The 2020 MLB season was played, watched, and broadcasted under strict guidelines. As the 2021 season rolls along, most of those guidelines have been lifted. However, one rule has gone unchanged much to the dismay of the Chicago White Sox broadcast team.
South Side play-by-play man Jason Benetti, color commentator Steve Stone, and the rest of the league’s broadcasters were calling games from remote locations in 2020 because of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 season has seen fans return to baseball stadiums all across the country at full capacity, but Benetti and Stone are still not traveling with the White Sox to broadcast road games.
Both broadcasters are members of the NBC Sports Chicago team and the travel restriction does not come at the hands of the White Sox, but NBC itself. This is notable because the team’s radio broadcasters, Len Kasper and Darrin Jackson, have been traveling with the team since May to provide coverage for ESPN 1000.
Benetti was named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year in 2020 not only because of his broadcasting ability, but because he and the rest of the people who are involved with White Sox broadcasts were able to adapt to the extreme changes that came along with playing through a pandemic. He explained in the above video that not only did the adaptation lead the rest of the league, but he had to fight to get his partner in the same place to broadcast with him. That place being NBC Tower in Chicago.
A stipulation of travel for the league was the 85% vaccination rule that MLB put in place. The club reached that mark in May, which explains Kasper and Jackson’s ability to hold a spot in the booth during road games. The passion and downright frustration that Benetti has regarding this situation not only shows his love for providing the best coverage possible for White Sox fans, but the lack of care that NBC is showing.
In the above clip, there is a bit about regional sports networks using finances as an excuse for broadcasters not being able to travel with teams. Sure, there was a definite adjustment made to advertising dollars during the pandemic, but that excuse has been expired for a while and networks made intelligent maneuvers to ensure that their margins suffered as little as possible.
This has nothing to do with Benetti and Stone being rewarded for their adjustment in stride last year. It has everything to do with NBC Sports Chicago being behind in the “things are opening up” department. Fans and journalists alike are calling for the broadcast team to be able to travel with the club again as the second half of the season begins and the playoffs await.