Monday, July 13, 2009

Blue Jays: One comes not to bury Jamie Campbell ...

A reasonable person makes do.

That might explain why it has been four months since last dropping a jamiecampbell. The Blue Jays' radio voices, Jerry Howarth, Alan Ashby and Mike Wilner are among the best in the majors (speaking as a XM Radio subscriber who has access to every team's broadcast). Besides, it would be tough to top Bruce Dowbiggin's denunciation of the team's TV flagship, which puts more on the corporation than the commenter.
"The word that springs to mind when listening to play-by-play guy Jamie Campbell and his rota of analysts would be unsatisfying ... a significant part of the hollow feeling springs from the anodyne tone of the crew.

"Now in his third season, Campbell has staked no claim to the team with either a flair for language or his keen insight into baseball. The genius of Vin Scully is that he tells you from the first pitch that he is the pilot, you are the passenger, and you are to sit back while he guides the ship. Even the lugubrious Chuck Swirsky grabbed the Toronto Raptors' mike like a thirsty man throttling a pump handle."
"... After this many games, (Campbell) still has mighty trouble judging fly balls (watch the outfielders) and a propensity for reading the daily statistical notes as if it were Finnegans Wake. His monotone delivery suits the subway (“Next stop Spadina, Spadina next stop”) more than a pennant race.

"The mark of a pro such as Jon Miller is his ability to bring out more than just inside baseball from his co-workers. Campbell's patter with his analysts is painful, leaving Rance Mulliniks or Darrin Fletcher to grind along unmercifully about arcane points of strategy.

"Part of this is not Campbell's fault. Sportsnet likes to grow its own timber and has thrust several people into key announcing spots before they are ready. The results are mixed. When it doesn't work, the outcome is like a travelling company of High School Musical – you know, 'Just wait till they grow up and move to Broadway.' Except they don't grow up. Campbell still seems stranded on first base. If he's being coached it doesn't show.

" ... When Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers legend Duke Snider broke in on Montreal Expos' telecasts with Dave Van Horne, he was raw and almost impossible to listen to. But Van Horne – a pro's pro – shaped Snider's contributions, drew out the man, not the baseball player, and they soon were a perfect team."
There is a honest reticence to comment on Campbell. He does work hard. Broadcasting baseball is a job where someone is expected to be perfect on Day 1 and then get better, although the mass of people watching really do not care too much who's doing the announcing.

The risk in writing this is someone will take it to as a way to act on frustrations over the Jays or what's going on in one's personal life. It isn't. Everyone knew going in this was clearly a sub-.500 team.

Dowbiggin, almost at long last, is pointing out national broadcasters have the wrong idea when it comes to picking the on-air talent for sports beyond hockey. They create their own mistakes, as previously noted:
"Please don't make this into a Jamie Campbell vs. Rod Black kvetchfest. It's tiresome, for one. It's not about them. It's on the highers-up in Canadian broadcasting who don't invest in bringing along bona fide baseball play-by-play people and just expect to get lucky ... The rest of us are just supposed to believe that there isn't a man or woman in a country of 33 million people who can commentate baseball. That's hard to believe." — March 31, 2008
That post, by the way, led to an e-mail from someone who had worked at one of the national networks. It seemed worth hanging on to and releasing at an appropriate time.
"The top executives of the networks don't mind putting people in positions who will 'learn the on the job' while doing play-by-play for fringe sports such as baseball. If it were hockey, you better damn well have years and years of play-by-play experience and know your stuff before they dare put you in front of a camera or on a microphone."
One can try to make do by following the Jays via radio, investing in Delay Play Radio (a device which syncs up the radio play-by-play with digital cable, which is about eight seconds behind). You can snark off that it's ironic The Score, not Sportsnet, is having a contest where the winner gets a job as a sportscaster. However, at the end of the day, just making sport of Jamie Campbell is useless.

The failure of a country of 33 million people to develop a good baseball broadcaster since Dan Shulman joined ESPN is borderline embarrassing. The Hockey Reflex does not mean it's OK to set the bar lower for other sports; look at how TSN broadcasts the CFL.

The definition of crazy is doing something the exact same way and expecting a different result, and that has happened too often with Sportsnet and baseball. One hopes it is going to change in Canada, for the sake of young broadcasters, people such as Tyler King and Mark Masters, to name a couple personal acquaintances. Jamie Campbell is not a bad guy or necessarily bad at broadcasting, he's just someone who was on the right side of a wrongheaded idea. At the end of the day, baseball fans in Canada honestly deserve better. Raptors fans got it with Swirsky and Matt Devlin; soccer fans get it with Gerry Dobson, even CIS nuts do with The Score's Tim Micallef. Why not for baseball, Sportsnet?

Something amiss from Blue Jays broadcasts?; Baseball play-by-play requires a raconteur's touch, a statistician's zeal and a sense of which plays matter most but Sportsnet yet to find right mix


Dave said...

I have to try to set aside my hate the Jays ideology and say that little as I listen to them, Ashby's good, pretty iffy on Howarth as a play-by-play guy, but he does know the game (I know a few Jays fans who don't like him, maybe it's the voice). Campbell is very monotone. One problem, and this occurs in the US too, is the hiring of `broadcast school` guys to do baseball. I love my XM too, and there are so many different styles. I love some of the `homers` like Pat and Ron at Wrigley, and it would be awfully hard to say there were any better than Bob Ueker, or Vin Scully, or Jon Miller, but then I like how excited Ted Lightenburg gets in San Diego (and Jerry Coleman, his sidekick is great), or the guy in KC who kind of slurs as he talks. It`s fun listening to Ed Farmer get more and more depressed on the South Side, and the list goes on.

I`m one of the very few Canadians who at age 10, listening to Duke and Dave every night, said `I want to be an MLB radio broadcaster`, seems like it would be easier for a Canadian kid to PLAY MLB, there are so few broadcasting jobs. But you`re right, the Jays haven`t found one yet, their TV crew has been lousy most of their years. They need to find someone who knows, loves, has played the game, broadcast school credentials be damned. Or just find some good US broadcasters.

Was Elliot Price the best home grown baseball broadcaster, maybe, he got jobbed on his visa, and the Nats guy now ain`t as good.....

Ian H. said...

Good piece, Neate. Campbell is too easy a target and easy to nitpick about the mistakes he makes. You can tell that he is a huge baseball fan, but I don't think that necessarily translates into being a good broadcaster.

Tyler King said...

Dowbiggin really said a lot of what we already knew. The only thing he forgot was the annoying propensity towards multiple birthday wishes for old people on every broadcast.

I've always been conflicted on Jamie Campbell because I thought he was one of the absolute best sports anchors in the country. Campbell and Toth were a duo that have yet to be surpassed by anyone on any network... certainly not on Sportsnet. But the baseball is just not working out.

I always make excuses, though - he's hampered by three generally awful colour men (Fletcher for me is the only bearable one but they still don't gel as a duo). I still wonder how great the broadcasts could have been if Campbell had had the chance to be paired up with John Cerutti before his tragic death. He is still way, way, way, way better than Rob Faulds which is where Dowbiggin is gigantically off base (anyone who "pines" for those days needs to be kicked in the face).

But Jim Hughson was the best we could've hoped for, and we were denied that experience for even a paltry number of games since the CBC is married to soccer and other evil overseas games of its ilk.

I'm probably also too critical because everytime I watch the games and see/hear something irritating, I think of how I would've done it differently since it's been my dream job for years.

I still say they should give Wilner the TV play by play job. If Andy Frost can do PA for the Leafs and host a post-game talk show, why can't Wilner call the games and then do the post-game on the radio? Sportsnet never does its own post-game since it dashes out for Disconnected practically before the final pitch is thrown.

sager said...

Thanks, Kinger.

That would be an interesting experiment for Wilner to handle TV play-by-play and dash back to Jays talk it up on the radio. This is just personal opinion, but one does wonder if long term the plan is for Wilner to take over on the radio when Howarth (who will turn 65 in 2011) retires. Jerry has shown no sign of slowing down and he's got that Californian vitality about him, so that's a long ways off. There have been stretches during games when Alan Ashby's on the call and Wilner is doing the analysis and you don't hear Jerry talking for entire innings.

In all honesty, I have no recollection of Rob Faulds as a baseball play-by-play person. He rocked as the play-by-play guy for the Hamilton Steelheads in the CTV series Power Play, though!

sager said...

@ Ian: Sorry for not publishing your comment much, much sooner. I'm not sold on whether Campbell is a huge fan... Ultimately, though, he's low-hanging fruit. It's on the industry for not developing baseball broadcasters.

Anonymous said...

I see more Seattle broadcasts, but this cutting out to "Disconnected" as you say, as well as the choppy cuts in and out of commercials, lack of pre-game too makes for very, very low production values (think year 1 Loyalist broadcasting). Honestly, if we're going to put any sport on the air, can't we do it properly? It's summer, and the "breaking news" on where Alfredson is playing golf or what Sundin "might do" next February can wait. Pennant races mattered in the 80's, they seem to serve as filler between hockey contract news (yawn) and TFC highights (Yawn)...

Thomas said...

I'm with Tyler on this. You can't honestly ever be put in a position where you're pining for Rob Faulds. That being said, the rest of the article is pretty accurate. Campbell's a likeable guy who just hasn't grown into the job in the way many of us hoped he would.

However, I'll disagree with Tyler on the analysts. I prefer Rance to the other two. Despite the real lack of chemistry between him and Campbell he adds more to the broadcast, particularly in explaining the approach to hitting, than Tabler or Fletch.

Rob Pettapiece said...

In all honesty, I have no recollection of Rob Faulds as a baseball play-by-play person

Take Rod Black, cut the enthusiasm in half, then the baseball knowledge in half, then the baseball knowledge in half again, and you pretty well have Rob Faulds.

sager said...

Oi. To go back to the point, though, what do we get out of coming up with the most creative zinger about Rob Faulds?

Tim in London said...

"The top executives of the networks don't mind putting people in positions who will 'learn the on the job' while doing play-by-play for fringe sports such as baseball. If it were hockey, you better damn well have years and years of play-by-play experience and know your stuff before they dare put you in front of a camera or on a microphone."

How does this person explain Cassie Campbell?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of broadcasters who annoy the living hell out of us...
Whatever happened to Fergie "How "Bout Those Blue Jays" Olver?
That guy had the cheesiest smirk this side of Ben Mulroney.
I once heard a story that there was a petition going around trying to get Fergie Olver off the Jays telecasts...and Tony Kubek signed it!
I wonder if that was true or if that was an urban legend?

Tyler King said...

I forgot to mention the mid-inning commercials. That alone prevents the broadcasts from being anything but godawful.