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Bob Costas, baseball, and knowing when to walk away

Losing your fastball, and what to do when it happens

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Zack Greinke is one of the best pitchers of this generation. Two weeks ago, he may have finished his distinguished, Hall of Fame-caliber career with a terrific outing against the Yankees, a capstone in a season that went pretty poorly. Returning to his beloved Kansas City Royals at the start of the 2022 season, Greinke was a solid chucker on a bad team, worth two wins and posting a 3.68 ERA, damn fine numbers for a 38-year-old.

This season, I think it became clear the game had passed Greinke by. It happens to all of us — paraphrasing Moneyball, it may happen at 14 or 40, but we’re all told we can no longer play the children’s game. Greinke just wasn’t himself, with an ERA over five and visibly weaker stuff. His contract with the Royals has lapsed, and I think it’s at least likely he retires and takes some position with the org’s front office.

Buck Showalter will probably go to the Hall of Fame one day for his managerial accomplishments. When he was hired by the Mets, there were a number of people on this site and elsewhere who wanted him to take over for Aaron Boone. He won the NL Manager of the Year award last year, his fourth such time taking home hardware. This year, he seemed lost.

Showalter wasn’t the only problem with the Mets this year, but like Greinke, it seems the game has passed him by. He was given the ol’ quit-or-get-fired choice by New York, and while I may have taken the latter, Buck announced he would step down as the club’s manager. It remains to be seen whether he will come back to serve in a dugout (though there have already been ties connecting him to the Angels), but for now it seems he just doesn’t have the touch for the game anymore.

Bob Costas has forgotten more about sports and the broadcasting of such than I’ll ever know. He is an institution, a pillar in the way we consume sports on this continent. Last year, he worked a full MLB postseason series for the first time since 2000, and it was quite plainly a disaster. In the ALDS between the Yankees and Guardians, he simply would not stop talking. I’m being generous when I say I’m sure Costas was overly excited to return to the regular playoff booth. He’s a New York kid and a devoted student to the history of the game.

And he was so excited by everything going on, and perhaps so overprepared, that despite how thrilling that five-game set was with Cleveland, I remember very little of that series outside of grinding my teeth down an eighth of an inch putting up with Costas’ commentary. The legendary broadcaster himself even admitted in March that he had lost a couple miles per hour on his fastball.

And then came Diamondbacks-Dodgers this year.

Look, this isn’t about a couple of people on Twitter. It isn’t even about the factual errors Costas has started making in his own broadcasts. It’s about him just not having it anymore. He either talks too much, has no wind in his sails, or can’t get the facts right. You’re allowed one of those things, you can sometimes have two, but you cannot have all three.

The gold standard of broadcasting is Vin Scully, of course. If Scully had a flaw, which I’m inclined to believe he didn’t, it was that the weight of 50 years of baseball history tempered his expectation for any given play. But that was OK, because he understood how to let the game breathe, and how to introduce silly, near-non-sequitur stories to deflate the idea that baseball is just so damn important.

Michael Kay, sometimes maligned on the internet but in my book the perfect median of a baseball broadcaster, can sometimes talk too much. I wrote just last year about my fears of Kay’s over-exuberance tainting a historic call, and it remains my biggest critique of Kay. That’s one of those three sins, but nobody could ever accuse Kay of not being enthusiastic about the game, or accuse him of not getting his facts right. (He even sometimes steps out of Yankees coverage to do playoff games, like the Arizona/Milwaukee Wild Card Series this year and Philadelphia/St. Louis in 2022.)

Costas, like Greinke and Showalter, has just lost a step, to the point that it’s threatening his legacy. Diamondbacks-Dodgers should be the last time he calls baseball on the national level. The game has just passed him by, as it does all of us, as it did when I was 15 and finally accepted that curveballs were just too damn hard to hit.

One of the most incredible things in sports is knowing when to walk away. Mariano Rivera knew, leaving the sport at a time when he probably could have re-signed for a year, banked another 30 saves and another $14 million, but not taking the risk that he would completely flatline. Usain Bolt was challenged exactly one time in the 200m dash, and when it happened, knew it was time to hang up the spikes.

Bob, it’s time. Every person who steps in a baseball booth will likely take something from your performance, some piece to mold or borrow or turn on its head. That’s your legacy, the foundation that you’ve built for other broadcasters. The game has a current stronger than the mighty Mississippi. Thank you for everything you’ve done for it, but it’s time to step back.