TV: Toronto Blue Jays

Flagship: Rogers Sportsnet Ontario

PxP: Buck Martinez (since 2010)
Matt Devlin (fills in when Martinez is off)

Color: Pat Tabler (since 2001)

Reviewer: Dan Gallo

Category: Play by Play
Grade: 40

The Blue Jays have one main PxP announcer, Buck Martinez. When Martinez is out, Toronto Raptors basketball announcer Matt Devlin subs and does a good job. However, this review won’t include much about Devlin since he is a not a regular part of the broadcast team.

Buck Martinez is a veteran of the game, and as a former Blue Jays manager knows the organization. But his PxP suffers from a deficit of rapport and natural delivery. His game calling feels stuffy and choppy and he sounds out of his element leading the broadcast. You get the feel that he’s often reading from game notes instead of talking off the cuff. He could work on naturally weaving facts into a broadcast. His information is good, but his abrupt style results in a “talking at you” sound, which is anathema in a sports broadcast. If Martinez were to relax and lay off the at-times literal interpretation of everything that happens on-field, it might give the broadcast a more natural texture.

As a former player and especially manager, he offers a lot of good insight and in fact, his style feels more suited to color man. The lesson here: Just because you played baseball doesn’t mean you can lead a broadcast team. However, when the Blue Jays do score, Martinez makes a solid effort at enthusiasm. The growl in his home run calls will make you stop what you’re doing.

In short, if it’s just the facts you want, then Martinez is adequate. But his PxP lacks the character that baseball announcers are often known for.

Category: Color Commentary
Grade: 55

Former player Pat Tabler does color commentary for the Jays. Tabler approaches his duties with an understated, almost humble style that grows on the viewer with each game. Tabler’s energy is a bit low, but this style works because it relaxes a broadcast that at times seems forced.

Tabler plays an attractive role sprinkling relevant observations throughout the broadcast, while avoiding a know-it-all posture. With ease, he calls on his baseball experience to relay what a base runner or hitter is thinking in various scenarios. You don’t doubt what he’s saying for a moment. Understated, but authoritative.

You do, however, get the feel that Tabler isn’t living up to his full potential in the broadcast booth. Having a better PxP man could help “pull him up” to a new level. Indeed, when Matt Devlin fills in, he endearingly turns to “Tabbie” for his take on what just happened in the game, naturally “pulling in” Tabler to incorporate the color man’s energy into the broadcast. It results in a more interesting version of Tabler—something that’s less prominent when Martinez is doing PxP. He also does a good job of explaining the “why” of what just what happened, one recent example being his diagnosis of “slow infield speed” on a failed double play attempt by an opposing team.

Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
Grade: 50

Both announcers have a history with the Blue Jays organization that pays off during the broadcast. And as former players, their intricate knowledge of the game is perhaps their strongest suit, offering value-added analysis. For example, after a Bret Lawrie home run, Martinez and Tabler effortlessly recalled the pitch sequence that led to a breaking ball that wound up over the left field wall.

The overall sound of the broadcast feels too dry, a fact that mostly can be attributed to Buck Martinez’s style.

Because both announcers are former players, they have a good grasp of what to look for both in the home and visiting players. Their research on opposing pitchers is good.

They also strike a professional chord in their fair assessment of the home team. While these two have a past with the team, they don’t build them up unnecessarily when the Jays are playing badly. When in the midst of a blowout though, they do play part-therapist for the home audience, hoping aloud that the Jays can “stop the bleeding.” But overall, they remain authentic to the game.

Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Grade: 40

Martinez and Tabler seem to genuinely like each other, but their on-air chemistry isn’t anything to write home about. Again, Martinez doesn’t do a great job of meshing Tabler into the broadcast. They seem to work like two independent entities, much of which can be attributed to Martinez’s forced style.

If there is any chemistry at all, it’s because neither of these guys are flashy. Martinez is certainly respectful of Tabler, never stepping on the color man’s commentary. The main criticism is that Martinez doesn’t pull him into the broadcast naturally.

Over and over again, it feels as though that the tenor of the broadcasts lacks natural, conversational skill. However, the lack in charisma is made up by both players’ experience in the game and with this team.

Category: Analysis
Grade: 55

Having two former players in the broadcast booth has its advantages. Both announcers talk in concrete terms about the game.

Neither announcer shies away from home team negatives. For instance, after R. A. Dickey gave up a home run, they went to a graphic showing the number of home runs the knuckleballer has given up at his home ballpark this season. And throughout Dickey’s game, both announcers intelligently discussed what it’s like for a player to hit a knuckleball. Their discussion was value-added and the analysis is one area where this team really thrives.

Category: Production Values
Grade: 60

The Jays technical staff puts on a tight broadcast. Their graphics package is solid, doing a good job getting you up to speed if you tune in late. They’re no frills and a good example of a team that uses just enough during the game. Nothing fancy.

At the beginning of an at-bat, the lower-third “flips” to a blurb about a player’s recent streak, career numbers at visiting ballparks, performance against the opponents or other relevant stats/accomplishments. It’s the kind of information you’d find on a scoreboard at the game. Keeping it on the lower-third (as opposed to a full screen graphic) allows the viewer to stay with the on-field action.

The Jays broadcast often employs nice high camera angles from right and left fields—catching hot shots down the baselines from a good angle. Overall, the variety of shots in different situations is spot-on. With runners on base, cameras catch a high/wide shot of the field from behind home plate, giving the viewer a good feel for what’s happening before a pitch.

The shot from the camera well on the 1st base side is also used when a runner is on 1st; it provides a great perspective of what the runner is seeing.

“Due up” graphics for the opposing team are no-frills; for the Jays, they’re heavily produced—almost video game equivalent. It’s appropriate home team fanfare.

Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Grade: 40

Throughout the broadcast, several drop-in advertisements (about 15 seconds long) abruptly interrupt the action. With no warning between at-bats, you may suddenly see a boisterous ad for the latest Acura luxury SUV. It’s essentially a mini-commercial break and it ruins the flow of the game. This happens several times per broadcast. In-game advertising is expected, but the drop-ins detract from the experience. The Jays should incorporate in-game ads more subtly, using the announcers to read the copy. Everyone expects graphics, but I was annoyed by the entire game coming to a stop—all just so an ad could be played.

The rest of the advertising is fine. Ads are incorporated naturally during bump-ins or on graphics in a way that do not detract from the game.

Category: Overall
Grade: 48

The Blue Jays TV broadcast could use a shot of natural energy and a shot of personality.

While watching a Blue Jays, one can easily picture a non-relaxed Buck Martinez leaning forward in the broadcast booth, reading glasses rested on the bridge of his nose, glancing between game notes and the game. You keep hoping that Martinez would eventually settle into a groove, relax and chat with the viewer instead of telling the game to the viewer. But throughout 9 innings, it doesn’t happen.

Martinez and Tabler could benefit by having a third broadcaster like Matt Devlin rotate in. It would add some spark and personality to the broadcast. The telecast could really benefit from effecting a traditional conversational tone.

 

About the author:

Dan Gallo is an LA-based field producer at a television news network.  Originally from Missouri, he spent a decade in Washington, DC & has an interest in the relationship between the national pastime and politicians.

 

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.

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