Treat Everyone Like a Major Leaguer

Congratulations to Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez on their election to the Hall of Fame!  All three players are very deserving of the honor.  Bagwell and Rodriguez were a lot of fun to watch growing up, and while I never had the chance to watch Raines during his prime, his numbers stack up with many other outfielders currently in the Hall.  Raines has a connection to independent baseball having managed the Newark Bears for three seasons, and it’s always great to see a player elected after falling short so many times.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Hall of Fame twice, and highly encourage anyone who has never been there to make the trip.  The combination of the inductees and their accomplishments along with the breadth and depth of the artifacts truly makes the Hall of Fame a sanctuary for baseball fans.

So much of the reverence surrounding the Hall of Fame is tied to respect, and when younger broadcasters ask me for advice, respect is one of the first concepts I drive home.  Broadcasters need to respect the listener, respect the game, and respect the industry.

Respecting the game involves respecting the teams and players on the field, and while I love everything about the Hall of Fame, a good broadcaster has to avoid what I refer to as “Hall of Fame Syndrome.”

Hall of Fame Syndrome is when a broadcaster becomes too enamored with the star player or players on a team, and fails to give proper credit to everyone else.

Baseball is, and always has been, a team game.  Some players may contribute more than others over the course of a season, but the cases are extremely rare in which you can truly say that one player was single-handedly responsible for a win.

As the broadcaster, you have a first-hand view of how hard each player is working to get better.  Every player deserves credit for their contributions to the team, and it’s your obligation to make sure those contributions are properly recognized.  Treat everyone like a Major Leaguer or Hall of Famer.

Eliminate the phrase “cup of coffee” when referring to a player who reached the Major Leagues for a brief time.  In the history of baseball, less than 20,000 human beings have appeared in a Major League game (18,910 to be exact).

In a world inhabited by seven billion people, only 750 are on a Major League roster at any given time.  Just reaching the Major Leagues is an incredible feat, and the term “cup of coffee” marginalizes a tremendous achievement that a player has worked for his entire life.

In fact, just getting to Triple-A should be recognized as an accomplishment.  Some cursory research yielded a pair of trends: Approximately 75% of players in Triple-A go on to play at least one game in the Major Leagues, and the average Triple-A roster cycles through approximately 60 players per season.

Using this information, we can attempt an educated guess as to how many players have ever played Triple-A baseball.  First, if 75% of Triple-A players reach the Majors, then the total number of Major Leaguers should represent 75% of anyone who has ever played in Triple-A.  18,910 (every Major Leaguer ever) divided by 0.75 comes out to 25,214 players, a number that seems rather low.

The other approach is to use the “60 players per season” number as a proxy multiplied across the history of the game.  60 players times 30 teams comes out to 1,800 Triple-A players in a given season.  If we date back to 1903 (the year of the first World Series), this calculates to 203,400 Triple-A players (1,800 times 113 seasons).  Now, we know for sure this number is inflated, because it does not account for expansion (there have been fewer than 30 Triple-A teams for much of the past 113 years), and it assumes that each Triple-A roster is completely different from year-to-year when there are thousands of examples in which a player spends multiple seasons at Triple-A

If we split the difference between 203,400 (a number we know is too high) and 25,214 (a number that appears low), we arrive at a rough approximation of 114,307.

That means in well over a century of professional baseball, less than 115,000 men have even reached Triple-A.  Keep that in mind the next time you’re about to use the term “cup of coffee” on the air.

Note: If anyone knows the actual number of players who have ever reached Triple-A (or knows of a more accurate approximation), please let me know, and I will post the information.

If you treat everyone like a Major Leaguer, the quality of your broadcasts will improve.

During my first year as a lead broadcaster, we were fortunate enough to have the services of an outfielder who not only reached the Major Leagues, but played there in seven different seasons, and hit 49 home runs.

To put that in perspective, there are Hall of Famers with less than 49 Major League home runs.

Early in the season, we were on the road, and our broadcast was pre-empted.  If our regular listeners wanted to follow the game live, they had to tune into the opposing team’s radio feed.

I can’t remember if we won or lost, but when I stepped on to the bus at the end of the night, I discovered that the other team’s broadcaster referred to our outfielder as, “a guy who was a big prospect who never panned out.”

I was especially green at this stage in my career, and when I heard what the other team’s announcer had said, I was in shock.  I really didn’t know what to say, and because I was so young at the time, I was hoping to escape the situation without having to say anything unless I absolutely had to.

The folks who were in the immediate vicinity were in shock as well.  One person suggested (and rightfully so) that the broadcaster, “should never be allowed on the radio again.”

Our outfielder, who was still in disbelief himself, ended the dialogue with, “no one ever said I was a Hall of Famer.”

It was at this moment where I really felt bad for the player, and the fact that his family and friends had to listen to someone marginalize his career.

The commentary provided by that broadcaster is largely a product of today’s “superstar culture” where every network and media outlet is trying to capitalize on the next potential Hall of Famer.

I cringe every time ESPN and the like start to run “Franchise Four” or “Who’s Next” polls.  It’s easy to swoon over the Mike Trouts or Bryce Harpers, but baseball more than any other sport is a team game.  The number nine hitter comes to the plate the same amount of times as the cleanup hitter, and every big hit is preceded by someone who fought their way on base or broke up a double play.  Wins are collective efforts, and everyone who contributes to a win in some way has an equally interesting story to tell.

Don’t allow Hall of Fame Syndrome to trap your development as a broadcaster.  A player doesn’t deserve any less attention just because he isn’t a superstar.

2 comments

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