ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball team of play-by-play voice Karl Ravech and analysts Eduardo Pérez and David Cone answered questions today ahead of their second season together as ESPN’s lead MLB commentary team. Phil Orlins, Vice President of Production, and Andy Jacobson, Producer, also provided insights during the conference. The 2023 season of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball Presented by Casamigos begins on April 2 as the Texas Rangers host the Philadelphia Phillies at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
ESPN is entering its 34th season of Sunday Night Baseball. For the up-to-date schedule, please visit ESPN Press Room.
ESPN on Wednesday announced that seven-time Cy Young Award-winner Roger Clemens will serve as a special guest game analyst for its exclusive MLB Opening Night Telecast Presented by Frontdoor on Thursday, March 30. Clemens will join Ravech, Perez and reporter Buster Olney on the call when the Houston Astros begin their World Series Championship defense against the Chicago White Sox at 7 p.m.
PHIL ORLINS: I will just say briefly I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working with this group. There are a few things I look for in any talent group, and they are providing all of it for us in an extremely enjoyable and easy manner to work with, which is tremendous.
Any great broadcast booth to me starts with unpredictable, authentic dialogue, and the foundation of that is trust, camaraderie amongst the group. That is absolutely in great order with this foursome.
They’re a great team, work together great, and, I always say this, the key to a really good, unpredictable dialogue is the willingness and comfort to have differentiated opinions and to disagree on the air and trust each other enough to do that. They do that extremely well, and that comes from a foundation of working together and wanting each other to succeed. So I appreciate that dramatically.
Another thing I look for with every broadcast team or every broadcaster’s curiosity, wanting to learn about the future, wanting to be open to change, not being stuck in the past and being tied to roots in the past. Regardless, it really doesn’t matter to me whether you are 120 years old or 12 years old. It’s really how the mind is engaged and open and looking to the future.
I think it speaks for itself, this group as a whole and David’s background, progressive interest and background in pitching, and Eduardo, throughout everything he has done really lead the way in that manner, and that is absolutely crucial.
The last thing I’ll say, which is I get asked a lot of questions about how you handle analytics or are you a traditionalist, or are you looking to the future? I just always say I want the broadcast to be done with a contemporary context. That is to say, we should be able to — it’s not a question of do we talk about 1,000 analytics or not. It can be confusing. It can be overwhelming to the audience. But the real question is, are we able to articulate the key factors in the way the game is managed, the way the game is run, the way front offices make their decisions?
In that sense it’s essential to me that this group see the game in that contemporary context and understand it in that way so they can articulate why decisions are being made either in the front office or on the field that may be different than the way traditionalists have seen the game. I don’t ever mandate that you talk about analytics the whole game, or do, or don’t, but see the game in a contemporary context and communicate it that way. They do all of that for us extremely well.
Q: Karl and Eduardo and David, just wondering in the Spring Training games that you’ve done, how much it has changed, the flow that you’ve announced with the rules changes with the pitch clocks? Have you been able to kind of do things as normal, or what’s been the biggest adjustment?
KARL RAVECH: I’ll start. I think everything is going to be done a little bit quicker. Coming out of that and during the game, Coney was concerned. I’ve got to get in; I’ve got to get out. In our world we have this running joke about ‘landing the plane,’ meaning you’ve got to start and finish either before that next pitch or break up your story so that there’s a natural break point.
Everything happens quicker. You know, there’s no question about that. So in a lot of ways I’m sure a lot of viewers will think, well, this is even better. We’ll have more concise commentary. It will be sharper. It will be quicker.
But, you know, that’s on us to figure out the rhythm of the baseball game, and as Phil said, be comfortable and trust each other in the conversations we’re having. There’s a lot of eye contact that goes on. There’s a lot of hand motions up in the booth that people don’t necessarily see, so we know when it is that the other wants to talk.
But other than the speed of it, I think – and certainly in that game by the fifth, sixth inning we were in a place where it felt like it was last year all over again to me.
EDUARDO PÉREZ: I’ll second that, and I’ll add sometimes we even have the running joke of our best inning might be an inning where you don’t even hear either myself or David, because that’s how quick it is, and we’re going to have to accept that. That’s the bottom line.
It’s less is more here, but at the same time I think this year is going to be actually a lot easier for us not only because of the innings that are quicker, but at the same time we understand our body language. You know, that got better and better as the year went on last year.
And now with the rules and everything, the timer, I think it’s just going to be very organic. We’re going to go in, and we’re going to understand when we have to speak, and as Karl said, we have to land the plane a lot quicker.
Q: One other thing too, the interviews that you guys have on Sunday Night Baseball with the outfielders or whoever in the dugout, do you think those will be quicker paced?
KARL RAVECH: Well, there were several, and I know Andy can speak to this. There were several times, unfortunately, last year where we had one, two, three innings. A one, two, three inning then probably took two and a half to three minutes. Now it’s going to take a minute and a half to two minutes. There’s a real chance those become very quick.
Those are the innings, oftentimes, where Coney and Eduardo, unless we see foul balls or extended innings, they don’t necessarily get involved. Ideally, and I don’t know where Major League Baseball is on this, in Spring Training we had a couple of teammates talking with each other, and we in a sense weren’t even a part of it. That led to a whole bunch of incredible insight into the game and relationships and what the player is thinking. I don’t know if it goes there in the regular season or not, but the player carries those things. They have a great feel for the inning and the pace of it and all that.
Sure, there’s a good chance that those innings are going to be quicker and the conversations are going to be shorter, and we’ll have to fall back on asking the right questions so that you get the answers that the viewer wants as quick as you can, as opposed to some of the meandering aspects of it.
But it’s a great question for all of the people that are on this Zoom call. What is it that ultimately we want to get out of the athlete? What is it that we want to hear from the player during the game? Is it about the game? Is it about their clubhouse? Is it about what they do off the field? That’s always the kind of fascinating part of where these interviews go.
To Phil’s point at the top, the authenticity, the unpredictability, that’s what I like about it. Oftentimes the athlete will open a door. The player will open a door you hadn’t anticipated, and you’ve got to step through that door and follow up on some of those questions.
DAVID CONE: I think one of the best bits we had last year was Adam Wainwright warming up before the game, mic’d up. Andy Jacobson, our producer, did a great job of working that in and kind of coaxing that out of us, and I came up with the idea, and Eduardo — what a teammate — kind of went into the video room — Eduardo is the only guy that can still get to places in the clubhouse where no other media member can get. So Eduardo works his way through the clubhouse, gets to Adam Wainwright in the video room, where he is not supposed to be, by the way, and talks Adam Wainwright into doing that, into mic’ing himself up before a game. We go through with the whole warmup, which has never been done before that I know of.
That’s something that I really wanted young pitchers, kids out there to see. Hey, this is the mindset of a very successful Major League pitcher, and this is what he does warming up before a Big League game. I thought that was one of our best features.
Everybody on our team, including, as I said, Andy Jacobson, deserves a lot of credit for that because I know he had to squeeze in some sponsorships later on in that game because we took up about 15 to 20 minutes just directly with Adam Wainwright that particular game.
So those are the type of unique situations I think we look for that we’ve all collaborated on, and I think everybody can take credit for that particular day.
EDUARDO PÉREZ: It educated us in a major way because then after all of that happened, it was the rain delay that helped us out immensely. I’m here in Miami, and I’m watching the World Baseball Classic. The day that Adam Wainwright had to pitch the other day, to get ready, I knew exactly what he was doing because of that interview that Coney did. So it educated the fan.
I’m in the stands saying, okay, this is what he is going to do. He is not going to long toss. He is going to short toss. He is going to get ready.
And he did everything verbatim that he did in St. Louis, he did over here in LoanDepot Park. I was sitting in the suites observing the whole thing, and I knew exactly what the protocol was. It’s educating all of us, and it worked beautifully.
Q: I have two sets of questions, first for Phil and then for the broadcasters. Phil, with Roger Clemens on Opening Day, what was your thought process about bringing him in for that game, and could we see more of him?
PHIL ORLINS: I’ll start with the second one. TBD. Not going to speculate. Roger has been sort of a friend of ours for the last — well, at least the last year, so to speak.
I think he came on KayRod Cast four times. He has been engaged, knowledgeable, you know, really present. On early. Wants to know who is pitching even though we’re only doing a 15-minute interview. Last time he came on KayRod Cast, we sent a wireless camera down to his family gym, training area, whatever. You know, he was just kind of at the next level in terms of doing the demos and things of that nature, with his son actually there and all that.
Like I said, that’s sort of a contemporary mindset. Whatever the past may be, he is still, whether it’s through his kids or his own passion, he is still tremendously engaged, and he really brought that to air every time he came with us.
This was a very special and unique circumstance. I mean, David is our guy. It’s a single one-off opener. He is clearly contractually with “YES” that night. We were able to have him Opening Night last year because of an early rain-out of a scheduled Yankee opener. Obviously, not expecting that to happen two years in a row.
We just thought under the circumstances, then — we don’t feel like we have to have the dynamic of Eduardo with the pitcher, but we certainly think that works. Then throw in the added factor of rule changes and things of that nature, so much the better to have a pitcher’s perspective on that batter/pitcher dynamic under the pitch clock.
Q: Then for all three of the broadcasters. Eduardo mentioned the body language and learning that. I think the Sunday Night crew, because people are used to their regular broadcasters for their team, it’s kind of a difficult spot. How do you try to endear yourself to the local fans who watch their broadcasters every day while still doing a national broadcast? What did you learn from year one that you take into year two? Any one of you guys can go first, whichever one wants to tackle it.
KARL RAVECH: I’ll give you a quick answer. It’s a unique position, and it translates to college basketball, college baseball, really, with the exception of Little League, Major League Baseball for sure. It’s very difficult to reach the level of the relationship that the baseball fan has with the broadcasters that do it every night. There’s no question about it. Coney is really the perfect guy for this because he does so many Yankee games, and there is a dynamic that exists. There is a relationship that exists.
You know, you hope, Andrew, that your 30-plus years of experience on a national baseball level gives you that credibility. Clearly the two players have a whole bunch of credibility when they speak for the fan at home.
But, my goodness, go do an Arkansas-Alabama basketball game, and you feel the Arkansas and Alabama people down your throat because you don’t know their team as well as their local radio guys do.
That’s part of the risk you take. I’m not uncomfortable in doing it. I think we have a real good feel for having worked with so many of the managers as closely as we did and having sat next to them that we do have a little, probably, greater window into those teams than most national and perhaps even some of the local guys, but we do have unique relationships because of the people we’ve all worked with and certainly that Coney still works with. So that helps a lot, but it’s hard, no question.
DAVID CONE: It’s impossible. It really is almost impossible. I really feel like Eduardo and I, what we talked about, and Karl as well and along with Andy Jacobson, was just our overall enthusiasm for the game, for the current game. I think it’s really what guides us, as opposed to kind of the get off my lawn, shouting at the cloud type of broadcaster from old school that you hear sometimes today that kind of wears on the current viewers.
Now, with that being said, I still feel like even with as Phil Orlins said, we understand analytics. And one of the reasons why I tried to educate myself on analytics was that I could push back. There are points where you can thread the needle and push back and throw the balance of old school versus new school with enthusiasm without sort of being condescending or without being dismayed with the current state of the game that comes off on the broadcast.
So I think we’re guided by our enthusiasm. There’s nobody more enthusiastic than Eduardo. He raises my game. He is constantly there. He talks the game every day on his radio show. He is always at the ballpark.
As I said before, he gets into clubhouses, trainers rooms, video rooms better than anybody I have ever seen. He is like the invisible man. Working with Eduardo is an absolute joy. He raises my game. He challenges me. So our enthusiasm is really what guides us in my mind.
EDUARDO PÉREZ: We can’t forget that we’re also going coast-to-coast. It’s not just to one market. It’s the entire national market.
Yeah, we can’t compete. As Coney said, it’s impossible with the local broadcast, but we have to do our job, and we prepare for it the best that we can. And the communication that goes on with Andy, our producer, the communication that goes on with Karl, with Coney I think is really important.
I think the camaraderie that we’ve of had throughout last year moving forward this year and being able to understand that we’re going, I mean, from Florida all the way to the State of Washington D.C., down South, crossing borders, I think is huge. We understand that we play to that market as well.
Q: Question for Phil or Andy. I know there was the thought last year to strap a mic onto an umpire or maybe even like a scout in the stands for mic’d up conversation. Curious if that’s something you’re still looking at or any other ways you are looking to keep building the mic’d up conversations from last year?
ANDY JACOBSON: I think we’re always looking to evolve that after the success we had with it last year. Trying to find the new ‘what’s the Adam Wainwright this season,’ right, with how cool that was and how that even raised the bar from the normal player in the field mic’d up segment.
So the umpire is something we would love to consider and explore. We’ve talked about having Eduardo down in a batting cage in the bowels of the stadium to talk to a pinch hitter as he is maybe preparing.
We’re constantly looking for something different and cool and sticky. And really if baseball allows us to do stuff, we’re certainly open to all of that.
PHIL ORLINS: I think the Wainwright example is a great example. Two players together in Spring Training is a great example. We also achieved that last year at the Little League Classic in Williamsport, which is a little different scenario for MLB where they’re sometimes a little open to trying some different things.
I just simply say – this actually goes back to the question about Roger Clemens. We’re in an era where if somebody has a cell phone and we can reach them, you know, we can access them with video and audio within a matter of a few minutes of having them on the air.
And one of the Clemens pieces was that – in one of the Spring Training games we did this year something came up about Roger with his son playing for the Phillies or trying to make the Phillies, being at Phillies camp and talking to the Phillies team in the clubhouse. And, you know, we called his assistant, and he had moved on to a different camp at that point in time and was out in a parking lot, and 15 minutes later he was on the telecast.
So, yeah, we’re always open to ideas. I don’t know that an umpire in-game is the most likely thing to happen. We did try for that in Spring Training. We didn’t quite get there. I thought with the new rules it would have been a great Spring Training element.
You know, we’ve asked for — maybe this was bad luck. We asked for Edwin Diaz at a Met game in the middle innings as he prepped and is in the bullpen or in the massage room or whatever it might be to get ready for coming in in the ninth.
You know, there are no technical boundaries at all anywhere. We learned a lot of that when we did the Korean coverage. We had Daniel Kim probably doing 70 games out of his home in Seoul in real-time. So if there’s an idea and a person and it can elevate the telecast within the confinements of time that we have to work with, we’ll entertain the possibilities.
Q: Just one more on the mic’d up conversations. Did you receive, looking at last year, any pushback from players for whatever reason over the course of last year, and do you expect that to change at all just because maybe now this year they’re a little bit more on their toes given the pitch clock?
PHIL ORLINS: I mean, I know Eduardo spent a lot of time in direct contact with players. I actually was invited to go to the MLB Players Association offseason retreat in November and December. Spent a day with them.
Obviously, across the year there were guys who said no, and there were guys who said yes. There are a lot of people who were willing to do it.
As the year went on, it got easier, without question. I mean, I won’t say this at all critically. Mookie Betts was a guy who was always great with us in Spring Training and said, it’s not a regular season thing for me to do.
And with the success we had, the positive vibes around it, I think some degree of social equity that, hey, this is an okay thing to do and, other stars are doing it. Suddenly we got to the second half of the season, and suddenly Mookie Betts was available to do it in game in a regular season game, which had not been the case earlier in the year or in previous years outside of Spring Training.
So, yeah, being with the players at the Players Association meeting, honestly they feel really good about it. I think they feel like it’s something they came to the table with, worked on. And at least that group, which is most of the player reps in baseball, remarkably positive response to it.
ANDY JACOBSON: To that point, Karl, Coney, Eduardo, Buster, those relationships helped pave the way for so much of those too; right? They make these guys comfortable doing that, and that’s why we get the star level player that we get.
EDUARDO PÉREZ: A lot of the players actually after they did it, they even said it actually made them even more engaged, believe it or not, in the game and the situation.
Kiké Hernández in Yankee Stadium, I mean, after the game he was like, ‘that was awesome.’ It made the cold out there in the outfield – because it was a cold night – he said, ‘I wasn’t as cold. The wind didn’t hit me as much because I was paying attention not only to the pitcher, but also explaining what I’m supposed to do verbally to the audience.’ So that worked.
Adam Wainwright said in the offseason and everything, all the fans, all the feedback that he got actually motivated him even to come back for another year. So I just think there’s so much that can be done with the players. Little by little we’re giving access to the fan. You’ve got to give the players a lot of credit because they have embraced it in a major way.
Q: My question is for Coney. With the pitch clock, how would that have affected you as a pitcher? Would it have gotten in your head at all on July 18, 1999?
DAVID CONE: A little bit. You know, what I really needed was the bigger bases because there was a night in Atlanta back in 1989 where I missed first base, and two base runners scored. So I really needed the bigger bases back in Atlanta back in 1989.
But as far as 1999 goes, yeah, you know, I’m interested in that. Watching last night’s game, the WBC game, obviously that great at-bat, that gift, Ohtani versus Trout, we weren’t thinking about a pitch clock then. I’m curious. I’m going to ask the Pitching Ninja to kind of juxtapose like he does and maybe see if there were any potential violations in that situation. I think everybody can agree on the dead time in baseball has grown over the years, and we need to cut out as much of that dead time as we can.
I think that’s what the rules are designed to do, including the shift rules, in terms of more athleticism and less algorithm, so to speak. What Theo Epstein talked about. Back to the nature of the athletic part of the game.
One of the best at-bats I saw as a child growing up was the Reggie Jackson-Bob Welsh at-bat in the World Series. It was I think a 12-minute at-bat that ended up in a strikeout, and Reggie Jackson flailing landing down on one knee, the drama building for that particular at-bat. That’s one thing that I’m interested in watching at the end of games.
I think as we sit here and speak, I think there’s still probably going to be some tweaks to these rules. We’re going to have meetings about it coming up, and I’m not sure whether it’s going to be the batter gets an extra time-out in that situation. That might be fair.
The pitcher can step off the rubber twice. The batter can only step out of the box once. That may need to be looked at. That possibly could be an area that could be tweaked. Maybe around the fringes, the nuances of the rules I think have a chance to be tweaked before Opening Day.
One thing I saw on Spring Training with Max Scherzer – and, of course, it’s Max Scherzer – he is going to push the system, right? His first start with men on base, he was already in the set position before the batter got in the box and then tried to quick pitch the batter before he could even get set.
That to me has got to be addressed right away. The pitcher shouldn’t be in the set position until the batter gets in the box. That’s never been done in the history of the game. If we tried to do that 20, 30 years ago, there would have been bench-clearing brawls about trying to quick pitch somebody from the stretch. It wouldn’t even have been allowed back in the ’70s or the ’80s.
So I understand Max Scherzer trying to push the system a little bit, but with men on base you cannot be ready to throw the ball already in the set position before the batter is in the box. I think that has got to be addressed early before the season starts.
Q: I think Phil made a great point on disengagement. As a pitcher, I think that’s being totally underplayed. I think the guys are going to be running wild. How can you not steal bases? When the clock is running down, why don’t you just take off? I know you think of all these things, David. What are your thoughts?
DAVID CONE: Without a doubt. I think the guys that will get exposed more are the short relievers, the guys that over the last 10 years or 20 years have kind of been in their little world; right? They can brood around the mound. They’re maximum effort guys. They throw the pitch as hard as they can. They take their time. They have big leg kicks.
That’s what I see. I see a lead-off walk. I don’t want to pick on anybody, but let’s say Kenley Jansen. Lead-off walk, uh oh. He has to speed up. He has to change his whole delivery. He doesn’t hold runners on well. Steal second, steal third, nobody out. I see that happening more later in the games with short relievers.
I think starting pitchers are better at adjusting because you get more reps at holding runners on, and you get more practice at sort of slide-stepping and quickening up your delivery. So I think starting pitchers are probably more likely to adapt a little quicker.
But the short relievers are the ones late in the games that will feel rushed, and those are the guys you can really, as you said, can really get run on when the game is on the line.
Q: Just a couple of questions. First, for the main broadcast team. This is season two that you are going to be heading into. There’s been a lot of turnover in the Sunday Night booth since the days of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, who did it 21 straight years. I think maybe Matt Vasgersian and A-Rod at three straight years was probably the most since then. What are you three kind of looking to do here in terms of longevity? How can you achieve what Jon Miller and Joe Morgan did or even just a facsimile of that, lasting maybe through the end of this rights deal in 2028? What do you think you can do to achieve that, at least an increased level of stability in the booth?
KARL RAVECH: That’s a question probably for the people that make those decisions. I don’t think Coney, Eduardo or I would like to see this end in the next ten years. We recognize the privilege it is to sit in that booth on a Sunday night. We’re acutely aware of the audience.
I’m looking ahead to a June 4 game, and it’s the Dodgers hosting the Yankees. And you realize those are the two biggest markets with two massive franchise followings, and we’re the ones that are going to be sitting there bringing that to the nation.
So it’s something I certainly would like to do for a long time. How do you do that for a long time? That’s a media question that everything has changed since Jon and Joe were doing it.
People’s attention spans are different. I have two boys and grandkids, and they’re flipping all the time. They’re always looking for what’s next and what’s new.
I think, from a baseball perspective, you need to be able to speak to the generation that’s been watching the game for a long time and speak the language of the people that are picking it up right now. I think we do that. I think we’re acutely aware of it.
I think, individually, there’s a huge benefit that I have in that booth calling Little League and then, more important, college because so many of these college kids that I get a chance to cover are now moving into the Major Leagues at a much younger age. It’s a much younger game than it ever was.
I think there are certain advantages that we have that maybe the people before us didn’t enjoy, but it’s a different ball game with a different audience and a different way that we’re all consuming baseball on television or other platforms.
For us, to me, it’s: be authentic, enjoy yourself, take pride and passion in it. Share all the energy you have with people. The same way as our good buddy, Sara Langs. Her enthusiasm for the sport jumps off of her Twitter handle and everything she does. I hope that we come across the same way.
Whether you like the things that I or David or Eduardo say, just as long as you understand we love the game as much if not more than anybody that’s watching it. We want to take care of it. We want to question it sometimes, but we’re as invested in the game as any three people can be. And that’s no disrespect to anybody that could be our equal, but I would like to do it for the next who knows how long, but for as long as we can do it.
Q: Obviously, we all know how well the World Baseball Classic did. Maybe caught some people by surprise, the enthusiasm. ESPN has not carried that since 2009 on English language TV. Had it on Spanish language in ’13 and ’17. But, obviously, this is another question where you’re not in control of the situation, but how much would you like to get into that event and for ESPN to have the rights, English language, say, in 2026?
KARL RAVECH: Me personally? 100 percent. Sure. The more baseball, the better. That’s how I look at it.
I hosted a show five nights a week twice a week for a long, long time. I miss the amount of baseball.
So if you are asking me would I like to be involved with the WBC? 100 percent. I would be shocked if Eduardo or Coney had a different answer.
EDUARDO PÉREZ: Yeah, I went to most of the games of the World Baseball Classic. My voice is what it is right now because of the World Baseball Classic. I’m even shocked that I’m able to speak clearly.
It’s a great event. It’s a great event. I will correct you on one thing. It didn’t catch me by surprise. I played it in 2006. I coached it in 2009. I managed a qualifier for the 2013 one. I was able to be a part of the broadcasting part of the Spanish version in 2017.
This is an unbelievable event, and it just happens to be in March when I know that it’s a very busy time as well for ESPN, but it is a paradise. It’s a baseball paradise. I witnessed it until the last out last night until I just dropped in my bed, and I told my wife. She’s, like, ‘No more baseball.’
And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right, for a week. That’s it.’
Because this is what we do. We breathe it. We eat it. We love it. All three of us — and I’m going to even include Phil in this, because Phil is a part of even the morning shows, where he is texting me all the time, he is a part of the whole thing. Andy as well-being a die-hard baseball Mets fan. We’re always doing baseball one way or another.
If it’s Coney with the Yankees or with his podcast, and Karl with all the Little League and college baseball. I follow Karl’s trend. Wherever he goes, I’m going the same way because we’re passionate about it, and that’s what we love. We always text each other about baseball one way or another in the offseason. And I think this trio, and I’m including Buster in this as well, with The Baseball Tonight Podcast, this is what we do, and it’s a passion of ours. We’re fortunate to be about it, and we’re fortunate to be a part of it.
So I’m grateful, and I will continue to work just as hard this year as I will for the next upcoming years if ESPN allows us to do so.
DAVID CONE: I’m like you, Eduardo. I want to hear what Phil has to say about this. Does the argument now become, do we need to move this event to the All-Star game week maybe in the future? Has it reached that level yet of popularity? That’s a great question.
PHIL ORLINS: I’ll give you two things, and I’m going to throw one right back at David here. First off, I think in the WBC answer, you got your answer to the first question, which is the long-term success and sustainability of a broadcaster or a broadcast team. And the number one attribute that allows for that to happen is true love and passion for calling the game.
As much as it may seem obvious and it seems like any fan would always want to be at the ballpark every day, it’s not always the case for people that have been in the game for 20 years as a player or 30 years. Again, as I said earlier, whether you are 120 years old or 20 years old, it’s passion, it’s love for the game, curiosity about how it’s played today, great players of today that make somebody relevant.
You know, no one can speak for our contracts and our business decisions moving forward, but in terms of our talent group staying relevant and appropriate, you know, that is the quality that makes it possible, and I think you heard that in the WBC answer.
As to the All-Star break thing and the WBC, you know, Eduardo said a lot of business complications in there. We obviously all wish we had a chance to do it.
I mean, I’m fascinated by the All-Star break. I think it would be unbelievable and huge, even bigger, during the All-Star break. Having said that, my one concern and it is a pitcher-related concern, is as tough as it is on pitchers’ preseasons with pitch counts and two innings, at least most guys are coming in rested from an offseason and with some perimeters are more or less trying to ramp up with it. Whereas I worry that at the All-Star break it’s going to be seen as a competitive disadvantage for some pitchers to get two weeks off, to restock and throw on their own or whatever they need to do, while where the best pitchers on the best teams are called on, you know, to maybe even throw a little more because they’re at midseason.
Like with all things with this event, what makes this more complicated and harder than soccer World Cups, or rugby or cricket, is pitching and the arm. So I leave that to David.
DAVID CONE: Well, yeah, you know, it brings in another round of questions. The Major League Baseball season used to be 154 games long back in the Babe Ruth days. There’s a lot of revenue that would be lost if you were to do something like that to allow something to sneak in at the All-Star break.
Phil is exactly right. There’s always going to be risk no matter which way you slice it or dice it. The risk is going to be more on the pitching side even though, the freak injuries we saw, you know, Jose Altuve was a batter, and he fractured his thumb. Edwin Diaz was a freak injury based on the celebration after a game.
So it’s hard to mitigate that, to spread that risk around. I think the question becomes How important is this event? Has it grown to the point where we need to talk about these sorts of solutions? Is it a revenue driver, too, on the business side of things?
Then on the pitching side of things, no matter what you do, there’s going to be risk involved. How do you come up with a way to mitigate that? Maybe shortening the season if you can get the owners to agree on that, which is based on my experience, next to impossible. To get 30 owners to agree on something collectively is next to impossible, but that’s what it would take.
It would be a monumental effort. It would be great to have this crew right here calling the WBC on ESPN over the All-Star break. I think that would be a dream.
Q: My question is for Phil and Andy. How are you guys planning on getting more youth engaged? Because I know Karl mentioned it with the shorter attention span, but trying to get more viewership of the next generation this season?
PHIL ORLINS: I mean, I don’t know. We have a joke. I’m laughing because Anna hit me with this question last year, and we did institute the fan questions for our player interviews based, on the spot, on Anna’s question a year ago.
I don’t know that I have a magic answer other than that we try to be progressive in the way we think about the sport and the way we engage with trends and youth within the sport.
Obviously, I think I’ve probably talked about before, we know a large portion of our audience is looking for stories and looking for more new information. So we take every angle we can with the player access, try to entertain different things, be it a little unconventional where we can, like Adam Wainwright taking us into you the bullpen for 15 minutes.
But I don’t know if I have a magic bullet beyond that. I don’t know if Andy is holding anything back on me that he has been waiting to present and wants to for you, Anna.
ANDY JACOBSON: No magic bullet. It’s such a young game. The stars of this game are so young and vibrant and have such personalities and social media presence nowadays, right? I think it’s just telling stories, continuing to dig, find the cool stuff that, you know, that will resonate with young fans, right, and bring that to the surface throughout the game.
KARL RAVECH: I would say this, too, Anna. When I first got to ESPN in 1993, one of the first conversations I had was with the executive editor maybe. His name was John Walsh. And he said, ‘What do you think is important? What should we as a company be doing?’
I said, ‘Well, I’m just curious how does something like ESPN’ — and you’ve got to remember in ’93 it was ESPN. There was no ESPN 2. There was nothing else but ESPN television. I said, ‘How do we appeal to children? How do we get the younger audience to watch?’
If you knew John Walsh, he put his hands to his chin, and he just kind of thought for a second. I don’t know that there’s necessarily a particular answer that would satisfy this larger group of young viewers, but I do think that Major League Baseball’s attention to its own self, meaning these rule changes, will make it a more interesting game for that generation.
I mean, that literally is what they are speaking to as far as pace goes. You know, we are watching a generation grow up who don’t necessarily care about the production quality that we once did, as we see by the phone and having somebody on in Korea. That doesn’t matter nearly as much as it once did.
So I think the game itself, I think a thing like the WBC. If you have some kids watching, all of a sudden baseball this time of year is more present in their mind. We can translate that hopefully to our first couple of games. You kind of ride this wave.
But if you look at the WBC, which I’m sure we all at least in our baseball world know is really popular and hit it out of the park, it would be great to see what the numbers say about the demographics watching it. Were there more kids watching it? Is that even a thing that we should all be concerned about, or will it happen sort of naturally where you get to a certain age, and you start to have a much more willingness to watch that sport versus another sport?
I don’t know that you can necessarily pinpoint something to get kids involved in baseball other than having kids play it like they do in Little League, and that’s where a big percentage of that audience comes from is kids.
So I think the sport hopefully, will by their rule changes, address that and maybe we’ll see more younger people watch.
Q: Question for Andy. How do you expect the rule changes to impact the cadence for you guys at the front bench? Obviously, we’re talking about a quicker pace, but also coming back from break is tougher, bumpers, so on and so forth. How are you and your director going to work this year together?
ANDY JACOBSON: That’s a great question, and I expect we learn a lot the first couple of weeks, but I think it’s going to drastically change sort of our rhythm and cadence, selectivity within replay sequences, selectivity in packaging, game content, right?
I just was a minute or two late because we were talking with our production crew about it. Changing the mentality of pre-produced elements that we come in with. We can’t afford to be long 20 to 25 seconds. Everything has to be tight, packaged tightly, selectively. Similar to Karl, Eddie, and Coney, don’t use ten words when you can use four. Same concept goes with our production selectivity.
So hopefully that answers your question, but I do think we’ll push more replay two boxes, almost like football hurry-up offenses might become a little bit more in play. We’ll see if any rule changes — any tweaks happen with the rule changes in the next week or so.
That eight-second mark, when batters have been in the box and engaged looking up at the pitcher, we need as production groups need to be on that shot, so we can see if that batter is alert and ready to go at 8 seconds. You know, that doesn’t leave a lot of in-between time.
So we’ll be tight. We’ll be selective and smart and hopefully kind of learn and adapt as this thing gets off and running.
Q: Anything outside of the rule changes from a technology standpoint that you guys are adding this year? Cool graphics, cameras, audio? Obviously, the mic’d up stuff, so on and so forth.
PHIL ORLINS: We are in the final touches as usual with our MLB friends. I’m not at liberty to speak. We have, like, three things in the mix.
Q: Got it. Then just to confirm, 15 seconds, have you confirmed that with the league that you are going to be able to get the data feed at 15 seconds, or that is the same answer in continued discussions?
PHIL ORLINS: Optimistic.
ANDY JACOBSON: We will kind of beef up our virtual graphic approach a little bit this year. Just a few kind of more fun adds to that. We did some starting lineups last year and some scoreboards with some virtual graphics. We’ll push it a little bit more with some kind of branding, some additional branding, virtual kind of fun. We kind of call them snackable elements where it’s just designed to kind of put a smile on your face, but not be intrusive to the broadcast.
I think we talk about this with our production group all the time. What is going to be sticky, and what is going to be — what are people going to remember three hours after the game ends, and they’re winding down from watching a ball game? I think elements like that are tied to the storytelling that we want to do regardless but presented in a kind of fun, entertaining way, to me, yeah, checks that box completely.
Q: Which team do you currently think is underrated and has the best chance to perform better than most expect?
EDUARDO PÉREZ: I’ll take that. I’ll go first, and I’ll go out on a limb. I think the National Central is interesting. Everybody has the Cardinals probably and the Brewers as two teams that are going to go after each other again, but I think with all the one-year deals and with the multi-year deal that Dansby Swanson got, I’m kind of interested to see what the Chicago Cubs are going to do this year.
Is Bellinger going to all of a sudden go off in Chicago? Is he going to find something that is going to stand out? I just think Chicago is interesting.
I’m not saying that they’re going to run away with it or anything, but with all the Wild Card implications that are out there, and I know that the National League West is strong, and I know that the National League East is strong, so most likely everybody predicts just one representative from the Central, but with the balanced schedule, you never know. So I’m going to go out on a limb, and I’ll say Chicago Cubs.
DAVID CONE: My two picks would be Texas Rangers signing [Jacob] deGrom. I think they underachieved last year. I think, if you believe in the Pythagorean Theorem, in runs scored and the runs allowed, they should have had a much better record last year. They score runs. It’s a run prevention side and the bullpen side that needs to be improved. I think they’ve addressed that.
I think also, you know, the butt of a lot of the jokes are the Angels. They have Mike Trout. They have Shohei Ohtani. Shohei Ohtani did something last year that hasn’t been done since Babe Ruth. Mike Trout has more WAR than Mickey Mantle at his age, and the Angels lose 10-2.
How many time did we see that last year? That’s sort of a joke that gets told with about the Angels. They’re going to be better than people think, the expanded format on the playoff side. We saw the Philadelphia Phillies get in the playoffs last year with 86 wins. That’s something to bear in mind as we get into the second year of the expanded playoffs.
So for me it’s the Rangers. It’s Texas, and it’s the Angels as well are a couple of teams to watch for.
KARL RAVECH: Look, the Red Sox are one of those teams that if 100 percent of the things go right, then they’ll be competitive. One of those 100 percent of the things they already have in a manager that has been able to work, I won’t say miracles, but he has been able to squeeze the most out of an orange that didn’t appear to have any juice left in it.
That would be an ultimate sort of upset story if they could compete with the Yankees and the Blue Jays. I think the Rays are probably going to take a little step backwards personally. So I think that benefits them and the balanced schedule probably benefits them because the offense is still fairly dynamic, but that’s 100 percent where everything is going to go right. And the risk in going third in a group of three is I would have said the Texas Rangers I think are really interesting.
And when you see the Chicago Cubs lineup today, the names on it make you think that they’ve got a chance. Taillon pitched really well the other day. They have a chance too, but I’ll give you the Red Sox given some of the names that they have there. But, boy, I wish it was, as a Red Sox person, if I were, 2012 again and they had that starting staff. That would be a lot better.
EDUARDO PÉREZ: I’ll add this really quick. Yoshida in person, saw him. Pretty darn impressed. Really impressed with the way he can recognize, you know, and slow everything down even with the timer. I was really impressed with his ability to get to the ball.
Q: This isn’t ESPN specific, and I know this won’t directly impact on performance. With quite a few teams having their broadcast and RSN situations kind of in flux, what do you guys anticipate sort of the impact on this organization as the season kind of goes on?
PHIL ORLINS: I don’t know if it’s a business question or talent question. I’m the production guy, not really the business guy.
But, I mean, I think we really don’t know. I would just say that a lot of the initial response, logically, as fans and as people who connect with the fans as media, is, ‘Hey, how are we going to see the games?’ And, yes, I’m sure we’ll find a way to see the games.
But the business and revenue questions are very, very significant. I’ll just leave it at that. You know, what the fall-out would be if that revenue stream were to be delayed or dried up is, you know, a concern that I would not be positioned to really say much more about or know much more about.
DAVID CONE: I can just say from a player standpoint as being involved in The Players Association for years and talking to Tony Clark about this issue and Randy Levine, the president of the Yankees, about this issue.
You know, it’s easy to point to the future and say, ‘Unbundle everything.’ Everybody is going to be a la carte. Everybody is going to go app-to-app. My 11-year-old son knows Netflix. He doesn’t know cable TV. That’s the easy answer.
The tough answer is, hey, wait a minute, unbundling this thing overnight is much more difficult than you think it’s going to be. There’s some advantages to bundling, some cost advantages. Be careful what you wish for if you try to unbundle this thing too quickly. There’s still a ways to go. There’s still some slack on the leash here according to the people behind the scenes.
This is going to take some time to sort through before we get to the next level of streaming or an app for everything you want to watch and everything is an a la carte menu. That’s easy to say. Much tougher to do.
KARL RAVECH: I will say, it feels like this is another watershed moment for us as consumers of sports and how we ultimately consume them. I do think that this is sort of an envelope pusher as to what direction this whole thing goes. You know, there’s no secret.
Andrew Marchand and John Orland have speculated on even when ESPN becomes a direct-to-consumer along with a linear option. These are conversations that this generation is privy to that prior generations, including us when we were younger, never even thought of. We didn’t.
This isn’t, as Coney said, old man yelling on my lawn about having three channels. This is the reality, and the reality because of something like this is being forced onto us much quicker.
Like Phil said, this is a decision that’s being made at a much higher level than we’re at, but we are consumers of sports, let alone broadcasters of sports, and this will ultimately sort of show the hand as to perhaps what direction it all goes in. It’s a big deal.