I was pleased to see Doug Glanville in the ESPN TV booth for “Monday Night Baseball.” It’s extremely rare, after all, when an African-American voice works the booth on a national baseball telecast these days. Four networks — ESPN, Fox, TBS and MLB — are broadcasting Major League Baseball to the U.S. masses. Their rosters for the actual, three-hour-on-average game telecast are predominantly — and disturbingly — white.
Here in the summer of “42,” the movie, Jackie Robinson wouldn’t appreciate the disparity.
A few African-Americans are found in the studio before and after games. I’m referring to the presentation of the game, the sacred theater that could help baseball promote diversity and save the sport from its undeniable, decades-long erosion in the black community. Watching games on Fox, I typically see two white guys in the booth and one on the field as a reporter. When I turn on ESPN, I typically see three white guys in the booth and one on the field as a reporter. TBS and the MLB Network have pretty much the same composition for telecasts.
The game announcers are whiter than the ball itself.
This must change, as the numbers show.
Forget play-by-play guys. None are black. ESPN primarily uses Dan Shulman, Dave O’Brien and Sean McDonough. Fox primarily uses Joe Buck, Thom Brennaman and Kenny Albert. MLB uses Bob Costas and Matt Vasgersian. Dick Stockton is shared by two networks. Shouldn’t Fox have found a baseball spot for Gus Johnson, a spirited play-by-play man who could make a 10-0 ballgame exciting and just happens to be African-American, instead of assigning him to … soccer overseas?
Analysts? In the booth, ESPN usually uses Orel Hershiser, Aaron Boone, John Kruk, Curt Schilling and Nomar Garciaparra. Barry Larkin, Chris Singleton and Glanville, all African-American, are typically found on “Baseball Tonight,” the studio show, with lead host Karl Ravech. Fox’s top game analysts are Tim McCarver and Eric Karros, neither black. TBS’ game commentary stars are John Smoltz and Ron Darling, neither black. MLB has a popular African-American voice, Harold Reynolds, but he’s used as a studio mainstay. I see a lot of Smoltz and Jim Kaat, neither black, on MLB. The rising Tom Verducci, also white, is shared by two networks.
Reporters? TBS’ Craig Sager certainly has a colorful sport-jacket collection, but he is white. Fox’s Ken Rosenthal is white. MLB’s Sam Ryan is white. ESPN’s Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian are not African-American, nor is Pedro Gomez.
The networks will mention that I’ve left out certain names. I’m talking about the most prominent broadcasters who receive the vast majority of in-game air time. The networks have no defense.
Normally, I don’t see color. But the reason I’m doing a roll call in 2013 is that the baseball commissioner himself, Bud Selig, has voiced repeated concerns about the rapidly diminishing numbers of African-American players in the sport. In the mid-1980s, African-Americans comprised about 20 percent of major-league rosters. By April of this year, the numbers had dropped to 8.5 percent, with the World Series-champion San Francisco Giants among a stunning number of teams that didn’t have an African-American player on Opening Day rosters. Despite determined efforts by MLB and local franchises, the sport’s participation levels have been in free fall in American inner cities, in part, as the New York Times has pointed out, because collegiate athletic programs don’t offer nearly the number of full scholarships for baseball that they do for football and basketball.
When the networks sign lucrative broadcast deals with MLB, they become a partner of Selig. Why, then, don’t the networks try to promote diversity by employing more African-Americans in the booth? Joe Morgan, an African-American, was a mainstay for years on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” He was chased out, in part, by seeming legions of Morgan haters on social media. Since then, I’m basically seeing Hershiser, Boone, Kruk and Sutcliffe on ESPN — same guy, same down-home voice. At least Schilling produces compelling commentary.
I know for a fact that networks count numbers. In a meeting earlier this year with a top ESPN executive, I was told, point-blank, that “Around The Horn” needed more diversity — fewer white faces — when I left the program. I have no problem with that, as long as the diversity mission also includes high quality, which it has on ATH.
Fox, as carrier of the World Series, is baseball’s biggest TV brand of October. McCarver is retiring after this season. Here is a great opportunity to alter the picture, wouldn’t you say?