Improved Coverage?

added 4/23/2005 by Scott Barzilla

“We don’t care, we don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”-- Lily Tomlin on SNL as a phone operator

Several of us here at Astrosdaily got an email message from a friendly fan in College Station. The fan mentioned that he was having difficulty getting Cox to air the Astros games on Fox Sports Houston in his area. He asked us to spur Cox along with some publicity. Of course, Cox will probably treat this like it treats any other complaint. You see, it’s not Cox specifically, but anytime you have a governmental monopoly you don’t have to meet the needs of the masses. All you have to do is continue charging sixty bucks a month for digital cable that is only half digital.

If it sounds like I’m bitter I don’t mean to be. People have accused me of being a lot of things in my lifetime (liberal, socialists, radical) but at heart I’m a capitalist like every other red-blooded American. It’s amazing to see how electricity rates and phone rates have dropped since HL&P (now Reliant) and SBC have had to compete. It’s time to have some competition where cable is concerned. As it stands, I have a few suggestions for those on the outside looking in as far as cable coverage is concerned.

The easiest thing (and cheapest option) is to get satellite. Trust me here folks, satellite is far better than cable. All of it is digital and is easily fifty percent cheaper than cable. The picture is clearer and the sound comes in better. The only downside is the occasional interruption of service that comes with a really bad storm. I’ll take the better service, cheaper price, and convenience of satellite thank you very much. While you’re doing that, go ahead and call the cable company and let them know why you’re moving from them. Maybe they’ll get the idea sooner or later.

People in that situation also have the option of ordering MLB Extra Innings. I have had that service before and found it to be outstanding. I could watch as many as three full games in one night (east coast, central, and west coast) in the comfort of my own home. Unfortunately, Janet (my wife) has put the kibosh on that little feature, but she has promised that we can resume it as soon as my baseball writing actually starts making money (book sales have not yet reached the amount I paid for pictures).

The third and least appealing option is to continue to complain. I will gladly help in this regard. When the Astros and Rockets made the deal with Fox they did so with the explicit intention of spreading their product to the extremities. In other words, barring College Station from seeing games goes against what they had in mind. However, I would caution those that want to complain that you need to have a backup plan in case they are unresponsive.

Since talking about coverage goes counter to insightful baseball analysis, I will do my entire column on the Astros radio and television coverage. After all, it doesn’t really flow when you say, “the Astros really need to dispense with this Brandon Duckworth business and would Cox please start showing games in College Station?” Besides, this gives me an opportunity to get some things off my chest as far as this is concerned.

Radio

This was the first medium baseball used and it is still very popular. Currently, the Astros are using Milo Hamilton and Alan Ashby to bring you the action. The Astros love to tell you how Milo is a Hall of Famer, but I have a few problems with the way things are done. It seems in Houston there are either Gene (as in Gene Elston) people or Milo people. Count me as a Gene person.

The first problem I have with Milo is that he seems to weigh heavily on the “fluff” side of broadcasting. I can bet the network loves this because he gets in every sponsor whether it is between pitches or not. Sometimes I want more description about strategy, but am left to hear how great a fit some boots are at Boottown. Ashby does the best he can, but he hasn’t built up the kind of credibility that Steve Stone did with Harry Caray.

One of the things my father and I have done is create a game called “guess the score.” Essentially, if you turn on the game in the middle of the inning it takes an act of Congress to get Milo to tell you the score. So, we play a detective game with the clues. If Milo tells you “Bagwell scored the team’s first run” then you know the team has scored more than one. If he tells you that the team has a one run lead then you might guess the score is 2-1 or 3-2.

However, my biggest issue is the three inning gap of broadcasting. Ashby does the best play by play he can between the fourth and sixth innings, but he can’t do both jobs. What is Milo doing during these times? He used to go on television during this time but now he must be taking the longest coffee break known to man. If they’re going to do this then why not make it a three man team so we could at least have some discussion during this time.

Television

I personally know two of the three people on the Astros television team (Bill Brown and Greg Lucas through SABR), so I can offer a little more insight here. I won’t say that Milo isn’t insightful because I don’t know him, but I come away impressed with Brown and Lucas’s knowledge every time I talk with them. This obviously helps add to the broadcast.

Adding Larry Dierker to the broadcast team was the best decision Fox ever made. I like Bill Worrell, but he is a play by play guy at heart. Having him and Bill Brown in the same booth didn’t seem to make much sense. Both are professional and they made it work, but Dierker gives the team the contrast they need to have a really good pairing. Dierker brings in playing experience, managing experience, and former broadcasting experience to really give them a good indepth analysis at home.

Jim Deshaies has been the biggest surprise over the last few years. He was wooden and nervous in his first season, but he has used a quick wit and sense of humor to give the team a different flavor on the road. Brown is the consummate professional, so he works well with both men. Usually you get a better call on the radio because it demands more description, but these guys do an infinitely better job than the radio crew.

Your Houston Sports Report

Can we all say a collective, “thank god!”? There were times before when I thought they should dispense with the charade and call the Southwest Sports report the “Metroplex Sports Report”. I know the Metroplex technically has more people in it, but the balance of coverage simply wasn’t there. Heck, even the promos prove the network wasn’t interest in balance.

Now, I can finish the game and count on Houston sports coverage after the game. Fox broke the Philip Buchanon deal for the Texans and their Rockets coverage has been pretty good too. However, the biggest benefit is the post-game coverage with Lucas, Brown, and Dierker. They choose their interviews well and provide a good wrap up for the game’s action.

As for the problems in College Station I can say that I haven’t been happy with the amount of games being telecast this year. I was told there would be 150 games on FSW, but there have been at least two or three that haven’t been on FSW this year. One was on 51, but we call that the “quiet channel” in the Barzilla household. I wish all non-Houstonians the best of luck in their efforts to get Astros baseball on the air.

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”