Flagship: Fox Sports Florida / Sun Sports
PxP: Rich Waltz (since 2005)
Color: Tommy Hutton (since 1997)
Reviewer: Bob Timmermann
Category: Play by Play
Rich Waltz has the unenviable task of trying to make one of baseball’s least popular teams, one with a history of selling off its best players and replacing them with a group of lesser-paid prospects, somewhat interesting. Waltz has to do so while working half the time in a stadium that is usually 1/4 full, with those in attendance showing only occasional interest in what’s going on in the field.
However, Waltz tries his best and succeeds most of the time in trying to draw the viewer into the game on the field. He has a very smooth delivery and is well-prepared for broadcasts, seemingly always knowing something relevant about the ever-changing roster of Marlins players. He is very skilled at Spanish pronunciations, which is important in an area with a large Latino population.
Waltz tends to not get overly excited during his broadcasts, but then again, the Marlins current level of play doesn’t allow many opportunities for that, either. Waltz has to cover a team that has few power hitters and plays in a park that does not give up many home runs. And the Marlins don’t score many runs even without homers, so Waltz has to do his best at drawing a similar level of excitement out of a walk, single, and two ground outs to score a run.
Category: Color Commentary
Tommy Hutton has seen a lot of Marlins games, having worked for the franchise for 17 years, which includes both of their World Series wins. He’s seen the good and the bad, but most of it has been bad. His commentary during the games is not the most enlightening, but it’s pleasant to listen to.
Hutton won’t make you appreciate baseball in any new or revolutionary way, but he is well-prepared and knows the players he is talking about, a unique challenge with the ever-changing Marlins roster. Hutton is also well-prepared for the opponents for each game, knowing their strengths and weaknesses and their personnel. He does not shortchange the abilities of the Marlins opponents.
Despite being a former player, Hutton does not tell too many stories about how things were “back in his day.” Most of his stories about his playing days are brief. He seems more interested in the game that is going on in front of him than a tale of playing for the Expos under Dick Williams.
Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Waltz and Hutton work together very smoothly. They are good at setting each other up on various talking points. They both prepare well and it shows. And they care about the outcome of each game, which is hard to do for a bad team.
Waltz and Hutton have somewhat similar voices and they also use the same cadences. If you don’t listen carefully, you may think that there is just one person doing the announcing. You need to listen carefully to pick out which one is speaking. Their roles are clearly delineated, but Waltz also offers some analysis, so sometimes you may think it’s Hutton speaking at the time. (Hutton tends to speak a little more quickly than Waltz, which was the key I had to rely on during the review.)
Each man likes to refer to Marlins players by their first names most of the time, which has become more common in broadcasting. The players on the Marlins opponents are almost always referred to by their last names exclusively.
Category: Charisma and Chemistry
The Marlins may have a lot of turnover on the field, but Waltz and Hutton have been working together for nine years and seem very comfortable with each other. They sound like they enjoy working together, even when they are covering one of baseball’s least exciting franchises.
During one game, both men noticed that a Braves reliever was taking a long time between pitches (which he was, about 30-40 seconds even with no one on base), Hutton began timing the pitches and Waltz then developed a “play by play” of sorts of how the pitcher was wasting time. It turned what could have been a very boring part of a Marlins blowout loss into some light entertainment. And it could have turned into farce, but it was both funny and relevant.
Waltz and Hutton are not going to revolutionize the way people understand baseball. Pitchers are discussed mostly in terms of pitch selection, location, and fatigue. Hitters are just trying to get hits (on base percentage isn’t discussed much, but then the Marlins aren’t very good at that, either.)
Hutton relies on game situations and traditional stats for most of his analysis, even though he says he likes to dig deeper about what is going in a game. However, he doesn’t demonstrate that very often. One pitcher was described as struggling because he had lost 3 of his last 4 decisions, but didn’t bother to mention the ERA or any other relevant pitching statistic.
Much of the analysis of Marlins players is to talk about their potential, since the team is quite young. A player could get a hit on a particularly difficult pitch and that would be used as an example as how the player has the potential to be a big star in the next two or three years. There is a lot of hopeful forecasting about Marlins players, mainly because there’s no present tense to rhapsodize about.
Whether or not the Marlins are well-run as an organization is not something that’s ever brought up by the broadcast team, but then you would not expect most people to publicly badmouth their employers on the air. Waltz and Hutton are understandably good soldiers for the Marlins organization.
Category: Production Values
The Fox Sports Florida broadcasts are very similar to other ones by the network throughout the country. The intro music is the same and there is a great emphasis placed on showing how the team is distinctly Miami-ish. There are shots of boats, the Miami skyline, and people coming to the game dressed in Marlins orange and beachwear.
The directions of the broadcasts is nothing special, but nothing is bad about it. Since the crowds at Marlins Park tend to be small, there are not too many crowd shots to take away from the action on the field.
The camera crews aren’t helped during games when the roof is closed, as the park gets very dark.
Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
At home games, the Marlins try to do a lot to get fans, or anybody else, to come to the park. There are usually a couple cutaways during game action for some sort of upcoming promotion. There are not as many during road games.
The Marlins employ a third reporter who either works near the dugout for road games or roams the stands at home. Not much is added from any of these reports. There is usually one interruption during the game to show a snippet of an earlier interview with a player that normally reveals very little. For the most part, the hope is that viewers will learn the name of players on the team aside from Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Hernandez.
During one road game, the broadcast spent one half inning speaking with the operator of a special slow motion camera, although the camera itself was not used very much during the broadcast to any noticeable effect, which made the interview seem pointless. It is this kind of thing that renders Marlins broadcast production values to be on the low side of average.
As broadcasters for what is arguably the worst franchise in baseball, Waltz and Hutton have their work cut out for them. They have to cover a bad team that does not have the greatest prospect of getting better, and the team is not popular locally. To their credit, they don’t let this get in the way of preparing and doing a professional job. It is just hard for them to stand out because they don’t have a great product to cover.
About the author:
Bob Timmermann is a librarian from Los Angeles. He has given presentations at past SABR conventions on the life of Harry Kingman as well as Japanese baseball.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this evaluation are solely those of the author. As such, the views expressed by the author should not be interpreted as representing the opinions of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), its board, or anyone otherwise affiliated with SABR. Likewise, the conclusions included in these evaluations are not to be viewed or interpreted as official endorsements (or lack thereof) by SABR, or of anyone affiliated with SABR, of any particular broadcasters or broadcast organizations.