By Andy McCullough, Evan Trellich and Sam Blum
On Monday afternoon, as details of Orioles announcer Kevin Brown’s suspension pinged across the baseball landscape, White Sox announcer Jason Benetti reached out to Yankees announcer Michael Kay before the White Sox-Yankees game that evening. Benetti thanked Kay for using the platform of his ESPN radio show to protest the decision to sideline Brown.
“It makes the Orioles look so small, insignificant and minor league,” Kay said.
Later that evening, Benetti lent his voice to the broadcast team defending Brown and mocking Orioles management. And so did Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen. “Terrible decision by the Orioles,” Cohen said. Red Sox play-by-play man David O’Brien. “That was an absolute joke,” O’Brien said. So did the Yankees radio duo of John Sterling and Susan Waldman. “How can you do your job if you can’t tell the truth?” Waldman asked. “I’ve never heard of that in my life,” Sterling said. Many in the broadcast world, an unplanned, unprecedented chorus, were all appalled by Brown’s treatment.
“The reason it struck everyone was because the video was so funny,” Benetti said Athletic Tuesday afternoon. “You watch that video and a lot of people text me and say, ‘Well, what’s the real story?’ Because it can’t be.This is a perfect example of a bridge too far.
The bridge the Orioles crossed in the direction of owner John Angelos revolved around a comment Brown made before a July 23 game against the Tampa Bay Rays. AthleticBrittany Crowley. In setting up the clash of the American League East rivals on MASN, the team’s owned network, Brown echoed a sentiment noted in the team’s game notes, which are distributed to reporters daily: “The Orioles have won more games against them this season. The last two combined,” he said. The report rankled Baltimore management. Brown has not since appeared on Orioles telecasts. He is expected to return Friday. Major League Baseball did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
For Brown’s colleagues, the situation underscored their privileged but precarious position in the industry. For almost everyone, they are living a dream, experiencing fierce competition to reach this pinnacle. They also work for the pleasure of the owners without union protection. Broadcasters who rose to Brown’s defense found themselves speaking out against an injustice they felt was hard to explain.
“Because it’s ridiculous,” said Mike Ferrin, who hosts MLB Network Radio and calls games for ESPN. “I mean, really, there’s no other way to describe it.”
“What happened in Baltimore is ridiculous, it’s so hard to fathom,” said Rich Waltz, who called Marlins games on television for more than a decade before calling Angels games in 2021.
“It almost looks like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit when a guy who did nothing wrong gets suspended,” Kay said.
Conflicts between broadcasters and crew are at an unprecedented level. In some ways, they have intensified in the age of social media, when clips can go viral and cause backlash, as in 2017 when Red Sox pitcher David Price fought with Hall of Famer and analyst Dennis Eckersley over an on-air review. Mets manager Buck Showalter made commentary on SNY at times last year when he learned the players were ranked, the team turned off the broadcast in the clubhouse during games.
But what excited Kay, among other things, was the innocuous nature of Brown’s comments. Brown praised Baltimore’s resurgence. He also told facts about the franchise’s recent history. Astros radio broadcaster Robert Ford began calling games in Houston in 2013. Mike Elias, one of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow’s lieutenants, was the Astros’ tanking program with Baltimore later in 2018. 17 against the Rangers and 4-15 against the Oakland A’s that season. A few years later, when the Astros captured the American League West, Ford often referred to that front’s ineffectiveness.
“It’s part of telling the story,” Ford said. “Hey, look how far this team has come. They’re starting to beat unbeaten teams.
Several broadcasters described a idiom inherent in their profession, calling games for networks controlled by clubs. The broadcaster cannot insult the club to the point of distraction. But the broadcaster also cannot insult the viewer’s intelligence by denying the obvious. “The first premise and the most important premise is that fans are not stupid,” Waltz said. “They’re not. Especially baseball fans. You have to have a level of integrity when you’re talking about the team.
The balance can be delicate. “You still have to be critical,” Ford said. “You don’t want to be negative. And I’ve always looked at it, if you’re negative, you’re talking too much about something.
Kay added, “I think you know not to be personal. Don’t talk about people personally. We will never do that. But if the Yankees are playing bad, we say no, they’re playing bad.
Kay described Angelos’ decision as “almost farcical” and suggested it paled in comparison to the relationship between the Yes and Yankees franchise.
“The way I do my job, I couldn’t do that to a franchise like the Orioles,” Kay said. He mentioned something he said during Monday’s loss to the Yankees. “I gave a stat that they left 28 runners on base, the first time in team history in two straight losses,” Kay said. “What the hell [Angelos] Tell me if Kevin says something like that?”
The broadcasters suggested that 30 groups should be given editorial freedom. The Mets booth, where Cohen partners with Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, offers regular ratings. Kay is often critical of the Yankees on both his radio show and YES broadcasts. For clubs forcing tighter restrictions on their on-air talent, Ford suggested the controversy surrounding Brown could prevent tougher decisions down the road. The Orioles are unlikely to be happy about being discussed on CNN for blocking an announcer from the air.
“Probably the good thing about the outcry from other broadcasters is that it helps prevent something like this from happening to someone else,” Ford said. “Because you’re seeing the response, not just from broadcasters, but from people who don’t pay attention to the Orioles. I mean, John Sterling brought it up on Yankees radio yesterday. That never happens. It’s probably a good thing, because it has a chilling effect in the opposite direction.
After Benetti finished broadcasting on Monday, he spent two hours at home, reflecting on the unity among his colleagues. “I don’t think I’m proud to be a Major League Baseball announcer,” Benetti said. Kay and Cohen, Sterling and Waldman, Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy and Blue Jays broadcaster Dan Shulman. They all condemned what happened to Brown. Everyone stood up for him.
“We have nothing but each other,” Benetti said. “It became a very substantial (Monday) night. I was smiling from ear to ear on a human level.
(Top photo by Michael Kay: AP Photo/Mary Altafer)