Announcers and Bias

February 15, 2013

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.”



  • Mary Jo says:

    Don’t watch much baseball on TV unless it’s the FOX Saturday game since we don’t have cable/dish/etc, just a 6′ antenna in the attic. But I knew the “winner” was Hawk Harrelson because I do spend, um, “quality time” on a Cleveland message board where all the guys with some sort of MLB package gripe constantly whenever we (yup, I’m a homer) play the White Sox at U.S. Cellulite Field. Don’t understand the love for him in Chicago since he neither grew up there nor played for a team there. Puzzling.

    Wonder how many times Hammy has been talked to by Bud for Hammy’s jabs at the umpires. He has no love loss for Cowboy Joe either. Or his comments on CB Bucknor. “Could Be fair, Could Be foul.”

  • Chris Burnham says:

    I must admit, I’m not surprised concerning Underwood, who always seemed a bit too much of a cheerleader for my tastes. But I always thought Archie was the one who kinda reined Matt in.

    Every time I end up with a White Sox telecast on Extra Innings, I have to fight serious temptation to not mute the game. Otherwise, I like hearing the other teams announcers that we don’t get to listen to much. Believe it or not, one of my favorite pairings was Texas’ Josh Lewen (I don’t think I spelled that right, but it’s too late to bother) and Tom Grieve. They had a neat rapport with each other with humorous little anecdotes that made them a fun listen.

    Speaking for me in Jays country, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler aren’t overtly homerish, because I’m not even sure they’re alive when they’re on the air. Rogers Corporation has all this money and they can’t get these guys some Red Bull or something? Sheesh.

    • nikki says:

      Glad I’m not the only one who mutes the White Sox announcers! Unless the Indians are winning that particular game, and then, I find sick pleasure in Harrelson’s bitter tone.

  • joey says:

    you can put it on the board…i call bull crap!manning does a fine job of being neutral… hawk is the biggest homer,other than the mlb network,espn,and the yes network…(red sox,yanks)now this year watch out for the dodgers guys,cuz actually the mlb owns them,so they will be the big homers from now on!i do like scully tho.

  • medfest says:

    The Hawk has been the biggest homer for years.

    This study validates my utter disdain for Underwood.Not only is he a homer, he’s a third class broadcaster constantly making mistakes and stumbling over names.
    What passes for Underwood’s witty repartee reminds me of listening to kids talking on a little league bench during a game.
    When Al Pawlowski fills in for Underwood it’s a breath of fresh air time.

    Manning has become much more critical in recent years,after spending a long time being Mike (the players’ apologist) Hegan junior.

    Hamilton is a real pro that sometimes lets his personal feelings intrude on the broadcast.He really hates some umpires and makes no attempt to hide it(as noted by another respondent). And woe be the Cleveland fan that boos Jim Thome,that will set him off every time.

  • Mike Vernon says:

    It’s always enjoyable to watch the Indians on a national broadcast to see what the world thinks of our team but I want my local broadcaster to be biased. They’re a part of the team in my eyes and that’s why we love them.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I think one sin is when announcers are painfully boring. I like the Pittsburgh Pirates, despite their 20+ years of futility. There are times when I watch their broadcast, and it almost lulls me to sleep. There are long, awkward periods of dead air, and then some monotone, bland comments. I joke that they should prescribe that to people rather than Ambien.

    • Chris Burnham says:

      Yeah, I ended up stuck with all three of their games last year in the interleague series. Bob Walk should be called “Sleep-Walk.”

  • Swift says:

    Actually, I’m quite fine with some bias for local broadcasts, and honestly wouldn’t want to hear Tom Hamilton get as excited for visiting team homeruns. As long as they are fair and point out when “our” team does something bad, and the visitors do something really good.

    National broadcasts are a completely different thing.

  • thirdsaint says:

    I’m unfortunate enough to have to deal with the White Sox crew often since I live near Chicago. Unfortunately, despite my buying MLBtv to watch my Tribe, I’ll be blacked out from listening to the Cleveland crew. The mute button is naturally worn out and my best friend. If it ever broke I think I’d cry. Those Sox announcers are so unbelievable putrid it’s not even funny.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    The blackouts drive me nuts. Here’s a weird blackout scenario – I was in Las Vegas and the Indians were in Anaheim. Even though it’s four hours away, it’s still up for blackout rules since it’s the closest team. What was so weird was that I could watch the game on my computer in the hotel room…I wasn’t blacked out from that. Yet when I went to watch on my phone when I was out and about, I was blacked out.