Joe Buck on London series, MLB analytics and why announcers should stay off Twitter

The longtime Fox play-by-play broadcaster will call Saturday's Red Sox-Yankees game in London.

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Joe Buck will call Saturday's game between the Red Sox and Yankees. –The Associated Press

Longtime Fox announcer Joe Buck has called World Series, Super Bowls and All-Star games for more than two decades, but this weekend he will add something new to his résumé: a European assignment. Buck is headed to London to call a Saturday game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at London Stadium.

In advance of Buck’s trip across the Atlantic, he talked to The Washington Post about the new career milestone, how analytics have changed the way he broadcasts baseball and his five favorite calls.

Q: This is your first time calling a European event. How notable a moment is that in your career?

A: I’m clearly not an international man of mystery (laughs). Every time our crew has been in London for football, I’ve been doing the baseball playoffs so I have missed all that fun. I’m a huge fan of Europe in general, and it does feels like [a notable career moment]. I was always jealous of these guys like [NBC announcer Mike] Tirico who would always seem to be reading from a map and give you a good lay of the land of where he was, like, for a British Open. And obviously the Olympics. I sat back here at my house from the Midwest wondering what that was like. I think it’s cool, and I think it’s good for baseball.

Q: Speaking of baseball, what do you make of the analytics versus aesthetics debate going on in the game today?

A: It’s hard for me, because the last thing I want to be, as a guy who just turned 50 and who was doing World Series games at 27, is to come off or feel like a get-off-my-lawn, complaining baseball fan. But it’s different, it’s different than the game I grew up around. It doesn’t mean it’s worse; it’s just not what I’m used to seeing. Growing up in St Louis and having seen the [Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog’s teams] of the ’80s, that’s the kind of game I grew up on. Get ’em on, get ’em over, get ’em in. Now a guy is in scoring position when he steps into the batter’s box.

Q: Is today’s style of play less enjoyable from the fan’s perspective?

A: I don’t know, I don’t want to crush the game on that stuff. I’m just gonna go with it’s different. For a broadcaster, a lot of the nuance is gone. The strategy is what I always loved, it’s what [former broadcaster] Tim McCarver and I always talked about. And I think it’s phased a lot of guys out of the game. Guys who these days are managing some of these teams – [Milwaukee Brewers manager] Craig Counsell or [Los Angeles Dodgers manager] Dave Roberts, some of the slappy hitters who can make contact and either move a guy, find a hole and drive him in, or steal a big base in the case of Dave Roberts. Stolen bases are pretty much irrelevant these days, and even hitting and running isn’t as prevalent.

We had a long conversation when we were last in Chicago and we talked to [Cubs manager] Joe Maddon about this. And he said he feels like the next turn will be back toward that type of game, because we’ve exhausted all we can out of wait around for the home run ball and either strikeout or walk. He said he’d like to see a lineup of three and four hitters who can just pound the ball with power and then one, two, five, six, seven, eight hitters who can get on and can run.

Q: Does the change in the game affect how you call it?

A: I’ve had to readjust and [my partner] John Smoltz has had to readjust. All of us over the age of 35 have had to. When you’re sitting in the booth and you look down and you see a left-handed pull hitter up and the entire left side of the infield is wide open, I have to fight the urge to say, ‘The left side of the infield is open and they could drop a bunt down or slap at it and go the opposite way.’ I mean [St. Louis Cardinal] Matt Carpenter bunted for a double the other day. So you could say that . . . 15 times a game . . . If logic says you need base runners and you’re down by multiple runs in the 8th or 9th inning, then I think it’s a valid point, but how many times can you make it? It’s like shut up, move on already!

Q: Is there an off-the-wall sport you’d like the chance to broadcast once?

A: I’d be willing to do anything once. I did live bass fishing on TV. I’ve done horse jumping . . . so clearly I’m not very picky. . . . I kind of feel like curling combines this weird vision of people sliding down a lane and it looks like it combines bowling and every bar game I’ve ever played. But I still don’t understand what the hell it is.

Q: You’ve been doing this job at the highest level for a long time now. Are there any young announcers out there you think of as possibly the next generation of national guys who will do what you do?

A: We have at Fox, Joe Davis. He’s with the Dodgers and he was the guy who took over for Vin Scully and succeeded. . . . But it’s hard for young guys, with the social media world ready to smack the personality out of you, to have fun. And back in the day when I was stepping out of the midline and trying to be light and comical I had Phil Mushnick hammering me from the New York Post. Now these guys have everybody with a phone. You go on there and read all that stuff, the natural move is to be as down-the-middle and as boring as possible. So if I were talking to a group of young broadcasters, I would say don’t even put Twitter on your phone.

Q: You get asked all the time about taking criticism in your job, but from the outside it seems like you’ve gotten to the point where there is more appreciation of you – or at least more than there used to be. Do you feel that way?

A: I do feel like I went into the corner with my hands up and defended myself as best I could. But I don’t do anything different. . . . I feel like I’ve done baseball for so long, since I was 27 . . . and I was the new guy. I wasn’t ‘their’ guy. I’m not really anybody’s guy. I’m Fox’s guy. When you’ve done it long enough – I’ve done something like 21 World Series – just about every fan base has turned off the TV when their team lost and I was screaming and yelling for the other side. But I think some of the things I’ve done – going on [Howard] Stern a couple of times, doing ‘Pardon My Take’ and messing around with those guys and showing my personality – has been good for me. And writing the book and being honest about who I am, having fun at my own expense, is big. When you don’t get a rise out of somebody, I think the mob moves on to somebody else.

Q: What are your top five favorite calls of your career?

A: Off the top of my head, I would still have the [Mark] McGwire home run in ’98 for number 62 on there, despite us all being a little wiser these days. I will say my first World Series, Yankees-Braves in ’96. That was [Derek] Jeter’s rookie year and when they won it all I had never really prepared myself for a nationally televised, World Series-clinching call – ‘The Yankees are champions of baseball’ – and it came out and I didn’t mess it up.

Probably the [St. Louis Cardinal] David Freese home run in 2011 [to win Game 6 of the World Series and force Game 7], which was just a rip-off call of my Dad’s call from 20 years earlier, but it fit and it was a St. Louis kid that hit it for the Cardinals.

I’ll put the [New York Giants receiver] Plaxico Burress touchdown in Super Bowl [XLII] against the Patriots with the game going back and forth and being as great as it was and they knocked off the perfect Patriots. And I think my last one was my most thrilling, which was [Minnesota Vikings receiver] Stefon Diggs’s walk-off touchdown against the Saints two years ago in the postseason. Everyone expected if he made that catch, he’d hop out of bounds, but instead he didn’t and he turned around and ran it in for the winning touchdown. We felt the stadium erupt and had one of those definitive moments in football. Usually that stuff happens in baseball.

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