Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Sad Case of Joe Buck

What a break baseball fans got this Sunday past, when Fox broadcaster Joe Buck had to fly somewhere to cover a football game. Finally, we were spared his desperate attempts at presenting himself as a "seasoned" baseball broadcaster. He doesn't do football any better, but the action is faster and we're not as conscious of him. The same can't be said of baseball, whose languorous pace is a part of its charm, but also induces lightweights like Buck to prattle on between pitches as if they have something of substance to contribute. Sadly, Buck was back in the baseball booth with sidekick Tim McCarver—see photo—on Tuesday night, for the opening game of the Yanks-Red Sox LCS.

I'm not sure what's worse: the worthless things Buck says, or the overly pious and pseudo-dramatic way in which he says them. One of the worst things that ever happened to sports broadcasting was the passing of Jack Buck, Buck the Lesser's dad, a grizzled voice announcer who made his mark on the national scene as well as a broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals. The younger Buck had already wimped his way into the profession on the strength of the family name. Then, when Poppa Buck passed, network executives began to foist Joe on us like some anointed prince. Joe doesn't mind evoking dad's memory on the air, either. He seems to do it every chance he gets. Which maybe means that even though Junior is a relentlessly annoying on-air presence--filling the air with stupid and speculative commentary delivered with faux authority--he might have a brain cell working. Now anointed on the strength of the outpouring of sympathy for his departed dad, Young Buck can be expected to parlay his good fortune (Thanks, Dad!) into a multi-decade career as signature sports broadcaster. No doubt, eventually, he'll be dubbed venerable, and the suck-up broadcasters that follow him will then talk about what a "great broadcaster Joe was." Even more galling is the fact that Bucky has recently taken to commercials, as manipulative advertisers try to cash in on his "new young breed" looks. (Yuck.)

Earlier in the past year, Mark Howard, a local Nashville television sports reader, wrote a newspaper column in which he defended himself and his profession, saying that being on TV, and in sports broadcasting, wasn't as easy as it looks. It was a strange defense, one getting the impression that Howard felt the need to lash out publicly at something someone might've said at a cocktail party. You can almost hear some oafish dude, three beers over his limit, saying to Howard: "Oh yeah, you're that sports guy on TV. Christ, what a cushy gig THAT must be. How do they give out those jobs, anyway? Is there a big lottery, or is it all about having a relative grease the wheels? It can't possibly be based on merit, or objective criteria. You sit there and read the sports stuff off a TelePrompter, and we're supposed to believe that there's something 'professional' about the way you do it. Sort of like the way Star Jones is a 'professional' on 'The View.' Hell, my 14-year-old knows more about football than Dennis Miller, and they paid that guy a ton to be on TV. I guess you're a lucky stiff too. Well, anyway, nice to meet ya. Go Titans!"

The fact of the matter is that Howard's counter-salvo (or whatever it was) sounded just too defensive to be true. Like he knew the truth for sure, but had to strike a blow in the press for sports broadcasters everywhere. Give us a break, Mark. There are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of young broadcasters all over the country, many of them dying for the kind of chance Buckette has gotten. They'd kill for Howard's gig too. As the saying goes, "this ain''t rocket science," and if it were even close to that, then broadcasters would be hired for their intelligence and artfulness behind a microphone. Instead, we get absolute meatheads like ex-jock Mike Golic, who's an abomination on ESPN Radio, yet is allowed to continue because--why else?--he's an ex-jock. Which is a huge problem that will never go away. All those college kids in radio/TV programs across the country, and most don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting to the top of their profession because the ex-jocks have decided that they're going to simply segue from the playing field to the broadcast booth. Do they go to college for it? No. Do they get any extensive broadcast experience to prep for their chores? No. What? They didn't make enough money playing football or baseball, so now they have to horn in on the most lucrative industry on the planet?

And then Mark Howard comes along wondering why people think what he does is a snap. Well, hey, if lame-brains like Terry Bradshaw and Dan Dierdorf (who I turn down the moment I hear his distinctively blubbery and overwrought voice) can do it, then so could I, Mark. And so could the guys who've been to broadcasting school but face years in obscurity because bigmouths like Neon Deion and Shannon Sharpe were bored after leaving the game and didn't have anything to do but use their celebrity to make a pile of TV cash prattling on with make-believe enthusiasm.

So it's all about who you know or if you played the game. For anyone outside that category, it all looks like a crap shoot. And let's face facts: there IS no objective criteria for sports broadcasting. Hell, there isn't much subjective criteria, either, since having a pleasant speaking voice doesn't even figure into things. (One presumes being able to read counts for something, but who knows? What comes out of the mouth of Tim McCarver--Buck's sidekick--is certainly improvised nonsense, delivered in an annoying drawl, so maybe reading is an irrelevant skill, after all.)

Too bad. Dumbass glad-handers too often rule the sports airwaves. And connected insiders get the plum gigs. (Which reminds me, Is Kenny Albert Marv Albert's brother?? He sure reeks of it.)

Meanwhile, we have to suffer in silence--providing we have the sense to turn down the sound. Now, if only Paul Maguire looked like Melissa Stark, he could at least be seen and definitely not heard.

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