Flagship: YES Network
PxP: Michael Kay
Color: Ken Singleton, David Cone
Reviewer: Bill Johnson
Category: Play by Play
Michael Kay, as a former reporter and experienced broadcaster, does an exemplary job following the game action, and relating it in terms that complement the televised images, but not over-describing it (as is occasionally the case when listening to radio broadcasters provide television coverage). He allows the viewer’s eye to follow the action, in sync with the camera and the inherent attention-focus directed by what the producer shows, and describes in spare, economical terms what is occurring. Kay is, clearly, an experienced professional, and actually calls the play as the action unfolds instead of ignoring it in order to discuss a peripheral topic or continue a conversation not focused on the contest.
While the camera follows the ball, Kay does well in describing what the runners and salient fielders are doing, verbally following the game but not over-describing less relevant details, and offering the viewer information that a single camera shot cannot reveal. His vocal modulation, diction, and phrasing are comfortable for the viewer, and Kay uses volume and timbre only selectively when significant plays occur. When his delivery changes, the viewer is almost compelled to look at the screen. One example of his “vocal volume discipline” is in his home run call. When the Yankees or the opponent homers, he offers a “See Ya!”, the only difference being a slightly greater degree of enthusiasm when it is hit by New York.
Perhaps most refreshingly, he is not afraid of silence during the broadcast. Often he allows pauses of up to five seconds between comments/calls, during the normal interludes that pace a ball game when no action is occurring, and lets the audience just watch the screen. Kay clearly respects his audience.
Category: Color Commentary
The color commentators are a solid adjunct to Kay’s play-by-play. In the case of both Singleton and Cone, neither presumes to know the mind of player or manager. They don’t tell the audience “this is what (player) is thinking”, but rather share their perspective and let the viewers make judgments on their own. Additionally, the two appear quite comfortable taking their lead from the PxP as to when to talk and when to resume game coverage. Their comments are usually focused on the situation, not rooted in personal anecdote or speculation, and their voices are relaxed and without distracting tics.
The quality of the commentary is solid, but few deep insights arise. This is ok, in that PxP keeps a laser focus on the game, but it does – at times – drift into pedestrian “agreement”.
Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Their commentary is generally either directly related to the game or refers to second-order consequences (e.g. minor league prospect that might fill in for an injured player or the like). They, as a team, are on the game first, the Yankees second, and little else. The net effect, to the audience, is that they appear to be a very professional cadre, and all appear to be acutely aware that they are competing for the audience’s collective time and attention, that the viewer has choices and that the network respects the viewer’s desire to watch the Yankees. The team seems to trust the viewer (which, in turn, breeds reciprocal trust from the viewer).
As a group, their insights are thoughtful, if not always profound, and almost always directly relevant. While a viewer will never doubt on which side the announcers stand, there are few anti-opposition comments (even in a Yankees-Red Sox game) or cheap shots.
The team introduces trivia and factoids to illustrate discussion points or provide perspective in a particular player, but does not overwhelm the viewer with arcane irrelevance.
Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Pregames were natural and easy – each speaker seem to genuinely listen to the others, and think before responding to “tosses” and questions. Voices work well together, are pleasing and listenable, and throughout the game there is an almost palpable sense that the entire team (including the producers) are trying to link the words with the game on the screen and the Yankees in general. The team does not come off as a group of out-of-work comedians, and the chemistry is adequate for the task at hand.
The team does not presume too much viewer knowledge of baseball nuance, but they do assume the audience has a modicum of awareness about the Yankees, their division, and league, and about the team’s immediate challenges.
Neither color announcer tries to make the viewer feel like a baseball outsider, but both convey simple, appropriate points regarding the physical and mental activities on the field. Also, on several occasions, both are willing to admit “I don’t know” rather than either assume they have inside knowledge into the mind of a player or coach.
One particular pitch sequence analysis of a strike out of David Ortiz was particularly apt and a microcosm of the analytical approach – informative and brief, and then the broadcast team moved on to the next situation.
Category: Production Values
The camera work is solidly professional. The cameras hold static views of batter/catcher, without overuse of “people in the crowd” shots, to show the game, not the game-as-event. This is not a standard used by many other broadcast teams, notably the national ESPN and FOX crews, and makes the YES telecast very enjoyable. The use of replay is not overdone – and the tool is used only on plays that are either close or otherwise interesting, which creates as close to an “at the ballpark” experience as I’ve found on television.
Sound balancing allows the viewer to be aware of crowd noise, but never to feel like that noise is overdriving the announcer’s voices. The viewer does not, normally, need to adjust volume to prevent becoming annoyed with random crowd white noise.
Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Commercial drops are done either in relationship to a specific event (a sponsored slo-mo replay or the like) or at the end of innings. Very rarely do the announcers remind the audience that the telecast is a profit-making tool during the course of a half-inning. Sideline reporting can be awkward and problematic, as the substance of the injection frequently, but only briefly, overrides the play-by-play discussion. The YES team keeps those reports to a minimum, and does not dwell on chatty banter with the reporter in lieu of simply returning to the game ASAP.
The existence of MLB.TV and the MLB Extra Innings television packages for cable and satellite provide an opportunity to sample, and critique, every broadcasting team at the major league level. There is an inevitable spread in quality among those teams, but the quality of the New York Yankees is manifest in the simplicity of the experience. One of the great Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing was that “if it sounds like writing, re-write it”. YES honors that adage, and makes baseball on television as much about baseball as virtually any other network in the game.
About the author:
Bill Johnson has been a member of SABR since 1994, and has contributed over 20 biographies to the BioProject. He is a consultant with the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway.
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.