Christopherson Column: Circle me Bert?

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and World Series champion Bert Blyleven this past weekend worked his first games of the abbreviated MLB season as the color man on Fox Sports North's television broadcasts of Twins games, along with longtime play-by-play man Dick Bremer.

    It's been a strange journey for Blyleven over the past few seasons. He and Bremer worked pretty much every game together every season for 20 or so years, but then his workload each season began to shrink, as former Twins players like Roy Smalley, Justin Morneau, Jack Morris, Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins each started working more games with Bremer.

    Was Blyleven being slowly but systematically shown the door? Was it time for him to take the hint and retire? If that was the case, Blyleven made it clear he wasn't going to end his tenure as a member of FSN's Twins broadcast team until someone told him his tenure was over.

    Blyleven's only working a few games this year. FSN clearly wants Smalley, Morneau and Morris providing in-depth player analysis that apparently only former players can provide. Yes, Blyleven is a former superstar player himself, but he's clearly seen as a dusty relic and someone in which today's analytics-driven MLB fan simply sees no value. His analysis is simply too basic, too elementary. He doesn't talk much about things like exit velocity and launch angles, which apparently makes him ancient and out of touch with the science behind baseball in this era.

   If Blyleven wasn't picking up the vibes against him already, social media has further hammered home the narrative against him. "Bert is bringing absolutely nothing to this broadcast," came the tweet of one frustrated fan about 20 pitches into the Twins' home game against the Brewers last week. The sentiment was liked and retweeted heavily. During one game a couple seasons back, when it appeared that Blyleven didn’t know what a batter’s “OPS” percentage was, it almost broke Twins Twitter.

    I've never been big on Blyleven as a baseball broadcaster, either. He's hokey, his jokes are worn out and his "Circle Me Bert" promotion lasted about 10 seasons too long. But his competitiveness, aided significantly by his devastating 12 to 6 o'clock curveball, especially effective in the twilight of his career when he helped the Twins win the World Series in 1987, are obviously enduring traits.

    As is his belief that a few seconds of silence isn’t sacrilegious. That's the thing with today's TV sports broadcasters. The play-by-play person announces the action, and then, apparently, it's the job of the color commentator or "analyst" to fill every second with his or her wisdom right up until the second that the game action resumes.             Blyleven? He’ll often go several seconds without gracing viewers with the sound of his voice. He adds what he thinks he needs to add to whatever Bremer is saying, and that’s it. When Bremer asks him an insightful question, he’ll answer.

    What’s not to like? Maybe in the age of no fans in the stands and manufacturered, piped-in crowd noise, viewers are clamoring for more vapid talk that's heavy on quantity and low on quality...noise for noise’s sake.

    Twins viewers have fallen in love with Morneau as a TV game analyst. Every word he says is golden, because he knows what every player is thinking in every possible situation. Blyleven might have an inside track on that knowledge as well, he just isn't being encouraged by fans and/or the FSN brass to use 200 words to offer 10 words worth of actual wisdom to fill every second between every single pitch. Morneau is one of my favorite Twins players of all time, and how concussions so greatly curtailed his career is sad, but that doesn't distinguish him in a favorable way from all of these ex-players in every sport who are handed broadcast analyst gigs simply because they can fill empty air with insights that you apparently had to play the game to be aware of.

    I mean, I can't stand Joe Tessitore as an NFL play-by-play guy. Seriously, when calls a game, I have a visceral reaction. My body’s chemical makeup is altered. I'm probably being unfair to him and he’s probably an absolute peach as a person, but when he calls a Monday Night Football game I want to slice my ears off with a butter knife.

    But does that mean I don't feel for him, a guy who's dedicated his professional career to broadcasting football games and obviously knows a lot about the game...and yet, when it’s time for deep insight, he is forced to defer to a former player "analyst" in the booth named “Booger.”

    So, you keep doing you, Bert. At least in this particular column, you are “hereby circled” by at least one wagon.

Mike Christopherson