Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reported earlier today that FOX will be shaking up its broadcast teams for the 2016 regular season. While Joe Buck will continue to handle play-by-play duties, he will not be joined by Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci. Instead, both men will be replaced by Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz.
This is the second time FOX has changed primary color analysts since Buck’s longtime partner Tim McCarver retired after the 2013 World Series.
Reynolds and Verducci were never a comfortable fit for primetime broadcasts; Harold, while generally well-respected as an in-studio analyst, rarely provided anything beyond surface level commentary in regards to on-field activity, oftentimes simply repeating things that can be seen easily in a replay, and not to mention he would get caught saying bizarre things. His aversion to the evolution of baseball since his playing days didn’t help, either.
Verducci, on the other hand, is one of the smartest baseball men around, whose writing style is unparalleled and knowledge and respect of the game are first rate. His presence in the booth with Buck and Reynolds made sense in theory, but ultimately came off awkward and rather unnecessary. Verducci seems to be a better fit as a third voice down by the field, like Ken Rosenthal or J.P. Morosi.
The combination was met with a lukewarm reception in the last two postseasons, so it makes sense that FOX would want to change things, and scaling the booth back to only two people will make broadcasts sound less cluttered. On top of that, John Smoltz might be the perfect person to fill the void(s).
Since his retirement, John Smoltz has been a prominent color analyst, doing games for MLB Network, TBS and FOX over the last several years. He has quietly developed a reputation as one of baseball’s best commentators, showcasing a deep knowledge of the game while never talking down to the audience. He broadcasts with a very calm, pleasant demeanor — which will contrast with Buck’s tone nicely — and his self-awareness makes him a very likeable on-air presence; if he provides an unpopular, “old school” baseball opinion, he’ll be the first to call himself a curmudgeon.
Hardball Talk noted that Smoltz is very similar in style to a young Tim McCarver, which is high praise but an accurate acclaim. McCarver was one of the best in his heyday, and the balance he held between analysis and anecdotes was first rate. Smoltz carries that balance just as well, something Harold Reynolds didn’t do and Tom Verducci really couldn’t do.
FOX has generally been viewed as complacent in their baseball coverage, notably when they began using the FOX NFL theme music for their MLB coverage and scaling back their regular season presence over the last decade. Having Smoltz replace Reynolds and Verducci after just two years might suggest otherwise, and listening to calls between he and Joe Buck — however maligned he may be, he remains the ideal voice for primetime baseball — should be a real treat in 2016, and beyond.