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Let local broadcast teams cover the MLB playoffs

Celebrate, don’t muzzle, local voices

Vin Scully says goodbye
We’ve been missing Vin Scully for years, in the playoffs.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When the MLB playoffs begin, nearly everyone associated with playoff teams gets a chance to show their skills on a national stage. The GM’s roster, the manager’s decisions, the grounds crew’s field, the vendors’ food…the entire organization takes center stage. Except, unfortunately, for the local TV broadcast team. When the playoffs start, the folks who have called nearly every game of their season are cast aside for a hastily-assembled national broadcast team that can’t do the job as well. It’s easy to find criticism of national broadcasts; as just one example, Wikipedia lists a slew of problems with TBS’s coverage. Baseball would benefit from changing this.

The role of a TV broadcaster is to inform and entertain their audience, helping viewers understand and appreciate the game they’re watching. Yet national TV stations insist on presenting viewers with the broadcast equivalent of a chain restaurant - bland at best, indigestible at worst. Watching a national playoff baseball broadcast is like visiting New Orleans and eating at Cracker Barrel. It might not make you sick, but there’s a lot you’re missing. One of baseball’s strengths is its regional character; why dilute that by eliminating the voices that best represent each team, their broadcasters?

Fixing this is easy, in theory. Imagine a system in which national broadcasts simply use the home broadcast team, from announcer to camera crews. These folks know the stadium, the team, and the setting, and are far better suited to present a superior broadcast to the viewing public. They can explain, predict, and analyze their team to a national audience in a way that rarely-used national broadcasters never could. Using the home team’s crew would guarantee everyone exposure, as home games are certain for every team (except the second wild card, perhaps a fair punishment for being the last team to qualify). Imagine if a national broadcast required the use of a nationally-assigned grounds crew that didn’t know the stadium, or a nationally-assigned manager that didn’t know the team. Why do we celebrate the local character of playoff teams while eliminating the voices that define and convey that regionalism to millions of fans?

On Sunday, I watched Vin Scully call a game for the first and last time. I’d known of him forever, but never gotten around to actually watching a full Dodgers game. It seemed truly a shame that Scully’s career ended with a relatively meaningless game, without the chance to participate in the playoffs. He’s accomplished so much, yet will be cast aside for these playoffs. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has made many controversial proposals for reforming the game and increasing fan interest, perhaps he should consider working with national TV stations to improve the quality of playoff broadcasts by using an untapped resource: the knowledge and skills of local broadcasters.

Not all local broadcasters are great, Royals fans know that all too well. But would featuring Rex Hudler, Ryan Lefebvre, and Steve Physioc really be any worse than some of the current national broadcasters? At worst, fans can hit mute and turn on the radio, which many already do. There’s little to lose and so much to gain.