This post comes from Larry Granillo who is one of the greatest voices in the baseball blogosphere. To read more of his work, please check out Wezen Ball
The partnership that launched a thousand angry screeds from some of the most talented and funniest writers in the blogging game – and then launched tens-of-thousands of wannabe-screeds from less-talented and *ahem* less-funny copycats - was formally ended tonight.
The New York Times’ Bats Blog reported this evening that ESPN has “declined to renew [Joe] Morgan’s contract and have asked [Jon] Miller if he wants to stay on as the radio voice of the Sunday night games.”
And there was much rejoicing.
Seriously. Just do a Twitter search for Joe Morgan or check out the Deadspin post. There’s enough schaudenfreude in there to last a thousand cynics’ lifetimes. And I can’t say I blame them. Having to listen to Joe Morgan rail against the modern game, give nonsensical analogies, worship at the altar of Willie Mays, and, above all, show his disdain for anyone who dared to take an intellectual approach to the sport on a weekly basis was painful. There were more than a few times that I chose not to watch a Sunday Night Baseball game because I didn’t want to put up with Morgan’s active ignorance.
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But Morgan wasn’t the only problem with ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. I don’t even think he was the main problem with Sunday Night Baseball. What made Sunday Night Baseball unwatchable for me on a regular basis was the production’s insistence on determining a storyline for the game before it was played and sticking to that no matter what was happening on the field.
There are advantages to this way of doing things, of course. If the game is a clunker, for example, the announcers aren’t left with nothing to talk about. And there’s no doubt that this doesn’t happen on regular, daily broadcasts. If you listen to any game on the radio or on a regional channel like Fox Sports Midwest, it’s usually pretty easy to tell when a certain topic was saved until, say, the sixth inning. It’s just a practical way to do things.
ESPN takes it to extremes, though. Anyone who has watched one of their ten annual Red Sox-Yankees games could vouch for that. Maybe they devote a ten-minute segment on the six o’clock Sportscenter to a story on David Ortiz’s declining production, with a scheduled interview with Terry Francona set to run in the fourth inning. That Ortiz conversation is going to take place all night, no matter what happens. Lester throwing a no-hitter? Bill Hall on pace for four home runs? Sorry, we have David Ortiz’s declining production to talk about.
It’s not just Boston-New York games, either. Watch a Cardinals-Brewers game and chances are you’re going to hear non-stop banter about Albert Pujols or Tony La Russa or even Prince Fielder – whatever they decided was the topic for the night.
It’s this failure to focus on the actual game in front of them in favor of the pre-defined talking points that makes ESPN Sunday Night Baseball so hard to watch. Joe Morgan certainly didn’t help, of course. Morgan would be bearable, though, if ESPN just let he and Miller focus on the play on the field. His ignorant act would be annoying still, but it wouldn’t be much different – if at all – from a dozen other local broadcast teams.
So enjoy the schaudenfreude while you can. It’s been a long time coming. But when the Yankees host the Tigers on that first Sunday night in April and Orel Hershiser can’t shut up about how Johnny Damon shuttled from the Yankees to the Tigers and back to the Yankees in only two years, don’t say you weren’t warned. That’s a culture that just isn’t going to change over at ESPN in the near future.