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Media column: More details on Marlins' mind-boggling decision to part ways with Tommy Hutton; Another local sports-talk radio change

MEDIA COLUMN

The Marlins’ dismissal of Tommy Hutton after 19 years as their TV analyst not only stands as the worst broadcasting personnel decision ever made by a South Florida team, but the reason being whispered privately seems particularly unjustified.

According to a source in close contact with the Marlins, the team believed Hutton was too negative – a criticism that isn’t valid if examining his full body of work.

Hutton was critical when necessary and had a penchant for unleashing the occasional playful rant, but there’s a distinction between critical and excessively negative.

When there was something positive to say, Hutton said it. He never blasted Marlins management. But he rarely sugarcoated poor play.

“I know there were times I was negative, but I thought those times were called for,” he said. “Ninety percent of what I said was positive. I tried not to be a homer, but you could tell I wanted the Marlins to do well.”

After being told that his salary wasn’t a factor in the decision, Hutton suspected that his candid, blunt analysis might be the impetus for his ouster.

So after learning his fate on Monday, he asked that question – whether they thought he was too negative -- to both a Fox producer (at a meeting at Starbucks) and the Marlins’ vice president/communications (by phone).

He said the question was met with silence by both executives.

“I couldn’t get a yes or a no,” he said.

Hutton said there have been only three incidents in recent years in which a Marlins employee expressed discomfort with something he said. Hutton relayed all three --- and nothing he said seemed out of line or inappropriate --- but he was willing to discuss only one of the three on the record.

That one involved former Marlins catcher John Buck. When Buck flied out to the deepest part of Marlins Park to end a game, Hutton shouted “in any other park!” --- meaning the ball would have been a home run in a stadium with more hitter-friendly dimensions.

He said a Marlins vice president called him after the game and said that owner Jeffrey Loria prefer he not mention the ballpark’s dimensions.

“Did I complain about the park being too big? Yeah,” Hutton said, noting the dimensions are being changed this off-season. “But if that was the reason, they knew that the day after the season. I didn’t say anything negative the last six weeks.”

Hutton said no player ever complained to him, but if anyone had a complaint, he made himself visible. “I was always in the clubhouse and on the field,” he said. “I know a lot of announcers who just go to the booth.”   

Meanwhile, WINZ’s Andy Slater reported that on numerous occasions after games, players complained to the public relations staff or Loria about comments Hutton made on the broadcast. Slater said Loria didn't like it when Hutton “would talk too much” about another team's player --- something I’ve also heard.

Hutton still doesn’t know whether it was the Marlins or Fox that wanted him gone --- they said it was mutual decision – but the source close to the Marlins indicated the negativity complaint was voiced by the team.

Hutton’s dismissal serves as a disconcerting reminder that many teams prefer cheerleaders in the booth, announcers who won’t rock the boat and certainly won’t openly question coaching or personnel decisions. It’s a slippery slope to navigate.

“It would cross my mind sometimes, before I said something, that [Marlins officials] might not like this,” Hutton said. “It’s probably hard to stay true [to yourself]” completely when a team has major say in your employment.

Hutton, who described his initial emotions as “shocked, disappointed and upset,” said the Marlins will be miscalculating their audience if they hire a “homer” to replace him.

“There are so many people here from other areas, they just want to hear baseball,” he said. “South Florida is a different market than other areas. You get someone who’s a rah-rah homer, I don’t think this fan base would go for that.”

Hutton has been heartened by the reaction to his departure. Many fans have blasted the Marlins’ decision on social media, and star pitcher Jose Fernandez, former Marlins star Mike Lowell, Marlins infield coach Perry Hill and former Marlins announcers Len Kasper and Jon Sciambi were among those who reached out to him.

ESPN’s Sciambi ripped the Marlins on Twitter: “Classic Marlins letting [Hutton] go… He was passionate, prepared and had credibility, something that organization had very little of.”

Rich Waltz, who will be retained as the team’s TV play-by-play announcer, said by phone that he was “saddened” by the news.

“When he told me, the feeling was hurt for him as a friend,” Waltz said. “I’ve never looked at myself as an individual in 11 years in this job. When he told me, it was almost like we both were let go. I don’t know the reasons. From Day 1, it felt like a great partnership.”

RADIO NEWS

More than two months into their audition, The Herald's Ethan Skolnick and ESPN's Israel Gutierrez have been offered the permanent afternoon drive slot on 790 The Ticket. But Gutierrez could not agree on financial terms with the Ticket and tells us that he has left the show, although he hasn’t completely ruled out a return if the station raises its offer.

Skolnick, who remains in negotiations with The Ticket, might be paired with Chris Wittyngham or someone else from 4 to 7 p.m.

The ratings for Skolnick/Gutierrez jumped from a 1.3 share in September to a 3.0 in November in the key male 25 to 54 demographic group.

### NBC 6 news/sports anchor Adam Kuperstein has joined The Ticket as a part-time host, beginning 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, when he works alongside Josh Friedman.

Kuperstein did good work as a WQAM host before the station eliminated his show in July when it decided to go to four four-hour programs.

### CBS is sending Sunday's 1 p.m. Dolphins-Jets game to 54 percent of the country, with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the call. See 506sports.com for a map.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

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