“Let me root, root root for the home team …”

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Scott D. Pierce:

Some fans want sportscasters to cheer for the home team. Those fans aren’t happy when it’s pointed out that, no, not every foul against their team is a bad call and, yes, sometimes the opponents play well. You run into these folks at every game. And they make noise on social media.

I was at a football game years ago when the visitors picked up an incomplete pass and ran it in for a TD. A guy in front of us bellowed at the refs; my friend and I remarked that it had been a backward pass — a lateral — and the right call; the guy then bellowed at us.

Ah, fans. You’ve got to love them. Or not. I personally want sportscasters to do their jobs. To tell us what’s actually happening.

Yes, a lot of it is opinion — whether it’s about how well a player is performing, a coach’s decisions or a ref’s calls.

But if you’re going to complain about every call made or missed, I’m going to tune you out.

Sportscaster Life’s Alex Rawnsley adds:

Being a homer is one of my sportscasting pet peeves. Sportscasters are story tellers first and foremost, so I always wonder how homer sportscasters can tell that story properly while being so slanted in one direction or another. Whether it’s the other team, your team or the refs, taking focus away from the game, the story, by being a homer can be a big negative when it comes to sportscasting.

Before storytelling there are the responsibilities of telling fans what’s going on, the mechanics of getting the ads on, promoting the station and future broadcasts, etc., which you’d think would be difficult if you’re wrapped up with a bad call or bad things happening to your team.

Whom might that refer to? Off the top of one’s ears there’s the White Sox’s Ken Harrelson …

… and the Vikings’ Paul Allen …

… the Bruins’ Jack Edwards …

… and …

All of those announcers, and any team’s announcers, are employed either by the teams or by their flagship radio or TV station or cable channel. (That includes Wisconsin’s Matt Lepay, the Packers’ Wayne Larrivee, the Brewers’ Bob Uecker, the Bucks’ Ted Davis and all their partners.) So unlike ESPN or Fox announcers, they’re viewed almost exclusively by fans of the team they’re announcing for. Even for a sportscaster viewed as impartial such as Vin Scully, it is in their professional interests for their employers to do well on the field.

Certainly Pierce is referring to the announcers who confuse hoping your team does well to assuming your team can do no wrong, the opponent can do no right, and the officials and the league are in a conspiracy against your team. It is, however, rare that an announcer will admit to being a homer, as an interview of Yankees announcer John Sterling with the New York Post reveals:

Q: What criticism of you that you feel has been the most unfair?
A: That I don’t tell the truth about the Yankees. My broadcast is as honest as can be. And people think because I get excited and exuberant over Yankee success, that I’m a homer. You know it used to kill Mel Allen, when he’d be accused of being a homer. He used to bend over backwards — we used to kid about it as teenagers — “Oh, the always-ready White Sox, and the ever-charging Tigers.” It killed Bill Chadwick that he was called a homer. I don’t let anything bother me. If you don’t like it, you know, they have an idea what they can do.

Larrivee is an interesting case. There’s no question he wants the Packers to win. His critiques of officiating and the NFL (for instance, the rules) are not exactly impartial. But if things aren’t going well for the Packers, he will tell you that the opposing offense is “gashing the Packer defense!” Sometimes listening to a Packer game is a bit of a bipolar experience, frankly.

One of my favorite announcers is the Reds’ Marty Brennaman …

… because he does not shy away from criticizing his team:

If Uecker has criticized the Brewers on the air in the past, I don’t recall hearing it. The operative phrase there is “on the air.” My favorite announcer, Dick Enberg, told the story of his Angels partner, Don Drysdale, who would rip the bad teams Enberg and Drysdale were covering by turning off his microphone. And then after he got done, the mic went back on, and there was Drysdale, pleasant as always. Listeners over the years may have heard somewhat lengthy pauses during Brewers games when things weren’t going well. Uecker and Drysdale were friends, so perhaps that’s what Uke was doing.

Sports announcing is not merely about calling the game. At every level, it’s about promoting broadcast sponsors and getting people to keep listening as well. At the college and pro level, it’s also about promoting the team, to get people to come to home games. (Which might seem at cross purposes given that fans at the game presumably don’t watch or listen to the game, but that’s not always the case.)

Homerism appears to be a bigger thing now than it used to be, though as the previous examples show homerism has existed for a long, long time. Red Barber, who almost invented radio baseball announcing, worked for the Yankees in 1966 when, according to Awful Announcing a game was played on an awful September day:

Strikingly, only 413 fans showed up at the cavernous ballpark, the smallest crowd in the stadium’s glorious history. John Filippelli, a current broadcast executive with YES and then a teenage vendor at Yankee Stadium said, “It was very spooky, surreal and strange.”

Barber felt strongly that the empty stadium was the story and asked that the cameras pan the empty park. But Perry Smith the team’s broadcast head wouldn’t allow it. Red talked about the eerie emptiness anyhow, “I don’t know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game,” he said. The Yankees lost to the White Sox that day 4-1.

Because there were rumors about his future with the club and the season was coming to an end, Barber requested a meeting with Michael Burke who had just been appointed the Yanks’ president by the team’s new owner, CBS.  They met for breakfast on Monday September 26th and before Red finished his first cup of coffee, Burke told him his contract would not be renewed.

Barber asserted that he was fired for maintaining his journalistic integrity when the stadium was virtually empty. And over the last fifty years, others have summarily and faithfully accepted Barber’s account. …

[Fellow announcer Joe] Garagiola later postulated that Barber was fired because he was bossy in the booth and annoying to his fellow announcers. He felt that Barber himself played up the story about dictating that the cameras focus on a near empty stadium to appear sanctimonious.

“I said there are more people going to confession at St. Patrick’s than there are people at the ballpark and Mike Burke didn’t say anything to me,” Garagiola proclaimed.

The problem is that fans apparently — or so teams seem to think — don’t want to hear bad news about their team, even when bad things are happening to their team. That is one reason for the hate for such announcers as Fox’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who are supposed to be neutral, but fans of neither team Buck covers appear to believe that. Fans also (in the opinion of the teams or their broadcast outlets) want announcers who show their support of their employers by over-the-top yelling instead of reporting on what’s going on.

I have never been told by my broadcast employers to root, root root (harder) for the home team. I’ve never been employed by a team, though. I have over the years toned down my calls because, possibly unlike my early broadcast days, I learned that there is always a next season (whether or not I announce that) and usually (except for season-ending losses) a next game. That’s what your brain tells you, though that’s not necessarily what your heart tells you. I’ve toned down my criticism of officials because I’ve concluded that if you bitch about the officiating incessantly (see Harrelson, Ken “Hawk”), your credibility is imperiled when an official actually does blow a call. (There are subtle ways to express an opinion about a call, such as to call a hitter or baserunner “officially out.”)

 

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