Tuesday, August 5, 2008

In Defense of Bert Blyleven (Sort of)

No, this isn't going to be another "Why isn't Bert Blyleven in the Hall of Fame for the love of God!!~!!@@#90#$90jfokaj" article. I'm defending Blyleven's skills as a color commentator. Kinda.

Most criticisms of Blyleven aren't unique to just him. Many color commentators are roasted for pointing out the obvious, refusing to rip on particular (often lauded) players for making a mistake, and strictly adhering to more conventional statstical measurements, among many other things. One of the more popular Twins blogs (AaronGleeman.com) said a couple years ago, "I happen to like Blyleven ... However, I've gradually grown tired of his on-air persona as it's taken on caricature-like qualities." The Star Tribune's Judd Zulgad didn't like "Blyleven relying on statistics instead of analysis." Another blog, McFeely State of Mind, laments that the "biggest pitfall facing broadcast teams is the complete and total loss of objectivity and reasoned thinking" and specifically points out "Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven cheerleading their way through Twins games". On and on. Those are all valid criticisms. But I'm going to take an even more cynical route.

It's unrealistic in this day and age to ask for a guy who's going to give actual analysis. Seriously. Ever since John Madden burst onto the scene with his over-the-top, all schtick and no substance approach, many broadcasts have followed suit. Comedian Frank Caliendo even has an entire routine about Madden and how as an analyst, all he does is tell you things you already know. I think to sit there and whine about not getting any "real" analysis from a color commentator is pointless. Things have changed, and the Steve Stones of the world are a rarity. Analysts now are asked to be entertaining. Blyleven is entertaining. You may not like him or you may think he's annoying, and that's fine... but don't whine about the amount of "actual analysis" you're getting. Don't whine that he didn't call out Michael Cuddyer for not getting to a fly ball he should have caught. That's not why he's there.

The demands of the suits running the show have shifted to try and draw in the casual fan, at the expense of the die-hard, with the consensus being, "If they want analysis, the internet is RIGHT THERE." The "caricature" criticism of Blyleven in particular is interesting to me, because in his entire tenure as a Twins color commentator, I've never imagined him in any other way. (This is a guy who proudly wore an "I Love to Fart" t-shirt, for chrissakes.) He's brought in to be a clown and speak to the lowest common denominator, so that's what he does.

One thing that I don't think can be understated is Blyleven's natural enthusiasm, as it's obvious that he enjoys what he does. I think that goes a long way in this day and age, especially with the Hawk Harrelsons and Billy Packers of the world still lurking about. What I'm trying to get across is... Blyleven is harmless.

Besides, half the fun of watching a TV broadcast of a sporting event is making fun of the announcers, so just enjoy it, because it's not going to change anytime soon.

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