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Yankees broadcasters aren’t limited by ownership influence

In the wake of Kevin Brown’s suspension, a look at how management influences Yankees broadcasts.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

People rarely agree on topics these days, but in rare instances, a group moves in unison. That’s exactly what happened in the baseball world when news broke of the suspension involving Baltimore Orioles announcer Kevin Brown. Orioles’ ownership, led by John Angelos, suspended Brown for comments made during a July 23rd broadcast against the Tampa Bay Rays. Brown seemingly reiterated a statistic regarding the Oriole’s subpar record against the Rays in prior seasons. This stat was also present in the July 23rd game notes, which are put together by the Orioles’ public relations department.

The harmless comments were made on the team-owned network MASN, which reiterates the tightrope that many broadcasters face when talking about their ballclubs on networks owned by those same teams. The story galvanized the baseball-broadcasting world, as many high-profile announcers came to the defense of their fellow broadcaster. Michael Kay was as outspoken as anyone about the situation on his ESPN radio show, calling Angelos “thin-skinned and unreasonable” and stating that Brown “didn’t do anything wrong.” Brown is set to return to the broadcast booth today when the Orioles take on the Mariners.

This situation got me wondering about the Yankees, particularly Kay, and the power that ownership can exude over their broadcast team and their network. Kay’s previously mentioned radio show is simulcast on the YES network, which is majority owned by Yankee Global Enterprises (controlled by the Steinbrenner family). For a buttoned-up organization like the Yankees, being able to control the public relations narrative is at the heart of what they do. Their brand goes beyond just the baseball field and protecting that asset feels like their main priority. It seems like Kay would be a prime target for that type of restrictive treatment.

Luckily for Yankees fans, I’ve never felt that higher management was neutering the Yankees booth. Being objective during the analysis of a game comes off as authentic during broadcasts, and it would be insulting to fans to not be critical of a team or player when warranted. I’m sure the Yankees brass doesn’t love when broadcasters are overly harsh, but the mere thought of Michael Kay or David Cone being suspended for simply stating a fact is ridiculous. This is even more prevalent on Kay’s radio show, where his opinion is more common than during his play-by-play duties during Yankees games. Particularly this season, I’ve found that Kay has been critical of this Yankees team and the front office without fear of repercussion. And that’s exactly how it should be. Kay’s defense of Brown highlights the fact that he knows he can say what he wants about the Yankees, good or bad.

The days of George Steinbrenner having disdain towards outspoken announcers Jim Kaat and Tony Kubek for being too critical of the Yankees, at least in the Yankees broadcast universe, are over. I’m not sure if it’s simply Hal Steinbrenner’s indifference to the situation, seeing it as a trivial part of a greater operation. Potentially it is a trust that Kay has built within the Yankees organization, but whether intentional or not it creates a better viewing experience for the fans on YES.

Whether you like the Yankees booth or not, at least they can speak their opinions. The same cannot be said for the Orioles broadcast. Walking on eggshells once you reach the pinnacle of your career, your dream job, must be a tough pill to swallow. Brown will return with grace, potentially ignoring the elephant in the room because he has no choice. It is a broadcaster’s job to tell the whole story, whatever that story may be. The fans and the broadcasting community have Brown’s back, but unfortunately, the organization he works for doesn’t.