I’ve had a lot to say on Twitter about John Smoltz over the past 12 months, to the extent that columnist Tom Hoffarth sought my two cents for his recent column in the Times on the Fox Sports baseball commentator. I wanted to collect my thoughts in one place, so here they are.
Part 1: I am not smarter about baseball than John Smoltz.
- I have criticized Smoltz, it’s fair to say.
- Some people have interpreted from my criticism that I think I’m smarter about baseball than Smoltz. Nothing could be further from the truth.
- Smoltz is right about a lot of things. Seriously, a lot.
- Some of those things are obvious, and might go without saying.
- Other things are really quite savvy, such as the way he often predicts what the next pitch will be, to a degree that if the batter knew what Smoltz knew, it would do wonders.
- I like to think I have a good knowledge of baseball for an outsider. Smoltz has a tremendous amount of knowledge of baseball for an insider. Smoltz is a Hall of Famer. I am a Hall of Lamer. There’s no comparison. I am not in his league.
Part 2: When John Smoltz loves something, he loves it deeply.
- Smoltz clearly favors a traditional style of play that includes small ball, shortened two-strike approaches.
- I do not begrudge him this. At all.
- He also seems to be against defensive shifts, though perhaps only for …
- aesthetic reasons, and/or …
- the intense frustration shifts generate within him when batters don’t hit the opposite way against them.
- There’s more, but you get the idea.
- When teams or players do play according to convention, he is genuinely enthralled. And he can’t stop talking about it.
- Seriously, he can’t stop talking about it.
- Put another way, if I may paraphrapse one of my favorite headlines of all time, from The National about 30 years ago, Smoltz “is redundant — and he repeats himself.”
- Nevertheless, many viewers agree with Smoltz in valuing the traditional game.
- Those viewers might well feel they are in a fast-declining minority in valuing the traditional.
- So as far as they are concerned, Smoltz can’t express his love for the traditional enough.
- It doesn’t bother me at all that those viewers love Smoltz. Why shouldn’t they?
Part 3: John Smoltz is not curious about things that he doesn’t appreciate or understand.
- Whenever someone takes the field in a baseball game, the goal is to win.
- Whenever a manager or a front office or an owner puts a team on the field in a baseball game, the goal is to win.
- Baseball has evolved toward the game we find today because of the pursuit of this goal to win.
- Some of the evolution is experimentation, and there might be a correction or reversal.
- Some of the evolution has been proven to be effective, and therefore in many cases is rightfully here to stay (at least until the next evolution).
- Nothing Smoltz says during a baseball broadcast conveys any interest in understanding why baseball has evolved to its current state.
- As a result, everything that Smoltz doesn’t like about baseball in its current state, he views as an affront, an insult, perhaps even a holy war, against the game that he cherishes.
- Smoltz has no capacity for appreciation of evolution in baseball.
Part 4: John Smoltz’s negativity and lack of curiosity in understanding the state of baseball today undermine his value as a broadcaster.
- I don’t believe that a baseball announcer is required to be a cheerleader for the game.
- I do believe that a baseball announcer, on some level, should moderate the antipathy he feels for the game in front of him.
- Throughout the 2018 baseball season, Smoltz has made the same negative points about today’s game over and over again, to the point where I called him baseball’s “unbassador.”
- He doesn’t care that he comes across this way, because he thinks he knows better.
- To be clear, he knows better than me.
- But he doesn’t necessarily know better than all the current major-league players and managers and front offices who are driving the game today.
- He doesn’t recognize that even if he knows better than outsiders like me, that his constant criticism becomes a turnoff for those who are enjoying a baseball game in 2018 — or at least are trying to.
- This also leads to a blind spot that, as a commentator, he should really be looking to correct.
- When Smoltz sees a team like the Dodgers (but not limited to the Dodgers), whose style of play he despises, nevertheless find success despite not adhering to 20th-century baseball convention …
- instead of constantly predicting that they will fail
- instead of constantly expressing exasperation when they succeed
- he should step back, play devil’s advocate, and explore why they are succeeding despite not following 20th-century baseball convention
- because to get as far as they have — to win the National League pennant, for example — they must be doing something right. Right?
Part 5: Open your mind, John Smoltz.
- I’m not suggesting that Smoltz should alter his value system or abandon what he loves about baseball. Not at all.
- I am suggesting that Smoltz entertain the idea that …
- there is more than one way to play baseball
- and there is more than one way to enjoy baseball.
- And I would remind Smoltz that baseball has always been an evolving sport, and that the brand of baseball he played in his career in many ways evolved from the brand a generation earlier. And I don’t see him apologizing for that.
- Baseball today is a flawed game. But baseball was also a flawed game 20 years ago, or 40 years ago, or 80 years ago.
- Meanwhile, baseball today is also a great game. Its virtues still far outweigh its vices.
- In the event that the Boston Red Sox, a team whose style of play Smoltz admires, win the World Series this year, it’s doubtful that he’ll have any reason to change his approach to broadcasting.
- I still wish he would.