TBS’s Grand Experiment

You may not have noticed (the rating have been quite poor), but besides FOX Saturday Baseball and ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball and occasional weekday forays, there is another national baseball broadcast in the regular season — MLB on TBS, airing Sunday afternoons.

If you're like me, you grew up with TBS on cable. Along with WGN in Chicago and WOR and WPIX in New York, TBS (or as we knew it then, WTBS) was one of the first "super stations." That meant that although it was a local channel in its region it was also picked up by many, many cable stations throughout the country.

WGN still (somewhat) acts like a local station, and has a local news broadcast (pretty convenient for Chicago expats), TBS long ago discontinued any association with Atlanta in terms of what they broadcast. But in my childhood (and in fact, clear through to 2007, far beyond their programming association with Atlanta for anything else) they showed Braves games. Tons and tons and tons of Braves games.

I'd be willing to bet more Braves games were available to me on television each year in the mid to late 80's than Indians games (I grew up in the Cleveland television market). I'm sure I'm not alone in this across the country, making marginal players like Claudell Washington and Rafael Ramirez household names, and legitimate starts like Bob Horner and Dale Murphy even bigger.

But TBS said goodbye to Braves baseball in 2007 and since then, not that anyone has noticed, has shown a national game of any given matchup just like Fox or ESPN do, in order to, as they put it, "emphasize the channel's national programming prominence."

While that's a winsome development for a lot of us, and very few people seem to watch baseball on TBS (save the playoffs), you might want to tune in this Sunday for their Braves (ironically enough) vs. Dodgers telecast.

For the first time in MLB television history, the commentary will be covered by a woman, Michele Smith (well, partially covered — John Smoltz will be there too, along with Ernie Johnson doing play-by-play). Her bona fides are as a softball legend — twice a gold medalist, Japanese League MVP, and Hall of Famer. She has also covered her sport when ESPN has broadcasted softball.

When I think of women broadcasting men's sports, I first think of Pam Ward of ESPN, who has covered college football for several years — and done so very well, I think. She has three qualities I admire in a broadcaster: she's articulate, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.

So it was with surprise and dismay when a few years ago I discovered AwfulAnnouncing.com, which should be the kind of site I really like — a blog all about sports announcing and announcers. But their centerpiece as a site is the "Pam Ward Chronicles" or "Pammies," where they tabulate the dumbest things that college football announcers say each week, and vote on the worst of it. That they named the awards after her tells you all that you need to know of their opinion of her, and she has "won" the overall season award twice.

Their selections of her worst soundbites are rarely, if ever, that bad ... she gets chosen as the worst over clearly bigger announcer gaffes ... and they post a lot of her supposed double entendres which they clearly have to stretch to to the limit represent it as such.

And I think therein there's a systemic, subconscious sort of bias against female announcers of men's sports, where we put their words under a microscope, looking for anything to criticize, in a way we would not do a man. That's natural. People who threaten the traditional order of things or just represent a threat to what we find comfortable will always be held to greater scrutiny and a higher standard.

But bias is still bias, and I'm bracing myself for the blowback of baseball fans, the most traditional of the lot, following this Sunday. So I ask everyone who plans to tune to give her an honest, fair shake. If you find something she says to be stupid, ask if you would find it equally eye-roll-worthy if a man said it.

And if you're not willing to do that, that's fine, too, but just admit it. Say "I don't want women broadcasting baseball." It's okay. You're allowed. What grinds my gears is when one clearly has that opinion but doesn't have the courage of their conviction, so they pretend the object of their contempt is for different reasons than (to put it kindly) a traditional philosophy. This is what Pam Ward (or at least, her reputation) has to endure on AwfulAnnouncing.com, and it would be good if we didn't extend that to other female announcers.

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