Tonight's Contestants: Ernie Johnson, Ron Darling and John Smoltz (the flagship team of TBS coverage, responsible for both the Yankees/Twins divisional series, and the ALCS)
Credentials: Ernie Johnson has been an announcer for over 30 years but, as an Atlanta boy, has been largely confined to Ted Turner's monolithic hold on NBA games, it wasn't until TBS bought out the division series' that he won the right to get back into baseball. Ron Darling pitched 12 years for three teams, made an all-star team and now announces for the Mets telecasts (he also speaks Chinese and French!). And John Smoltz is so flippin' accomplished that his wikipedia page doesn't even condescend to mention a piddling announcing job: 8 All-Star appearances, a Cy Young award, pitched in 5 World Series, and an accomplished accordionist.
Analysis: With most two-man teams you get two perspectives: play-by-play from a guy who's really just a big kid with a well modulated voice, and in-depth analysis from a former player. If you add a third man to that mix and you would hope that he offered something different...not in this case! Darling and Smoltz are both pitchers. Darling and Smoltz both know what's happening on the diamond. But, while Smoltz delves into minutia to explain just why release points and elbow angles and stutter steps by lead runners make such a difference, Darling ends up paraphrasing the action in his own words. Personally, I think Darling is dead weight, but he does provide some of the worst tangential comedy you could ask for when you're trying to watch a baseball game!...So...bright side?
Meanwhile Johnson is reasonably serviceable in the play-by-play chair. Much better than the jack-wagon Chip Caray we all learned to hate last year. Johnson is less prone to Yankee-induced-drooling than Caray was, though, as always, the Yankees induce lots of unnecessary amazement (Jeter jump throws! (and-doesn't-get-the-base-runner-but-that-doesn't-matter-because) HE JUMP-THROWS!!!!). The biggest problem for Ernie Johnson the baseball announcer is that he's battling 20 years of Ernie Johnson the basketball announcer. I keep waiting for him to say: "And the Portland Trail Blazers take the field!" or "Great shot to right field by Dirk Nowitzki!" or "what do you think Charles Barkley?!?" He never does of course, he's too professional to do that but his hyper-active enthusiasm makes more sense in the up-and-down ceaseless action hard-wood game than the languid, philosophic diamond-based game. And when the lulls are most pronounced he's clearly casting about for any topic to get a laugh out of his buddies in the booth (Darling's amenable, but John Smoltz for laughs NO MAN!!)
Rating: 2.5 Blylevens. There's nothing spectacular about TBS coverage team, though Smoltz is great for the nerd in me, and it's always fun to cock an eyebrow of doubt at Ron Darling's mannerisms. But as long as we're stuck with national coverage, these guys will do fine.