Homers are good things in baseball, unless, according to some, they reside in the broadcast booth, and especially if they work for the YES Network.
The Yankees have a rich history of broadcasters that complements the team’s legacy on the field, and one of the most respected was Red Barber. Perhaps above all else, Barber was known for his even-tempered, down-the middle-approach to calling games. When the Ol’ Redhead was behind the mike, you could expect a steady stream of southern expressions, but never root, root, rooting for the home team. If they didn’t win, it may have been a shame to the fans, but not to Barber.
Barber is the standard bearer for those who believe broadcasters should maintain neutrality, and because he was a prominent part of the Yankees’ television and radio history, it seems as if the team’s current crews are particularly held to his ideals. So, as YES prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary, it’s not surprising to see the “homer” tag get thrown around once again.
Just about every local broadcaster for every team on every station roots for the home team. Even Vin Scully, who was mentored by Barber early in his career, wants the Dodgers to win. So, in a sense, every broadcaster is a homer. And, why shouldn’t they be? After all, they are performing a service for the fans of the home team, almost all of whom have a significant emotional stake in the game. That’s why pairing passion from the audience with indifference from broadcasters doesn’t make much sense (or cents, as the case may be) on a local level.
I use the word ‘homer’ proudly, as opposed to a journalist fearing that word. When you are watching a game, I’m very proud to say we’re rooting for the home team on our air.” - YES President Tracy Dolgin, quoted by Newday, March 5, 2012
In a conversation with Newsday’s Neil Best, YES President Tracy Dolgin branded his network with the word “homer”. Considering the pejorative nature of the expression, it was a bold statement by Dolgin, but one that was refreshingly honest. Instead of running away from the fact that regional sports networks (RSNs) are created for the express purpose of serving hometown fans, Dolgin embraced that reality. And, you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
Not everyone agrees, of course. Responding to Dolgin’s comments, Daily News media critic Bob Raissman used the opportunity to question the objectivity of the YES Network. To support what has been an often repeated theme in Raissman’s column, the critic cited a couple of flimsy examples to demonstrate how he believes YES’ Yankees bias has compromised the network’s credibility. Then, Raissman proceeds to unfavorably compare YES’ journalistic integrity to SNY’s. Ironically, not mentioned in Raissman’s column is the fact that he draws a paycheck from SNY. Apparently, conflicts of interest only apply to the YES Network.
Is SNY more critical of the Mets than YES is of the Yankees? Absolutely. Of course, the Mets are exponentially more worthy of criticism than the Yankees, so determining credibility on that basis is absurdly naïve. Besides, does anyone think Gary Cohen wants the Mets to win any less than Michael Kay wants the Yankees win? Do Kenny Singleton and David Cone really have a stronger rooting interest than Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling? If anything, both networks do a good job avoiding the outward rooting that permeates other team’s broadcasts (Hawk Harrelson comes to mind), so trying to determine which one roots less seems silly.
YES isn’t perfect. The revolving door of analysts hurts the continuity of the broadcast and the lack of a true play-by-play man sometimes disrupts the analysis. Also, Center Stage is probably on a little too frequently, and the Nets, well, are the Nets. However, the network’s production value is first rate and the pre-game/postgame coverage is comprehensive. YES also does a good job chronicling the Yankees’ history and creating original programming geared toward young fans. Critics with a fetish to see the team lose a game on “Yankees’ Classics” might not enjoy that content, but for its core constituency of Yankees fans, the network is covering all the bases. And, that’s exactly what you’d expect from a “homer”.