There is no way to express my dislike for Bob Carpenter’s announcing skills without getting into hyperbole, so I won’t even try not to. Bob Carpenter is the worst play-by-play man in all of baseball. There is no one trait that makes a good baseball announcer, just like there is no single trait that makes a good baseball player. There are a lot of different skills that go in to it – knowledge of the game, knowledge of the teams, a commanding voice/presence, the ability to accurately describe the action, the ability to entertain while calling the game, and many other smaller components. I think a lot of those traits I listed and some that I didn’t list all feed up to a bigger issue. Like any person speaking to a public audiences, baseball announcers need to establish a certain trust and respect level with their audience. If I don’t believe that the broadcaster knows what he is talking about or trust his take on the action, then why am I listening to him? I think that is why Bob Carpenter ultimately fails as a television baseball announcer. Carpenter has good traits. He speaks clearly. He is an affable personality. He clearly understands the game of baseball on a satisfactory level and has a perfunctory knowledge of the recent history of the sport. He doesn’t do everything wrong. Unfortunately, it is what he does do wrong that overshadows any other positives he might bring to the table. What he does wrong is he has failed at establishing himself as a trustworthy source of information for his audience. Far too often, Carpenter ignores certain actions on the field, spins events to fit his own narratives, and puts over Nationals players at the expense of accurately describing the action.
I logged some time with the “Nationals Talk” show on MASN before Saturday’s game. An astute caller (“Ed from Fairfax” I believe) pointed out these issues to Phil Wood and his co-host (whose name I never caught, but with his bald, veiny head he looked like a cross between a Conehead and a 1950’s D-Movie alien. Or a clean-shaven Ivan Koloff, if that helps). The caller noted that Carpenter and his broadcast partner, FP Santangello, are often so over-the-top in their defense of the Nationals that it distracts from the broadcast. Phil Wood, without directly saying such, disagreed with that assessment. Wood stated that all broadcasters favor the home team to a certain degree and that in his opinion, Carpenter is perfectly within those acceptable bounds. I respectively disagree.
Phil Wood’s point that all local broadcasters are announcing the game from the home team perspective and therefore, a certain amount of home team slant should be expected (if not preferred), is absolutely true. The difference is that a game can be called from the home team’s perspective, while still being called accurately. In my opinion, Carpenter fails in the latter part of the equation. Unfortunately for Carpenter, he works in a medium – television – that allows the public to judge the accuracies of his calls instantaneously. We can see with our own eyes if what the play-by-play man is describing is actually what happened as it unfolds. Far too often, what Carpenter describes with his words fails to correlate with what we, the viewers, just witnessed with our eyes.
A National’s batter will hit a routine ground ball to short stop. Instead of calling it as such, Carptenter will throw in an adjective such as “sharp” or “well-hit” in front of the word “ground ball”. He does this so often for a Nationals’ out that one can’t help but take notice after the second or third ground out of the game. The intent seems clear – this was NOT a routine out, but rather a hard hit ball that unluckily was hit right to a fielder. Listen for the same descriptive words when the opposing team is batting and you will hear them far less frequently. The opposite is true too. Tim and I were watching the Pirates/Nationals game Thursday evening. A Pirates batter grounded out to the second baseman. Carpenter, apparently seeing another play unfold then what we saw, announced that “Espinosa played the tough hop.” There was no tough hop – the play was routine in every sense of the word. The viewers could see that for themselves, yet Carpenter for some reason decides to overstate the difficulty in plays like these to put over the Nationals and their players. This isn’t an isolated example, it happens all of the time.
On Sunday’s game, Chris Davis hit a high chopper to Adam LaRoche at first. The ball bounced high, ended up in between the bag at first and the pitcher’s mound, and Davis was able to reach the bag before the Nationals could make the play. Carpenter announced that “everything is going the O’s way” and cursed the National’s bad luck that a routine ground ball resulted in a hit instead of an out. That wouldn’t have been so bad had Ryan Zimmerman not reached on a similar high chopper hit to Wilson Betemit at 3B just 5 minutes earlier. Carpenter’s call of the Zimmerman hit was far different than the Davis hit; it was something along the lines of “Ryan Zimmerman with an infield single.” No talk about breaks, luck, or anything of the kind. It was a clear and timely example of how Carpenter’s calls of the action often differ depending on the team performing the action.
There are other examples – the defending of everything Stephen Strausburg or Bryce Harper does, the selective use of MASN’s K-zone in pointing out “missed” calls to name two – but the point is that Carpenter’s spins and slants effect his game calling to such a degree that after just a few innings, it is hard to take anything he says seriously. Jim Hunter often gets accused of showing a similar bias towards the O’s when the calls the team’s game. Much of the criticism is warranted. Hunter clearly tries to paint the O’s in a positive and optimistic light even when things aren’t going so well. The difference to me is that while Hunter will excuse the O’s poor record due to a tough schedule, put over an O’s player for a “modest two-game hit streak”, or heap too much praise on a hustling player, his action calls are generally free of the same kind of biases that impact Carpenter’s calls. I roll my eyes at Hunter’s broadcasting a lot, but his calls of the actual play are generally an unbiased reflection of what he is witnessing. The small adjectives used to spice of a play or downplay one, are generally far less frequent with Hunter or other broadcasters then I find with Carpenter.
Lastly, Bob Carpenter, perhaps not entirely though his own fault, comes across as phony – as an actor playing the role of an impassioned announcer rather than an actual impassioned announcer himself. Hawk Harrelson, play-by-play TV man for the Chicago White Sox, is known throughout baseball as being the biggest “homer” announcer in the sport. He cheers and roots for the White Sox without even attempting to provide any semblance of neutrality. Yet, when he yells “Stretch!” to will a homerun to get over the fence or excitedly screams “He gone!” after a strikeout, I get the sense as a viewer/listener that there are genuine emotions there. Hawk is rooting on the White Sox like any fan. With Carpenter, I don’t feel that same genuine emotion. His inflection changes in an exciting moment, but is hard as a viewer to completely buy into Carpenter as a big Nationals’ fan the same way it is to buy into Hawk as an excited White Sox fan. Hawk has been with the White Sox organization for 30 years – Carpenter has been with the Nats for six and has had extended tenures as the lead broadcaster for the Mets, Twins, Cardinals, and Rangers. Carpenter’s biased calls of the action would be slightly more tolerable if he had a genuinely strong connection to Washington baseball, the same way Hawk Harrelson does to the White Sox.
In the interest of fairness I should say that Carpenter’s broadcast partner FP Santangello has me reaching for the mute button just as much, mainly due to his inability to shut up. I give FP, and all former-player color commentators, a slight break, however. They are athletes who have taken up broadcasting as a second, third, or fourth career. I can’t hold them to the same standards as an educated, career-long broadcaster.
Maybe this is all just a brilliant ploy by MASN and the Nationals. If the television broadcast crew is so incredibly irritating to listen to, maybe more people will head out to the park to watch the game live. They’ve certainly got me to go to all three O’s/Nationals games in Baltimore this June just to avoid having to listen to Carpenter and company call the games on MASN.