The Braves will juggle the lineup in their broadcast booths for next season.
The biggest change is that former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur will replace veteran broadcaster Joe Simpson as the lead analyst on the Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast telecasts of games.
Simpson, a member of the Braves Hall of Fame, will remain part of the broadcast team for a 28th season, shifting to radio for a large number of games and also working a limited number on TV.
Simpson said he was “surprised” by the extent of the change.
“I had proposed cutting back, but my proposal was a lot different than theirs,” Simpson said. “I was suggesting maybe cutting back to like 120 TV games, hoping to fill in the rest with some radio. But they’ve cut me back to 20 or 30 TV games with the rest being radio, so that came as a surprise.”
Fox Sports South/Southeast general manager Jeff Genthner and Braves CEO Derek Schiller described the change as a joint decision by the network and the team.
Genthner said Francoeur will work about 100 TV games, “plus or minus 10 games.” Former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine also will work an increased number of games as an analyst, Genthner said. Chip Caray will remain the TV play-by-play announcer.
On radio, the Braves plan a four-man rotation featuring voices familiar to the team’s fans: Jim Powell, Simpson, Don Sutton and Ben Ingram. The plan is to have two of them in the booth per game, Schiller said.
“The bulk of the radio workload will be spread across three of those guys (Powell, Simpson and Sutton), with Ben doing a fair number of games as well,” Schiller said. “… We’ll start the season with a preference of pairing Jim Powell with Joe Simpson and pairing Don Sutton with Ben Ingram, but there is going to be rotation.”
Powell “will do less games than he did this year but not by a whole lot,” Schiller said.
Genthner and Schiller said in separate interviews that the replacement of Simpson as lead TV analyst was not related to two controversial remarks he made on the air during the 2018 season – criticizing the Dodgers’ attire during batting practice at SunTrust Park and questioning the age of 19-year-old Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.
“Absolutely not,” Genthner said when asked if the controversies contributed to the change. “To emphasize that point, we didn’t reprimand Joe, didn’t do anything to admonish him in any way (for the comments). … He’s a professional broadcaster, and he voiced his personal opinion about something, but not to the extent in any way, shape or form that it impacted his career in our point of view.”
Said Schiller: ”I think that’s just coincidence. … If we had any concerns about what he said, we wouldn’t be as comfortable as we are putting him on radio. Remember, he still is going to be a broadcaster for the Braves. If we had any reservations, any hesitations, about what Joe Simpson says into the microphone, he wouldn’t be doing the job we’ve asked him to do.”
Asked if he felt the incidents affected the decision, Simpson said: “I would sincerely hope not. … If that was not part of their decision-making process, then I am glad about that.
“I have a very strong protective instinct on the game and its customs and history and traditions, so my comments were only intended as a defensive mechanism of the game,” Simpson said. “… One of the things that I love most about the Atlanta Braves is how professional the organization is and how they expect their players to be professional, look professional, and that is something that I appreciate so much about the Atlanta Braves and have since I arrived in Atlanta (in 1992).”
Genthner said the change in the TV lineup was driven by the talent Francoeur has shown as a broadcaster during occasional opportunities the past two seasons and by Simpson’s stated desire to scale back over the next couple of years.
“This probably ramped it down from TV a little quicker than Joe wanted to,” Genthner acknowledged, “but we had to look to the future and lock in someone really good (in Francoeur).”
“I anticipated scaling back to 120 or 130 (TV games), not to 20 or 30,” Simpson said.
Even so, Simpson said he appreciates the opportunity to call games on radio. Earlier in his career, he split time between the Braves’ TV and radio booths, but he has done exclusively TV since 2007. He said he expects to work around 100 games on radio next season.
“I loved doing radio play-by-play, and I’ll be able to get back to doing that,” Simpson said. “So if there’s a flip side that is good to this, it’s that the Braves gave me that opportunity to do a ton of radio. I’m very excited about that and grateful to them.
“I think this will in some ways extend my broadcasting life,” said Simpson, who will turn 67 next month, “because I’m going in with an increased excitement and anticipation of doing radio again. I’ll have a better assessment of that at the end of the 2019 season.”
The changes bring a big opportunity for Francoeur, who completed a 12-year major-league career in 2016 and then began breaking into broadcasting. He served as an analyst on nine Braves telecasts in 2017 and 25 in 2018.
“To be honest, this year it just became clear to me how much I enjoyed calling the games and talking baseball and being able to bring analysis to the fans at home,” said Francoeur, a Parkview High graduate. “… I would love for the next 15 or 20 years to be able to call Braves games and live at home and watch my kids grow up.”
Fox and Braves executives are big fans of Francoeur’s broadcasting potential.
“He’s really good, and if he we didn’t sign him he might not be available to us in two years,” Genthner said.
“All indicators are that he had an immediate and easy transition from the playing field to the broadcast booth,” Schiller said. “He’s a natural talent. We’re ready to begin the next phase of ushering in the next great broadcast talent, and he’s certainly ripe for that. It’s his time.”
Fox Sports South executive producer Randy Stephens said Francoeur “immediately demonstrated a willingness to do the work, do the research. It’s not as easy as just sit in the booth and trust your eyes.”
“Another thing I’m excited about is the opportunity to increase Tom Glavine’s presence,” Stephens said.
Francoeur said his only reservation about the new role was “the special place (Simpson) has always held in my heart, from age 8 growing up listening to him.”
“It wasn’t ever one of those things where I was trying to step on Joe’s toes or go behind Joe’s back, and he knows that,” Francoeur said. “He was the first one to call me, honestly, and tell me congratulations and how happy he and (his wife) Kathy were for me. Joe told me, ‘You’ve got to do this. You have an opportunity to do a lot of games on TV and get your career going.’
“It could have been a difficult situation, but I think it speaks to the way Joe is,” Francoeur said. “I remember seeing his name on the (caller ID) and thinking, ‘Oh God, how is this going to go?’ And, I tell you what, we talked for 45 minutes and it was awesome. It made me feel really good that he called and felt that way and supported me.”