My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on Tom Verducci, who will play on the big stage next week.
Howard Cosell and Tom Verducci don’t have much in common, but they will share a bit of history next week.
When Verducci works Fox’s coverage of the World Series, he will join Cosell as the only non-player or manager to sit in the TV analyst’s seat for the game’s biggest games.
The similarities pretty much ends there. Cosell wasn’t used on ABC’s coverage of four World Series because of his baseball expertise. Just the contrary, in fact, since he routinely dumped on the game.
However, when ABC landed baseball rights in the 70s, Roone Arledge told sports TV’s biggest mouth to brush up on his old Mickey Mantle stories. Cosell still was Cosell, and his shtick had to be part of the network’s World Series presentation even though it was a poor fit for baseball.
When his historical connection to Cosell was mentioned to Verducci, he admitted it didn’t dawn on him.
“I can honestly say I haven’t really thought about it,” Verducci said. “I’ve always been so focused on doing the job in front of me.”
Indeed, Verducci won’t be in Fox’s World Series booth with Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds as a gimmick. Rather, it is about his substance.
Verducci has earned his baseball chops. He went from grinding as a young beat reporter for Newsday in the 80s to becoming the lead baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. He became a regular fixture on MLB Network and eventually began work as a game analyst for the network and Fox in 2009.
Verducci doesn’t just write about baseball; he inhales it. He is a terrific writer, and Fox Sports executive John Entz says his passion and knowledge of the game comes through on TV.
When Fox needed a replacement for the retired Tim McCarver in its No. 1 booth, the network liked the potential of what Verducci had to offer in working with Reynolds.
“Three-man booths work when two guys come at it from different perspectives,” Buck said. “Harold and Tom see the game in different ways.”
Reynolds is more old school, while Verducci tends to use more analytics. However, Reynolds, a two-time All-Star who played 12 years, has complete respect for his partner’s baseball expertise.
“The thing that impresses me about Tom is his eye for detail,” Reynolds said. “He’s able to see adjustments. He’s always focused in.”
Verducci readily admits that he doesn’t have firsthand experience of what it is like to try to hit a Major League slider or to be in a closer’s shoes in the ninth inning. But he has talked to enough players and managers to know what works or fails in those situations.
In many respects, Verducci prepares for a game the same way he does if he is working a story for a Sports Illustrated. He tries to gather as much information as he can.
“I like to think I bring an institutional history to the game,” Verducci said. “This is my 33rd year covering baseball. I’ve been a beat writer, columnist, studio analyst. All those things come into play when you go into the booth. It’s the entire package, plus the preparation.”
Will Verducci’s rise to Fox’s No. 1 team change the traditional dynamic which calls for the analyst to be a former player, manager or coach? The new media age has created plenty of insiders, who bring immense expertise on their sports.
Seth Davis is one of them. Like Verducci, the college basketball writer for Sports Illustrated has gone from working in the studio at CBS to serving as a game analyst for the Big Ten Network.
The extent of Davis’ college basketball experience was trying out as a walk-on for Duke. “Yeah, you don’t see many (5-foot, 9-inch) Jews playing college basketball,” he said.
Davis, though, is an avid student of the game. He believes he brings a different perspective to the analyst’s seat.
“I’m not going to necessarily break it down the same way that a coach or player would, but I also know that a coach or player is not going to see the same things that I’m going to see or talk about the things that I’m going to talk about,” Davis said. “I can get into story lines, personalities and the evolution of a team and what’s happening in the locker room.”
Later, Davis added: “At the end of the day, it’s really not rocket science. I don’t hammer guys. I don’t rip people in general, but I can be critical, and I’m just kind of reacting to what I see and what I know.”
Davis will be watching his colleague on Fox in the World Series. Verducci, though, hasn’t drifted away from his roots. Unlike traditional TV analysts who call it a day once the game ends, another part of his day is just beginning. Verducci will write up his game analysis for SI.com.
Once a writer, always a writer, right? Well, not exactly says Verducci when it comes to defining himself these days.
“When I started, you were either one or the other (writer or a broadcaster),” Verducci said. “It probably was an insult to suggest you did something other than what you were trained to do. But as we know in the media world today, there are no barriers. The platforms change.
“Deep down, I’ll always consider myself a writer, because that’s where I came from. But I never would think of myself as just one or the other. I think of myself as someone who tries to provide information and entertainment on baseball.”