Joe Buck and Fox Baseball Should Divorce
Recently Joe Buck added a new job to an already full resume. Fox Television’s pro football play-by-playman will now anchor its weekly pre-game show. Good for Buck — and doubtless the National Football League. Bad for his other game: the one Joe’s father loved.
For several years Buck fils has served two masters. After baseball’s "Game of the Week," Joe segues to August exhibition (oops, pre-season) and September-December pro football, then retrieves the League Championship Series and World Series. Buck’s mind seems willing. The heart is another tale. At best they uneasily co-exist.
Fox calls Joe its primary "Game of the Week" announcer. Such a claim deserves review. Vin Scully’s 1983-89 each-Saturday afternoon "Game" was national. Buck’s paltry 16-game series in 26-week season is regional, promoted meagerly, airs haphazardly, starts in late May or early June, and, like Joe, vanishes at season’s peak.
"All September, they stick him on the NFL," marvels an ex-Fox announcer. "Its alleged baseball guy, on sabbatical, missing the most crucial time." The 2004 "Game" aired only thrice after August 28. "Fox is MIA on the pennant race, and Joe doesn’t even do [September 18’s] Red Sox-Yankees," the Voice continued. "What kind of sport would tolerate that?" Clearly, baseball, like a prostitute with a drug habit. Paying, Fox dictates what to do.
In 2006, the bigs’ getting that was bad has gotten worse. On Thursday, August 17, Buck broadcast a vacuous Giants-Chiefs preseason game. Fox analyst Troy Aikman asked about Saturday’s Sox-Yanks, which Joe would surely cover. Buck replied that he would view baseball’s top serialized novel from his living room. "I’ll be watching from there," he said. Aikman was stunned.
New York Daily News critic Bob Raissman gaped, too. "Here you had a critical matchup in a storied rivalry and Fox did not send its No. 1 play-by-play Voice to work it," he wrote. "What a joke." Try comparing an NFL exhibition to sport’s Athens v. Sparta. No comparison. Somehow Fox, however, like Buck, deems the former more important.
Incredibly, Fox will do one 2006 "Game" post-August 25. (Bud Selig sired the wild card to "regain" September": Fox ignores it.) Joe doesn’t mind. "I don’t think I”m destined for more than 10 more years in baseball," he told the New York Times. "I’m enjoying football. The ‘Game of the Week’ isn’t what it was. I put a lot of work into those games, but you don’t get the same payoff as you get from a great football game" — especially if you ignore it.
Imagine Scully baring such condescension: You can’t. Envision Curt Gowdy trashing a sport he did for 28 years. Good luck. Jon Miller would broadcast boccie ball before demeaning baseball. By contrast, Buck seems tired of his native St. Louis’ favorite game. Ecclesiastes notes "a time for every season." The time exists for Joe and network TV baseball to sign an overdue divorce.
Next year Fox will finally begin continuity Bud Selig vowed a decade ago: mirabile dictu, a "Game" each Saturday. (I’ll believe it when I see it.) Buck’s schedule would preclude, even if he wanted, it: Something will have to go. Joe’s bias; baseball’s expanded 2007 schedule; football’s dominance — "[At Fox] The National Football League is first," said Raissman, "baseball a distant second" — suggests what.
At minimum, Fox needs someone deeming baseball, as Ring Lardner said, more than a side dish you decline to order. A Voice should grasp its gentle rhythms. Ungentle, Buck loves cutting edge. Baseball is grunge shirts with starch. Joe thinks the wiseacre deserves praise, not bile. Sports Illustrated asked if he preferred nepotism or birthright. "Nepotism," he said. "It pisses people off a lot more."
Scully grew up with Tyrone Power. Buck keeps a life-sized cutout of Mike Myers as Austin Powers. One day this year he taunted sidekick Tim McCarver: "I don’t know what you’re talking about." Scully would sooner dub Los Angeles Bridgeport, West. Joe’s acerbity, pop culture twist, and mania with seeming hip often disgusts baseball’s non-hip public. Say it ain’t so, Joe? Many would not be displeased if his good-bye is.
What then? Fox’s in-house bench pales v. NBC’s 1980s Scully, Joe Garagiola, Bob Costas, and Tony Kubek. NonFoxers might include Gary Cohen, Harry Kalas, a Sean McDonough. At any rate, baseball would survive sans what Fox sports head David Hill terms "the greatest broadcaster I have heard": true, if you exclude Mel Allen, Red Barber, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Costas, **** Enberg, Gowdy, Ernie Harwell, Chick Hearn, Foster Hewitt, Keith Jackson, Lindsey Nelson, Ray Scott, and Vin, among others.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois, to assume the Presidency. "I now bid you," he told his home people, "an affectionate farewell." Next year Sadly, inexorably, Joe Buck and Fox TV baseball should bid one another an affectionate farewell.