Friday, January 2, 2009

Watched: The MLB Network

Yesterday evening Major League Baseball started broadcasting on its new cable network, the MLB Network. Luckily for me, my cable company carries the station as part of its basic package (although the HD version of the channel was not available last night for some reason). Here is a quick breakdown of what I saw in the channel's first few hours:

The Studio Show: The studio sets were huge and spectacular, with two main sets. One was a standard 'SportsCenter'-type of studio with a main desk and several remote locations for guests and other segments. The other set was reminiscent of the NFL pre-game shows because it is a replica of a baseball infield (1/2 size, perhaps?) where they can do demonstrations of the game. Both sets were slick, although the live audience in the stands around the field set seemed a little forced.

The studio show that played last night was "Hot Stove Live" which is supposed to be a recap of the off-season manueverings that have happened to date and also a discussion of rumors of what might happen. The 'talent' was Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter and Barry Larkin (with a host that did a nice job, but whose name I have already forgotten). I am a big fan of Leiter from his stints as color man during the playoffs in recent years and Larkin seemed to be pretty decent. Reynolds, however, was a bit over-the-top and seemed to try and dominate discussions. Perhaps that is his role, as he has much more t.v. experience than the others due to his (mostly successful) years on ESPN doing Baseball Tonight, but I find him overbearing and annoying. Perhaps the gimmick of having guys interrupting each other while they are trying to answer a question or analyze a situation is just over-played (wishful thinking on my part, there, every sports or political commentary show uses this tactic and I can't bear to watch it any more). Hopefully that will tone down as they get a feel for what they are doing.

The segments with the main talent weren't too informative. Hearing Reynolds, Leiter and Larkin give their opinions of where Manny Ramirez may end up was ground that has already been tread a dozen time by analysts on ESPN and a multitude of places on the internet. The best part of the show was when they pulled Jon Heyman (who I vehemently disagree with on statistics and baseball strategy, but who is great when it comes to breaking stories and solid rumors) and Tom Verducci from SI to discuss the rumor mill. Those guys didn't break a whole lot of new ground, but the segment was less bombastic than the segments with the former players and I enjoy finding out what the journalists are hearing from insiders.

The Classic Game: MLB broke open their vault of classic games to give us Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series in its original form. They even included the commercials from the original broadcast, which was a very cool touch. Every couple of innings they would cut to the studio (on the playing field set, for some reason) where Bob Costas would interview Yogi Berra and Don Larsen about how the game was progressing. Costas was his usual classy-but-sometimes-corny self and although there were some awkward moments in the answers of Berra and (especially) Larsen, I thought the concept was great.

Seeing the complete game in its original form was fascinating - the lack of information on screen and the speed of play was a stark contrast to watching a game today. The announcing was superb, with Mel Allen and Vin Scully splitting the duties.

There is a lot of potential for showing classic games. ESPN classic does a good job at times, but their programming is such a hodge podge of different things that it is difficult to find something worth watching. Also, ESPN's interviews with the participants seem dated. I hope that MLB Network continues to reach back in the past and show us classics in their original form on a regular basis.

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