It's always odd hearing Ernie Johnson, the excellent host of TNT's standout NBA pregame and postgame show "Inside the NBA," handling play-by-play duties for the MLB playoffs. It's even stranger to hear the usually excellent broadcast legend resort to old tropes you'd expect from someone much worse at their job.
When Dustin Pedroia stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning, his heavily-favored Boston Red Sox down to their last out (and Pedroia down to his last strike) to stave off a sweep by the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, Johnson dropped this monstrosity:
"And Dustin Pedrioa, whose grit and determination embodies this Red Sox team..."
The words "grit," "determination" and "scrappy" have been used to describe every undersized white athlete since Eric Crouch was winning the Heisman at Nebraksa. It's a tired, lazy descriptor, both taking away from said athlete's actual ability and adding another tally to an already boring stereotype. Simply put, Johnson is better than that.
And yet, that throwaway line from Johnson, who alongside Ron Darling helmed TBS' coverage of the entire Indians-Red Sox series, was the least of TBS's problems. There were plenty of storylines to unpack as the Tribe looked to sweep the Sox: how the Indians' starting pitching outmatched Boston's despite losing Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to injury, Terry Francona's progressive use of his bullpen, Boston's young core/transitioning away from the David Ortiz era, etc. And those things were touched on, sure. But much of TBS's broadcast, especially postgame, nauseatingly focused on Ortiz's retirement and, of course, making fun of Cleveland.
Ortiz walked in what turned out to be his final at-bat in the bottom of the ninth, then was lifted for a pinch runner, but that couldn't stop Darling from mentioning multiple times just how much Ortiz and the Red Sox hoped Big Papi could have one more at-bat. The broadcast booth almost pleaded to the Baseball Gods to give Ortiz one more postseason moment to add to his resume. Instead of focusing on the Indians accomplishments, like holding the best offense in baseball to a measly seven runs over three games, the bottom of the ninth was an ode to a team who has won exactly one playoff game in the last eight years.
Even when the Indians recorded the final out, replays largely focused on Ortiz's reaction in the dugout. TBS then dedicated about 15 seconds of footage to the Indians celebration in the locker room before kicking it back to their atrocious studio crew to talk more about Ortiz and his retirement until it was time to kick it over to Samantha Bee's new talk show.
As if that wasn't rough enough, in his attempt to praise the Indians, Pedro Martinez decided it would be good to engage in a stereotypical impersonation of a Native American, a move that he wound up apologizing for after it made the rounds on Twitter.
But what broadcast involving Cleveland sports would be complete without an out-of-date, overused joke about the Cuyahoga River catching on fire? TBS, know for its comedic chops with shows like "Reruns of Family Guy" and "Reruns of The Big Bang Theory," though it'd be a knee-slapper to display a postcard depicting its studio analysts in front of a photoshopped burning river with the words "Welcome to Cleveland!" scrawled across the top of the photo. As unfunny as that was, TBS couldn't even use an actual photo of the Cuyahoga, opting instead for a river in Moscow that caught fire after an oil spill in 2015.
Look, I get it. Despite the recent Cavs championship, Cleveland is still fighting an image of itself that hasn't been relevant for five years. And if TBS was broadcasting, say, LeBron James's final game, I'd hope they'd mention it during the broadcast. But to place Ortiz's retirement over the Indians accomplishments, make fun of the city and use a racial stereotype as an effort to praise the team is simply embarrassing. I thought Peter Gammons summed things up nicely:
Buckle up, though, because TBS gets the entire ALCS. Can't wait!