Flagship: SportsNet New York (SNY)
PxP: Gary Cohen (since 2006)
Color: Ron Darling (since 2006); Keith Hernandez (since 2006)
Reviewer: David B. Wilkerson
Category: Play by Play
Sitting in a booth with two former players with strong personalities, the wrong kind of play-by-play man could be subsumed, relegated to the status of a straight man who just feeds lines to his partners. Gary Cohen avoids this fate with a strong, authoritative style and a flair for the dramatic that allows him to assume command of the broadcast when the game demands it.
Cohen calls the game smoothly. As the game goes along, he fills in useful information about the pitcher, the batter and how each team has been trending in recent days or weeks. When a run-scoring situation begins to take shape, he presents the pertinent facts, offers his partners a chance to step in with their observations, bounces off those remarks with an assessment or two of his own (which may or may not be favorable to a Met player), and then gets back to the pitch sequence.
When there is a key hit or another significant play, Cohen’s voice takes on a smoky, dangerous quality, changing in pitch, and the description is free of clichés or simple catchphrases.
Once in a while, Hernandez and Darling get caught up in a story that goes on for one or two entire at-bats, with little or no interjection from Cohen about the game we’re watching. This doesn’t happen in crucial situations, however.
Category: Color Commentary
Darling and Hernandez offer illuminating, sometimes subtle remarks as Cohen executes the play-by-play. They give the impression of friends who generally get along, but can irritate each other, like anyone would in “real life.”
In one game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons came to the plate with men at first and second with one out against Mets starter Carlos Torres. Simmons had already hit a home run off Torres in the previous inning. Cohen noted that the Mets were conceding a run, playing the infield back. Simmons took a big cut at the first pitch and missed. Hernandez grunted. “Yeah – that’s too big a swing right there,” he said. “The kid just lets it rip, and you want to be a little more controlled [Hernandez’ voice rose an octave, trilling the “l”s in the word] in RBI situations. That’s just … you’re coming out of your shoes to swing at that pitch.” Hernandez was proved right when Simmons then hit a fly ball to left that was far too shallow to score Dan Uggla from third.
Category: Broadcast Team Commentary
The key to a three-man booth is that everyone defers enough so that each man has sufficient time to talk – and yet, each color commentator makes a contribution distinct enough to justify why we should be hearing from two of them, rather than just one, which is the more traditional set-up. The Mets team manages this dance quite well.
As the starter begins his effort against New York, Cohen sums up his overall stats and how he has done against the Mets. At that point, Darling might chime in with some observation about his stuff. Cohen may make another remark, and then Hernandez makes his contribution. It is rare that one man steps on another’s words, even momentarily.
The team is better than average at summing up and opining on happenings in baseball outside of the game at hand. A simple shot of the Pittsburgh Pirates-Washington Nationals score as displayed at Citi Field led to an incisive discussion of the Nationals’ offensive woes, potential concerns for the Pirates, and the state of the N.L. Central, complete with a graphic of the standings. The trio do well at riffing off whatever elements or topics present themselves.
Category: Charisma and Chemistry
Mets fans must enjoy having former teammates Darling and Hernandez in the same booth. Even when they discuss painful moments for the 1980s teams on which they were featured, their combined memories make anecdotes more entertaining than either of them could offer alone. There is also enough contrast between the ex-players’ personalities that amusing moments can result, even though the game on the field can sometimes become an afterthought in such moments.
There’s one brilliant exchange that highlights just how well these broadcasters mesh:
After a cutaway to Kevin Burkhardt about Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr. and what it was like to grow up having a father who was a Major Leaguer, Darling and Hernandez got into an illuminating discussion about why there seems to be an increasing number of players who come from such a lineage. “One thing that’s changed,” Darling said, “is that back in my day, it was really frowned on to have families around the ballpark, around the teams … and it’s different now. The kids come and play catch with their dads.”
Hernandez agreed, but asserted: “It got that way in the ’90s and early 2ooos, when you had that most embarrassing situation, in that Angels-Giants World Series , when Dusty Baker’s kid almost got killed, which was a complete joke – it was ridiculous that that ever happened. But I remember seeing kids in the clubhouse, and thinking, ‘Hey, this is a workplace.’ I may be old-fashioned here, but kids don’t belong there. Players come here to work.”
Hernandez added that when he played, by a time when most games were played at night, he expected to be able to sleep late the following day. “When I was married to my first wife and had my three daughters, it was like, ‘Get the kids out, have ’em go play somewhere, and you can bring them in after 12 noon, when I wake up.’” There was an awkward silence at this point, while the other men in the booth seemed to be laughing. Darling finally said, amid more laughter, “I can’t believe [that] … I guess that ‘Father of the Year’ thing is out the window – for this year, anyway.”
It was a fun exchange, one that perhaps went on a bit too long, but one that underscores the exquisite combination of insight, personality and chemistry these men bring to the broadcasts.
At their best, Cohen, Darling and Hernandez are able to keep the viewer thinking, challenging managerial moves not only for their possible consequences during the game, but for the potentially negative signals they may send to the team’s players.
In the top of the seventh inning at Citi Field, with the Mets trailing 2-1 against the Phillies , there were two outs when the No. 8 man in the Phils batting order, John Mayberry Jr., doubled off starter Zach Wheeler. Mets manager Terry Collins opted to remove Wheeler, who had retired nine straight batters prior to the Mayberry hit.
Cohen asked: “How often do you make a pitching change with the pitcher coming up?” He then seemed to answer his own question by mentioning that Wheeler had thrown 105 pitches on the night, after throwing 115 and 114 in his previous two starts. However, Darling echoed Cohen’s initial reaction. “It’s a different kind of day today,” he said. After a commercial break, SNY showed Wheeler chatting with pitching coach Dan Warthen, who was shaking his head as he spoke, and Collins. Prompted by Cohen, Darling elaborated on his concerns. “… I can only say from experience that if my team has scored me one run, and you’re taking me out when the pitcher’s up, I am hot. Red hot.” The discussion then moved on to the issue of whether pitcher’s wins should still be considered viable stats in the modern era, and Darling again underscored the culpability of the Mets’ offense. Phillies hurler Cliff Lee struck out to end the inning, perhaps validating Collins’ decision, but by bringing up another angle – what the move implied to a competitive young pitcher – Cohen and Darling asked the viewer to consider something that might not be obvious at first glance.
In a game against the Braves, Darling and Hernandez, led by Cohen, assessed a number of permutations as each Met came to the plate in what turned out to be a three-run rally. Do you bunt here? Do you bring the infield in? Do you let this guy swing 3-0? Darling would ask Hernandez. Hernandez would ask Darling. Cohen would ask each of them.
These examples exemplify a fully engaged broadcast team, maintaining a tight focus on a game that rewards the knowledgeable and passionate Mets fan.
Category: Production Values
Production values are solid, certainly meeting the modern broadcast standard. Camera angles are crisp and useful, showing pitches, outfield plays and close plays on the bases in a way that provides the viewer with a clear sense of what the correct call should be.
On one play at second base in which Eric Young was clearly safe on a stolen base attempt, every angle was illuminating, especially one close up in which one could almost read the writing on the side of the base as Young’s foot slid in long before a glove came into view.
On the downside, there was no evidence of a “strike zone tracker” that would offer an even more precise take on balls and strikes – an innovation that should be a part of every telecast in this era.
The “Geico Starting Lineup” graphics are a nice touch, made to look like a game-used lineup card, with blue block lettering to indicate each starter, as well as players who are available off the bench (an aspect of the game rarely touched upon in most broadcasts until the late innings).
Category: Commercialism and Cutaways
Commercial elements are handled in a way that doesn’t distract the viewer, as upcoming promotions at Citi Field and other items are presented in standard fashion, certainly no more of a distraction than they are on most MLB telecasts.
Cutaways to Kevin Burkhardt are adequate, sometimes leading to fruitful discussions between Cohen, Darling and Hernandez, often with a healthy dose of humor. As mentioned in the “Broadcast Team Commentary” section, this crew excels at references to teams and situations around the rest of baseball, sometimes leading out of Burkhardt’s segments.
Mets games on SportsNet New York are among the best in the game today. They are professionally produced, with a spirited broadcast team delivering a smart, entertaining take on the club’s adventures. The telecast makes the most of a three-man booth, no mean feat. There’s plenty of nostalgia for Mets fans who can remember when Darling and Hernandez played together, and strong in-game commentary, analysis and chemistry/charisma helps keep a tight focus on the action during crucial situations while creating an overall experience that all fans, Mets or not, are certain to enjoy.
About the author:
David B. Wilkerson is a veteran journalist and lifelong baseball fan who joined SABR in 2012. His work, usually focused on the business of media, has appeared at MarketWatch and the Dow Jones Newswires.
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.