Gary, Keith and Ron: Not all “sunshine and lollipops”
In case you missed it, check out last week’s feature on Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, and how they’ve become widely recognized as one of the best — if not the best — broadcasting crew in baseball.
In reporting the story, I found the following interview with Sports Illustrated media critic Richard Deitsch particularly enlightening, so I’ve transcribed it in its entirety below. (All photographs are courtesy SNY.)
MLB.com: How does a team-owned network get away with being so critical?
Richard Deitsch: “Well I think you make a decision, or management makes a decision somewhere along the line, that we’re either going to call games straight and we’re going to be honest with viewers, or we’re going to do nothing more than fill a public relations arm of the team and essentially shield the product on a daily basis. I think viewers are smart enough to know which announcers from team-owned networks are working on behalf of viewers, or which announcers are really working on behalf of the team.
“There are certainly some viewers who really don’t mind if it’s all sort of sunshine and lollipops, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you enjoy a broadcast where everything is sort of given in a positive light, that’s cool. You’re definitely entitled to that. I happen to be someone who prefers a more independent broadcast, and those broadcasters who tell me in as best objective terms as they can what’s going on in the field. You ultimately gain more respect by being a little bit independent, as opposed to always being tied to the team’s storyline.”
MLB.com: Do you consider Gary, Keith and Ron among those upper-tier broadcast teams?
RD: “For sure. I’m probably biased because I hear Gary, Keith and Ron and Kevin Burkhardt far more than I do the other teams outside of New York. But not only do I think they’re top-tier, I think they’re top three. Not only are they entertaining and smart, but they are honest with the viewer. Everybody has to pull a little bit of punches if they’re working for a team-owned network, but within that paradigm and framework, I think these guys are honest and I think these guys have the viewer in mind. And as a viewer who wants something close to reality and something close to the truth, I really appreciate that.
“If a team isn’t playing well, I think you should say it. If a team is in turmoil behind the scenes, there should be some sort of acknowledgement of that on the network. If Alex Rodriguez gets booed by 50,000 people in the stadium, I want to know that as a viewer. I don’t want this, ‘Oh Alex is getting cheered and booed…” I thought the Yankees broadcasters might as well be putting Ruth and Gehrig jerseys on. I feel like the Mets broadcasters always have me in mind first and foremost, knowing that they’re paid by the Wilpons and that they’re Met employees. But I think they deal for the most part straight with the audience, and I have a lot of respect for that. And I also think that’s how you get to be known as a national broadcast even if you’re local. Very rarely do we see the cheerleaders get the national reputation of being the best in the business. There’s a reason why Vin Scully is thought of as he is, and I think there’s a reason why the Met broadcast is thought of at it is. And I think a lot of that reason is that viewers believe these guys are dealing straight.”
MLB.com: Who else is currently in that upper tier of broadcasters?
RD: “I’d have to think about that. Obviously I’d put Scully there. I’d put the Giants broadcasters there. I think [Duane] Kuiper, Jon Miller, [Mike] Krukow, those guys are absolutely top three. I think [Marty] Brennaman and [Jeff] Brantley are generally in the top five. I think the Mets guys are a little more straight than them. That’s not to say Marty and Jeff Brantley are sort of ‘on the take’ there, but it’s a different city, Cincinnati than New York. But I would say the Giants, the Dodgers and the Mets off the top of my head. I think the Tigers broadcasters are really good too for that. I feel like they’re pretty realistic, too. You almost have to sort of eliminate Scully because he’s so legendary and in his own place. But the Met TV broadcast is as good a TV local broadcast in baseball as you will hear. They have absolutely earned that right to be called that.
“I also really respect the fact that SNY’s management has allowed Kevin Burkhardt to have a true roving reporter role. He’s not just sort of there as fluff, basically walking around the stadium doing fluff. He’s a reporter with some interesting insights, and that to me adds to the journalism and editorial product of a broadcast. So even in Burkhardt’s role, SNY I feel like is interested in providing some kind of — I don’t know if you want to call it journalism — but adding some kind of editorial smarts to the product. So I really appreciate how SNY does the Mets games. Listen, nothing is 100-percent objective, and I think there’s no doubt that even the guys in the booth would like to see the Mets do well. I think we all understand that. But for a team-owned network, I think they go about as far to objectivity as they can, and as a viewer, I appreciate that and I respect that.”
MLB.com: In what ways is New York City maybe uniquely suited to that type of broadcast?
RD: “Maybe the Yankees can get away with it a little bit with [John] Sterling and [Suzyn] Waldman, just because they’re the Yankees and people are going to listen regardless, but I think if you’re in a hyper media-competitive town with a lot of very bright people and a lot of smart viewers, I think you have to have a broadcast with some elements of truth, as opposed to a smaller town where there’s much more sort of camaraderie to a broadcast. I think people there are more used to having their broadcasters kind of rooting for the home team, as opposed to telling you objectively what’s on the field. Everything gets heightened in New York. Part of that is because there’s so much press around the Mets and Yankees that if you’re a broadcasters and you’re saying one thing and every other media source is saying something different, you’re going to look and get embarrassed quickly.
“The other thing is there are three daily newspapers in New York. All three have media critics. So I think it’s beholden on broadcasters to play it straight that way, because clearly they’ll be called out otherwise. The New York Post, Phil Mushnick, has been calling out the Yankees broadcasters for 20 years. There’s no doubt that he goes over the line a little bit, but the fact is that there’s a watchdog there. So I think New York is one of those places, Boston too, where you do have to have a different kind of broadcast. The broadcast in Milwaukee would never be able to be the same as the broadcast in New York.”
MLB.com: Any surprise at the chemistry that has formed between Gary, Keith and Ron?
RD: “I don’t remember what the vibe was when they were hired. The only thing I can say is that chemistry is very hard to find either on the radio or on TV, and for whatever reason these three guys work. They like each other, they play off each other and it doesn’t always happen. SNY also got lucky. Not only do I think they have three interesting broadcasters, they got incredibly lucky in that they work chemistry-wise. It’s all a roll of the dice, but in this case the roll of the dice worked out.”
MLB.com: Is there anything they don’t do well?
I think Keith takes too many vacations to the Hamptons. That’s probably about it.”
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