Cardinals broadcasters are back on the road again. Some of them, that is.
For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down Major League Baseball — as well as activities worldwide — 15 months ago, Redbirds radio announcers this weekend are going with the team for regular-season road games. But the club’s television crew will not be traveling, instead continuing to call the action from a studio in St. Louis. That’s where they will be when the Cards are in Chicago for a series against the Cubs that begins at 1:20 p.m. Friday.
The radio broadcasts are under the control of the team, as is the vast network that airs the games. The telecasts are properties of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which shows them on Bally Sports Midwest. That is one of 19 regional sports networks Sinclair has nationwide.
Think of it this way — the radio productions are much more like free-flowing mom-and-pop operations compared to the more corporate, bureaucratic telecast environment. So broadcasters John Rooney and Ricky Horton, as well as producer/engineer Jim Jackson, are heading to Chicago while BSM play-by-play announcer Dan McLaughlin and others will be working from about 300 miles away.
And those fans who have listened to and watched Cards broadcasts over the last year know the problems associated with calling games from off-site, as announcers are at the mercy of the pictures on the monitors they are watching. When there is a glitch, such as in a recent game when a ball was hit to the outfield but the screen showed the pitcher going over to back up third base, they are left to speculate as to what is going on.
“It’s not ideal and it can be extremely challenging,” McLaughlin said Thursday. “This has been difficult because I’m very limited in what I can see and I want to do the best that I can. So, you have to guess a lot, hope you have a camera shot, or hold back and try to make sure you get it right, when possible.”
Rooney and Horton won’t have to deal with that this weekend.
“I’m happy we will actually be able to see what we have to tell the people about,” Rooney said.
Traveling for radio announcers is set for the rest of the month, and hopefully will continue for the remainder of the season depending on protocols elsewhere.
Technical issues are the primary reason Sinclair is staying grounded, according to Bally Sports Midwest executive producer Larry Mago.
Since play resumed last summer, the regional sports networks have been working in cooperation, providing a shared feed instead of having individual productions. This has been done to streamline things, which was understandable under the circumstances. But because different protocols exist in different markets, Mago said it is a complex maze to navigate. Not only are the Sinclair regionals involved, so are those of other companies— as well as Major League Baseball.
BSM is not the only broadcaster not travelling — many others still remain at home.
Mago called it “unwinding a puzzle that took months to put together.”
What about money, though? Sinclair took a big hit last year, and the skeptics point to the fact that not staffing road games saves it a lot of cash.
Is the technical issues stance just an excuse? After all, the world has been returning to normality for months now, seemingly allowing for plenty of time to plan for a resumption of travel. It has been nearly 52 years since the technology existed to put a man on the moon, so how tough can it be to figure out how to get broadcasters back on site — something that already had been commonplace for decades?
Mago called the money argument “oversimplified. That’s not the linchpin in this at all.
“We could (do it with) the Cardinals, but it would impact others. I don’t think that’s a great thing to do.”
Whatever the reason for TV’s delay in returning, it is the fans who are hurt the most. The twist is that the service that is provided for free — radio broadcasts — is returning to full quality while the one people pay to see — television — is not.
Cardinals senior vice president Dan Farrell, who oversees the team’s broadcast operations, is all for commentators on both outlets hitting the road again.
“We believe announcers do their best when they are live in the ballpark,” he said. “It’s such a big wide field, (you can’t) capture everything on a TV monitor.”
The team has a minority stake in Bally Sports Midwest, but Farrell said the Cardinals are not BSM to get its personnel back on site.
“We know they are dealing with all those complexities,” he said. “We follow Sinclair’s lead and direction. They have the expertise.”
Meanwhile, BSM’s Mago said there is no timetable for the TV announcers to travel again.
“We are talking about it, how to do it,” he said. “I don’t think we have a ‘when’ yet.”
Despite all the obstacles, the announcers have forged through the best they can.
“I couldn’t be more proud at how they handled it,” Farrell said of the radio crew.
Added Mago: “Our on-air (TV) guys have done a spectacular job” under the circumstances. “It’s not 100% of what we want to do. But it’s pretty good.”
Even with the substandard productions TV viewers will continue to get, through no fault of his own, McLaughlin is grateful that at least there are games to show.
“I’d love to be back on the road because that’s the best way to do my job and deliver the best product,” he said. “I care so much about the craft and I take great pride in doing the best I can for the fans. Every game, no matter the circumstances, I owe it to them to deliver the best I can.
“I’m beyond thankful and appreciative to be back working,” he added. “At this time last year, I was out of a job and just hoping we would have baseball. So, if this is how we have to do it, so be it. I’ll give fans the best I got.”
Rooney says it is time for his television brethren to also get back on the road.
“They need to be in the ballpark to get feel of the game to their audience,” he said, pointing out something legendary sportscaster Vin Scully used to say. “’It’s the roar of the crowd that gets you going.’ I know what he means.”
A further look at the advantages media members have by being on site: https://tinyurl.com/44m9uu9y