A game in progress may not always seem the most optimal platform for the gnashing of teeth about the state of Major League Baseball. But ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” package comes the closest for a nationally live telecast to work in intelligent and nuanced discussion amid committing to the play in front of all the viewers.
The four-person crew in Los Angeles this weekend for the Dodgers series finale against the New York Yankees has relied, for the last season-plus, on Alex Rodriguez, Jessica Mendoza and Buster Olney for opinion and context.
Play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian, a former San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers TV voice, a national Fox Sports broadcaster and host of the MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” discussion show, often might be relegated to traffic-cop status. But we thought it an appropriate time and place to vet him on what three ideas he might have on making baseball more watchable.
Legislating defensive shifts:
“I advocated for this late last winter after I heard it first from (former ESPN analyst and MLB manager) Buck Showalter. Keep two infielders on either side of the second-base bag, wherever they want to be, with one foot on the dirt. All you’re doing is kind of shrinking the footprint of where they can play.
“Part of it is rewarding bat-to-ball contact skills, but the other is rewarding fans. I want to see athletes be athletes. The biggest problem with the launch-angle revolution and so many 3-2 scores is we don’t see players running bases anymore. If a ball is hit into the gap, someone’s running to get it, and someone’s running the bases.
“Also think of it this way: In the four major professional seasonal sports, you can’t play a zone defense in the NBA or an overloaded zone defense on the line of scrimmage in the NFL. There are rules to defend. Why not in baseball?”
Extra-inning insertion of runners:
“The extra-innings crisis in baseball was created in part by defensive technique strategies, so tie games can go late into the night. That (Dodgers-Red Sox) 18-inning game in the World Series last year was good for nobody.
“I covered the World Baseball Classic and saw its technique first-hand – after the 11th inning, put runners at first and second and nobody out. The opponents will say it’s dumb because all it takes is a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. OK, so let’s see if it happens.
“This came up on a Sunday night game recently and I thought Jessica made a good point about it. Maybe for that reason I didn’t say much because I didn’t want to make it look like we were all pushing that narrative as a network. But I feel pretty strongly about this, despite any pushback. There’s overtime rules in football, shootouts in hockey. You can’t let baseball go on indefinitely.”
Split the season into two:
“(Fox game analyst) John Smoltz has pushed this, and it reminds me about how much I loved growing up as a fan of the Oakland A’s about how we had the 1981 season (divided into two parts because of a strike). If the Dodgers don’t win the first half, they may not to go the playoffs that year.
“Do this, and a team like Baltimore wouldn’t have to punt six months of the season. It would add a lot of intrigue and make baseball relevant in cities now like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Miami or Detroit. Those are big markets where the game has zero pulse.”
So … no more piling on about this Players’ Weekend promotion and uniform selection?
In addition to a Mad Magazine “Spy Vs. Spy” contrast analogy on Sunday’s broadcast, Vasgersian added:
“Remember when you’re a kid and bemoaning that we have a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, so you ask your parents: Why isn’t there a Kid’s Day? And they say: Hey, every day is Kid’s Day. Isn’t every day in Major League Baseball a Players’ Weekend Day? Do they need their own weekend? It’s always about the players as far as I can tell.
“With the black and white jerseys, I’m not saying these aren’t interesting to some extent. But when the umpires are also wearing black and standing on the infield, the pitchers wearing white and have their release points that could confuse a hitter, you can’t read numbers …
“We sound like our grandfathers shaking our fist at kids running on our lawn, but I think more agree with us.”
Do we credit the Dodgers for recruiting Vin Scully to narrate a video that aired in the park and on social media this weekend basically doing damage control for what the Dodgers and Yankees wore during their three-game series? It was uniformly disheartening to see him used here as much as it was nice to hear him play a small part and “appreciate those who take the field today.”
No matter how much NBC tries to nudge technology ahead by utilizing an overhead sky sideline camera as the main live angle for an NFL telecast –- it tried again Sunday in the Pittsburgh-Tennessee exhibition – the optics remain too jarring. Replicating video-game optics remains a depth-distorted ride even with today’s technology. Try again later.