It’s taken me until late July, but I’ve finally realized that the liveliest combination of the Yankees’ broadcasters consists of Michael Kay, Al Leiter, and Paul O’Neill. That doesn’t mean that this group is the best group; even if O’Neill were capable of focusing on one subject, he wouldn’t be able to communicate his thoughts clearly. For better or worse, however, these three provide bountiful banter, occasional insight, and the rare wisecrack.
The trio was at it again in this afternoon’s game against the Oakland Athletics, producing three exchanges that I found particularly interesting. The first came during Hideki Matsui’s first inning at-bat against Dallas Braden. With two outs and runners on first and third, Matsui hit the ball to the opposite field, scoring Derek Jeter. After the moment had passed, Paul O’Neill and Al Leiter (a former pitcher) had this (paraphrased) exchange:
O’Neill: Al, how aggravating is that to see, as a pitcher? You’ve got two outs, you make a good pitch, and he just fights it off into the opposite field. Now a run scored and you’ve got to get after it all over again. Just a tough break for the pitcher.
Leiter: He didn’t make a good pitch though. He hung it over the middle of the plate. [Kurt] Suzuki set up outside, and Braden left it right over the middle. That was a mistake.
Leiter’s contribution was impressive in two ways. First and foremost, he broke the mold by not accepting an easy and banal explanation as a valid piece of analysis. Broadcasters have made a habit out of regurgitating analytical platitudes instead of taking the time to examine something on its own terms. Leiter rejected this notion and, in turn, provided the viewer with a helpful bit of insight. Less importantly, Leiter’s ability to see that before the overhead replay was even shown was awfully cool. Sure enough, the footage confirmed that Braden missed inside by a good six inches, leaving Matsui a very hittable pitch right over the plate.
Later in the game, discussion shifted towards the day’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. As a natural consequence, the booth began debating the worthiness of several controversial players. Michael Kay eventually whipped himself up into a justified outrage over some voters’ stubborn insistence on not voting for any player during their first attempt at induction, no matter their qualifications. Kay explained to us that some voters do this because they believe no player should ever be elected unanimously, since inclusion is an incredible honor. Eventually, Kay called this practice “stupid,” and said that it reflected poorly on the voters. I was heartened to hear this. I’ve known Kay to be passionately stodgy about a variety of baseball issues, so I awaited his agreement with these voters’ ridiculous exercise. Agreement never came, and for that, I am happy.
Of course, Kay almost instantly lost any fictional Kevin Points he may have won mere seconds earlier. He rightfully wondered how Greg Maddux’s impending candidacy would go, since Maddux is – by any measure, newfangled or old-fashioned – one of the very best pitchers in the history of baseball. He then had this exchange with himself:
Kay: Greg Maddux is one of the best pitchers of all time, and should be inducted unanimously. But Tom Seaver wasn’t unanimous, and Tom Seaver was better than Greg Maddux.
My father and I furrowed our respective brows, because we were both pretty sure that this isn’t true. A quick look at some key statistics validated our suspicions:
- Seaver: 4,782 IP, 311 W, 2.86 ERA, 127 ERA+, 1.12 WHIP, 2.62 K/BB
- Maddux: 5,008 IP, 355 W, 3.16 ERA, 132 ERA+, 1.14 WHIP, 3.37 K/BB
It’s not a landslide, but Maddux was a better pitcher than Seaver. He threw more innings, had a better ERA relative to his peers, and had superior control. Kay’s dismissing of Maddux’s credentials wasn’t a huge slight, but it wasn’t exactly measured either.
That’s it. Here’s to a 2.5 game lead over the Red Sox and a 7.04 ERA from uber-bargain John Smoltz.