Twelve days ago, I posted a defense of Tim McCarver, so perhaps I just don’t have the highest standards for commentary. But whereas Tim McCarver, for me, is an adequate substitute in a position for which I have no real expectations, Gabe Kapler is the idealized version of the color commentator that most of us have been seeking for years.
We live in a broadcasting environment in which the two lead national color commentators, Fox’s Harold Reynolds and ESPN’s John Kruk, seem to hold an open hostility towards statistical analysis and those who advocate it. Reynolds and Kruk got their feet in the analyst door by virtue of their playing careers—both were all-stars who received extensive media attention. On the other hand, Gabe Kapler was a journeyman who played for six different MLB teams. Had Kapler’s peak (the years in which he was a starter) not coincided with my particularly nerdy late grade school and middle school years of baseball fandom, I may have forgotten that he played in the first place.
Gabe Kapler is clearly, however, not being put into the booth for extensive name recognition—he is there because of the perspective he provides. Kapler can’t rely on stories from his good old days—his most notable career highlight was merely being one of the nine Boston Red Sox players on the field when the team won its first World Series since 1918. However, instead of going the Tim McCarver and Bob Uecker route of self-deprecation (which is fine), Kapler supplements his nondescript on-field résumé with a genuinely informed outlook on sabermetrics (which is better). And this isn’t superficial knowledge, either—there are plenty of analysts between Kapler and Reynolds on the spectrum who will name-drop WAR or BABIP or FIP or wRC+ but will lack a fundamental understanding of what the numbers mean beyond having the ability to make you sound smart. But Kapler gets it. And he explains it in a clear and concise manner.
During Saturday’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, Gabe Kapler said something regrettable. I was not watching but unless retellings of the incident are wildly inaccurate, it was a mistake. My previously-stated admiration of Kapler’s work does not change that referring to a baseball injury as "poetic justice" is a mistake. It does not matter whether Kapler is right in his belief that Jonathan Lucroy should be starting in the All-Star Game on Tuesday over Yadier Molina independent of any injuries (although he is)—both are great players and regardless of your opinions on the two, there is nothing poetic or just about either one being hurt.
With that said, live broadcasting is really difficult. Filling three hours, particularly in a game such as yesterday’s which got out of hand relatively quickly, means that you are improvising extensively, and with very little opportunity to rectify anything regrettable that you might have said. I can’t go three hours during a baseball game without tweeting something objectively stupid or possibly offensive, and that’s with the ability to re-read what I am broadcasting before I send it. Gabe Kapler was tasked with making a blowout engaging and while, since I wasn’t watching, I can’t say whether he did or did not, the volume of tweets I saw about the poetic justice incident certainly implies that he kept things interesting at the very least, for better or worse.
Anyway, late last night, Kapler apologized via Twitter. The apology probably wasn’t necessary, but it was much appreciated to weather the storm. It is the perfect segue to putting the poetic justice semi-controversy behind us. The last thing we need is to chase off such a promising and talented young color commentator over this.