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[updated] This is important: Joe Morgan, Jon Miller no longer the voices of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball

 

Two years after Ken Tremendous shut down the site dedicated to the cause, the Times reports that ESPN has fired Joe Morgan. Or "declined to renew [his] contract," according to the Times. Jon Miller's destination is still unclear, though the network has decided to move on from the team for the Sunday night baseball broadcasts.

I acknowledge that both men have their fans, but ultimately this is good news for baseball fans.  Miller has a classic voice, sure, but his tone could occasionally sound condescending, as though he was describing the game to a kindergartener. As for Morgan: where do you want to start? He did know the game, and he would provide the occasional strong insight, but all of that was outweighed by his stubborn, "flat-earth society"-esque approach to advanced metrics and the general emphasis on on-base percentage and power (bolstered by an almost pathological hatred of Billy Beane and computers) throughout baseball (and yes, this would be the same approach that won Theo Epstein and Bill James two World Series rings with the Red Sox). Even though, ironically, he was exactly that type of player during his career - he was one of the best second basemen of all time, no joke. But that's irrelevant. Even if you don't account for the stats issue, or his seeming lack of awareness of what was happening in the baseball games he wasn't assigned to broadcast, he is presently employed by the Cincinnati Reds (which led to him, among other things, showering with the team recently), which, I would think, would constitute a conflict of interest. Although I guess Don Orsillo is employed by the Red Sox (via NESN), and he does national games, so maybe this is a grayer area than I realize.

Either way, I'll take Orel Hershiser, who actually comes off as fairly thoughtful in the booth, over Morgan any day.

UPDATE: Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball has an interesting take on this over at Awful Announcing. Short version: Morgan and Miller weren't great, but the real problem with Sunday Night Baseball was their tendency to seek out a storyline about the game before the game even starts and then stick to that angle during the game regardless of what was actually happening. He's right, of course, and anyone who's ever watched Joe Buck and Tim McCarver (and incidentally, McCarver is a much worse broadcaster than Morgan in every way possible) on Fox will tell you that this is not an ESPN-only problm - nor, for that matter is it exclusive to baseball; how much will viewers hear about the careers of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant during this Friday's Blazers-Thunder game on ESPN? 

Granillo believes this is unlikely to change with the switchover to Hershiser and Henry Schulman (if, indeed, that is the team ESPN winds up going with), and he's probably right. None of this invalidates the complaints about Morgan in my view, and I don't think Granillo is saying the guy should be staying or anything like that, only that Morgan is symptom rather than cause.

Ultimately, I think that both the networks and fans alike need to have the larger conversation about the proper role of the play-by-play and color commentators during the broadcast of a sporting event, as that (along with the officiating of the game) seems to be what people complain about the most often when watching sports on television. My sense is that most people want broadcasters to stay out of the game's way and focus on the action on the field, rink, court, or pitch, which is something networks have failed to grasp lately. I do think there is value in an ex-player pointing out something that most of us fans - even those of us who watch several dozen games a year - wouldn't notice, and I would guess that somewhere along the line, some producer told an ex-player to make that the focus of his commentary. At some point, presumably, that became the hustle-fetish we see when we watch nowadays, where people only discuss those "little things" on the air, and a guy like David Eckstein gets praised more frequently than a guy like Alex Rodriguez. I think the national broadcasts also tend to underestimate how much their audiences are watching the sport in question on a regular basis - especially nowadays when it's so much easier to follow not just one team but several. But maybe I'm wrong about that. I don't know if it's possible to satisfy both casual and diehards on the same broadcast. I would love to see someone try, though.

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