For play-by-play announcers, statistics are easy.  They can fill a void, show that you’ve “done your homework” and generally spice-up a broadcast. 

Or do they?

Author Curt Smith has penned A Talk in the Park, anecdotes and stories from more than one hundred baseball announcers.  At one point in this USA Today review Smith abhors the use of statistics by announcers, saying that they should be telling stories instead.

While I’d agree good stories make compelling radio or television for any sport, there is room for good statistics.  That is, stats that are used with discretion and put into context.  For example, if a baseball announcer is going to tell me on July 4th a certain player has 30 doubles, I don’t know what that means.  But if he tells me the 30 doubles leads the major leagues or that it’s a club record for that point in the season, then I’m OK with it. 

Some stats are esoteric and need to be put into perspective.   A NBA announcer can claim a particular player is a 40-percent shooter from beyond the three-point arc.  But tell me 36-percent is average so I understand he’s somebody who the other team might need to guard a little more closely from that distance. 

One of my pet peeves is the use of decimal points when delivering statistics: “he’s averaging 11-point-3 points per game, shooting 46-point-7 percent from the field and 74-point-1 percent from the line.”  PLEASE.  Round off numbers if you have to go that route.  That said, none of these stats mean anything to me unless the guy hits for 25-points that night.  Then you can simply say, “he’s hit for more than twice his average” and leave it at that.

Stories?  Love ‘em.  They’re easier to get into baseball broadcasts than those of other sports, but there are ways of getting them in during football, basketball, even hockey.  Stories bring the viewer/listener closer to the players while giving what’s really just a game a more human touch.  But when a player accomplishes something significant, or his or her performance needs some perspective, statistics can tell a good story too.

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