Baseball Tonight Podcast Review
I’ve been a loyal listener to the Baseball Tonight podcast for some years now, even loyally tuning in to the Craig Kilborn to Buster Olney’s Jon Stewart, Eric Karabell.
Needless to say, the comparison is a well-chosen one. Karabell deserves credit for being amongst the first to figure out how to talk about baseball in podcast form, but Olney, much like Stewart, elevated the show to one of the most listened to, and respected, in sports.
But let’s start with the criticism, because much like his bright, funny, and genuine producer, Josh Macri, a real highlight of the show himself (the Andy Richter to the Conan O’Brien to continue the TV comedy metaphor), there is just something fun about nitpicking at Olney. He has a great self-defacing humor, and yet doesn’t back down from his style and approach, steadfastly sticking to his guns as the vet reporter probably has a right to do.
My biggest problem is Olney and his guests really like agreeing with each other to an annoying degree, given that this show is aimed at a discerning baseball fan. Boog Sciambi becoming a regular guest in the last season or two has been incredibly refreshing, just because he actually sometimes disagrees with Buster. And its funny, because it actually seems to trip up the host, so shocked that someone has strong different opinions.
Tim Kurkjian is the polar opposite, though its hard not to forgive him because his fandom is so utterly dorky, representing the normal schmo like us in a lovable way. You expect more from voices like Jayson Stark and Jessica Mendoza, however. Karl Ravech, on Fridays, does tend to disagree, but since the other half of the “Fireball Express” (you’ll find Macri is also great at creatively naming and creating intros for segments), Justin Havens, left ESPN this season, that segment has really lost its muster and highlight-of-the-week complexity.
Thankfully Mendoza has stepped in as the highlight when she guests every week on this podcast. She has really done that thing you always wait for in sports, that takes painfully long to happen. She speaks with such knowledge, impeccable research, and a sharp wit, that finally a female is not being singled out for being a great woman in her male dominated field, but just being a great broadcaster period.
Olney should probably listen more to the “bleacher tweets” segment that often ends the show, answering fan questions submitted over twitter (“#bleachertweets” can get you on air.) He often doesn’t actually answer a truly interesting question, twisting it to whatever is on his mind at the moment. He also lets certain special segments go on too far: Macri doing Yankees announcer John Sterling imitations for every other team in the majors last season went on far too long, with the boring and repetitive “judging” from guests showcasing how little there was to work with there. The uniform and logo quiz is simply just OK, not because it wasn’t a good idea with an engaging guest, but there is just not enough there to discuss on a weekly basis. Not everything has to be EVERY week, guys.
Olney is at his best when ceding to the intelligence of his guests though, including his short and sweet get-to-know-you segments with current players, his “Call to the Greats” with retired players and personalities, and I particularly like when he has local beat sports writers on to give deep cut insight on a national level about their specific franchise.
All in all, I give this podcast “23 OUTS” in my “Perfect Game” rating system. Yes, I’m gonna rate things out of 27. Made it into the 8th inning, ESPN. Given that it is the New York Yankees of sports networks though, there is enough talent there that its capable of a perfect game on any given day.
Well worth a listen, and if you are a true baseball fan, a subscribe too.