mariners radio analyst. Not exactly the kind of broadcast team that gives the WBC a big event feel. Yallof wasn’t too bad, especially considering he has little experience in play-by-play. Nelson, however, was unbearable. He said Joey Votto and Justin Morneau were the two best hitters in baseball (for clarity he may have said left-handed hitters, I can’t remember). He retracted that later to simply say Votto is in the top five while proclaiming that “some of the best hitters are left-handed.” When a hitter fouled the ball off his shin he offered, “usually guys wear pads down there, or like one of those shinguards.” I would love to know what percentage of pro baseball hitters wear shinguards.
That wasn’t Nelson’s only problem. He also suggested walking Votto and Morneau to face Michael Saunders was a wise strategy. Saunders went on to go 2 for 3 with 2 RBI. And then over the next two days he became the Pool D MVP. Surely of all the broadcasters who work in North America, MLB Network/International could have found someone better than Nelson to spend a couple of days in Phoenix and call a couple (minor) World Baseball Classic Games.
On the weekend Charley Steiner and Rick Sutcliffe replaced Yallof and Nelson on the international feed. Sutcliffe is an international feed regular, while Steiner is the Dodgers radio announcer. My main problem was they were obvious American homers despite the fact that their commentary was heard around the world except in the US. What else stood out to me was how many times Sutcliffe compared the Canadian team (and fans) to hockey players. Every single reference to a tough player related to hockey. And the brawl only helped promote the stereotype. Other gems offered by Sutcliffe included “Y’know that movie field of dreams? I see a baseball field full of winners right now”. On the brightside, while Nelson thought it was a good idea to face Saunders with Votto and Morneau on every time, Sutcliffe seemed to think he’s going to become a great player.
I won’t say a lot about Steiner, but I just generally find him annoying. And again, of all the baseball announcers in North America surely MLB International could have found someone else. Steiner did offer up the horrible, prepared-sounding “Team USA are taking their talents to South Beach” as Craig Kimbrel recorded the final out.
I know Sportsnet is busy producing Jays spring training games; however, it would have been nice if they could have thrown together a Canadian broadcast team to call Canada’s games in Phoenix. These were two well-watched baseball games. Canada-Mexico had over 300, 000 viewers while Canada-USA was over half a million. I think all major international Canadian team-sport broadcasts should feature Canadians in the broadcast booth.
Ratings… For those wondering, 259, 000 viewers watched the Vancouver-Toronto MLS game last Saturday. Not bad considering it went head-t0-head with an NHL game watched by almost 1.7 million on CBC. The season-opening game between Vancouver and Montreal had an average audience of 288, 000 on TSN last season. RDS numbers put that game over 500, 000 viewers. TFC ratings fell to under 150, 000 for their game against Kansas City Saturday afternoon (it was on TSN).
In other ratings the Brier drew 832, 000 head-to-head with the WBC Saturday afternoon, while the evening draw averaged 728, 000. The Brier semifinal drew 754, 000 Sunday morning, while the final drew 917, 000. For HNIC, Leafs-Penguins drew over 2 million and around 600, 000 watched Flames-Kings. The late HNIC game just beat out the Justin Timberlake-hosted SNL head-to-head.
Documentaries… There are a couple sports-related documentaries on TV this week that are worth checking out. Tonight TSN has “The Clemente Effect” at 8:30pm ET. You can see the trailer here. The documentary, an ESPN Films production in conjunction with ESPN Deportes, premiered on ESPN yesterday afternoon.
CBC News Network will show the Canadian premiere of “Oscar Pistorius: What Really Happened?” The BBC documentary debuts tonight on BBC Three in the UK, while it will air on CBC News Network Sunday night at 10pm ET. Here is an interesting Guardian article on the challenges of making the documentary.