Here are the top announcing teams -- the ones who call the signature championship events-- in the respective major American sports, as of last year:
• MLB: Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, Fox
• NFL: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, Fox; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, NBC; Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, CBS
• NBA: Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, ABC
• NHL: Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, NBC
• College Football: Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit, ABC
• College Basketball: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg, CBS
To be the voice of the jewel event of a sport, particularly one that your network has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast, is the peak. You are the public face of that sport. That's particularly true for the analysts, because while it's less interesting to dissect the choices for play-by-play broadcasters -- it's such a tough job, with a specific set of skills, that there aren't many who can actually do it -- the top analyst spot gives you an idea of how those in charge of each sport want to come across.
There are different ways to approach it. Collinsworth and Van Gundy are more outspoken; Herbstreit and Aikman are more of the solid, slightly dull but professional school; Simms, I'll confess, is my least favorite of this top tier. He has that unique blend of "strident" and "confused" and "consistently wrong" that reaches a rare, little-understood level of blowhardedness. Then you have Clark Kellogg, who might be the most boring broadcaster in sports. This is exactly what CBS wanted, of course; Kellogg came on the heels of Billy Packer, the troll announcer, smarmy, self-satisfied, constantly mansplaining. Packer existed to make you throw things at your television. Kellogg was an overcorrection to that, the equivalent of a player favorite being hired as manager to follow the guy who threw bats around the clubhouse to inspire his players. Greg Anthony is replacing Clark Kellogg this year. He's only slightly more exciting.
Which brings us to the news, broken by The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre on Thursday night, that Tim McCarver, the Billy Packer of baseball, will be replaced on Fox's World Series broadcast crew this fall by MLB Network's Harold Reynolds and Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci. (As of Friday morning Fox had made no official announcement.) If this is true, this is a classic "response to how much you hated the last guy" hire. This is a booth that wants you to like it.
In case you've forgotten -- and how could you? -- few announcers have been more unpopular at the end of their run than McCarver. Here's what I wrote about him in November:
He'd been fading for years, and by the end, he was sounding less like an older Perd Hapley -- "the thing about scoring runs, it's that it helps you win" -- and more like your increasingly confused great-grandfather, wandering through a field somewhere, looking for a cat that died 5 years ago. This was perhaps best illustrated by his attempts to explain the obstruction call that cost the Red Sox Game 3.
Reynolds and Verducci seem chosen specifically to erase all lingering McCarverism. First off, each of them are 20 years younger than McCarver; Reynolds is 53, Verducci 47. They at least carry the aura of youth -- they're youthish -- which will come in handy in making people forget McCarver. They're also both very likable guys who are new enough in the business that they've shown they're willing to adjust and change depending on what's asked of them. McCarver (and Packer) couldn't have changed if you'd given them a brain transplant; they were resolutely themselves, no matter what circumstances were in front of them. Reynolds and Verducci are a couple of guys who can take direction.
Neither is on the forefront of anything. Reynolds is rather far behind the times when it comes to advanced baseball analysis and the resources that front offices in the game value; Watching him "debate" Brian Kenny about pitcher wins last year was embarrassing to anyone who has even passing familiarity with how baseball analytics have evolved in the last 30 years.
And Verducci, for a professional sportswriter, is strangely behind the times when it comes to advanced analysis, not just clinging to his resoundingly disproven Verducci Effect, but even lamenting the Joey Votto-ization of baseball. (You sense sometimes that Verducci is trying to show players and network TV types that, don't worry, he's not one of those writers.)
But then again: Expecting a booth of Kenny, Keith Law and Joe Sheehan, as much as I might enjoy that, was never realistic. (And would almost certainly make every one of my baseball-loving uncles' heads explode.) One shouldn't underestimate the likability thing, particularly when it comes to Reynolds. Whatever your thoughts about Reynolds as an analyst -- and his breakdown of why the infield fly rule call in the 2012 wild-card game was actually the correct one is pretty much perfect baseball television -- it is basically impossible not to like Harold Reynolds. Not to bring up past unpleasantries, but Reynolds is a walking hug. Even when I don't agree with what he's saying, even when I don't understand what he's saying, I find myself helpless: You can't get mad at Harold Reynolds.
This is a fundamental axiom of television: People want to like looking at the people on their television. Reynolds is a friendly, extremely likable person, and that come across on telecasts. And sorry, as much as we want to be all stat nerdy, that matters. I might worry that Verducci has crazy ideas about baseball that seem to betray a lack of trust in the game itself -- you read a piece like this and you wonder if Verducci even likes baseball -- but he's a smooth, engaging presence on air. You won't mind listening to either one of them.
After years of McCarver, this is enough. Just as with Packer moving on for Kellogg, you'll enjoy Reynolds and Verducci just because they're not McCarver. But again: I wonder if eventually we'll miss the old saw. Reynolds and Verducci, for all their virtues, are not cage-rattlers; you're not going to see them turning into Charles Barkley, or even Van Gundy or Collinsworth, anytime soon. They can feel like company men: part of the establishment, rather than people who challenge it. Say what you will about Packer and McCarver, but they sat outside the cozy confines of their sports, even if sometimes they used that autonomy to say crazy-ass things that made you pull your hair out. The sweet spot is being soothing on television without being sleepy. We know Reynolds and Verducci will be the former; the jury is out as to how they'll handle the latter.
Not that it matters: Everyone will blame Joe Buck for everything that goes wrong anyway.