- Just as the Houston Astros developed into world champions, Fox's World Series coverage has blossomed over the last decade.
There is a handy chart on Wikipedia that displays the different World Series broadcast and studio teams that have worked for Fox Sports since 2010. It is reminder of how subjective the business of sports broadcasting can be.
In the post-Tim McCarver era, Fox invested in a three-person booth that had one too many Harold Reynolds. It opted to use Erin Andrews as a field reporter as opposed to someone who covered baseball fulltime. Its pregame and post-game show (alums include Eric Karros, Ozzie Guillén and Nick Swisher among others) remained paces behind the best of the genre.
But give senior management at Fox Sports credit. They tinkered with their product until they found a group that soared in 2017.
The result for viewers was a production that lived up to a terrific World Series that ended at 11:59 p.m. ET with the Houston Astros winning the franchise’s first championship following a 5-1 Game 7 win over the Dodgers.
The announcing duo of Joe Buck and John Smoltz were a terrific listen over the seven games. Buck has always been underrated as a baseball broadcaster, a terrific voice in big games who leads his analyst into smart places. Smoltz teaches viewers about pitching every broadcast. It would be hard to find a better in-game baseball analyst. The reporting team of Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci (obviously he’s an SI colleague) asked great questions and provided details that come with covering the sport for two decades. The pregame and postgame studio group featuring Kevin Burkhardt (already Fox’s best-ever MLB host) and analysts Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, David Ortiz and Keith Hernandez were a hoot. During the studio show prior to Game 7, the group made fun of Ortiz picking the losing team in every game prior to Wednesday.
Bardia Shah-Rais, a coordinating producer for Fox Sports and the point person for the pregame show, said that Fox Sports president of production John Entz suggested they air a graphic on Ortiz’s terrible prognostication skill. So the show aired a chryon titled “Papi Don’t Preach: 0-6 .000 win pct.” It reminded you of the frivolity of TNT’s Inside The NBA.
Game 7 did not have the drama of previous games, but Buck and Smoltz were excellent. They questioned the decision of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to bring in pitcher Brandon Morrow for Yu Darvish in the top of the second inning given the pitcher’s spot was coming up third in the order in the bottom of the frame. Indeed Kiké Hernandez pitch-hit for Morrow when the Dodgers got a runner on. Smoltz later said of Morrow departing, “That is a huge weapon that Houston does not have to worry about anymore.” They pointed out early that no Dodger had ever played in a Game 7 and Buck referenced before the graphic came up on screen that Astros lefty Francisco Liriano facing the left-handed hitting Cody Bellinger in the fifth inning might be an advantage for Bellinger given his numbers against lefties (Bellinger grounded into a force play.) These were interesting things to keep the production moving smartly in a 5-0 game. It did not matter whether they turned out to be pivotal to the outcome.
The behind the scenes key production staffers—producer Pete Macheska and director Matt Gangl—delivered crisp broadcasts and particularly a clinic in pre-planning and camera placement. If you watched Game 7 you witnessed beautiful Super Slo Motion replays of Bellinger’s first inning throwing error that resulted in the first run. You also saw Fox’s cameras quickly catch Yuli Gurriel tipping is hat to Yu Darvish in the first inning. The graphics during the series and especially during Game 7 were on point (credit Bryan Colucci, Wayne Fidelman, Dave Korus, and Sam Younger for in the in-game graphics and Mark Mason for the studio graphics.) For instance, Fox let viewers know quickly that this was the first Game 7 where both starters did not last thru three innings. In the sixth inning, they gave a graphic on how dramatic Houston hitters had improved in strikeout percentage since 2013. Fox’s postgame coverage even included a live marriage proposal from Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. (Unlike most ballpark proposals, this was pretty cool.)
Could things have been better? Well, no broadcast is perfect. (Just like this column can always be better.) It was jarring to see pitching legends Sandy Koufax and Don Newcombe in the background throwing out the first pitch of Game 7 while Buck and Smoltz did the traditional booth opening shot. That’s one where you wish the booth quickly called an audible to show the field footage through the audio of Buck and Smoltz. (Fox did show First Pitch footage immediately after Buck and Smoltz finished the open and props on that.)
But that is a small quibble. This was an A production by Fox. Well done.