ESPN aired the first Home Run Derby in the post-Chris Berman era on Monday night, and while watching, all I could think was “this crew needs to loosen up.”

To replace Berman and an ever-rotating cast of analysts (last year, Sunday Night Baseball analysts Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza joined Berman on the “main set”, while the second set was anchored by Karl Ravech, alongside Dallas Braden and Eduardo Perez), long-time MLB voice Ravech took on the hosting duties, joined by Mendoza and Mark Teixeira.

The new broadcast crew wasn’t actively *bad*, but it also didn’t stand out at all. In fact, I found myself quite bored at times, which is surprising given the event they were calling. The Home Run Derby is supposed to be balls out insanity – during points of Monday night’s event, you would think Ravech, Mendoza, and Teixeira were calling a regular season Wednesday night game.

There was also a significant amount of awkwardness during the evening, specifically when eventual champion Aaron Judge joined the broadcast during Gary Sanchez’s time at the plate and couldn’t hear the questions being asked by Mendoza, leading to her eventually yelling the questions at him and taking attention away from Sanchez smacking the bejeezus out of the baseball.

And that was my main takeaway from watching the new crew – it didn’t seem fun. Berman didn’t have his fastball anymore, often relying on dumb cliches and getting confused. But at least he was enthusiastic and animated. I got the sense that Ravech, Mendoza, and Teixeira didn’t have a good feel on how to read the event, which led to analysis that no one really was asking for or cared about. I appreciate talk about launch angle and exit velocity during games, but I really couldn’t care less during an event when I just want to see dudes mash dingers. Then when the trio *did* try to show emotion, it was limited to random shouting like “wow!”, “oh!”, and “oh my gosh!”

We rolled out a Twitter poll during the event, and one opinion didn’t dominate the voting – the four choices were actually pretty evenly split. But the top result, with 29%, was to bring back Chris Berman. That’s not going to happen, but it should be considered somewhat of a sign that fans appreciate enthusiasm during an event like the Home Run Derby.

Look at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend – Turner has fun with it. The Inside the NBA crew is calling the All-Star Saturday events, not taking anything too seriously, and just having a great time. I get the feeling that Ravech, Mendoza, and Teixeira wanted their broadcast to more thoughtful and less emotional, but when players are cranking 500 foot homers and attacking the dinger machine with ferocity, it’s tough to stay level. Thusly, the broadcast begins to fall apart.

About halfway through the event, thanks to some recommendations on Twitter, I switched over to ESPN2 for the Spanish language call, featuring Ernesto Jerez and Eduardo Perez. And I’ve got to tell you – this was a trip.

I don’t speak Spanish. I didn’t understand much of anything that Jerez and Perez were saying. But they entertained the hell out of me, and clearly were having an incredible time watching all of these home runs. As a result, that made me more excited, made my viewing experience more enjoyable, and made the telecast that much better.

ESPN did make a couple of other improvements to their broadcast this year, notably a split screen featuring the batter at the plate and the ball off of his bat. In previous years, we’ve seen ESPN completely lose the ball thanks to focusing on the player swinging. That really didn’t happen this year, thankfully. The graphics that displayed the home run distance and exit velocity were integrated seamlessly into the broadcast as well, and didn’t clutter the screen more than necessary.

So, how can ESPN improve their broadcast next year? Even though Ravech just got the hosting gig, I would look in another direction for future Hom Run Derbies – Jon Sciambi seems tailor-made for an event like this, as does Adnan Virk, who I think would be a perfect fit with his humor and knowing when to relax and have fun with an event.

All in all, it was an uneven effort from ESPN. The Derby itself seemed to be an anticlimactic affair after the first round, but it was still a spectacle thanks to Aaron Judge’s prodigious dingers. Hopefully in 2018, ESPN loosens their collar a little bit and the announcers show more authentic enthusiasm during the Home Run Derby. Otherwise, the calls for Berman, whose performance during the Derby had drastically declined in recent years, to return will continue to grow louder.

About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.

  • Bscotch Bscotch

    You can’t expect people who are inherently unfunny to all of a sudden be capable of covering an event like this in a lighthearted manner.

  • Keith P.

    Lots of nasty comments on social media directed at Jess Mendoza as there always are, which were almost all unfair and mostly just because she is a woman, as they always are. I don’t get that, and she is fine on game broadcasts. Cut her some slack, guys, she’s adds something fresh to calling games but she’s still new and will only get better with time. But this event is different and maybe it needs a different skill set. I don’t care for Ravech on Baseball Tonight and don’t like it when they use him on game broadcasts either – just something about him that grates on me. Sciambi and Virk would be great on this.

    • Mike

      Mendoza knows the game and is well prepared. She’s light years better than Kruk was. I couldn’t care less that she’s a woman. She knows her stuff and that’s what counts.

    • Carol Caprio

      Keith.. I respect all she has done and her enthusiasm …BUT, she never played baseball and is 100% unqualified to be an analyst.
      What can she possibly share on the dynamics of pitching or hitting .. a slider, cutter, 4 seam fastball ?
      When she critiques a player on his base stealing mechanics, I can’t reach for the remote quickly enough .. this isn’t softball!!!
      Why not make her a play by play, or color announcer, but NOT an “expert” analyst of a game she’s never played. Her performance at the HRD was amateurish at best and more frankly… awful!

    • StoJa

      Cut her some slack?? She’s been at this for three years now and it’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, not the beer league softball. There’s no “slack” here when you’re on the flagship broadcast. She practically had a god damned orgasm on air every-time a ball was hit. She literally yelled “YEEESSSS!!!” like Meg Ryan in When Harry met Sally, more than once.

      But, hey, this is the new world we live in. Criticize a black person and your automatically a racist and criticize a woman and you’re a sexist. Everybody is apparently beyond reproach these days. Criticism is a shroud for racism/sexism. And this is coming from a Liberal.

      Fucking grow up, America.

  • “¡Aaa looo profundooo…! ¡Diganle que no a esa pelota!”

    Many Spanish fans are utterly bored of that phrase. I still love it.

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  • elock

    Broadcast was better than it had been in years. Tex is awful, but other than that i enjoyed it.

  • bibliomaine

    Boog Sciambi should be ESPN’s MLB voice post-Shulman. “Ravvy” is out of his depth in this type of “event.” Spare me Mendoza. She’s personable but that’s it. She’s no Doris Burke.

  • Adam Domo

    spot on awful announcing…spot on. There were so many moments during the show where i was like “ummm this one dude just hit an oppo home run 400 ft….you want to make a call on that?” Awful combo. Ravich and Mendoza were rough.

  • DPJ626

    ESPN blows these days covering baseball. They are obsessed with graphics all over the screen: Strike zone, “SC on ESPN animated ad in lower right”, the “What you’re watching/what’s at stake” graphic and the redundant ESPN watermark in he upper left.

    The worst? Going split screen during live game action for one of Mendoza’s insipid interviews. This same windowing crap is taking place during basketball too, sometimes an ad is inserted on there right during game action. Skipper needs more ad revenue.