Appreciation For Jim Palmer In The Booth
Charles Barkley’s three Sports Emmy Awards for his work as a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the NBA are not accidents. The Hall of Fame former forward has carved out an increasingly rare niche as someone who pulls no punches in his commentary.
Listeners should find his candor refreshing, as in during NBA-TV’s post game coverage of Game 3 of the NBA Finals last week, when he deemed Cleveland’s defensive strategy against Golden State “dumb and stupid”
Barkley’s language can be occasionally unnecessarily blunt and he sometimes talks himself onto verbal ledges that leave him little room to maneuver. But his willingness to climb out there, even at the risk of offending coaches and players, is an anomaly.
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Too often these days, play-by-play and especially analysts — game and studio alike — appear to pull punches, choosing to pass on saying things that might run afoul of someone in uniform or in the front office.
That’s why it was so shocking to hear former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer call out first baseman Chris Davis in unusually strong terms — or at least, unusual for a team broadcast — last month.
In case you’ve forgotten, during a postgame discussion with former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey on MASN last month, Palmer said of Davis’ batting slump:
“I don’t see anything. I don’t see a wider stance, I don’t see a closed stance, I don’t see him dropping my hands. I don’t see anything. And we’re seeing the results. He’s just in a prolonged slump.”
Had Palmer stopped there, his remarks would have been characterized as mere observations about a player who is cold.
But Palmer went on to question Davis’ work ethic.
“You know, they say he works hard,” said Palmer. “He told everybody in spring training that he worked with [hitting coach] Scott Coolbaugh. I asked Scott in spring training, I go, ‘Hey, you must have really put in a lot of work.’ He goes, ‘We didn’t work.’ So, you know, I don’t believe anything.”
Palmer continued by saying that Davis was “killing this club,” though he added he wasn’t the only Oriole who isn’t hitting.
Davis said he was “disappointed” in Palmer’s remarks, adding “the last thing I want to hear about is someone within the organization questioning my work ethic. But that’s where we’re at.”
To be clear, Palmer’s status both as the best pitcher in franchise history as well as his long track record of excellent booth analysis on both the local and national level, give him the gravitas to be blunt on a platform that, say, fellow MASN analyst and former Oriole shortstop Mike Bordick doesn’t have.
And this is hardly the first time an Orioles broadcaster has aired blunt criticism at a Baltimore baseball player.
Folks with long memories will recall how former Birds radio announcer Jon Miller used the same phrase “killing this ballclub” in the early 1990s when former utility Mark McLemore was briefly moved into an everyday third base role and struggled mightily.
Miller’s desire to call things as he saw them, rather through a club-colored haze was a no doubt a factor when Orioles owner Peter Angelos let Miller leave for San Francisco.
Angelos told me in an interview for the Baltimore Sun that he wanted radio and television announcers calling Orioles games to “bleed a little black and orange,” meaning he wanted them to express their positive feelings for the team on the air.
That phrase has cast a pall over Orioles broadcasts ever since and made discerning fans wonder if, on occasion and not necessarily intentionally, the booth announcers are really telling it like it is.
No one who heard Jon Miller on the air could ever have doubted that he wanted the Orioles to do well. But that didn’t get in the way of his professionalism.
Would that that had been the case, say Tuesday, when a number of Washington-area based broadcasters were seen wearing Washington Capitals gear during the team’s Stanley Cup victory parade.
Come to think of it, it’s not that cool when Baltimore broadcasters don Orioles gear and sport Ravens colors during their telecasts.
This may be quaint or even naive, but fans don’t need announcers to bleed team colors while they’re calling games. They just need unvarnished truth of the variety that Charles Barkley delivered last week and that Jim Palmer gave a few weeks ago.
Milton Kent is a veteran of Baltimore and Maryland journalism.
Kent began a long association with the Baltimore Sun in 1985, serving as the Evening Sun’s Howard County reporter for 2 ½ years before joining the paper’s features department as an entertainment writer in 1988.
In the following year, Kent began covering men’s and women’s college basketball for the Evening Sun, concentrating on the Maryland men’s and women’s teams. He continued covering college basketball when the writing staffs of the Evening and Morning Suns merged in 1991.
From there, he covered the Orioles for three seasons before becoming one of the nation’s first fulltime sports media critics for parts of six years. In 2000, he began covering the NBA until 2004, when he launched a high school sports column, which he wrote until he left the Sun in 2008.
Kent joined the staff of AOL Fanhouse, an online sports operation in 2009, covering sports media and women’s basketball, until operations ceased in 2011. He then joined the faculty at Morgan State University in the fall of 2011, where he has taught until the present day.
In addition to writing for various platforms, including Sports Illustrated.com and TV Guide, Kent has hosted “Sports At Large,” a weekly commentary program airing on WYPR (88.1 FM) since 2002.