Last Sunday, much virtual ink and digital storage space was spilled/filled discussing whether or not FOX broadcaster Joe Buck was going to make it back from announcing the Giants-49ers NFL game in time to call the Cardinals-Giants NLCS Game 1. This utterly pointless conversation ended in moderately cute fashion, with Buck arriving by cable car even though, as many San Franciscans pointed out, there are no cable cars (hardly the most efficient means of travel for someone in a hurry, anyway) from the south part of the city, meaning that the whole thing was just a photo op. But hey, that’s television.
The major takeaway from the Sunday stunt, as far as everyone I talk to, was: Why is Joe Buck calling either of these games? For a guy who is, by nature and strategy, as milquetoast and inoffensive as one can imagine, Buck might be the most polarizing broadcaster in all of sports. The man is as reliable an Internet punching bag as you can find; just hop on Twitter sometime when Buck is calling a game and check it out, if you dare. (I suspect that Buck has done this, which is probably why he doesn’t tweet anymore. I wouldn’t be able to take it either.)
I am the guy who founded Deadspin, after all, so everyone always expects me to hate Joe Buck. But I don’t. In fact, I think he does as well as anyone reasonably could with one of the most high-profile, visible jobs in sports. I like him. I’m pretty sure his broadcast of Game 6 of the World Series last year was a master class in live sports coverage; he knew exactly when to talk, exactly when not to and exactly when to make the precise call he’d surely been waiting his whole life to make.
All told, I’ve always been a bit baffled as to why he’s so unpopular. So I surveyed a bunch of Buck haters -- it was not difficult to find them -- to hear the primary reasons, and to see whether or not I could refute them. So here goes.
1. He’s smug. Buck has a certain tone in his voice that I suspect he believes comes off as wry -- and probably does to people who know him and/or already like him -- but to the average viewer, it can seem arch and superior. I don’t think Buck is particularly more smug than every other person on television (which is to say, he’s probably pretty smug for an average human, but on the lower end of the scale for a professional broadcaster). But if you don’t like that sense of humor, maybe he’s not for you. I actually find Buck’s dryness a lot funnier than almost any other sports personality who tries to be humorous, though considering I’m sort of putting him against Frank Caliendo and Tony Siragusa here, this is not a particularly high bar to clear.
2. He doesn’t get excited enough. This is probably the Gus Johnson Principle, the idea that something amazing will happen in a game and Buck won’t even change his vocal inflection. (The most famous example of this has to be David Tyree’s catch in the Super Bowl.) Buck has clearly made an effort to be more energetic in recent years -- particularly after losing his voice last year -- so you don’t hear as much about this anymore, but all told, this is a reason to like Buck, not to hate him. A lot of this is a matter of taste, I grant you, but I will take someone like Buck having a legitimate, honest, non-bloviating reaction to a sports moment than Gus Johnson bursting into flames because someone moves the chains on a second-and-1 plunge. (You should know that I am not a fan of Johnson, whom I think of as the Jeff George of broadcasting, a hired gun brought in to make a lot of noise who ultimately just makes things worse.) I’ll take understatement over screaming any day of the week. Also, unlike Johnson, Buck appears to have done at least a modicum of research on the teams playing the game he’s broadcasting rather than just sort of hopping in off the street and yelling.
3. He’s moralistic and priggish. Buck absolutely is not moralistic or priggish, but it’s still hard to say he doesn’t have this coming. Fact is, he’ll never live down that Randy Moss “that is a disgusting act” call. I’ve never quite understood what Buck was thinking there. Did he believe Moss had really pulled his pants down? Did someone at FOX tell him to start adding in a moral component to his broadcasts and he overreacted? Did he have a stroke? The world may never know. But this call, unfortunately for Buck, is going to go on his gravestone.
4. He likes baseball more than football. This is probably true, but, frankly, this is probably true of most broadcasters: Football is rarely the first broadcast choice for anybody. (It’s hard to spot the ball, there are a million things going on that are impossible to describe, no one will ever be better than Pat Summerall, and so on.) No one ever says, “I hate Jim Nantz! He totally likes golf more than football,” even though he totally does. Fact is, Buck’s dad, Jack -- who, full disclosure, I desperately wanted to be growing up -- received this same criticism when he broadcasted NFL games on the radio with Hank Stram. Football people always resent baseball people, probably because we like a better sport than they do.
5. He’s on television all the time. This is the main reason. Fact is, Buck has been calling every NFC Championship Game, a third of the Super Bowls and every World Series for almost 16 years now. (His first World Series was in 1996; his first Super Bowl was in 2005.) Buck has been the soundtrack to an unusually high percentage of sports’ most memorable moments during a time when social media has exploded and fans have more of a voice to complain and vent than ever before. I guarantee you that had Twitter and blogs existed when Vin Scully was doing national games, or Bob Costas and Tony Kubek did the Game of the Week, or Howard Cosell was doing “Monday Night Football,” they would have thought everyone hated them, too. (Can you imagine Twitter with Cosell? Lord.)
Annoying fans is one of the primary job descriptions of a broadcaster. More fans see and hear Joe Buck than any other broadcaster in the country. Therefore, he annoys more of them. He’s doing his job.
So yeah: I like Joe Buck. You should, too.
* * *
Why do I have a feeling this is going to be the least popular thing I’ve ever written? Thoughts, concerns, grousing, future column ideas? Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you’re yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you’re pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I’ll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.