Thursday, December 28, 2017

Joe Buck is great -- I don't care what anybody says

Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.

Ken, maybe you can offer some insight...why do people dislike Joe Buck? I'm not really a "fan" (the only thing I really know about him is that he calls the World Series every year), but he knows his baseball and his voice doesn't bother me during a broadcast. Supposedly he's too "New York-centric" or whatever, and since I'm a Red Sox fan I'm not supposed to like that? What is the beef with this guy?

Joe Buck is both a terrific guy and an excellent sportscaster. I wish I had his voice (although I’m sure he wishes he had my hair). I’ve known Joe since we were both announcing minor league baseball in 1989. Proud to call him a friend.

He wrote an autobiography called LUCKY BASTARD that I’ve read and enthusiastically recommend. In it he addresses the criticism and is very candid in accepting the complaints. Some fans found him dispassionate and he agrees with them and has since adjusted his delivery.

Some feel he’s smug. In truth he’s anything but. Joe has a great sense of humor and is very self-deprecating. He’s friendly with everyone he comes in contact with. He’s great with the crew. I can think of a hundred guys in sports broadcasting that are way more smug.

Some feel he only got the job due to nepotism (his father was legendary sportscaster Jack Buck), but that doesn’t fly. Nepotism might get you in the door, but you don’t hold onto a network’s number one play-by-play position for twenty years if you don’t have the talent and goods (and voice -- that bastard).

Do you have any idea the pressure that goes with the job? Just blow one big call and it follows you for life. And you’re on the air live… with a director talking constantly in your ear, a stage manager handing you a promo to read, substitutions all over the field, a ten minute delay while a pitcher takes all the time he wants to warm up since he came in following an injury, and a partner who may cheerfully throw you under the bus if he doesn’t like you. That’s air traffic controller pressure.

In his book he brings out a good point that social media today effectively stifles any creativity. This is one of my pet peeves as well. Show any personality, say something facetiously and you get crushed. The result is sportscasters now pull back and play it safe. And networks now hire young generic boring robots. This is the week there are dozens of bowl games. 90% of the announcers will be completely interchangeable.

A few years ago I was broadcasting some games for the Mariners following the passing of their great announcer, Dave Niehaus (who had personality to burn). We were in Detroit. I was on the radio. My partner Rick Rizzs and I were talking about Dave and I said on the air that the Tigers were honoring him as well that year, which was really touching since he never broadcast in Detroit. But I told the listeners if they ever go to Comerica Park or see a Tigers’ home game on TV they’ll notice a big old English “D” on the front of their uniforms. That’s for Dave.

Well, the internet blew up. “What an idiot that Levine is. The “D” is for Detroit.” “How could they let a guy that stupid on the air?”

Yeah, I’m the idiot.

Over the last few years Joe has felt more comfortable and has allowed more of his personality to seep into his broadcasts. He was terrific before. Now he’s even better.

One final point: People accuse him of bias against their teams. All national announcers face that. If he’s calling a Yankees-Red Sox game he’ll get an equal number of complaints that he’s rooting for the Yankees and the Red Sox. You can’t win. Here’s the truth: National announcers don’t really give a shit whether your beloved team wins or loses. Yes, they may root for a team to win a particular game so it can extend the World Series, or root for a team to get back into a game so the ending is more dramatic, but they don’t hate New York, they don’t hate Dallas, they don’t hate L.A.

If I were president of major network’s sports division I would hire Joe Buck in a second and tell him, let it loose. Don’t worry about Twitter. Don’t worry about anything. Just be the best you. And only say nice things about the Dodgers.

37 comments :

Anonymous said...

It’s funny that even in his home town, he faces the same criticisms. People here get mad when he doesn’t favor the Cardinals...even when they are not playing.

He is a fantastic announcer and an overall great guy. I guess it’s in the genes.

Pam, St. Louis.

Curt Alliaume said...

One thing that works against Joe Buck is familiarity. Curt Gowdy had the same issue in the 1970s: he did all of NBC's major baseball and football events (World Series every year, Super Bowl every other year, all the major AFC playoff games). And that kept up for over ten years (1965-1975); after that NBC lost half the baseball package to ABC and Chrysler decided they wanted Joe Garagiola to be the main play-by-play guy; Curt's star dimmed fairly rapidly after that, through no fault of his own.

John in NE Ohio said...

Nepotism, and sometimes to a greater extent friendships, are what get you many jobs. Like you said, that won't keep you as the #1 guy for years. It may keep you as the poor guy who has to call the Browns game every week, or the MAC game, but not the high profile game.
I have no doubt that Mike Golic Jr. only got a shot at his gig because of his name. But the gig he got was graveyard shift. He is pretty good at it, so now in addition he does stuff during the day, and some announcing. He wouldn't be getting more to do just based upon his name.
I also have no doubt that Annie got people - at least agents - to read her script because of who she is. If not, shame on you. Yes, you want her to get the job on her own, but getting the job is different from getting an interview. She isn't going to get a job based upon your name. Hell, you might not get a job based upon your name.
Almost everyone I work with got at least the interview for this job either because they were friends or former coworkers with someone who worked here, myself included.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the not-really-a-fan camp when it comes to Joe Buck. I don't hate him, I'd just rather listen to someone like a Mike Tirico (though he could stand to be quiet occasionally). And it has nothing to do with the actual bones of his work. He's quite competent and I never get a partisan feeling coming from him.

No, there's just a general...archness to his delivery, a built-in standoffishness. When you watch sports, you want to feel like you're watching it with a buddy and I don't get that with Buck. Compare him to a Dick Enberg and see what I mean.

It's strange because I heard him do some interviews when he was promoting his book and he was charming and engaging, seemed like a very nice guy. It just doesn't come through in his play-by-play.




Liz said...


Ken, a Friday question based on your podcast about Hollywood yesterday. Great Podcast, by the way.

Have you written a script for a movie or TV series with Hollywood and the people living there as the basis?

I am very sure it will be a great one, especially a movie, written by an insider like you.

Elf said...

What Anonymous said about Dick Enberg rings a bell, and I'd say the same thing goes ten-fold for Vin Scully. Those two made it sound like they were talking to you, not AT you. While Buck is very good at telling us what's happening, with Scully, Enberg and I'm sure some other local favorites, it felt more like an ongoing conversation with the viewer, even if the viewer wasn't talking back.

AllieG said...

You alluded here to one of the anomalies of sports. Fans in general adore their local broadcasters and (usually correctly) make them regional icons. Those same fans in general hate all national announcers with a passion. Joe Buck is facing the same stuff thrown at Curt Gowdy almost 50 years ago.

Michael said...

I also felt Joe Buck was too standoffish and blase, and then I read his book, and now I do feel differently about him. I understand where he comes from and where he's coming from. He has a great line in there about his interest in games--that when Bryce Harper steps into the batter's box and says to himself that he hopes Joe Buck is having a good game, he'll feel that way about Bryce Harper. That actually is closer to the Red Barber school of avoiding association with the players.

What the book shows is his deep love and respect for his father (not that I doubted that), and it helped me realize that he has tried consciously to broadcast differently than his father did. He also tells a touching story about his father saying, almost in so many words, don't do what I did and work constantly. Joe Buck gets criticized for not doing all of the Fox baseball weekly telecasts, but his attitude seems based in part on that advice from his father: be with your family.

Apropos of Dick Enberg, he had a deal with NBC that he wouldn't do more than 50 events a year. He saw how Curt Gowdy and Chris Schenkel were overexposed and it hurt them later in their careers. One year, Dr. Enberg was supposed to do Wimbledon and ended up not doing because of the argument over whether that was one event or multiple events. That also speaks to Joe Buck: by doing the World Series each year and big NFL games and now U.S. Open golf, he does risk overexposure, and that's one reason he gets so much criticism. He's out there in a position to be criticized.

Thomas Anderson said...

Maybe the five day beard, the trophy second wife, the hair transplants and having to cover for Troy Aikman just bug me, Ken!

blinky said...

It seems like people are desperate to be offended so they can be righteously indignant. In fact that seems like the republicans strategy for the last 8 years.

Charles H. Bryan said...

If Joe Buck was smug or self-important he wouldn't have played himself on BROCKMIRE in the manner that he did. And he was pretty good on that show.

I think half of it is that people like to pile on; it becomes cool to dislike a celebrity. The comedian Shane Torres has a nice bit on "What did Guy Fieri do to anyone?" that gets at this.

Rob said...

I agree 100%, Ken. I think Joe Buck is a great play-by-play guy. I am always in bewilderment by all the criticism he gets.

I almost dread reading twitter on NFL Sundays, knowing I'll see the stupidest (and often vulgar) criticisms of him. It's totally unjustified.

The only negative thing I can think of with Joe Buck (aside from his "facial hair") is that he's not as good as his father was. However, that puts in the same company with the vast majority of sports announcers.

cb said...

Here's why I hate Joe Buck -for baseball, love him for football. There are two kinds of these guy:
Follows the narrative of the game (Vin)
Brings his narrative TO the game (Joe)

One is present, one is there.

YEKIMI said...

Was flipping around the tube one day and saw him and the other guy doing either a wrap up or a halftime break [didn't stick around long enough to see which mostly because I don't really care for football] and stopped long enough to watch just to see what all the hullabaloo was about the I've seen on your blog. As far as I was concerned he just left me with a "meh" feeling. He didn't seem all that bad to me but he didn't set my socks on fire either. Maybe when baseball rolls around and I see him doing a game I'll stick around and see what he's like.

Brad Apling said...

What does your podcasting setup look like? Did you build a sound booth at home or you just plug a microphone into your laptop, setup your script, close the office door & fire away with stories and advice? (a photo would be great!)

Mike Bloodworth said...

Joe's response to all this criticism should be a rousing, "Buck you!" The real question is what are his politics?! If one is going to hate Joe Buck it should be for what he believes, not what he does. ...Oh, wait...that was YESTERDAY'S blog. Sorry.

Dana King said...

I think the earlier comment about how his personality doesn't come through on the air is spot on. I think another problem I've had with him over the years is Tim McCarver. McCarver was the master of not being as clever as he thought he was. McCarver would get into his little cleverisms and Buck seemed to get caught up in them instead of maybe keeping his partner in the here and now.

(My Favorite piece of McCarver's expertise: "People forget that, once you drop the bat, baserunning is the primary way to score runs." I guess Captain Obvious wasn't available for baseball games so Tim filled in.)

Mike Schryver said...

I'm sure you're right that Joe is a great guy, but I just don't enjoy him calling baseball. He seems aloof and not engaged. And I'm not looking for partisanship - that's one thing I don't want from a national announcer, and I agree that he delivers in that regard.

rod said...

Joe Buck is fantastic! But nothing in baseball broadcasting history was better than Dave Niehaus and Ken Levine singing "Wabash Cannonball" when the Seattle Mariners were down by 10 runs. Believe it or not, that happened a lot.......

Matt said...

Hi Ken, Friday question.

Because I am a glutton for punishment I turned on The Rush Limbaugh Show yesterday and Nick Searcy from Justified was guest hosting. He told a story that once the show was on for a few years that he and Timothy Oliphant would hang out with the writers on the set. He claimed that he and Timothy would pitch jokes and lines for their characters and often they would be used. Is this believable? Do writers consider it an insult when actors take this type of credit?

Peter said...

At the risk of continuing yesterday's political discussion, I just want to say how hilarious it is that Roy Moore tried to block Doug Jones being officially certified as the senator of Alabama. So not only is he a pedophile, he's also in serious denial.

A wise judge threw out Moore's unhinged appeal and Jones is now officially senator. Let's just hope Moore doesn't use all the free time he now has to hang outside schools.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

HERE'S THE ONE THING THAT JOE BUCK, AND ALL BROADCASTERS DO THAT PISSES ME OFF:

They will all say a stat, "This hitter is Oh-for-21 against Lefties", "He's homer-less in the post-season so far", "This pitcher has controlled the middle of this lineup", FULLY KNOWING that the exact opposite will happen. It's like saying there's a perfect game going on, and we now expect a big hit.

JOE BUCK DOES IT. THEY ALL DO.

Please, Mr and Mrs Broadcaster, don't say it. You'll be blamed by most of the viewing public.

:)

MikeKPa. said...

Whether he's smug off the camera is one thing. The perception that he is smug on camera is another. I'm in the camp that could do without him. Jim Nantz, on the other hand, is the ultimate professional announcer and effortlessly moves from NFL to NCAA to golf. I'd love to hear him call a baseball game. As far as baseball, Jon Miller is at the top of my list. I'm partial to the late Harry Kalas, who bled Phillies red, but still called a great game.

VP81955 said...

Harry Kalas, Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell are my baseball broadcasting holy trinity.

DBA said...

I don't love Joe Buck's announcing, but I don't mind it. I do mind the team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. Some partners bring out the best in each other, some the worst. Since most of my exposure to Buck and baseball was in that pairing, I did for a while have a sort of knee jerk "ugh this guy" but I realized later it's the pair that bugs me.
I find this with tennis sometimes too, which is why I usually enjoy that over the course of a tournament, if there are, say, 8 announcers, at some point I'll probably have heard them in every combination. That's helped me occasionally realize so-and-so isn't a bad play-by-play person, but so-and-so and such-and-such are a bad announcing team.

He has a DISGUSTING act said...

One way of avoiding unwarranted charges of nepotism is to NOT rip off your dad Jack Buck's famous "...and we'll see you tomorrow night!" walkoff call from the 1991 World Series.

Not just once, but twice. Go lazy, folks! Go lazy!


It's charitable to imagine that Joe Buck has been getting the kneejerk Curt Gowdy "this guy again?" treatment, but he's been getting the Howard Cosell "someone please shoot the TV!" treatment based on his smug aloofness, his aloof smugness, and the bone-deep satisfaction with himself that radiates through the screen.

Compare Joe Buck getting energized while addressing "the haters" to his dreary sleepwalking call of the Tyree catch, one of the signature NFL moments of excitement in the past 50 years.

And he's actually been LESS insufferable these past couple of years! But he has decades to make up for.

Ken Levine said...

Not fair. His calling a game winning home run "We'll see you tomorrow" was clearly an homage to his father, whose call in the '91 World Series is one of the great home run calls of all-time. For my money, it was one of the best things Joe's done.

Breadbaker said...

The problem with nepotism is that it contributes to continuing disparities in race, religion, ethnicity and often gender (obviously not applicable to Annie Levine). If your pool for hiring is the kids of your current hires, your new hires will look an awful lot like your last hires. Mike Golic, Jr. might be a superb announcer for ESPN, but he's another white guy who went to Notre Dame. I'm guessing there were people who had other characteristics who were willing to do the overnight shift on ESPN Radio if it meant their foot in the door. And some may have even been better than Golic, Jr.

He has a DISGUSTING act said...

1. No, it was one of the best things JACK had done.

The value of unique sportscasting calls is that they are forever linked to a unique event, crystallizing a live, unrepeatable moment. We don't want to hear that American Pharaoh is moving like a tremendous machine. We don't want to hear that the Tigers won the pennant, the Tigers won the pennant, the Tigers won the pennant. We don't want to watch the next unbelievable sports upset, whatever and whenever it comes, and be asked whether we believe in miracles... yes!


2. And let's not skip over the fact that Joe has done his "see you tomorrow" shtick on two separate occasions. That "homage" may be meaningful to Joe himself, but it's karaoke to the viewers who remember. It replaces honest, spontaneous reaction with self-aggrandizing spot-the-reference. So Frank Sinatra Jr. can also sing "My Way," big deal.

suek2001 said...

I am no fan of Joe Buck but my loathing has been tempered lately. I prefer him to baseball over football..maybe it's the combo of voices of Buck and that make me hate that combo so much but for the World Series, he's not that annoying.
If we're talking commentators, oe of my favorites is Scott Hamilton for figure skating..beyond that, I don't have an opinion.

Anonymous said...

All this talk of nepotism set me wandering around the internet where I found the name "Chip Caray," son of Skip, grandson of Harry. The internet also says his time with the Mariners overlapped the Levine era. Honestly now, how was he? Granted, it was a long time ago.

-30-

Ken Levine said...

Chip was FANTASTIC, both to work with and on the air. He's another announcer who is a genuinely nice guy and it comes across on his broadcasts. I can't say enough good things about Chip. I wish we had him for the Dodgers.

Firemans Carey said...

Did Chip Carey say "Holy cow!" or "M's win1 M's win!" in homage to his grandpappy?

Roger Owen Green said...

I don't mind Buck. But McCarver? Yikes. His reference to a fastball as a Linda Ronstadt (because it Blew By You/Blue Bayou) was the nadir, but there were lots of others.

Curt Alliaume said...

HERE'S THE ONE THING THAT JOE BUCK, AND ALL BROADCASTERS DO THAT PISSES ME OFF:

They will all say a stat, "This hitter is Oh-for-21 against Lefties", "He's homer-less in the post-season so far", "This pitcher has controlled the middle of this lineup", FULLY KNOWING that the exact opposite will happen. It's like saying there's a perfect game going on, and we now expect a big hit.

JOE BUCK DOES IT. THEY ALL DO.


Nyuck nyuck.

This dovetails into something that drove me crazy about Tim McCarver. Sometime around 1991 when he was with CBS, Otis Nixon was at the plate, which sent McCarver into one of his favorite pet peeves, outfielders who play too deep. (He constantly mentioned this as a Mets announcer, to the point that Dave Johnson blamed McCarver when two of his coaches, one of whom handled outfielder positioning, were fired after the 1989 season.) Nixon was the very definition of a banjo hitter, but he promptly hit the ball over the outfielder's heads to the wall for a triple. The play-by-play announcer (Jack Buck?) wisely stayed silent, but McCarver tried to dig himself out of the hole by saying, "But the point is still valid" -- right after it was invalidated.

Ford Frickin' Frick said...

Outfield positioning was a fetish McCarver honed and nurtured for years.

But Tim McCarver also had the greatest pre-call you'll ever ever ever hear, and it was also about positioning the fielders. 2001 World Series, Game Seven, bottom of the 9th, tie game, bases loaded, Yankees infield playing halfway, Mariano Rivera on the mound against Arizona's Luis Gonzalez, who'd hit 57 HRs that season and 3 more in the playoffs.

McCarver:
"The one problem is Rivera throws inside to lefthanders, and lefthanders get lots of broken bat hits into shallow outfield. The shallow part of the outfield. That's the danger in bringing the infield in with a guy like Rivera on the mound."

Pretty specific. The next pitch-- THE NEXT PITCH:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNt3UuDTBz8&t=0m27s

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Yes. Ford Frickin. I remember that call well. Very observant by McCarver.