One of the surprising aspects of ESPN’s mass layoffs on Wednesday was how hard the network’s baseball coverage was hit. Longtime MLB writer and analyst Jayson Stark was among the most prominent names let go, ending a 17-year relationship.

As was the case with virtually every sport and department, writers and reporters whose work was largely seen online were deemed the most expendable in these latest layoffs. But the on-air talent that was let go on the MLB side indicated what Awful Announcing had heard for a few weeks now. Baseball Tonight, once a daily standard on ESPN (sometimes running two to three times per day), is being relegated to a weekly program airing before Sunday Night Baseball.

What we learned from sources was confirmed by Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch and eventually ESPN itself.

Deitsch mentioned in one of his tweets as the layoffs were taking place that there was a strong possibility ESPN would use some MLB Network programming in light of the Baseball Tonight cuts. That immediately raised eyebrows among fans and media observers. How exactly would that work? Would ESPN run a highlights show like Quick Pitch late at night that doesn’t need to be live?

ESPN quickly answered that question Thursday morning, announcing that MLB Network’s Intentional Talk would be joining the channel’s daily schedule beginning May 1. Intentional Talk will air from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET on ESPN 2 — and that’s one hour before the show then airs on MLB Network, so it won’t be a rerun. (The show will run 30 minutes during baseball’s offseason.) Hosted by Chris Rose and Kevin Millar, the one difference the show might see in this new partnership is ESPN reporters and personalities making occasional appearances.

With Intentional Talk taking that 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET time slot, how will that affect the ESPN 2 late-afternoon schedule? Will NFL Live run for a half-hour from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.? Could Jalen & Jacoby take up the full 3 o’clock hour? Would a rerun of NBA: The Jump still play in the afternoon?

How about this for an idea? Will a partnership between ESPN and MLB Network simply be restricted to Intentional Talk? Or is this a trial balloon that could open up other possibilities? Could some MLB Network talent eventually appear on ESPN? And what if that involved the announcing teams for MLB game broadcasts? That is total speculation, but with ESPN paring down its MLB talent, could it not be an option?

The bigger story is the fate of Baseball Tonight with Stark, Doug Glanville, Dallas Braden, Jim Bowden and Raul Ibanez laid off. The show was something of a standard on ESPN’s daily schedule when the network acquired the rights to televise Major League Baseball games in 1990. It almost felt like a celebration of baseball, the only show devoted solely to baseball, offering more commentary and analysis that could be fit into SportsCenter. And over the years, quite a bit of chemistry developed among the studio crew, despite various player and manager analysts rotating through while either between jobs or once careers ended.

But as ESPN acquired live rights to more sports — notably the NFL, NBA, and college football and basketball — baseball was increasingly de-emphasized on the schedule. Sometimes Baseball Tonight would air at 10 p.m. and midnight, but other nights, it wouldn’t be seen at all. Also having an obvious effect was MLB Network’s nightly MLB Tonight studio show, which looked in on every game being played and offered instant commentary and analysis. Baseball Tonight was no longer a novelty, and seemed less substantial in comparison to the multiple hours MLB Tonight could devote to baseball coverage.

Now, Baseball Tonight will only be seen once a week on ESPN, essentially a pregame show for Sunday Night Baseball that may feature highlights from action earlier in the day, but will likely be more devoted to Sunday’s game and perhaps take a wider picture view of the sport. With ESPN still featuring Wednesday Night Baseball, perhaps a Baseball Tonight-like highlights segment with a separate crew could be included on SportsCenter, like The Blitz on Sunday nights during the NFL season.

However, if you want a late-night baseball highlights fix, MLB Network is now essentially your only stop (in addition to FS1’s MLB Whiparound). As ESPN layoffs painfully demonstrated, most baseball fans were already making that their preference.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.

  • newdog301

    While there’s obviously a tie-in to the cuts, I think this is something ESPN had been considering for a long time.

    Baseball is not a national sport. It’s a regional sport. People follow their team, and occasionally keep an eye on the rest of the league. It’s the only sport like that. How many people can name 3 players for the San Diego Padres? Conversely, every sports fan knows the starting quarterback for every NFL team.

    That’s one issue. Another is that the games simply don’t mean as much, both literally because they play 162, and just in rivalry wise because if you miss one Yankees-Red Sox game you’ve got another the next day, and another series in a few weeks.

    MLB Network is also a factor. They’re the gold standard and MLB Tonight handles whatever the needs of a fan who isn’t watching their local team in action are. No need for a competing show, although FS1 continues to try with MLB Whiparound.

    • Ace McCloud®

      Padres are a team of legitimately no names aside from two guys so bad example. Plenty of sports fans wouldn’t be able to name a majority of NFL starting QBs. World Series numbers indicate baseball is a ‘national sport’ but it does rely greatly on local support. They wouldn’t play 162 is they didn’t mean “as much” you hardcore American Football fans are a special breed at times I tell ya.

    • Bret Helms

      When did baseball become college football? Idiot.

      • newdog301

        College football is kind of in the same boat, depending on the age group. I would say that you are right if you’re talking about people 40+ who just follow their alma mater on the weekends, throwing on the sweatshirt and everything, and don’t care about much else.

        But I think it’s more about the core SEC teams, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas and the Oklahomas that people care about. Even when a Louisville or a school like that wins double digit games, the casual fans don’t really care that much.

  • sportsfan365

    ESPN cast their lot with the sport of morons – basketball.

  • Ace McCloud®

    This is pretty stupid, the beautiful thing about MLB Network is the lack of ESPN influence. Really wish MLBN would have told ESPN they could air IT *after* it airs live on MLB Network. Hopefully they don’t touch any other show, I wouldn’t want them to ruin Quick Pitch by getting rid or reducing Heidi Watney or Sam Ryan’s influence on the show.

    • Matt Galvin

      Brian Kenny,Harold Reynolds,Peter

      • Ace McCloud®

        What?

      • Ace McCloud®

        There’s a difference between hiring people that WORKED for ESPN vs letting ESPN come in with their current employees. You get what I’m saying ?

    • B52

      Reynold’s is great on mlb..adept on every aspect of the game.

      • Ace McCloud®

        He has his moments haha

    • Fuzzy Dunlop

      Hate to tell you but they blew Sam Ryan out the door last year.

      • Ace McCloud®

        I know she does radio but isn’t she still doing Quick Pitch some weekend nights ?

  • Al Wasser

    As a baseball fan, Baseball Tonight was once a “must-see” for me. But the past few years, especially since I now receive MLB Network, it’s become irrelevant. Interesting that ESPN would pick up Intentional Talk, one MLB Network show that I take pains to avoid. As far as ESPN’s baseball personnel layoffs, only Stark and Glanville (who seemed terribly under-utilized) will be missed. Bowden seemed to only pass along some of the most ridiculous rumors and trade possibilities and Braden was nearly as obnoxious as Kruk.

  • Adam Thompson

    so In Australia this is the only choice we have for highlights program MLB network not available, the sunday program is the worst too 80% of it is all about the preview for the up and coming game rather then the highlights goodbye ESPN/

  • GameFederer

    Baseball Tonight used to be a nightly ritual. I’d watch 10:00 then midnight edition. The late 90’s and early 2000’s it was arguably the best sports highlights show on TV easily. I stopped watching for years and stumbled upon their Nerd Edition on Thursdays last year and quite enjoyed it. B

    • B52

      +1000 on Gammons-show was great.

  • MrBull

    It would appear that not only is ESPN self imploding but getting very, very cheap by bringing another networks show….
    The writing is on the wall – soon baseball will not be on ESPN….look for Fox to add to FS1/2 and MLB Network to cover more games along with a streaming deal with perhaps Amazon…

  • B52

    Based on espn’s safe spaces belief, baseball tonight will move to espn desportes in 2018….NHL will never be mentioned….espn is changing its name to “nba/nfl black power network,or “NNBPN” in 2019″
    If the ratings then go down it is not the networks fault,but evil racist america’s…

    • Bret Helms

      Fuck off scum.

  • Rob Witham

    So, essentially, Baseball Tonight returns to its original form, circa 1990 with Dave Marash as the first host.

  • Jim

    We hjave come full circle..This Week in Baseball is back in business..TWIB Notes lives on

  • skirkpat12

    ESPN should have never got away from what made them so great. Baseball Tonight used to the must see for baseball highlights. Now it’s like the rest of the sinking ship network.

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  • junkyfour

    Here’s hoping they abandon MLB coverage entirely and take that awful “live k-zone” graphic with them. Can’t watch the Nats Mets game because that atrocity remains in plain clear view…every…single…pitch 🙁

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