For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 22, 2024 1:11 am PDT

The revolution has started.

It happened on Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli Manning being extremely knowledgeable and extremely honest about the game. And having some clubhouse humor fun along the way.

Once you watch the Manning Bros dissection of an NFL game, it opens up a whole new football world.

Baseball must follow suit.

Here at BallNine and Baseball or Bust we try to be knowledgeable and honest where baseball is heading, and it is not a pretty place. What makes the ESPN2 Manning broadcast so enjoyable is the game matters. Plays matter and when someone makes a dumb play, like a taunting penalty by the Giants fullback, Eli Penny, on a big drive, the Mannings call out the culprit.

This is why fans loved John Madden. This is why you loved your local announcers growing up because usually the analyst was a former player who had a sense of humor and was not afraid to say what the heck is going on out there.

I feel for my friends in baseball broadcasting, especially the play-by-play guys on regional networks. They are forced to go over the top for the home team because they are selling the product instead of the product selling itself. They are walking and talking on eggshells.

But the Manning Bros have shown the networks what the fan really wants. It’s entertainment. It’s information. It’s two quarterbacks going through their progressions on each play, and they are, and here is the key – emotionally invested. They love the game. They want to see what’s best for the game and they are not afraid to throw a zinger at a player, especially if it is a defensive player.

Viewers and readers want total honesty now and that is part of the success for the Mannings. They love the game and don’t put down cover for the players or management.

They also have the ability to bring out the best in their guests like Tom Brady, LeBron James and this past Monday Jon Stewart, Josh Allen, Michael Strahan and Michael Irvin – and they do it in a well-produced fashion. The footage of Irvin getting into a three-point stance at Miami and busting into the secondary was precious and Irvin said his coach at the time said, that’s how sprinters do it, so that’s how we will do it.

The broadcast also brought up a great point every Giant fan wonders about, why in the world when it is 3rd and six why do the Giants run a five-yard route? Pick any number and the Giants come up short.

A lot of people are surprised about Eli’s sense of humor. I wasn’t. I covered Eli quite a few times through the years and he always was pretty honest, and you could tell there was a jokester in there, especially when you would be waiting for him at his locker and he’d run into the locker room laughing over some joke with a teammate or clubbie.

And getting on his big brother is always priceless, including Peyton tearing through a piece of chicken at halftime with the footage to show.

“Are you breathing?’’ Eli wanted to know. If you step back and realize Peyton was in halftime mode, something he has done his whole life, rush into the locker room, maybe get something to eat and then prepare for the second half, it made perfect sense.

Peyton reacts instinctively and Eli sits back and thinks about it.

This could work well in baseball too especially with all the stops and starts in the game. Make the talk more than just launch angle or tunneling. Myself and a few scouts or former executives I can think of would have no problem dissecting a game, sort of pirate baseball broadcasting. Now that would be fun and would not be much different than what you are reading here when I call out the Nerds and the baseball people who give into the Nerds and GMs at every turn.

Like the great Jack McKeon says every time I talk to him: “When are they going to start firing analytical departments?’’

The Manning Brothers on MNF with guest Russell Wilson.

When Freddie Freeman caught the last out Tuesday night and stuffed the baseball into his back pocket and the Braves had their first World Series championship since 1995, and as equally important put the 2021 bizarre and so poorly played baseball season behind us, it should begin a time of reflection for MLB.

Robbie Manfred took the All-Star Game away from the Braves and the moment he did that I was saying wouldn’t it be something if Manfred has to give the World Series trophy to the Braves? He lucked out and didn’t have to do it in Atlanta in Game 5, but in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park, the Astros ran out of pitching and the better team finished off the Astros. Manfred is not loved in Houston either, so the “piece of metal’’ presentation – and there were a lot of Braves fans there – was weird for Manfred, as it should have been with the way baseball has deteriorated.

Gambling is the way out for Manfred and ballparks will become casinos. It will be over the top and turn off the regular fan as the betting will come at them from all angles.

Getting back to the broadcasting end of it, Cal and Billy Ripken could be an interesting pairing, baseball brothers analyzing games. We’ve known them both long enough to know their knowledge of baseball is off the charts, again they are the sons of a lifelong manager. The game is in their blood and I’ve had just enough conversations with Cal up in Cooperstown to know some of the get-back-to-basics philosophy he owns and Billy was always a little bit of troublemaker, as shown by his legendary Fleer baseball card and is terrific on MLB Network.

They could be a fun listen and certainly when Max Fried was burned by the Braves shift in his first World Series start that would be interesting to hear that conversation.

The broadcast booth once had characters like Dizzy Dean, Phil Rizzuto, Hawk Harrelson and now to a great degree, the Mets have such a booth like that today in Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen who are sometimes totally exasperated by the Mets. And then there is the great Bob Uecker.

The one and only Bob Uecker. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Beyond everything else, now the Mets have to deal with the World Champion Braves in the NL East. Credit the Braves for making changes on the run to produce a World Championship team, getting World Series MVP Jorge Soler in a trade and so many others like Eddie Rosario, rebuilding the outfield.

Flexibility, even if it is forced flexibility by losing MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. to a knee injury, can be good for a team and as I watched the Braves in the World Series they did make some nice adjustments at the plate too and still had power. In Game 6, Jorge Soler absolutely crushed a three-run home run to get them going and Dansby Swanson did the same with a two-run home run.

The question you have to be asking yourself is why in the world did they throw Swanson a fastball, much like an earlier World Series home run, another fastball.

The answer is simple, and this is what I would say: For the most part, pitchers, catchers and managers don’t read swings anymore. They go with a pre-approved game plan from Nerds on High and most of those Nerds are just overly fascinated by pitch sequencing. They got to mix it up even if something simple is working and in the end, they usually get burned by it.

I saw time and again during the regular season with the Yankees and Gerrit Cole on 0-2 sliders when a well-located fastball should have been the ticket. But the Nerd Yankees under Brian Cashman want to show how smart they are and in a way, so does Cole, so he is much to blame as well.

The ball is in the pitcher’s hands.

And these pitchers did not grow up watching the likes of Bob Gibson and understanding the true meaning of challenging the hitter with a pitch that they have total conviction in than a pitch that is used as a change of looks.

It’s like throwing that four-yard out on a third and six that was questioned on Monday Night Football.

Viewers and readers want total honesty now and that is part of the success for the Mannings. They love the game and don’t put down cover for the players or management.

“I think people are as mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore,’’ one longtime talent evaluator, who always tells it like it is, told BallNine about the general state of baseball.  “If you have a baseball show that makes people laugh and enjoy the game, people would like to watch that. It would be interesting. It would be informative.’’

Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. (Photo: Dolly Faibyshev / Redux, The New York Times)

Questions like this could be asked.

“Analytics always talks about ‘let’s score the most runs we can score’ but why aren’t we taking advantage of every 90 feet,’’ the evaluator said. “Why aren’t we stealing bases? Why aren’t we doing these things that you claim are so important, but you are not teaching anybody how to take advantage of? Get the starting pitchers to go longer in games in the minors so they are prepared to do so in the majors.’’

At least the Braves let Max Fried throw six innings in the clincher. That is one of the biggest takeaways from this postseason. Starters have to at least pretend to be starters for ultimate success. Stretch them out. Too many looks at the same relievers is a benefit to the opposing offense in a series. Having a starter go deeper and maybe learn from his mistakes in a previous outing is gold.

Back in the day when I was on Cold Pizza and then First Take, I was on the air because of my honest evaluations and back then I was telling the world the San Francisco Giants would be doing something special because of the leadership of Brian Sabean and his ability to make additions on the run, remember Marco Scutaro?

Now, of course, Sabean cannot even get a sniff from the Mets even though I keep seeing every failed GM or assistant GM in the world being a candidate. I think Steve Cohen is a really smart guy and will figure this all out, but I also think he should have dinner with Sabean, let Sabean bring the wine.

The Mets are 0-for-2 in major hires in the Cohen area with the two flunky GMs that came to Citi Field. I’m hopeful Cohen learned from that. The Mets also have the opportunity to re-tool. Hey if the Braves did it during the season why can’t the Mets do it in the off-season? The young pitchers will be back for the Braves. Alex Anthopoulos might want to send a thank you note to A.J. Preller in San Diego, it was Preller who traded Fried to the Braves in December of 2014 for Justin Upton. Swanson came to the Braves the next December from the Diamondbacks, both deals completed long before AA arrived.

I also think back to Dave Trembley, who was the Braves farm director for many years, a person I interviewed earlier this year for The Story. Trembley helped guide this core of Braves players through the minor leagues and he has to be feeling pretty good about the work he accomplished even though he is no longer there with the Braves and is now managing in the Appalachian League.

All teams can learn too that it pays to have a player like Freddie Freeman who is the rock of the franchise. Freeman set the tone every day with his work ethic and his even keel approach to the game. It was only fitting that the World Series ball wound up in his glove and then his pocket.

Baseball will have a long winter ahead with the new contract to be hammered out. There is plenty of time to discuss that in the future. The lessons learned this October ring true every October.

Baseball is bigger than one player, so even if you lose your MVP candidate in Ronald Acuna Jr. others can step up. Lean more on your pitchers, especially your younger pitchers and make game to game adjustments. Fried relied much more on his fastball in Game 6 than he did his first outing against the Astros. That’s a common mistake to all teams and gets back to the Nerds wanting to mix it up as opposed to challenging the hitter with a pitcher’s best stuff.

Consistency of personnel is a good thing, too. Brian Snitker has been with the Braves organization for 45 years. He knows what to expect of his players. His players know what to expect of him. I loved what Freeman said after the game about Snitker.

“Brian Snitker is an amazing human being,’’ Freeman said. “It’s absolutely amazing that we get to call him a World Champion now for everything he has done for this organization, for all the people he coached in the minor leagues to build up in this organization. Now he is a World Champion, Manager of the Year, everything. He has every single award you can get as a manager and is just the coolest thing ever.’’

The Mannings would appreciate Freeman and the Braves. When Tom Brady was on a few weeks ago Brady said this about defensive players, “defensive players are dogs chasing cars.’’

So last week when Michael Strahan was visiting the Mannings, Eli asked about that quote as they showed footage of Strahan sacking Brady in the Super Bowl.

“That’s a defensive end chasing a ring,’’ Strahan said with a smile.

And that’s keeping it real, baseball could learn from the Mannings.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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