Margaret Atwood didn't want Fox TV coming into Canada. Apparently, Rogers Sportsnet also is taking a pass on Fox Sports in Canada during the MLB postseason. It's nothing political, however. For the fourth year, the sports channel has chosen to show the international feed supplied by MLB for commercial reasons. And Canadian viewers are better served by the Gary Thorne and Rick Sutcliffe broadcast combo over Fox's Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.
While Sportsnet is not unhappy with Fox's content on the Texas-San Francisco World Series, it prefers the unadorned international feed because it allows them to do virtual advertising and avoid the product placement and ad graphics that lard a Fox broadcast (for which Sportsnet is not paid). If you've watched the first two Fox games, you might be confused: Is it a Due Date movie commercial with baseball game inserts or the other way around?
Some of the differences between the Fox and Sportsnet feeds are cosmetic. On Fox we see 49ers legend Joe Montana introduce the San Francisco starting lineup. The Sportsnet cast has the players themselves announcing their home country. Fox has Ken Rosenthal's really spiffy bow ties. Sportsnet has Gregg Zaun and Jamie Campbell in their baseball fortress of solitude.
Other variations occur on shots the producers choose. While Buck was thumping the tub yet again for Zach Galifianakis in Due Date, Sportsnet had a wonderful vignette of singer Steve Perry lip synching a song in tribute to his beloved Giants from the stands. A Wayne Gretzky cameo in the stands (which went uncredited by Buck-McCarver) did not appear on the MLB feed. Both feeds showed Tim Wakefield winning the Roberto Clemente humanitarian award - at different times in the broadcast.
But the critical component is the contrast between Sutcliffe - the 1994 Cy Young award winner - and McCarver, who was catcher for the great St. Louis Cardinal teams of the 1960s. While both men openly carved Texas manager Ron Washington's inept use of the bullpen in Game 2, Sutcliffe seems to be interested in parsing the action a little more critically. While McCarver did tell us that Elvis Andrus of the Rangers is the first Elvis to play in the World Series, Sutcliffe was defying a baseball shibboleth about handicapping umps by hinting that home plate umpire Sam Holbrook has a smaller strike zone than most.
A few more examples: On a bunt by Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson in the third inning of Game 2, Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff, who's not a regular at the position - fielded a ball that was clearly going foul, getting an out but allowing a Texas base runner to advance. Sutcliffe jumped on Huff, saying an experienced first baseman would have read the play better and let it go foul, keeping the runner at first. McCarver, meanwhile, brushed it off, saying Huff couldn't gamble on it going foul.
Another example was how Sutcliffe viewed the defensive upgrade in right field as Texas replaced Vladimir Guerrero with David Murphy. On a couple of critical fly balls that Murphy flagged down in right, Sutcliffe brought up the move, asking aloud if those balls would have fallen if the aging former Expo had remained in right. McCarver mentioned the switch in the pregame but did not develop it as theme despite the closeness of the game through seven innings.
Sutcliffe is also unafraid to rip into stars. Describing a conversation with Texas ace Cliff Lee after his Game 1 face plant, Sutcliffe had Lee saying, "Did I stink? Yes." McCarver is critical as well, but he and Buck (whose late dad Jack broadcast McCarver with the Cards) tend to ride the easy horse. When Fox producers showed a beaming Barry Bonds in the crowd, Buck's contempt was palpable in refusing to do more than identify Bonds.
Rating: Sportsnet. MLB: 8 out of 10; FOX: 6.5 out of 10.
Game 1 did well for Sportsnet. With no serious NHL competition, the game attracted 702,000 viewers, up from the 2009 Game 1 Opener of 685,000.
In the United States, Game 1, which went against many NBA season-opening games, was down from the 2009 Yankees-Phillies ratings winner but up from the first game of the 2008 Rays-Phillies Series. The 8.9 rating was still the fifth lowest for a Series opener. Also hurting the U.S. numbers is the ongoing feud between Cablevision and Fox, which has blacked out three million New York city homes for the Series.