Rozner: Chicago White Sox games not great, but Steve Stone is
There was a time, seemingly not long ago, when a baseball broadcast was fun.
The color analyst served to entertain, educate, predict and then explain the outcome, often with a heavy dose of humor.
Today, many of the analysts around the game lecture, insisting you view the game only through statistical analysis. They recite numbers that any person can retrieve from any of a dozen websites, while making it sound like this was the result of backbreaking legwork.
Analytics are great. They are a huge part of the game, entirely necessary for understanding the modern game. And they are given to you in numerical form every day by the play-by-play announcer.
Yet, some color guys repeat the same information, while the game passes them by.
If you have the MLB TV package, then you know this is common around the game.
But Steve Stone is a rare and enjoyable exception.
After 35 years in the booth, he still brings his customary sense of humor to a White Sox broadcast, and he is also still watching the game.
Just in the last week, he called a pickoff before it happened because he noticed the first baseman tip it off with a subtle signal to the rest of the infield.
He called a home run, suggesting the hitter had set up the pitcher for the perfect breaking pitch on the outer half.
The next day he noticed the catcher furiously tapping his glove on the ground but said it was done only to trick the hitter into thinking it would be a ball in the dirt, and correctly forecast a high fastball that the hitter missed by two feet.
He pointed out a shortstop pretending to smooth the dirt in front of him but was really getting a look at the catcher's sign and moving several feet to his right. It meant breaking ball to a right-handed hitter and the ball was hit right to where the shortstop was standing.
Rather than whine about a mound visit, or tell you how dumb you are for thinking mound visits are important, he explained that the catcher was telling the relief pitcher how the pinch hitter reacted the day before to a particular pitch, because this pitcher had never seen that hitter.
As a big leaguer, Stone knows things the viewer doesn't, and he tells you why something is happening. And isn't that the reason for having former players in the booth, to tell you what you don't know?
"Harry Caray was the greatest salesman who ever lived and he taught me so much about what a local broadcast was designed to do," explained Stone, who has spent six decades in baseball. "I try to educate and entertain and have fun.
"I never want speak over the head of the viewer and always remember that there are a lot of different people watching the broadcast.
"You have men and women and kids new to the game, and people who have seen so much baseball they believe they can manage the team.
"You have those who want analytics and those who need more than the numbers.
"You have to provide insight for all of them."
What Stone is best at is providing a view from the dugout, where the manager must see the ninth inning six innings before it occurs.
"The game of baseball is like a chess match," Stone said. "Once you learn how the pieces move, you realize whoever controls the center four squares wins the match.
"It's a simple game on the surface, just like baseball. But, like chess, when you peel away the layers you find there are things that happen in baseball that affect moves that are 15 steps down the road.
"I see things a lot of guys won't see because they're not paying attention."
With young play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti handling most of the metrics, setting up the analytical graphics and giving his partner plenty of room to breathe, Stone is doing some of his best work ever.
"Jason is great at what he does, but he's egoless in the booth, so he gives me a lot of space to come in and out and call what I see," Stone said. "I just love the game so much, and I hope that comes out in the broadcast.
"I think the game is so fascinating. The more you're looking, the more you observe the game within the game, the more entertaining it becomes."
Stone spends hours before the game visiting with both teams' managers, coaches and players, something of a lost art in an era when a laptop is an analyst's best friend.
But that's where Stone unearths the best information, stories he can share with a fan base that is thirsty for good news and amusement.
"I can do a broadcast from the media guide and press notes, but coaches and managers give you information you can't get at home, and I want to bring that to the viewer," Stone said. "We're bringing the game to life and we want everyone to love the game the way we do, while keeping it light and enjoyable.
"I loved my time with Harry and Chip (Caray) and Hawk (Harrelson) and all the partners I've had over the years, locally and nationally, but Jason and I are having a really good time in the booth.
"If it seems like I'm having more fun, I am."
It does. And he is.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.