Five Tools In-Depth: Accuracy

Each of Growcasting’s Five Tools are equally important, and a baseball broadcaster must be proficient in all of them to do an effective job.  However, if one tool were to deserve more attention than the other four, accuracy ranks first.

In the last decade, the proliferation of social media has placed a misguided emphasis on speed over accuracy.  Being first has become more important than being accurate.  Ideally, a reporter is going to be both “first” and “accurate” when breaking a story.  If one has to come before the other, though, accuracy should take precedence 100 percent of the time.  It’s unfortunate how often this basic principle is compromised today.

Nothing will damage your credibility more than a reputation for being inaccurate.  The accuracy tool is the foundation of your work, and very easy to summarize: Is everything you are saying true?  The answer must always be “yes.”  This applies to both your play-by-play descriptions and any complimentary information you provide.

If you gain even the slightest reputation for being inaccurate, the listener will begin to question everything you say.  Eventually, it will be difficult for anyone to take your broadcasts seriously.  On the other hand, cultivating a reputation for being accurate can buy you some forgiveness in the mind of the listener if your other four tools need improvement.

Honest mistakes will happen, especially early in your career.  One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to never try and call a “perfect game.”  I’ve broadcast on a regular basis for almost 10 years, and I have NEVER once made it through nine innings without committing at least one or two errors.  We’re all human, and the emphasis on accuracy is not meant to imply that any on-air blunder makes you a failure as a broadcaster.

We’ve all lost sight of the ball on a sunny day, had trouble determining if there was a home run when the play was in front of a white advertising board, identified the wrong player because of a last-minute player transaction, or been guilty of the proverbial Freudian slip.  These can happen to anyone.

In Game One of the 2000 NLCS, the New York Mets led 3-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals at old Busch Stadium.  I was watching the game on television, but listening to the Mets’ local announcers on the radio.  With two outs and two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh inning, Cardinals’ slugger Jim Edmonds lifted a flyball to deep left-center.  Off the bat, it looked like the ball had a chance to tie the game, but Mets’ left fielder Benny Agbayani caught the ball over his shoulder while on the run.

Because Agbayani made the catch with his back towards the infield, it was difficult to tell if he had touched the ball at all, let alone made the catch.  Longtime Mets’ broadcaster Bob Murphy thought it had actually gone over the fence for a three-run homer.  The TV feed quickly showed a better angle in which Agbayani clearly had the ball in his glove, and Murphy corrected his mistake while giving a sincere apology to the listeners.  Murphy and the broadcast team moved on to the eighth inning, the Mets held on for the win, and eventually captured the pennant in five games.

Murphy’s call gained some negative attention at the time, but in typical ‘Murph’ fashion, he remained both classy and accountable.

“But that’s not the first mistake I ever made.  When you do that many games, you’re going to have three or four games where you are going to embarrass yourself.  All you can do is swallow your pride and keep on going.”

Bob Murphy is in the Mets’ Hall of Fame and was a recipient of the Ford Frick Award.  He forgot more about the Mets and their history during his career than any fan could ever dream to know.  I’m sure the missed call was a heart-wrenching moment for the fans listening on the radio, but it serves as a great example of how to properly and professionally handle an honest mistake.

When you do say something inaccurate, it’s essential that you hold yourself accountable.  If a mistake is identified, it’s our obligation to make things right, just as Murphy did.  Acknowledge the mistake, self-correct, and move on as soon as possible without turning the incident into a distraction.  No rational listener will hold a grudge against you for owning up to an honest mistake.

The inexcusable mistakes are the ones that you have full control over preventing.  These are the self-inflicted wounds that arise from in-game laziness and/or lack of preparation.

Saying that an outfielder caught the ball on the warning track when it was really caught a few steps in front, or that the third baseman cut off a throw when it really comes through to the plate are two examples that can easily be prevented through exercising patience.  Telling the audience that a player was a fourth-round pick when he was really a third-round pick can be avoided with five seconds of double-checking.  I made an indefensible mistake like this in 2011 that remains the biggest learning experience of my career, but that’s a story for another day.

If you’re unsure about something before you say it, take the extra time to confirm it. Jumping the gun on what appears to be a routine play or trying to remember something off the top of your head is a broadcasting method with high risk and zero reward.  The payoff in getting the information correct on the first try is well worth however long it takes to ensure that it’s accurate.

Even the best broadcasters make honest mistakes, but the best ones also consistently avoid the mistakes within their control.

You cannot succeed on accuracy alone, but you will be exposed very quickly if your facts are not straight, regardless of how well your other tools shine.

7 comments

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