For some strange reason, ESPN decided to move Steve Phillips into the booth with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan this year. Tonight's Cubs-Brewers game is the first Sunday Night Baseball game I've had the chance to watch, and I have to say this: It's pretty bad.
As always, Miller is phenomenal. I could listen to him announce almost anything. The problem is the combination of Morgan and Phillips; they just can't seem to get along with each other, which isn't surprising. Morgan always seems bitter towards anything new or an opinion differing from his own, and Phillips not only frequently has bad ideas or odd things to say, but he also won't back down from defending them even if he's wrong.
Case and point: Early in the game, Morgan and Phillips were debating over whether or not Alfonso Soriano should hit lower in the lineup. For once, Phillips made some sense and drew attention to the fact that Soriano has a career on base percentage of .328, which is low for a leadoff hitter. Soriano, of course, has more power than a normal leadoff hitter, but Phillips was arguing that he could be more valuable lower in the lineup, which is true -- he could be more valuable, or at least just as valuable as he is now.
But Morgan, who seems to be legitimately angry with another color analyst in the booth, wasn't having any of it. He took the same route that he usually does, which is to say that Soriano doesn't feel comfortable hitting lower in the order, so it would make sense just to leave him where he is. He then brought up his own playing career; he mentioned that he played with Pete Rose, who hit out of the leadoff spot, and said that Rose wouldn't have been nearly as effective hitting anywhere else in the lineup. Not only did Morgan not make any sense with that argument, but he actually made Phillips appear a bit brighter too. Now that's hard to do.
If that wasn't enough, the two argued the point for at least five more minutes. And if there's one thing that's just as annoying or maybe even a little worse than announcers ignoring the game, it's when they ignore the game while arguing about something that's been discussed over and over again.
A couple of innings later, Miller mentioned Phillips's minor league career in another brief discussion on pitch selection. Phillips joked that he wasn't a great hitter, saying that he hit around .250 in about eight minor league seasons. He also joked that he couldn't seem to hit sliders. Well, Morgan, a hall of famer, couldn't help but take a shot at Phillips; he said that it's no wonder that Phillips prefers pitchers to throw so many sliders, curveballs, and off-speed pitches since Phillips couldn't hit them himself during his career. Phillips tried to defend his theories, but again, the whole thing was extremely awkward.
I don't ask for a whole lot from announcers, but I do believe I'm like most sports fans in wanting them to stay focused on the game without as much distraction as possible. I don't like many interviews during the game, and I'd like for them to concentrate on the game with as little joking around as possible, especially if they aren't funny.
Having Phillips and Morgan in the booth at the same time is just a terrible decision, and ESPN needs to seriously consider rectifying the problem as soon as possible. The two obviously don't care for one another, and they can't be professional enough to focus on the game without getting into several arguments in just four or five innings. If the arguments were more along the lines of what Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy do during NBA telecasts, then it would be fine. Jackson and Van Gundy take verbal jabs at each other, but both are funny and don't have a problem laughing at themselves. Morgan and Phillips, on the other hand, take their own opinions way too seriously and can't back off from what they believe, even on points or discussions that aren't really that important to begin with.
Morgan, by himself, becomes even more curious to figure out each game. At one point tonight, Morgan said he had no problem with OPS only because it seemed legit since Albert Pujols's 2008 numbers were on top. I completely believe that he has no idea what OPS even means. It's one thing to be oldschool, but being bitter all of the time eventually gets on viewers' nerves. Just ask Billy Packer.
ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball had already slowly started to deteriorate over the years as Morgan became increasingly bitter over the state of more in-depth baseball statistics and new-age thinking being applied to the game, but the addition of Phillips has made the telecast almost unbearable.
If Miller wasn't there to play peacekeeper every Sunday, I'm pretty sure my head would have exploded already.