I can tell you right now one thing that ESPN absolutely got right in its reshuffling this past week of its “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast:
Hiring David Cone from the YES Network and teaming him with play-by-play voice Karl Ravech and analyst Eduardo Perez in its conventional booth.
Cone, who will continue to call some Yankees games, is a superb analyst — humorous, anecdotal, and astute, while also possessing the inquisitiveness to have developed a solid grasp of analytics.
Perez is another affable ex-player with the ability to talk analytics in layman’s terms — he has been part of ESPN’s alternative “Statcast” broadcasts.
I’ve missed the gravitas of Dan Shulman in the “Sunday Night” booth since he gave up the play-by-play role after the 2017 season, but Ravech, a Needham native who has been prominent on ESPN’s baseball coverage for nearly 30 years, is a more than suitable option.
ESPN is beginning a long-term broadcast rights extension in the 2022 season. With Ravech, Cone, and Perez in the booth on Sunday nights, it finally has an appealing broadcast team worthy of what has become the premier MLB broadcast package.
As for what probably won’t work, well, let’s put it this way: ESPN’s has not given up on trying to make A-Rod happen.
When the “ManningCast” became a phenomenon this season as the alternative to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast, it was but a matter of time before imitators began sprouting up across other sports.
And so here comes the first, and just what no one outside of Bristol, Conn., asked for: “Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod.”
The broadcast, featuring Alex Rodriguez and YES Network play-by-play voice Michael Kay (sure are a lot of Yankees ties in this new arrangement), will air eight times during the season on ESPN2 as an alternative to the traditional broadcast during the highest-profile rivalry games.
Rodriguez and Kay will be on site for some games, and live from their home studios — like the setup for Peyton and Eli Manning — on others. Per ESPN, the broadcasts will “integrate fantasy baseball, predictive analytics, and special guests tied to the game.”
The “Kay-Rod” broadcast serves one worthwhile purpose: It gets Rodriguez out of the conventional “Sunday Night” booth after four awkward seasons.
Despite a long list of transgressions, Rodriguez is one of baseball’s most accomplished players. He’s also a true fan of the game. But he struggled to come across as authentic during his time in the main booth — he sometimes seems like an alien perplexed by these ridiculous humans — and it’s tough to fathom how that will change in the new format, especially since the format is much more suited for the pace of an NFL game than a 4-hour-45-minute Red Sox-Yankees slog.
If anything, his awkwardness may be amplified, and not in an appealing way like it is with the Mannings.
The “ManningCast” works for a lot of reasons unique to them. Peyton is almost as natural as a host as he was playing quarterback. Eli comes across as the goofball kid sibling who likes nothing more than to push his more structured older brother’s buttons. They needle each other. They’re self-deprecating. They act like brothers do. And they also happen to be football savants who, amusingly, can’t hide their disgust for incompetent quarterback play.
And the Mannings, popular among their peers, have an A-List guest list. Who will A-Rod have on, that mean bald guy Kevin from “Shark Tank”?
The “Kay-Rod” broadcast cannot match that dynamic. It has no chance of coming close. It’s not even really A-Rod or Kay’s fault.
It’s common sense the only baseball combination that would work on a “ManningCast” level is Dennis Eckersley and Pedro Martinez, right?
It would be understandable if the sports-reading public assumed that newspaper reporters were rooting for The Athletic to fail. After all, one of its tech-bro founders, Alex Mather, smugly told the New York Times in 2017 that the site’s goal was essentially to shiv every newspaper sports section around the country.
“We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” he said.
Admittedly, there was some delicious irony in Thursday’s news that The Athletic is being sold to the New York Times — a newspaper! — for $550 million. The Athletic was — is — a quality product with an engaging approach to sports coverage, and Mather and co-founder Adam Hansmann surely hit the jackpot in the sale of their creation. But they can take a seat now. There are plenty of others still standing.
It should be noted, too, that every writer in the industry should have been rooting for The Athletic. As a standalone site, it offered well-paying, appealing jobs. It also gave newspaper writers something they rarely have had over the last couple of decades: leverage. If The Athletic pursued you, suddenly it might not have been embarrassing to ask for a raise.
Here’s hoping the Times, its new newspaper overlords, believes it worthwhile to keep The Athletic in its current format and structure. It’s a great product. You know, much like the newspaper sports section.