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Different voices, better broadcasts

The World Baseball Classic reminded us the culture of baseball is diverse. I wish the broadcasts were more so.

World Baseball Classic - Championship Round - Game 3 - United States v Puerto Rico Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

As a longtime advocate for the World Baseball Classic, I was overjoyed to see the event seemingly seep into mainstream American baseball culture more deeply than ever before. The tournament sparked a lot of conversation, but two takeaways seem universal:

  1. Baseball is thriving in many countries
  2. The culture of baseball varies from place-to-place

Many had already noted the increased on-field exuberance of something like a Yadier Molina/Javy Baez no-look tag caught stealing, but of course the stark contrast to that was drawn by Ian Kinsler’s dismissal of that style of play as “just not how we were raised.”

Now, without getting into the merits of bat-flips vs. grimacing, the broader point - which I think everyone can agree on - is that the culture of baseball varies around the world.

And that is an important reminder that we need diversity in our baseball broadcasts as well.

David S. Cohen at our SB Nation sister site The Good Phight recently analyzed the TV and radio broadcast booths for every MLB franchise and found the amount of diversity to be... almost non-existent. Of the 164 announcers, 90% were white men. In a sport where more than 30% of the players are Latin American, there were just five Latin American broadcasters. There was only one woman.

Cohen restricted his analysis to the in-booth talent, generally play-by-play and color commentators, and he did not include dedicated Spanish-language broadcasts. Feel free to quibble with that methodology, but I think it would still be hard to dispute the overall conclusion that the broadcasters who connect us to the sport we love are very culturally monolithic.

As for the Cardinals... they fare a bit above the bottom in Cohen’s analysis, by virtue of employing Mike Claiborne as part of their radio crew. Seventeen teams employ only white men in their TV/Radio booths.

But the Cardinals broadcasting diversity looks pretty bad on the Fox Sports Midwest side - especially when you expand it to include on-field correspondents and studio hosts/analysts. Chase Woodruff over at Double-Birds - who has taken on this issue multiple times - wrote last year that Fox Sports Midwest had the least diverse telecast in baseball.

Without redoing Chase’s research, it seems accurate to say fairly little has changed at FSMW. Many of those teams in Cohen’s analysis who lack diversity in the game broadcast do employ women and people of color elsewhere in their coverage. Yes, the female on-field reporter is a bit of a ghetto, and yes pre-game/post-game analyst is on the B-list to the folks in the booth, but those are still on-air positions.

FSMW employs a relatively short roster of commentators in the broadcast booth, several of whom have been on-air for years. But they regularly introduce new ex-ballplayers as pre-game/post-game analysts: Jack Clark, Jim Edmonds, Rick Ankiel... It seems a pretty low-bar to clear to make an effort to diversify that panel.

I’ve been critical of FSMW broadcasts in the past for their incessant repetition. The same talking-points are rehashed over-and-over. Some of that is just poor broadcasting. Some of it is a result of being the exclusive rights-holder, an extension of the franchise itself, creating an almost “State TV” feel.

But surely it does not help ease the repetition that every take being uttered throughout every broadcast comes from a middle-aged white man, many of whom also played for the team they are now covering. It is a cultural echo-chamber.

Without even touching on the politics of how important diversity in the workplace is generally, we know that the culture of baseball is quite diverse. We know that Cardinals broadcasts - especially on FSMW - are repetitive and often coalesce around a “company line.” There’s a lot of reason to believe a more diversified broadcast would make for a better product to watch.