A while ago I saw an interesting story from the Wall Street Journal on bias among baseball announcers. They decided to watch home television broadcasts for 30 teams, focusing on games in which the home team won. (If they waited until August or September to rate the Indians, they may have been waiting for a while). I’m sure that surveys such as these could be biased as well, but the criteria they used seems relatively straightforward. They gave “citations” to teams for using pronouns like “us, we or our,” pet names for players, moping after something bad happened to the home team or “excessive glee” when something good happened. The focus was on television broadcast teams, there was no consideration for announcers on the radio.
So who was the most biased announcer in MLB? I’m sure you could have guessed without ever looking at the WSJ article – it was Ken “Hawk” Harrelson with the Chicago White Sox. Harrelson and partner Steve Stone were tagged with 104 biased comments during their broadcast, while the second place pair lagged far behind with 23 biased comments. The second place team? None other than Indians announcers Matt Underwood and Rick Manning. The article noted that Underwood and Manning were not hesitant to criticize the Indians when necessary, but were hit with a number of citations for continued use of pronouns like “us, we, and our.” The primary culprit was Manning, and as the story points out, this could be due to the fact that he played with the Indians (and also has served as a special instructor at times).
The least biased announcers, according to the study, came from primarily major markets – both New York teams, the Dodgers, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays all had zero citations. I was kind of surprised by this, because I’ve watched the YES Network and NESN on several occasions and have gotten the impression of bias. While the folks running the study could have caught them on a good day, I was still kind of surprised to see they were hit with zero citations. I am not surprised that Vin Scully from the Dodgers had zero citations, because he is awesome. Small market teams (outside of the White Sox) comprised the top five – after the Indians were the Pirates, Astros, and Marlins.
Does it really matter if your home announcing team has any biases, particularly if their target audience are fans of the local team? I honestly don’t think it’s that big of a deal, as long as it’s an announcing crew that is really just heard in the local city (or by fans who purchase the MLB TV package). I know that sometimes the MLB network picks up the local broadcast of games, but that’s relatively few and far between. For crews like those with the White Sox and the Cubs, that are often on national networks like WGN, I think it’s a bit more of a sin. What would bother me more than anything, as an Indians fan, is if the announcers never criticized the team or questioned decisions made on the field. So often anymore, announcing crews are either paid by the team or are in close connection with the team. In these kind of scenarios, the line of objective thought can blur when an announcing crew is faced with being honest, or insulting the people that are signing their paychecks. So even though Manning and Underwood were tagged for their 23 “citations,” I’m okay with it because they do question the team when appropriate.
Harrelson consented to be interviewed for the story, and was proud of his bias. Manning and Underwood declined comment. Perhaps because Harrelson revels in his homerism, while Manning and Underwood really do seem to be objective and critical when necessary. I’m curious how Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus would rate within the framework of this survey. I’m pretty sure that Hamilton would get a number of citations for “excessive glee.”