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Ken Levine: Worst Commentating Job Ever?

If anyone knows anything about the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor leaguers – HELP! To quote Butch Cassidy: "Who are these guys?"
  -- Ken Levine, on his blog

More to the point - who the hell is Ken Levine? And with the publicly-announced lack of advance preparation shown above, how exactly did he get a job providing play-by-play for the Diamondbacks-Dodgers game on Tuesday? I don't know about you, but if I was a part-time announcer, I would make far more effort to research the opposition players - not, as Levine apparently does, simply throw up hands in bemusement at his own ignorance. How does it go? "Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

After the jump, let's review the rest of Levine's atrocious presentation on the game.

Now, I don't expect someone who works for the opposing team to be as familiar with the Diamondbacks as Darin Sutton or Mark Grace. But I do expect them to know basic facts, such as that valley fever is not an "injury." Or  perhaps realize that the obvious reason Arizona fans don't come out to Camelback Ranch in droves to see the team in a meaningless exhibition game, is because there are, oh, 81 major-league opportunities to see them in Phoenix, beginning next month.

Once the game got going, we soon got to see what Levine brought to the table. "And a fastball misses," he intoned, in cheerful defiance of the strike-call from the umpire. Any correction from Levine? Nah. Dream on. Deeply in love with the sound of his own voice, he'd gone on to factually incorrect statements without any backup. For example, the Diamondbacks were the "Worst defensive team in the National League." Er, no. Not by any meaningful metric you care to mention: Errors, Fielding Percentage, Fielding Runs Above Replacement. None of them. Talk to the Nationals about that, Ken.

In the fourth, we had the fun sight of Andre Ethier hitting out of order, as documented elsewhere. Did this faze Levin? Of course not. "Brian Giles to lead things off," he said, decisively, as Ethier stepped into the box. Why bother watching the game, when you can just read off your scorecard? Of course, batting order or not, it's such an easy mistake to make. They're both left-handed hitters and...uh...

Separated at birth
Andre Ethier Brian Giles

"Check that, it's Ethier," he finally said, two pitches into the at-bat. Any mention of the fact that Ethier had actually made the second out the previous inning? No, just an embarrassed silence - which was, admittedly, preferable to Levine going on about Matt Kemp's relationship with Rihanna. Not until the Dodgers' batter had finished trotting round the base-paths and was heading back to the dugout, did Steve Lyons rescue his partner by saying what we are all thinking: "We're not sure why Andre Ethier is even hitting right now."

This 'deer in headlights' incompetence was ironic, given another comment on Levine's blog: "This was so much easier last spring when the Dodgers played the National Team from Korea. No joke – every player on the Korean team was named "Lee". So you could have the wrong guy in the wrong position batting in the wrong spot and no one would ever know." Oh, hold my aching sides, I fear they may split. The reality is that 20 of the 28 names on the Korean roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic were not named Lee. But why let facts get in the way of blinkered xenophobia for weak comedic purposes?

The next inning, Levine promosed the Jr. Dodgers club, saying members could "call a game from the press-box - my job is in jeopardy." He's not kidding. Any one of the KidKasters who swing by the D0backs booth on Sunday afternoons would have been more interesting, and probably better-prepared.  They would - unlike Levine - likely have known Justin Upton's contract was not for $56 million. Looking over his resume, I couldn't find any evidence of anything in his background which might qualify him for the position. Major-league experience? None. Minor-league experience? None, Managerial experience? None. He did, however, write the film, Mannequin: On the Move.

"The leadoff walk always comes around to score. Except when it doesn't. I've never been proven wrong." There are two explanations for this comment. He was either serious, or he was joking. I'm not sure which is more inane. Either way, at this point I decided to amuse myself by seeing how far I could jab a pencil into my ears. Unfortunately, not far enough to stop me hearing this gem from Levine, following a single with men on first and second. "Big chopper over the mound, and through. Watson scores, right behind him and scoring as, excuse me, em, Watson scores into third... Goes Johnson."  What? How hard is it, to report whether a runner is crossing home-plate or not?

By now, the line-up changes were happening thick and fast, but it was too much to expect Levine to tell us about them - even though he knew, and had already mentioned, that the game was being broadcast nationwide. We got more information from snippets of the PA announcer at Camelback, heard over Levine's droning, than from the commentator. It led to this entry for the Broadcasting Hall of Shame. "And so, a leadoff double for an unidentified Diamondback." I'm not kidding. I wish I was. And the obscure, non-roster invitee who baffled Levine? Actually, it was Ryan Roberts,. Y'know, who only played 110 games for Arizona last season.

The final verbal disaster was in the ninth, when Arizona had a runner on third. A sharply-hit ball to the shortstop followed, with the runner going on contact, and here's Levine's call. "They go to the plate... [Ball rolls away from the catcher] And they get the out...  No, they don't." By this stage, I was firmly convinced Ray Charles could call a better game than Levine. After he was dead. Mercifully, that was it, and I fervently hope it's not something I repeat. While I accept that Daron Sutton and Mark Grace may not be to everyone's taste, after this experience, I can't wait to hear their dulcet tones once again.

[Postscript] To his credit, Levine acknowledged that he sucked:

On Wednesday I got to announce the Dodger game from their spring mecca, Camelback Ranch. It was seen on Prime Ticket in southern California and just my luck, nationwide on the MLB network. What a train wreck… and by that I mean mostly me. First off, I still have an inflamed cornea so I really just have one good eye. I was fine as long as no one hit a ball to left field. I was counting on watching the monitor but because of the glare of the sun I couldn’t see it. They’d be flashing starting line ups on the screen and I’d be merrily talking about something else. Eight years major league experience and viewers must’ve thought I was there because I’d won an auction... I may have called a Diamondback pinch runner Diablo Cody, I’m not sure.

On that basis, I've modified the subject line from "Worst Commentator Ever" to "Worst Commentating Job Ever", since I do appreciate circumstances conspired against Levine that afternoon. Publicly admitting you blew it is worth a good deal of credit in my book.