Thursday, March 29, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Terry Francona on Baseball Tonight

Kurkjian can't even watch.

I love Terry Francona. I think he's a great manager and an even better guy.  I agree that it was time for him to part ways with the Red Sox, but his managerial career at Fenway will be argued as the best of all-time for years to come. As a broadcaster, however...

To put it delicately: the guy needs work. Alright forget delicate - I'd rather watch an NIT play-in game than listen to Tito interact with the rest of the Baseball Tonight crew.

Tito displayed his "gee, gosh" fumbling way of speaking and his funny voice over the countless interviews of his career, and the baseball world ate it up. What a down to earth guy... A real player's manager!... I'd love to play for a guy like that! ... And yes, that's all great and true, but not once did I hear a Tito presser and think: "Professional broadcasting, here he comes!"

Again, I like Francona, I really do, but it's downright painful to listen to him sometimes. He just feels so out of place, the second-hand embarrassment can get unbearable. He's that uncomfortable even-my-colleagues-know-I-stink level of bad. Every time he speaks, Karl Ravech's face reads, "Is this guy frickin kidding me? Do we pay him?" And the best part is, he doesn't even try to hide it.

Now maybe I'm being a little rough on Tito. I realize he's new to this gig, and the regular season has not yet even begun, but at this point I honestly expect more. This is his job now, after all. This is his profession - shouldn't he have had to display some qualifications before getting hired? (Aside from achieving success as a manager and being a good guy, of course.) But then again, what are Shannon Sharpe's broadcasting credentials - a Windsor tie knot the size of a New York pizza slice?

I'm a firm believer that if you have any type of successful athletic career and have half a brain, you have a life-long career in broadcasting awaiting you, should you choose to pursue it. Some do a phenomenal job; some are named Charles Barkley. I understand the value of their insider's perspective, and I know that providing a household name to the cast may initially boost ratings, but there's only so much sacrificing of substance and analysis I can take. Give me the unathletic Tim Kurkjian over any former player all day long.

Francona's just tough to watch, and a big reason I think his performance on BBTN will continue to be underwhelming, even if he does manage to fine-tune his technique and delivery, is the fact that his managing career is likely far from over. I expect his analysis of teams and players to be boringly politically correct all season long as he does his best not to to burn any bridges while a member of the media. If he learned one thing from his predecessor (and successor) Bobby Valentine, it's that he definitely does not want to face that awkward situation of having to revisit any of his past criticisms of a new employer or player, as Bobby V did with Josh Beckett. The solution? Be indecisive. Remain on the fence on controversial matters. Stress how hard the grind of baseball season is whenever a guy screws up. Should be entertaining...

I hate bashing Tito, but I think this was nothing more than an impulse hire on ESPN's part. Francona was a hot name when all the Red Sox fried chicken stories were coming out, and they were simply caught riding the wave. Except now they're stuck with him for the entire season - and so are we. I do think he'll get better over time - but then again, how could he not?

Even though I watch him through the cracks of my fingers at times,  I actually am interested to see how he handles any Red Sox or Bobby Valentine news. For the sheer awkwardness alone it should be great TV.

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  1. I agree. I think he'll get better but his throaty voice doesn't exactly scream I should be on TV. And you're absolutely right, success on the field pays off after your career when you have a job at a broadcasting desk for the rest of your life.

  2. great manager (when he has a good team), awful broadcaster(always).