I checked in on Twitter at around 1:15 p.m. today after having been out of pocket for about 40-45 minutes, and, after scrolling down a line or two in TweetDeck, my blood ran cold as I began to read this afternoon's breaking word on Dave Barnett. Regardless of how you felt about Barnett's work in the television broadcast booth, I think just about everyone was rooting for an expeditious return for Barnett, and this is a very troubling, very impactful bit of news, because Barnett will reportedly be taking a leave of absence that is expected to span the rest of the 2012 season.
Via the Dallas Morning News, here is Barnett's statement released through the team:
I want to thank everyone for your kind sentiments and words of encouragement over the last couple of weeks. It has meant a lot to me during what has been a very difficult time. Effective immediately, for health reasons I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from my broadcasting duties that I expect to last for the remainder of the season.
I would ask that you please respect the privacy of me and my family during this time.
Thank you once again for your support.
On the evening of June 18th in San Diego, Barnett began rambling incoherently in the eighth inning before seemingly snapping back to reality, and, the following afternoon, it was announced by the team that he would miss the next two games as he underwent medical tests to determine the nature of his condition and what had gone so horribly wrong the previous night. That leave of absence was then stretched out to encompass a Friday-to-Sunday weekend series at home, and then the Rangers stopped giving biweekly updates and just said that Barnett would be out "indefinitely."
And, last Friday, it was announced that Corpus Christi Hooks play-by-play voice Matt Hicks -- whose name seems vaguely familiar; he may have been up for consideration for a role with the Rangers after one of Victor Rojas or Josh Lewin left town -- would be replacing Bryan Dolgin on the radio side for as long as Barnett's leave of absence lasts.
The addition of Hicks to the radio booth kind of had the feel of a long-term move from the outset; I'm not sure whose decision it was to end the Eric Nadel and Bryan Dolgin pairing, but I presume that the team received word of Barnett being out for a long time around the middle of last week, and decided that they needed a more permanent partner for Nadel. I'm not going to write in detail on this, although my early impressions of Hicks in the booth are positive, so there's that. There's also been a general public sentiment that the Steve Busby and Tom Grieve pairing has been an improvement on the television side, albeit for reasons that have more to do with Busby's knowledge base and the chemistry between Busby and Grieve than anything specifically having to do with Barnett.
And, of course, it's very difficult to work through the feeling that the Busby/Grieve pairing is better than the previous arrangement, because we all very much want Barnett to be able to make a full recovery and make it back to the broadcast booth and return to his livelihood.
According to Barry Horn's (pay-walled) article on Barnett from June 25th, the Rangers sent Barnett home to Denton after the incident, where no fewer than three different tests determined that he was suffering from a "complicated migraine" -- an ailment similar in nature to what afflicted KCBS reporter Serene Branson in February 2011 during her own on-air meltdown. In that case, however, Branson was medically cleared to return to work less than a week after the incident; Barnett's situation is apparently far more serious, and while I don't want to irresponsibly speculate, you can't help but wonder if his off-season fall/head injury is a contributing factor to what ails him right now.
In any event, I wish Barnett and his family all the best, and, hopefully, he can get past the medical problems and make a full, healthy return to broadcasting sometime next year.
Update: Here, as promised earlier in the comments, is the audio from Dave Barnett's appearance on the Hardline at 5:10 p.m. this afternoon:
Barnett notes that (a) his doctors aren't any closer to confirming the underlying cause of his incident than they were two weeks ago; (b) his doctors are conflicted on whether the incident was triggered by migraines, or something else entirely, as there are competing theories on what is going on depending on which of his doctors you speak to; and (c) neither Tom Grieve nor anyone else on the FOX Sports Southwest production team mentioned anything to Barnett on the same night of the incident about his on-air stumble, with Barnett confirming that he was completely unaware that he had said anything unusual or out of place until his wife called him up the following morning and told him that he was blowing up all over the national news.
I suppose that I'm still kind of baffled by the seeming reality that not a single person on the FSNSW crew, or even Barnett's booth partner, mentioned anything whatsoever to him about his 15 seconds of complete incoherence. And, assuming that Barnett's side of the story is the accurate one, and as I mentioned in the comments earlier, this may be an example of social media -- both Twitter and the blogosphere -- providing tangible value, because without that overwhelming viral response to the Barnett slip-up, this story doesn't go national, and it's possible that Barnett is delayed in receiving the medical attention that he very clearly required.