If you follow enough ESPN baseball people on Twitter, you’ll know that the network often puts on what they refer to as the “seamhead” edition of Baseball Tonight. This version of the show features baseball writers from throughout the ESPN universe — Tim Kurkjian, Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Keith Law and Grantland’s Jonah Keri are featured — and airs on Thursdays. It’s a show the network can be proud of, because it allows them to show off what a destination the ESPN media platforms are for relevant baseball coverage.
Yet, perhaps the biggest “seamhead” in the history of Bristol has no involvement at all in the network’s baseball programming.
One of the more slyly hilarious things about Keith Olbermann’s eponymous ESPN2 program — which hits its year anniversary in a few weeks — is how it is basically an excuse for Olbermann to talk about baseball whenever he wants. This is a good thing, because no one is more passionate and obsessed with a subject than Keith is about MLB. Even when other sports share the spotlight in April and October, it’s very hard for anything to top a Cardinals-Dodgers game in his highlights segments.
Olbermann maintains a normal connection to the American pastime through his all too brief work with TBS. This past postseason (and the one coming up in October) will see Keith hosting the network’s postseason studio show. It was extremely well-liked last year, and other than Pedro Martinez being amazing, Olbermann was likely the biggest reason why.
Doesn’t this seem a little counter-intuitive to The Worldwide Leader? Yes, Olbermann is an asset to the network, something ESPN can point to by saying it’s extremely credible, well-written, and consistently beats Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN in its timeslot. Shouldn’t Olbermann (the human, not the television show) be an asset himself?
Since Keith’s been on the network, he’s been used sparingly to deliver essays on SportsCenter and… that’s more or less it. It still strikes me as more than a little strange that ESPN lets one of its most knowledgeable baseball people do a show that is baseball-heavy for most of the season, and then… lets him go to another network for two weeks to lap up critical praise for covering baseball.
Now, there are perhaps contractual reasons, logistical reasons, or it-being-Keith-Olbermann-and-ESPN reasons. But here’s my pitch to ESPN, for next year if not this one: why not, at the very least, let Keith contribute to the “seamhead” edition of Baseball Tonight (from his studio in New York, don’t worry Keith, no Bristol for you) while letting him occasionally work on-site for Sunday Night Baseball as the show continues to go on the road? Especially as the network gains a Wild Card playoff this season, seems like a wasted opportunity.
One does wonder if there’s a point in the Olbermann-ESPN second marriage where the network trusts the volatile anchor to use him more across the network’s endless array of programming platforms. Olbermann’s second tenure with ESPN has been a relative success with no controversy and no major blow-ups that marred his other career stops. Will there come a time when these two sides decide they’re going to settle down for the long haul, or is there still a part of ESPN that wants to be cautious with Olbermann and keep him more contained just in case things get bombastic once again?
Of course, I could be way wrong on this. Maybe Olbermann has no interest in doing any of these baseball shows, and ESPN has no interest in him participating. Still, when you think about it, shouldn’t the man who can talk to and about some of the greatest players in the game’s history be able to talk about them with the rest of the network’s baseball staff?