There’s something to be said for John Smoltz as the smoldering voice of baseball this time of year.
Anyone listening intently to the Hall of Fame pitcher during his TV time with Bob Costas, Joe Davis and Joe Buck during these MLB playoffs, with all of his games involving the Dodgers, should easily ascertain why Fox nabbed him from Turner Sports to bandage over its previous horrific hiring of Harold Reynolds a couple of seasons ago.
In the post-Tim McCarver Era of finding someone to capitulate what’s happened, or predict what’s next, Smoltz brings smoke without mirrors.
Problem is, today’s viewers favor venting while vaping.
Social media backlash comes from a daily log of Smoltz’s acidic questioning of today’s game, replete with exaggerated defensive shifts, “selfish at-bats” (his term) where strike outs are tolerated and home runs over-rewarded, or random pitch counts override the optics of a successful pitcher’s outing.
So, that said …
NLCS Game 2, one out, bottom of the second, scoreless game: The Dodgers have three infielders bunched on the right side against Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw — the same alignment they just had for Mike Moustakas, another left-handed hitter.
Smoltz: “Can I just say … I know watching a lot of baseball in the regular season, rarely do guys bunt. But I am more than surprised in the postseason, when you want to get something going for your team, why you wouldn’t try (pitch is fouled off) … Every time you get on base in the postseason, it’s a rally. And that’s not the case in the regular season. But the amount of shifts we are seeing … at some point, somebody’s got to try to alter that … (swing and a miss, strike two) ... I can promise you in this series, when you’re down by two (runs), the shift’s going to be on, and (the batter) is not going to bunt. … If it’s a tight series like we expect, that could be the difference.”
Shaw swings and misses for strike three. When Smoltz is right, he’s right. Right?
The “see-I-told-you” approach won’t cultivate any new enjoyment, let alone understanding, of the current Statcast-influenced baseball.
In his new nuanced book “Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game,” Rob Neyer explains how this works while watching a Houston-Oakland game from 2017. Quickly, your entrance velocity to the game today greatly increases.
Jon Weisman, gatekeeper of the website DodgerThoughts.com and author of a couple of Dodgers-related books, recently referred to Smoltz on Twitter as “baseball’s unbassador.”
Weisman’s point, echoed by others with children whom they want to indoctrinate into the game, is that while every era has flaws, Smoltz’s “remember when” approach — which fails to recognize any of the current game’s merits —is flawed unto itself.
The mantra of today’s MLB is Ken Griffey Jr., telling us to let the kids have fun. The social media mean-spirited memes attached to Smoltz with Clint Eastwood growling at his neighbors to get off his lawn generally follow.
Now, that said …
NLCS Game 3, bottom of the second, Dodgers trail 1-0, second and third, one out, Yasmani Grandal at the plate with an 0-2 count.
Smoltz: “Hate to overstate it, but a ground ball to second base here is an RBI. That big swing has to get cut down right now. He has to put the ball in play. … Normally hitters this day and age will try to go deep. In the postseason you can’t have that [big swing] with runners on. You can’t.”
Grandal strikes out swinging on a letter-high fastball. Kike Hernandez is intentionally walked to load the bases. Walker Buehler ends the inning on a called strike three.
“Lack of game planning contributed to that,” concluded Smoltz. Spot on again.
But that said …
Ever try muting the TV and synching up the Dodgers’ radio broadcast to the games? Rainbows and sunshine aren’t happening there, either.
Having said all that …
Smoltz is actually part of that solution. Last year, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred put him on a 16-member competition committee to fine-tune the sport criticized for slow play.
“Here’s what I don’t understand,” Smoltz recently told the Sports Business Journal. “Every single sport has made major changes and, no matter what the early backlash was, everyone accepted it … When the game gets less interesting, you’re losing viewers.”
Interesting observation. That said, we shall use one of our allotted mound visits to ask for Smoltz to hand over the ball.
Baseball becomes an October TV game show, a sugar-rush dessert cart as a reward for a long, diet-conscious grind. But no one asks for a heap of hot sauce on their molten lava chocolate cake to keep it from erupting every other inning.
Nor is this TV show like “Jeopardy!” where the smartest wins. Smoltz jeopardizes the game’s appeal when the viewership is largest, and not all die-hards. Now’s the time to teach, not preach.
It’s not like Fox doesn’t have a deep bullpen. Dontrelle Willis is up and throwing on the pregame show. Alex Rodriguez, fresh off a successful ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” run, has enough heat to record the save.
Because when all is said and done, Smoltz shouldn’t be taken out just because of a pitch count. It’s really more about the bitch count.