JABO is an acronym for “Just a Bit Outside”, which is the Fox Sports website for baseball. It is headed by the great Rob Neyer. For Game One of the NLCS between the Giants and Cardinals, Fox tried something different. On their normal Fox affiliates, they showed the usual telecast: a play-by-play announcer, ex-player for color commentary, a couple of on-field reporters. Basically, the game as it has been telecast for a long time. On Fox Sports 1, a channel that has drawn in various other Fox Sports channels, and which needs eyeballs for ratings, they tried something completely different.
They had five announcers, all in the studio, not at the game. Regular studio guy Kevin Burkhardt was joined by Neyer, two ex-players (Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski) who have a solid understanding of advanced analytic metrics, and current manager and former pitcher Bud Black. They sat around for the entire game, talking about baseball … most of the time, they also talked about the game in question, but sometimes they got a little sidetracked. None of them did play-by-play. The screen was split, with the game on the right and the studio folks on the left, along with various advanced stat information at the bottom of the screen. Not only was there no play-by-play, there was no crowd noise, making the whole thing sound rather antiseptic. Visually and aurally, it was far from an ideal way to watch a baseball game.
But … the five guys had a nice rapport, and every one of them had interesting things to say, often from different perspectives. It was easily the most intelligent baseball broadcast I have ever seen.
It wasn’t perfect. It was a first-time effort, so perfect wasn’t going to happen. And they could have used more of the game ambiance that we are used to. But that’s easy to adjust. And “adjust” was a key, because the producers were clearly watching their Twitter feed. People complained about various things, and some of those things were changed on the fly, so that the last couple of innings were better than the first.
An argument can be made that most in-game sports announcing is unnecessary. But if you are comparing what JABO did to Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds and whoever, it’s no contest.
My sense is a hybrid formula would work best in the future. The JABO telecast was a bit bloodless … it lacked emotion, and since I was rooting for one of the teams, I missed that aspect of the game. So, down the road, it might be nice to just combine a good play-by-play man with this kind of analyst. The Giants get this on TV with the beloved Kruk and Kuip, and I wouldn’t mess with them for a second. But as a general suggestion, pairing someone like Jon Miller with Gabe Kapler (who was the most impressive of all the JABO guys) would be great. (I’m not taking anything away from the entire stable of excellent Giants announcers, just trying to imagine the future.)
Some people have a long way to go before they’ll accept this, and many of them have good reasons. It would be nice to have the average fan getting information that actually improves their understanding of the game. But some fans are, to be blunt, too stupid to inspire any hope. That may sound harsh, but a running theme on Twitter during the game was people complaining vociferously that the JABO guys needed to shut up, that they were boring, that they were ruining the game, that this should never happen again. These complaints continued, despite the fact that the JABO telecast had regular reminders that the traditional offering was on Fox, and that people on Twitter were regularly pointing out to the morons that they didn’t have to watch what they didn’t like, they just needed to change the channel.