Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Five reasons why I don't like listening to Gary Thorne

If you don't watch the Orioles or like baseball, you may not know who Gary Thorne is. Thorne is currently the play-by-play announcer for the Orioles, and according to his Wikipedia page, he still calls some baseball, college football, and hockey games for ESPN and ABC. I'm not sure if that's completely up to date because I can only recall hearing him during O's games, but I'm sure he calls more than just O's games.

For the most part, I don't have any problems with the O's announcers/broadcasters. The radio announcing team of Joe Angel and Fred Manfra is pretty solid, and the O's analysts alongside Thorne on MASN -- either Jim Palmer or Mike Flanagan -- are very good and have no problem breaking the game down. That doesn't mean all of those guys are perfect, but I can't recall ever having a serious issue with something they said. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to Thorne, who, while skilled at calling some of the basic parts of games and talented enough to sound excited/enthusiastic at the right times, doesn't seem to understand a few things that most announcers calling MLB games should. That also doesn't mean that he's the only one out there either who has similar issues.

Here are some of my complaints:

1) He's obsessed with runs and RBI

Thorne refuses to stop throwing out run and RBI numbers like they mean everything. If a hitter has a high RBI total, Thorne believes he's having a great season. If he has a low RBI number, he'll mention that that hitter is not getting the job done. Really, he mainly likes to mention a lot of the counting numbers -- runs, RBI, home runs -- and batting average. I believe I've heard Thorne talk about on-base percentage and slugging percentage a few times, but mostly that's something Palmer (or Flanagan) will discuss instead. Still, Thorne is hardly the only announcer who does this sort of thing, but baseball announcers in general have started to improve in this area.

2) His love of "At 'em ball"

This inclusion is more of a pet peeve than anything, but I'm still going to include it. I don't have an accurate tally, but I believe Thorne says "At 'em ball" 50 times a game. He particularly likes to use this phrase when the ball is hit to Adam Jones or someone else named Adam (for obvious reasons). If he sprinkled the phrase in a few times here or there, that's one thing, but he says it so much that it's definitely gotten under my skin. This irritating habit is probably the least worst of the five.

3) His over-usage of season splits and split stats

Some split stats can be helpful. Jake Fox, for instance, is a better hitter in his career against right-handed pitching than left-handed pitching (it's not a huge sample size, but it's not insignificant either). I finally heard Palmer mention this last night, though it's possible someone else mentioned it in a previous game and I missed it. But instead of using career splits or numbers with a larger sample size, Thorne likes to mention when, for example, a hitter is 0-2 against a certain reliever who just entered the game. That information can occassionally be useful, but for the most part it's not. Does a hitter being 0-2, or even 3-5 (etc.), against a single pitcher really tell you much of anything? No. Then again, some managers might make decisions based on similar limited information, and Thorne is hardly the only announcer giving out these stats, particularly late in games. Still, it would be nice to hear Thorne offering more concrete career splits or something a little more in-depth.

4) His pitch recognition is terrible

In the long run, a play-by-play announcer calling a fastball a breaking ball, a change-up a fastball, or whatever here or there doesn't mean a whole lot. Color analysts are normally better at recognizing certain pitches anyway. But this happens to Thorne multiple times a game, and it's not too difficult to distinguish a slider or curveball from a low- to mid-90s fastball. That doesn't mean he has to know every pitcher's full repertoire, but he should at least be aware enough to notice the radar gun or at least turn to Palmer or Flanagan and figure out what the pitcher is throwing. Either that, or just stick to calling something a strike or a ball.

5) Pitcher wins

I'm not going to lie: Most of this post stems from Thorne's idiotic statement last night regarding Felix Hernandez and pitcher wins. He said that he didn't support Hernandez winning the Cy Young Award because he only had 13 wins last season. He said the point of the game is to win, and he added that he'd take a pitcher with a bunch of wins over someone with "a zero ERA." Don't think about that too long, because your head might explode. Thorne is hardly the only person with a similar opinion (though maybe not as extreme); other old-school baseball types or writers have been defending pitcher wins, a stat that has been under assault from the sabermetric community for a while (for good reason). To Thorne, a pitcher's win total means everything, and that's something that's difficult to listen to.


If it weren't for Palmer or Flanagan, O's telecasts would be even more onerous to listen to. Then again, when Palmer starts going off on tangents and trying to make jokes, he can be just as annoying and quirky (though funny too, for some reason).

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