Today the Rangers announced that they would be replacing John Rhadigan as team play-by-play announcer with Dave Barnett for the remainder of the season. Rhadigan will now host the pre and post-game shows on FOX Sports Southwest essentially reclaiming a role he had spent the last 15 years in. While it might seem celebratory to broach this subject as someone who was critical of Rhadigan's work as an announcer, it is worth delving into to discuss why it had to be done and why it was OK for us, the fans, to let our voice be heard.
Let's face it, it's tough watching a situation unfold where it is clear that it just isn't going to work. It's even worse when you're on the side that is often made to feel completely powerless but are the eyes and ears the move is intended to reach. And that is where we, as fans, were placed this season as we watched the Texas Rangers telecasts with newly hired play-by-play voice John Rhadigan. We, those of us who up make the market share or buy the MLB.tv/Extra Innings packages, were totally at the mercy of a hire that seemed suspect from the start.
But make no mistake. This isn't about bashing John Rhadigan. There really isn't a reason to rehash why it had become clear that the broadcast just wasn't good. We know why. We lived it as Rangers fans every day. And by all accounts, even in personal instances, Rhadigan is a good person, hard worker, and just a quality individual. He's the kind of person you root for to get these once in a lifetime jobs. But by all accounts willing to admit it, Rhadigan simply wasn't doing the job and clearly wasn't the right man for the job to begin with.
This is the Texas Rangers' fault. The day the Rangers would play perhaps the biggest game in the then history of the franchise, on Oct. 12, 2010, the Rangers announced that they would not be renewing the contract of their long-time play-by-play announcer Josh Lewin in favor of a change of direction. In our circle of the world, a Rangers fandom with an Internet presence, this was met with a feeling that the air had been let out of the balloon while we were trying to enjoy our favorite season of Rangers baseball ever. Many of us, myself included, considered Josh Lewin to be one of the best in the business and an absolute joy to listen to. He made the games entertaining and always seemed to nail the biggest moments with memorable calls as few and far between as they came for him in the near decade he worked for the Rangers. But Lewin wasn't universally beloved. In fact, the word "polarizing" was probably most used to describe him upon news of his dismissal.
Regardless, three things became apparent on that day: The Rangers would be looking for a new voice, which even for the people who didn't care for Lewin, a sense of "The Devil you know" was probably apparent. The Rangers' new voice would have contextually--but not literally, Josh Lewin is a very tiny man--large shoes to fill. And the Rangers have the worst timing ever when it comes to announcing things. And so, the search was on.
After contacting various professional play-by-play baseball announcers such as Scott Franzske of the Phillies and Brian Anderson of the
Rays Brewers, only to be turned down, the Rangers, almost inexplicably, landed on Rhadigan. Either the Rangers underestimated the market of available broadcasters or ran out of time after the extended season to find someone with big league experience. At some point in the search, it seemed to become about who was a familiar, unoffensive voice and that would have certainly qualified Rhadigan.
Rhadigan had spent the last decade or so as a lead anchor on the Rangers pre and post game shows on FOX Sports Southwest. Additionally, he was the face of FSSW's Rangers Insider show and traveled on the road with the club each year to do in-game reports. Before that, Rhadigan was talking about the Rangers and Cowboys on Dallas' NBC affiliate KXAS-TV. The point is, Rangers fans wouldn't be wondering who this guy was. Rangers fans knew John Rhadigan. Rangers fans liked John Rhadigan. The media liked and respected John Rhadigan. The problem was, he had never called a single game of baseball in his life and now he was supposed to do that all summer, seamlessly, after a nationally renowned play-by-play guy was deposed, for the American League Champions. John Rhadigan was set up to fail.
And that's what happened. John Rhadigan predictably failed at even doing a solid job of calling Rangers games. As it all unfolded, all we were told by the local media was, "Give him time." At first that phrase was supposed to mean, "He's going to be different than Lewin. Don't judge Rhadigan based on Lewin. Let him grow into a different, but just as good voice." But slowly it evolved into, "Well, what did you expect? He's never done this before. But give him more than a couple of weeks. He'll improve." And yet, that was the very basis for our complaints. John Rhadigan had never done anything like calling the plays of a live sporting event before, and yet, the only criticism found by anyone in the media that could voice our concerns, at either the Rangers or Rhadigan himself, was to throw his newness back in our face just because he's such a well-liked guy. And, perhaps worse, whenever we challenged that protect-our-own mentality by the media, we were just told we were griping because Rhadigan wasn't Lewin.
Of course, as time went by, even that defense was used less and less as it became apparent that Rhadigan wasn't getting better. So instead we were brushed aside and things like "he's doing fine" or "he'll improve" were said by people in the media who had clearly only watched a few games. Had more people defending the right to defend Rhadigan's on-the-job training watched more games they might have realized how poorly prepared he appeared at understanding the rules of the game in addition to how ill-prepared he was at vocalizing the plays we were seeing.
I understand rooting for the good guy. And I also understand waiting out a transition. But what I don't understand, and didn't at the time, was why the fans of the American League Champions were given the options of hoping a guy could do a job he had never done before, waiting for it to get better above criticizing the current level of production, or just not watching the telecasts if we didn't like what we heard. It seems as though Rhadigan's firing was being portrayed on local DFW radio as comparable to as if the Rangers had sent Elvis Andrus back down to the minors if he had struggled a couple of months into his rookie season. But that is both ludicrous and manipulative. Perhaps that would hold water if Rhadigan were 20 years old and had called minor league baseball games for four years until he finally got his shot with the Rangers.
In the end, this move wasn't made because of you or I. This move was made because the people that make money off of the telecast were worried they wouldn't make as much money with the status quo at such a poor level of quality. And yet, to feel like we should have held off on voicing our opinion, on something we clearly care a lot about, until some media-determined date of proper time given to learn on the job, while the evidence was spoken directly to us every night, seems a particularly bitter pill to swallow given the outcome.
I wish John Rhadigan the best and I am sorry that all of this happened so publicly for him. And a part of me feels bad that I was as vocal about it as I was. Because getting what I wanted meant something bad would happen to a nice guy living his dream. But that is on the Rangers for ignoring this as a possibility and on the media for being unwilling to voice the criticism of the people actually watching the games. But Rhadigan still is the same amiable guy that no one had an issue with before this season began. He's still the good guy. He's still the nice guy. He's still the guy the local media rooted for. He's still a good studio and sideline guy. And he will continue to be that same guy. He just never was a play-by-play guy. And we never should have been expected to accept him as one when it became clear that he couldn't handle the job. And, mostly, the tragedy here, is he never should have been asked to try to be one.