Joe Maddon mused the other day about the need for two forms of Twitter – one for positive comments and one for negative ones.
Then his fanciful wish partially came true during Game 7 of the World Series, in a most improbable form.
Normally, national sports television announcers hear it from all sides on social media, making them among the most harshly criticized public figures this side of Presidential candidates.
Enter John Smoltz, working his first World Series in Fox’s No. 1 booth and, well, let’s just say if you are looking for a write-in option Tuesday, he is over 35 and was born in the U.S., so he is eligible.
Smoltz received almost universal praise for his analysis from fans and journalists, deservedly so.
Along with play-by-play man Joe Buck, 1982 Newsday sports interns-turned-sideline reporters Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal and Fox’s entire production team, Smoltz and friends did what a TV crew is supposed to do at an epic sports event — enhance our understanding and enjoyment without getting in the way.
Smoltz’s tour de force was another reminder of the odd decision Fox made two years earlier to go with Harold Reynolds and Verducci over him for its featured booth. But better late than never.
His work was reminiscent of Tim McCarver, the best national TV baseball analyst in history, who 15 years ago Friday famously first-guessed Joe Torre’s decision to pull in the infield for Luis Gonzalez of the Diamondbacks in another Game 7.
After all, Mariano Rivera often gives up broken-bat flares to the shallow outfield, right?
Smoltz offered plenty of sharp, before-the-fact stuff in his turn in the spotlight, too. Take the last three innings alone:
Rajai Davis likes the ball down and in? Well, yes, apparently so.
Joe Maddon might call for Javier Baez to lay down a safety squeeze on a 3-and-2 pitch? REALLY? Yup, that, too.
Ben Zobrist can handle the cutter from the left side? Indeed, it appears he can.
Buck and Smoltz earlier were unafraid to question the Cubs manager’s pitching decisions, notably using Aroldis Chapman too much in Game 6 and Kyle Hendricks not enough in Game 7.
Another key to Smoltz’s appeal is how relaxed it all seems with him at the microphone. McCarver was brilliant, but toward the end of his long reign, his personality started to grate on some viewers.
Smoltz makes it all go down easily, which is especially important in this era of exceedingly long games.
Fox offered another gem when its “Sounds of the Game” feature produced footage of Anthony Rizzo telling wily old catcher David Ross he was “an emotional wreck.”
Ross advised him it only would get worse, and to keep breathing. And that was BEFORE all the late-game nuttiness.
Announcers have no direct impact on ratings, of course, but Fox got a massive payoff in that realm after years of downward-trending World Series viewership.
Game 7 averaged 40 million viewers, surpassing the 39.1 million who watched Game 7 in 2001 to become the most-viewed baseball game in 25 years. Game 7 of the 1991 World Series drew 50.3 million viewers for a game the Twins won in 10 innings, and that Smoltz started for the Braves.
For those of us without a rooting interest, the whole thing was crazy good fun. Fox did its part.