Objective vs. Negative

A quality broadcaster needs to be objective.  We fleshed this out considerably in our discussions on accuracy and quality of information.  A broadcaster’s job is to provide relevant and substantial information in an accurate and timely manner to those who cannot see the game with their own eyes.

“Objective” is defined as “(of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.”

The operative word is “facts.”

A baseball announcer can fulfull their responsibility of being objective simply by providing the listener with accurate and relevant facts.

Unfortunately, there are too many instances where baseball broadcasters (at all levels) conflate being “objective” with being “negative.”

Similarly, there are too many cases where baseball broadcasters (at all levels) possess a misinformed belief that being “objective” and being “positive” are somehow mutually exclusive.

Make no mistake–you cannot lie to the listener.  If a batter pops out to shallow center field, you can’t make it sound like the ball carried to the warning track and almost left the yard.  On the other hand, injecting derisive commentary into your broadcast just because a team or player happens to be scuffling is equally wrong, and crosses the line between telling the truth and being outright negative.

If you stick to the facts and deliver them consistently, no one will ever question your intent.

For example, if first-time-through-the-order statistics (batting average, home runs, and RBI) are part of your broadcast structure, you should provide them for everyone, regardless of whether a player is hitting .150 or .350.  The listener is counting on you to provide this information.

Introducing a batter with something like, “Smith is hitting .180 on the year with one home run and 10 runs batted in,” is being objective.  You’re providing accurate facts in a consistent format, while allowing the listener to make their own interpretation.

If you introduced the same batter with, “Smith has really struggled this year, hitting .180 with one home run and 10 runs batted in,” then you’ve started to cross the line by editorializing.

And it should be very obvious that introducing the same player with, “Smith is barely hitting his weight this year,” is an absolute cheap shot.  If you resort to this type of language, then you deserve whatever backlash you receive from your listeners.

Legendary New York Mets’ announcer Bob Murphy was well-known for giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.  His philosophy was that baseball was meant to be enjoyed, and it was his job to highlight the enjoyable aspects of each game.

Obviously, this may not be possible every night, and by no means am I suggesting that you employ phrases such as, “well, they lost by 11 runs, but they only lost by 11.”  However, a simple, “they just got beat tonight,” or, “they just didn’t play well tonight,” properly informs the listener.  Excessive negativity is unnecessary, it does nothing to enhance or improve the listener’s experience, and it will limit your ability to develop positive working relationships with players and coaches.

Critiquing performance is inevitable for a baseball announcer, especially in the minor leagues.  Solo broadcasts are more prevelant in the minors, so you’re often responsible for both the play-by-play and color commentary.

Once again, though, having the proper mindset and approach when evaluating a team, player, or specific play on the field is what will allow you to be objective at all times while simultaneously providing the listener with a positive experience.

Why does a play-by-play broadcaster or color commentator critique a performance in the first place?  Each team’s goal is to win the game at hand, as well as win on a consistent basis throughout the year.  When winning is absent for a sustained period (whether it be one specific game or a stretch of games), it’s natural for enthusiasts of that team to ask, “why?”

Part of your job is to answer “why?”  What’s equally important is how you go about answering this question after a rough night or in the midst of a prolonged losing streak.

Number one, you need to maintain a positive frame.  Again, it’s impossible to sugarcoat a 15-1 loss, but if a team is experiencing a rough stretch of games, something like, “if they can just find a little more offense” conveys the exact same message as, “the offense has killed them during this losing streak.”

Anyone can point out that a team has lost seven games in a row, or that a player’s batting average is hovering around .200.  The best baseball broadcasters are the ones who are disciplined enough in those situations to simply present the facts without excessive negativity.  That is the true meaning of being objective, as is refraining from embellishment.

The fact is, unless you’ve actually played baseball professionally, any commentary or insight you provide has been gleaned from those that do (or did).  Whether it’s something you learned on a radio or TV broadcast growing up, a conversation with a current player or coach, or a tidbit you picked up from reading a book, your personal evaluation of the on-field play is originating from external sources.  There is nothing wrong with passing on what you have learned and absorbed over the years to the listener.  Relaying that insight is encouraged, and something the listener expects.  However, the information needs to be conveyed with an unassuming approach (“it looked like the outfielder took a step in before racing back on the ball”), and not in a way that makes you sound like a condescending, self-professed expert (“that was a terrible read by the outfielder”).

Over the years, I’ve too often heard “journalistic integrity” or “I have a job to do” as a justification for being overly negative.  Yes, you do in fact have a job to do, but as we stated earlier, “objective” and “negative” are not absolute synonyms, and “objective” and “positive” are not mutually exclusive.

You’ll find that if you develop a reputation for giving your team the benefit of the doubt, as Bob Murphy did, players and coaches will be more open with you and more willing to provide the type of insight that will drastically enhance your broadcasts (and in turn, improve the listener’s experience).

Critiquing a player or team might be inevitable, but don’t say anything you aren’t willing to say to someone’s face.  Always be accountable, and always make yourself available in case someone has an issue with something that was said over the air.

When it comes to the minor leagues, everyone is “in it together.”  The players, coaches, trainers, clubhouse managers, broadcasters, etc. are all trying to reach the higher levels.  Don’t try to gain an advantage at the expense of others, and don’t hide behind a “shield of journalistic integrity” as justification.  “Objective” and “negative” are not the same, and they never will be.

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite inspirational quotes.  It’s the famous “In the Arena” speech from Theodore Roosevelt.  Many of you have probably read this before.  For those who have not, please do, and keep it in mind the next time you’re about to say something negative on the air.

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs,
who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst,
if he fails,
at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor
defeat.

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