Four years of an Alex Rodriguez-dominated booth on ESPN‘s Sunday Night Baseball was enough for everyone involved.
Matt Vasgersian is an excellent play-by-play broadcaster, but he didn’t do a great job of controlling the SNB booth over the last four years; the first two of which also included Jessica Mendonza in a three-person booth.
Most of that was because ESPN turned SNB into “The A-Rod Show featuring a baseball game,” and Vasgersian continuing to get a chance to call the top game every week probably depended on continuing to give the three-time American League MVP space to be the star of the show.
Vasgersian elected not to return for a fifth season, as he focuses on being the television voice of the Los Angeles Angels and his continued work on MLB Network.
ESPN has leaned all the way into building a product that focuses on Rodriguez, building a “Manningcast” inspired program called the “KayRod” broadcast, which serves as an alternate telecast on ESPN 2 and also features Michael Kay.
For the traditional broadcast on ESPN, Karl Ravech has taken over play-by-play duties, with Eduardo Pérez and David Cone serving as game analysts. The only holdover is that Buster Olney — one of the longest-tenured employees at the four-letter network — serving as the sideline reporter.
After back-to-back appearances by the Philadelphia Phillies on SNB, here are some notes on the new prime-time booth at ESPN:
In-Game Player Interviews Remain Polarizing
There’s a few things to say as far as in-game interviews, which SNB has done with Bryce Harper and Francisco Lindor in the past two weeks.
My first instinct is to say that while it would be an interesting feature on an alternate broadcast, on the main broadcast, I don’t want a ton of alternate features. Just have the full screen focused on the game, with the announcers doing play-by-play.
Is it cool to see Francisco Lindor’s live reaction as he turns a double play? Sure, but you don’t need to be interviewing him during the game to do that. Mic him up, and then when something cool happens, play it the next half inning. You don’t need him to be speaking live to capture that moment.
There are those who believe that in-game interviews will help to bring in a younger audience. Making the actual game feel like an afterthought doesn’t seem to be a recipe for drawing more viewers to the sport consistently, though.
What About In-Game Manager Interviews?
Max Scherzer was facing Harper to lead off the top of the fourth inning. It was a matchup between two former teammates, and probably two future Hall of Famers.
And it was overshadowed by Olney interviewing Buck Showalter. A half inning later, Olney spoke to Joe Girardi.
If you’re asking Showalter a question about how he’s getting settled into managing in Queens and what it’s been like to work with Scherzer and Lindor, you could ask him that before the game.
And as we’ve learned with in-game interviews in the NBA and college football, managers aren’t going to give you much of anything strategic in the middle of the game. They’ll tell you the obvious “the pitcher looks great, we need to clean things up in the field, etc.” but that doesn’t offer anything to the broadcast.
There’s just not much of a purpose to in-game manager interviews.
The Booth Itself
While there are legitimate critiques to make of the production of the broadcast, the actual booth itself is very good.
Karl Ravech has control of the booth, and both Eduardo Pérez and David Cone add valuable insight. Cone’s discussion on the differences in the baseball over the past few seasons and a potential universal grip substance was one of the best moments of Sunday’s telecast. The lack of one personality that has to be larger than the rest in the booth creates good chemistry.
From here, three-man broadcast booths are too crowded — especially when there’s a sideline reporter — and you can make a case that ESPN should have picked either Pérez or Cone to work with Ravech. However, that’s a problem across the sports world — Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson is one of the only three-man booths where it feels like all three need to be on the broadcast.
It will be interesting to see if Joe Buck is ever asked to call any MLB games now that he’s at ESPN. After departing FOX, Buck suggested that one way or another, his days as the top voice of the sport were coming to a close. But Buck is making $15 million a year, so if he’s asked to do something by ESPN, he’s probably going to do it.
The reality is that SNB may never have the big-game feel it had each and every week when Jon Miller and Joe Morgan were calling it. First of all, there’s no replacing Miller, who is perhaps one of the five greatest baseball announcers ever. Secondly, baseball — like many things — has become more niche over the last 20 years, as Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu and other streaming services have given viewers thousands of choices of what to watch every time they turn on the TV.
But as ESPN looks to move past the A-Rod Era, they have a booth with quite a bit of potential in Ravech, Pérez and Cone.
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