Fans routinely misses pitches because NESN tries to cram an excessive number of commercials between innings, airs excessive replays, and lingers on irrelevant dugout shots. NESN gives us worthless "tours" of concrete hallways in other stadiums and asinine non-baseball segments. Worse than that, the network often fails to show the action on the field.
Announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy have become sad parodies of themselves. While Orsillo still calls a decent play-by-play, he also swamps viewers with waves of useless information between pitches and batters. Remy, ostensibly an analyst, offers no analysis whatsoever.
I have been watching NESN since 2003 (via MLB's Extra Innings package). At that time, living in Manhattan, it was a thrill to have the Red Sox on every night. But NESN was far from perfect. It routinely aired too many commercials (or promos for their own shows) during breaks in the game. Inevitably, it would miss the first one or two pitches of a half-inning several times every night. That meant that NESN missed an entire at-bat if the first pitch was put into play. Several times, NESN came back from commercial with a batter jogging back to the dugout after making an out; one night, we rejoined the game as a batter was rounding second after homering on the first pitch. Also, Remy was constantly promoting his website and its various giveaways and sale of autographed scorecards. A Red Sox game often felt like a three-hour Remdawg infomercial. At some point, though, that suddenly stopped. The problem of missed pitches also vanished, though NESN continued to cut it very close, often coming back to the game as the pitcher was going into his windup.
NESN's problems have gotten worse over the last two years. Viewers are misses pitches again - and they are missing them in the middle of innings. In what I can only assume is a ploy to get more casual fans to tune in, NESN introduced a bunch of segments this season, including Small Talk, Ask Jerry, MLB News and Notes, and the clubhouse and booth tours.
Small Talk consisted of little kids asking Red Sox players questions, fans were invited to ask Remy questions via Twitter, and the network began showing us behind-the-scenes footage of the clubhouses of stadiums and broadcasting booths around the American League. News and Notes consists of three items of interest that most baseball fans probably knew about as many as 24 hours earlier. NESN routinely misses pitches and whole at-bats during these segments (at times, viewers have heard the crack of the bat and the crowd cheering). NESN would, of course, cut back to the game and show a replay of what they had failed to show live, so, in the producers' minds, we really didn't miss anything at all.
NESN needs to be able to show a complete baseball game in a competent manner before even considering adding any bells and whistles to the broadcast. And in nearly a decade of watching Red Sox games, I have found NESN wholly unable to master the simple task of showing a baseball game.
Runners Scoring. Every time a run is scored, by either team, NESN shows the player crossing the plate. Why is this necessary? Orsillo has told us the run has scored. That should be enough. Also, showing the runner as he steps on the plate means that we do not see the throw come in from the outfield and often miss a close play at second or third base.
Throws to First. NESN's producers do not switch cameras fast enough for viewers to see a pitcher's throws to first (and second). Even when Clay Buchholz, who throws to first compulsively, is on the mound, NESN seems surprised at every throw to first. Fans have missed seeing runners get picked off because of this slowness.
Replays. Almost every replay of a home run begins with a tight shot on the baseball as it leaves the pitcher's hand. At that moment, we cannot see the batter or where the catcher has set up. Once the ball is in flight, NESN often zooms in so close on the ball, we can practically see the red seams rotating. It gives us no context whatsoever of where the ball is in relation to the field. It's a tease of a replay, and NESN would be better served to not show a replay at all. Does the network show these angles so as not to confuse fans with live action? No, because they also show replays with the usual center field cameras - the cameras they use during the game.
Score Bug. Several weeks ago, NESN changed the location of its score bug, the box that shows the score, count, number of outs, pitch count, speed of the pitch, etc., from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. According to one report, the network claimed that the top left position of the bug cut off batters' heads when they were at the plate. While I do not recall that ever being an issue, I do know that the bug's new position has caused problems because NESN's camera operators have not adjusted their shots to compensate for the bug's new position. For example, here we "see" Jacoby Ellsbury tracking Alex Rios's first-inning fly ball on July 18:
a great post about score bugs.)
Don Orsillo. He has always had a problem with not knowing when to keep quiet. His years-long habit of regurgitating various factoids verbatim from the daily press notes is evidence of his fear of silence. Since he is paid to announce, he must be announcing - all the time. But periods of quiet are not the enemy. The game needs to breathe. A good announcer knows that silence can be used to create tension. It is not an evil to be banished from the booth.
Orsillo is unable to incorporate these bits of information into a normal conversation with Jerry Remy or another analyst. They are never presented organically, but simply proclaimed. While he must think they are useful to viewers, they usually have scant relevance to what is going on in the game at that moment. All they really do is give Orsillo something to say between pitches. If Orsillo cut out 95% of these press notes - e.g., X is 4th among all major leaguers in doubles since the 2008 All-Star Break - fans would lose nothing and the broadcast would be improved. Amazingly, Orsillo often has no idea what he is reading. During a game against Baltimore earlier this season, he mentioned that an Oriole (Adam Jones, I believe) had signed a contract extension. Orsillo said this contract would last through 2014 and he specifically emphasized that it had several vesting options. When Remy asked what "vesting options" were, Orsillo said: "I don't know." He also has no sense of timing when it comes to these factoids. Giving a non-descript middle reliever's minor league history during a Red Sox rally in the bottom of the ninth is inappropriate.
When one team has been at-bat for a long time, Orsillo likes to note how long that team's pitcher has been waiting in the dugout. "It's been an #-minute wait for X." I've never heard another announcer do this. Has it been shown that a long wait (however one defines "long") leads to general ineffectiveness? Is there any corrolation between time spent waiting in the dugout between innings and performance? I have no idea and neither does Orsillo. But he keeps track, and so he tells us.
Like many announcers, Orsillo uses the same phrases over and over and over again. I created a Bingo Card last year with some of his well-worn catchphrases. This season, "out of the gate" was used many times every night for several months. A team doesn't have a lead, it usually has an "advantage". And if the day's weather was nice, you are sure to hear that there is "nothing but blue skies above" as the game begins. This sameness gives the impression of an announcer mailing it in, someone going through the motions of his job. Baseball is unique, and the announcing of a game should not feel like it comes straight out of a can.
Orsillo also often speaks in circular sentences, in which he repeats the beginning of the sentence at the end of the same sentence, on the assumption, I suppose, that the listener might have forgotten what he said less than five seconds earlier. It simply adds more noise to the broadcast. A perfect example of this, from July 3: "Oakland's pitchers are doing very well for the Athletics."
Some of this may not be Orsillo's fault. I believe (based on no solid information) that Orsillo is forbidden to discuss certain things with Jerry Remy. When Remy was out undergoing treatment for cancer, Orsillo worked with more than two dozen different analysts. He did a remarkably good job, adjusting his own duties to fit the style of whoever he was sharing the booth with. He was much more conversational, asking questions, seemingly more involved in the game and more knowledgable about baseball in general. There were also nights when Orsillo worked the game (or at least several innings) by himself. This was a revelation. Orsillo was superb. He dropped the pointless press notes, and he was offering decent analysis. Everything I assumed he was incapable of doing (based on his style with Remy) he was doing - and doing quite well. But when Remy returned, Orsillo went back to his annoying habits again.
Jerry Remy. When it comes to analysis of the game, Remy offers absolutely nothing to the NESN broadcast. That has not always been true; in seasons past, his insights have added to my understanding of the game, but those days are long past.
This year, his contributions have been little more than repeating Orsillo's play-by-play in slightly different words, or simply describing what we see on the replay. He does almost nothing else. His job has evolved into being the play-by-play guy for the replays. Some examples (and, honestly, I could have picked just about any at-bat in any game. These seemed especially bad. Remember that the replay is being shown on screen as Remy is talking.):
July 30, Miguel Cabrera, 1st inning:
Orsillo: 1-0 is back to Buchholz, who looks the runner back to second and throws to first, able to make the pick on a hot shot right back at him.August 1, Miguel Cabrera, 1st inning:
Remy: Very nice play for Clay Buchholz. That ball was down low to the ground and he was able to make the play, check the runner at second base, hold him, and then go to first base to get the out. So they get the out, they do not advance the runner from second base.
Orsillo: 3-2 is on the ground and by the lunging Middlebrooks at third base. Crawford will throw it back in. It's a two-out single for Miguel Cabrera.August 2, Denard Span, 3rd inning:
Remy: Well, Cook does get the ground ball, but the ground ball gets by Middlebrooks, and the base hit for Cabrera. ... A two-hop ground ball that gets by Middlebrooks at third base.
Orsillo: This is a fair ball, and a base hit down the right field line. Around from second comes Dozier, he will score. The throw goes to second and it is late. An RBI double for Denard Span and the Minnesota Twins jump on top, 1-0.August 2, Ryan Doumit, 4th inning:
Remy: Span gets a fastball inside and hooks it right down that first base line. Hitting streak now at 11 games. There's the fastball, down and in. Everything had been away previous to this pitch, and Denard Span was ready for it. Bounces off the wall to Cody Ross, the two-base hit for Span, and the two-out RBI for Span.
Orsillo: Up to an 11-game hitting streak now for Span.
Orsillo: Sounds like a broken bat grounder to short. Ciriaco to second for one, on to first - and a nice stretch, nice dig out there by Gonzalez. Double play turned by the Red Sox. Two outs now in the top of the fourth. Nicely done, Adrian again at first base.August 3, Kelly Shoppach, 8th inning:
Remy: Yeah, very quick over to shortstop, on the feed to Pedroia, and then Pedroia quick on the turn at second base, to complete the double play. Of course, Gonzalez putting the finishing touches on it, with the stretch.
Orsillo: Shoppach lines it into left field. Crawford will touch second and head for third - no, he's going to throw the brakes on and try to get back, and he will. The throw went to third and Darin Mastroianni got to that ball quickly, and got it back in in a hurry.August 9, Michael Brantley, 1st inning:
Remy: He sure did. And it looked like Crawford was headed to third base but because Mastroianni covered that ground so quickly out in left field, he had to hold up at second base. See how much ground he covers going there, to his right, and the throw right on the money at third base. Kelly Shoppach picks up his second hit of the night.
Orsillo: And this is sliced down the third base line into left. From first to third goes Santana. The throw will go in that direction as up to second base goes Brantley. And all of a sudden, it is second and third now, with two outs in the first inning.August 9, Lou Marson, 5th inning:
Remy: Right down the third base line for the double for Brantley. He's on an eight-game hitting streak. He gets the fastball from Doubront right there, the inside-out swing, right down the third base line, and by the time Crawford gets to it, two men in scoring position with two outs.
Orsillo: Lined into right field, a base hit for Marson. Over to play it is Ross. Just up over the outstretched glove of Ciriaco at second base. Lou Marson's got a one-out single and it breaks up a string of nine in a row retired by Doubront.August 9, Jacoby Ellsbury, 9th inning (3rd pitch):
Remy: And Doubront was on a very, very nice [roll?] there, pitches very crisp, but Lou Marson this time takes the fastball that's down and in, and the inside-out swing to the opposite field for the line drive base hit. Ciriaco jumps, he can't make the play. Cody Ross on one knee out there in right field to make sure it doesn't get by him.
Orsillo: Swing and a miss. High fastball at 95, and it's 1-2.Remy also practically yells his commentary for the first three innings or so every night before calming down and talking like a normal person. He is especially loud when announcing each team's fielders.
Remy: A rising fastball that time from Perez, at 95 miles an hour.
Orsillo and Remy almost never talk about what is going on with other teams - not like two fans at the game would talk. I assume they simply do not keep up with other teams unless the Red Sox are playing them that day. They also seem adverse to discussing what is going on with the Red Sox, which I have for years found remarkable. With the baseball cable package, many people from outside the Boston area tune in to NESN and they do not always read the Boston papers online. Having the team's announcers discuss the state of the club would seem to be an essential part of their jobs.
Orsillo and Remy often sound like two people each calling his own game from his own private booth. They often repeat the same information the other one has just said, as if they were not paying attention at all. When it comes to baseball, there is no real interaction or conversation between the two.
They do have their shtick, however, which seems forced, almost scripted, at times. And because of all the other non-baseball additions to the broadcasts, their inane banter now grates on my nerves rather than offering any possible amusement. Do mittens have fingers? Are bats considered birds? Don wearing eye black in the booth. Inning-long interviews with the weatherman from a new NESN business partner. Jokes about Don's appetite. Jokes about Remy's misanthropy. Don's dance moves. Remy edging dangerously into "Circle Me, Bert" territory by sending free hot dogs (not bought with his own money, you can be sure!) to various Red Sox fans in the stands. During yesterday's game, after the Red Sox had scored eight runs in the fifth inning, what was "coming up"?
And then there are the little annoyances. NESN is relying on fielding percentage a lot this season and Orsillo and Remy seem very serious when they mention it. Many smart baseball minds realized how worthless fielding percentage was more than 120 years ago. And there are the verbal tics "and just like that" or "very quickly". One example: "and the count is very quickly 0-2". (Note: An 0-2 count happens in the same number of pitches every time: two. It arrives neither quickly nor slowly.)
NESN executives know that hardcore Red Sox fans will tune in no matter what - even if they watch in silence as I have done many times this season. But to keep ratings as high as possible, NESN needs to attract marginal fans or curious viewers, and those executives believe that the game is not enough. Non-baseball distractions are needed. With the Red Sox doing so poorly, the annoying sideshow is likely to expand and become an even greater part of the broadcasts. And I expect Orsillo and Remy will keep coasting in their jobs. And I'll likely be watching NESN on mute.