August 13, 2012

The Many Problems With NESN

It has become a chore to listen to and watch NESN's amateurish Red Sox broadcasts.

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.

Some problems:

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:
An obvious solution would be to run the bug as one long line across either the top or bottom of the screen. (The fantastic Flip Flop Fly Ball has 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.

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.
August 1, Miguel Cabrera, 1st inning:
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.

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.
August 2, Denard Span, 3rd inning:
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.

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.
August 2, Ryan Doumit, 4th inning:
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.

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.
August 3, Kelly Shoppach, 8th inning:
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.

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.
August 9, Michael Brantley, 1st inning:
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.

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.
August 9, Lou Marson, 5th inning:
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.

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.
August 9, Jacoby Ellsbury, 9th inning (3rd pitch):
Orsillo: Swing and a miss. High fastball at 95, and it's 1-2.

Remy: A rising fastball that time from Perez, at 95 miles an hour.
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.

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"?
Both Orsillo and Remy seem sometimes seem blind to the play on the field. They are not as bad as Yankees announcer John Sterling, who occasionally invents incidents on the field, but both Orsillo and Remy often have trouble seeing and describing what is going on in front of them. In the past weeks, Orsillo has said a ball was caught on the warning track when it was caught 20-25 feet in front of the track, a ball that hit (at most) halfway up the Wall was described as "high off the Wall". Recently, Detroit's Prince Fielder was struck near the right ear by a pickoff attempt at second base. The ball hit his helmet, knocking it off, and Fielder's hands went to the side of his head. This was visible (and audible) as it happened. During the replay, Orsillo and Remy both wondered if the ball hit Fielder in the back or in the ribs. It wasn't until the Tigers trainer had come onto the field, and was examining Fielder's ear that they realized what most casual observers already knew.

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.

31 comments:

joe yogi simeone said...

BRAVO! the only way i can watch nesn these days is with the sound off and via dvr so i can fast-forward thru all the irrelevant crap. i hope--against hope--that someone at nesn is reading your post.

laura k said...

"That's right, Allan". It's a chore. Thanks for documenting it for us.

I prefer to watch on mute or with WEEI via MLB Audio. I know, I know, that leaves us with Dave O'Brien. But (a) at least that's only one irritating announcer instead of two and (b) I'll take OB over Don & Jerry any day, hands down.

Matt said...

Thank you for this. I haven't been able to listen to NESN for five years because of these guys.

Caffeinated Joe said...

I guess we are in the minority here, but my wife and I love watching with Don and Jerry. :)

allan said...

There was also the snafu at the start of the July 30 game. Before a pitch was thrown, the bug had Detroit leading 1-0. Austin Jackson led off the game with a home run and the score changed to 2-0.

Jere said...

"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."

This isn't always the case. Two games ago, they were showing replays and we could hear ball hitting glove in the background. A pitch had been thrown. NESN considered it meaningless. No mention of it, no replay, just Don starting the call on the new hitter at 1-0.

My other big problem with them lately is not cutting to the field camera in time after a ball has been hit. I've counted as many as 7 steps by a batter toward first as they linger on the regular pitch camera before they cut to the field cam so we can see where the ball is.

And filming fly balls to left field--they will never figure that out, as that cameraman seems to be fooled by a mighty swing as much as anyone else, and we're left to watch the Monster Seats as the left fielder (far below where the screen cuts off) is preparing to make the catch 40 feet below.

Jere said...

And who could forget this classic?

Or this one, where Don/Jerry don't realize an out wasn't actually an out--for nearly a FULL MINUTE?

johngoldfine said...

Thanks for the informative post, interesting even to people like me with no horse in the race (I listen on WEEI, never watch.)

allan said...

(I listen on WEEI, never watch.)

I have my issues with them, as well!

johngoldfine said...

"I have my issues with them, as well!"

No doubt!

9casey said...

allan said...
(I listen on WEEI, never watch.)

I have my issues with them, as well!



Nooo.... I feel as though it is one of the hardest sports to call.. I dont mind Don and Jerry. Listen to YES for a week and you will love the NESN broadcast..

9casey said...

Johnny Pesky has passed at 92

allan said...

Listen to YES for a week and you will love the NESN broadcast.

We watched a MFY-Sox game last year on YES instead of NESN and I actually enjoyed YES more. I certainly got more out of the game.

That is how bad NESN is.

Your said...

If you get Flarhety, Singleton or even Paul O'neil on YES it's not bad. Michael Kaye is the worst on YES. Sterling and Waldman is a whole other story.

Amy said...

Great post. Makes me even happier that I don't pay any attention to what any announcer is saying, except when there has been a controversial play and I am trying to figure out what happened. Otherwise, it's all just babble to me. Why listen at all? I can see what is happening. (Perhaps I just don't need to follow as closely as most others, or perhaps I just am indifferent to most of the details they chatter on and on about in any sport.)

allan said...

Otherwise, it's all just babble to me. Why listen at all? I can see what is happening.

Man, I wish I was like that. But I am not. The words go right into my ear like an arrow.

***

In that YES game, Kay was actually subdued, and all right. But I know enough not to make a regular habit of it.

allan said...

I'll take OB

Except when he's talking about rock and roll...

hrstrat57 said...

Gutsy post Allen, which (sadly) I largely agree with.....

The team struggling is not helping.

Curious Allen, how do you feel about Eck (and where is Eck these days?)

MacLeodCartoons said...

Good stuff Allan. I agree that Remy is bad and really he has got worse and worse over the past three or four seasons. I missed him when he was gone, and some of his replacements were terrible [Dave Roberts, anyone?]but on his return I think I focused on him more and he really doesn't add anything. I do color on D1 College soccer so I'm an expert [ha ha] no, but really I know it's not easy, but we could certainly do better than this. This whole post was well said, and long overdue.

allan said...

I can't see the pre-game, so I know Eck only from games. He is in love with his schtick and is little better than Remy, to me.

Jim said...

I'm a little late to the program but I've gotta thank you for taking the time to compile specifics and writing something that just had to be said. I don't know when I finally realized that NESN broadcasts weren't about the game anymore (even last year's "Heidi as ballpark-food critic" and all the other stuff didn't dominate the entire broadcast). This year, it's all about sideshow. Recently, (I can't even remember the specific game) when the Sox showed life in the 9th, all these two could talk about was what the Shredder was going to do during the celebration (which, btw, never came). Bread and circuses.
Maybe it was the "coming up" sequence, or whatever they call it, when they list at least 3 non-game related topics that we should "be looking forward too". What other broadcast, or sport, suggests you turn your attention from the game at hand? And the constant on-air, in-game promos--even YES does not do it to the extent these guys do.
The disconnect between the notion of "the most knowledgeable fans in baseball" and how the "product" is "packaged" to them by the owners is appalling.

laura k said...

Listen to YES for a week and you will love the NESN broadcast.

I'm sorry to say this (for obvious reasons) but I think the YES broadcast is way better than NESN. NESN looks like minor league ball compared to YES.

Jere said...

"The disconnect between the notion of "the most knowledgeable fans in baseball" and how the "product" is "packaged" to them by the owners is appalling."

But like Allan said, they know the real fans will watch, it's the morons they're trying to attract with this Tweet-a-rific horseshit.

allan said...

Boston Business Journal has picked up this "withering post" and tried to get a comment from NESN about it:

***

Is NESN's Red Sox coverage really this bad?
Boston Business Journal by Galen Moore, Web Editor

Management issues at the Boston Red Sox are well documented: The team's ownership recently had to step forward publicly to confirm they're not planning to fire their new manager. According to one baseball blogger, the malaise extends beyond the Sox clubhouse to another Fenway Sports Group property – NESN.

Allan Wood has been blogging about baseball and the Boston Red Sox since 2003. His latest post is a 3,200-word, point-by-point teardown of baseball coverage on New England Sports Network (NESN), the cable network majority-owned by Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Sox.

"It has become a chore to listen to and watch NESN's amateurish Red Sox broadcasts," he writes. Here are a few highlights from his blog. (An NESN spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.)

* Camera issues: NESN producers leave out important pieces of the game, failing to catch pitcher's throws to first. Instead of showing the throw to the infield, they show the runner crossing the plate.

* Score bug: NESN has changed the location of its score bug, the box that shows score, count, etc., so that it frequently blocks out part of the action.

* Announcers: Allen offers about 1,000 words each on Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo, and few of them are flattering.

A dozen or more readers are in agreement with Wood, according to comments on his blog and on Twitter. Are you?

***

Amy said...

Nice!! I wonder whether the coverage there will prompt a response from NESN. Hope so.

laura k said...

Excellent coverage, and the whole story is this post! Congrats!!

PS: Would it kill them to spell your name properly twice in one story? I guess I should be glad they didn't call you Allen Woods.

Bob Ganley said...

Thank you!! Finally, someone said it!!!!

The last 2 years, things have taken a turn for the worse there!!

Jim Crook said...

How could you leave off Orsillo's #1 problem: needlessly talking in the passive voice. It's a unbelievably annoying habit, something teachers talk you out of in grade school. "Advancing to second is Crawford." "Approaching the mound is Valentine."

Changing the channel is me, Don.
SUBJECT-VERB. Not that hard, and a lot easier for your viewers to follow.

One other thing, a LOT of typos in NESN broadcasts. For example, in at least two games last weekend, the "Due Up" graphic for Cleveland listed Carlos Santana as "Santanna." That's not really a hard name to spell. It's also pretty common and has never been spelled with a double N.

"And again failing to hit the spell-check button is my graphics editor."

allan said...

Jim: I am well aware of that tic, too. But so many announcers do it that I would never think of it as an Orsillo problem. Also, if I detailed everything that bothers me, the post would be easily twice as long as it is now!!

***

Also, NESN apparently never got back to the Boston Biz Journal guy. Which was what I figured. It's one man's opinion - just ignore it.

FrankTrades said...

Wow, have I ever been looking for years for this article. To say that Remy and Orsillo and their entire production is annoying would be a vast underadmission. From the swoosh noise when cameras are switched to the flash-ads and the mini-commercials and promos between pitches to the ad nauseaum interviews of public service types, it is a chore to watch a game. An insurance company "pitch zone?"

Watching other teams' broadcasts can be such a joy.

Kelly Green said...

I disagree.
I was never able to hear (or don't remember) broadcasts by his predecessor, but having watched nearly 100 games per season over the past four or five years, i really like the Orsillo and Remy team. I have only one real bone to pick with Orsillo, and that concerns his use of the phrase, "take a lead," when that team is merely INCREASING a lead they already have. Not sure you can "take" something you already own. Sorta like saying that, between two race cars, the one in front "takes" a lead when all he has done is increase the gap. Taking means "overtaking," no?

Whatever. Contrary to other's opinions, i love the not-frequent-enough GiggleFests between Orsillo and Remy. I like that Orsillo seems like such a nice, genuine man, and Remy is a curmudgeon who seems to play nice for the media. And, i like that they aren't so totally technically oriented. I prefer their broadcast style over any others, when we're talking about a 162-game season. Yes, it's nice to switch to another team every once in a while, as they typically offer more/better pre-pitch/post-pitch analysis of the actual pitches or game situations, but over the long haul, i don't really care to be lectured to.

All of this has become so much more important to me, as i've recently moved to Los Angeles. Before coming here, I was aware of the Legend of Vin Scully, and as someone who saw the Dodgers as Sox West, I was looking forward to hearing Vin Scully for an entire season. Big mistake. He's obviously an icon in broadcasting, but listening to one man drone on and on, by himself, over the course of a baseball game is excruciating. He would be so much better with a partner, and i don't apologize for that sacrilege.

Orsillo and Remy make that argument for me. They are entertaining. They provide enough information for me, and not more than i need or want. They don't suffer from Michael Kay-ish ego issues. They don't have annoying voices like Buck Martinez (oh-my-god)....