There was something to be said about the overall consistency of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. From the launch of the weekly game in 1990 until the end of the 2008 season, Sunday Night Baseball was known for two men: Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Sure, they were joined by a revolving door of reporters on the field, but Miller and Morgan were the only ones in the booth for years. But beginning in the 2009 season, ESPN interjected a third commentator in their booth, and things went from consistent to absolutely chaotic.
For the 2009 season, Miller and Morgan were joined in the broadcast booth by ESPN analyst and former New York Mets GM Steve Phillips. Phillips' inclusion in the booth lasted for just one season, as he was fired in October of 2009 after the embarrassing Brooke Hundley situation came to light.
After Phillips' firing, ESPN moved right along with the third man in the booth, adding former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershisher to the duo of Miller and Morgan. That's actually worked out relatively well, as Hershiser is still in the booth, and is actually the longest tenured commentator on Sunday Night Baseball after Miller and Morgan didn't have their contracts renewed following the 2010 season, much to the joy of fans who were thoroughly sick of Morgan's inane commentary.
Regardless of how fans felt about the commentary of either Miller or Morgan, no one can deny they were the voices of the program for 20 years, and were synonymous with Sunday Night Baseball. ESPN moved in a new direction and gave the play by play position to Dan Shulman for the 2011 season, an inspired choice who had experience calling games with Hershiser during the week for ESPN. But once again, ESPN had to toy around with the idea of a third man in the booth and chose Bobby Valentine to team with Shulman and Hershiser. Valentine's presence in the booth was more than an adequate substitute for Morgan in terms of fan rage, and his tenure lasted just one painful season before he accepted the Red Sox managerial job.
With Valentine gone, would ESPN learn their lesson for 2012? Of course not! Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, fresh off of an excellent ALCS broadcasting debut with Fox, signed with ESPN for the 2012 season and slid into the Sunday Night Baseball team with Shulman and Hershiser. Francona did well, and was officially hired as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on Monday, creating yet another hole in ESPN's flagship baseball telecast.
So what's next for Sunday Night Baseball in 2013? After changing the announce team for four straight seasons, will ESPN make it a perfect five for five? Probably. Valentine was linked heavily to returning to television after getting fired last week, but ESPN reportedly hasn't discussed bringing him back yet. If the network is looking to bring in another recently fired managerial type, the only other fired managers so far this offseason are Manny Acta and Jim Tracy, neither of whom would probably be a guy that resonates with fans. When it comes to promotion from within, there are a few interesting names on Baseball Toight that could make the jump, including Nomar Garciaparra, Doug Glanville, Aaron Boone, Curt Schilling, and Chris Singleton.
I actually think Glanville would be a good choice if ESPN wants to add a new voice to their broadcasts and continue with a three man team. While not a superstar player or big name personality, Glanville is extremely knowledgeable and well-spoken, and could give Sunday Night Baseball a pretty solid, non-polarizing announce team if he would join Shulman and Hershiser in the booth. Schilling would be an absolutely disastrous choice (if he is still even with ESPN nex season), and Rick Sutcliffe would also be a backwards step.
Fans need to be able to have a connection to broadcasters for a weekly telecast such as Sunday Night Baseball, and ESPN's revolving door over the last four years has kept that from happening. Pick a team, and stick with them. Whether it's going with just Shulman or Hershiser, or finding a new voice that can develop a rapport with viewers over time. Shulman and Hershiser are likely in for the long haul with the network, and adding another younger voice who will stick around for the foreseeable future would be a great thing for ESPN and the broadcast.