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Please Explain: The Initial Launch of the MLB Network
2009-01-25 20:09
by Scott Long
Notes:
Scott Long is now blogging at NSFWsports.com.
Will Carroll can still be found at Baseball Prospectus.

Are you officially a network if no one is watching?  OK, maybe that is a bit harsh, but what a colossal bore the new baseball network has been.  Unless you have never seen Ken Burns' wonderful PBS documentary or you are a historian of old game highlights, the only thing the network offers of any quality is its Hot Stove show.  Yes, I know that it is January and it will amp up when spring training and the WBC begins, but that is no excuse for not coming out of the gate with more intriguing programming. 

I'm aware that baseball doesn't lend itself to the exciting footage that the NFL does, but the clips are only part of the magic that NFL Films has added to its finished products.  Steve Sabol has brought humor and an edge to most of the work he's done, with the NFL having enough foresight to know that their work has helped grow their game.  While MLB doesn't have a great library of shows to offer to its new network like NFL Films brought to the NFL Network, it is inexcusable, considering the lengthy amount of time it had before launching that the MLB Network didn't create some better documentaries than its weak Prime 9.  I wrote over a year ago that the MLB Network should emulate the NFL Network and create its own version of America's Game, the brilliant documentary program covering each Super Bowl champ.  Sadly, nothing even close has aired on the MLB Network of America's Game quality. 

The one major topic that baseball has which completely trumps football is the place statistics holds to its fans.  If you wanted to get many of your hardcore customers to watch the channel in January (and who else would have that much interest, otherwise), there should be a show featuring sabermetrical talk.  Even if it was just once a week, why isn't there a round-table show with statistical experts discussing current and historical issues with a sabermetrical slant?  And while I'm on the subject of the MLB Network whiffs, where is a fantasy baseball show? This is the other subject that could interest many hardcore fans during the off-season. 

I have no beef with the hiring of the on-air talent for the Hot Stove show. Its analysts are head and shoulders above what you see on Baseball Tonight, well except for when you get the occasional Gammons or Kurkjian sighting.  The hiring of Tom Verducci and Jon Heyman were really good moves. I know a lot of people around here rip Harold Reynolds, but he is really telegenic and baseball on ESPN has suffered since he left.  Where I do think the MLB Network missed out was by not hiring a top-notch host to be the face of the channel like Rich Eisen has provided for the NFL Network.  Someone with some edge and a good sense of humor is needed to keep a 24-hour network dedicated to one topic seem fresh and it just isn't there right now.  The Big 10 Network has its own problems, but the hiring of Dave Revsine from ESPN was a wise move to be their version of Eisen. 

I'm sure when the actual season starts I will look past some of these issues, as having a channel completely dedicated to baseball, featuring highlights and live look-ins will camouflage a lot of problems.  I'm just at a loss of why the channel decided to kick off in January 2009, instead of waiting at least until pitchers and catchers show up.  I'm even more disappointed in the pathetic quality of its original documentaries. 

If you're going to have your own network, you need to invest more in original programming. My first move to improve the network would be to hire some of the top people away from NFL Films and let them have the freedom to do what they need to create quality documentary programming.  The other move I would make would be to give Baseball Prospectus its own show, which would give the network some edge and at the same time take away the idea that the MLB Network is just a mouthpiece for the owners.  (I realize that probably won't happen, but a good compromise would be to hire a couple of the guys from BP to bring some much needed contrarian analysis.)

I'm happy that the MLB Network exists, but it is off to a pretty dismal beginning.          

      

Comments
2009-01-25 22:09:14
1.   berkowit28
I like the ancient World Series and similar highlights shows from the 1940s and 50s, but I can't watch the modern highlights programs (2000s WS, seasons, etc.) The reason is the absolutely appalling sound tracks. They play a continual "stirring, climactic" banal score that never stops, never pauses, with percussion thumping away mindlessly the whole time. I just can't take it. Ken Burns' may be heavy on the plinkety banjo evoking some rural pastorale, but at least it leaves space for contemplation or just plain calm. It's just so crappy.
2009-01-25 22:17:05
2.   David Arnott
Off the top of my head, you launch the network in January partly so that the calendar year matches up nicely, but mostly so that you can get broadcast hours under your belt before viewership picks up in March, then hits a peak in April. Those little-seen months are crucial, since that's the time unforeseen kinks will get worked out. March and April are the "real" launches. This is just a warmup.
2009-01-26 06:47:34
3.   Eric Stephen
1
That's a good description of the crappy score on modern championship videos. Sadly, I haven't had a reason to watch one for 21 years. :)

When the MLB Network first started, there was this 60-minute "Epic Moments" video that would run that always got me hyped up. They haven't run anything close to that for some time.

When the Miller High Life commercials came on a few years ago, I loved the narrator and decided I would hire him to narrate my biographical documentary, but after listening to him on Prime 9 I am sad to say I'm over him.

"Harveys Wallbangers," the documentary on the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, was cool to watch. They should show some older stuff like this more often rather than 2-3 viewings a day of Game 3 of the 2006 WS. There are a bunch of videos from the 1980s and early 1990s that I used to save my allowance to buy on VHS. I wouldn't mind seeing those.

Perhaps MLB Network can do player documentaries like the SportsCentury ones from ESPN. Those would be a nice watch.

2009-01-26 07:56:55
4.   Sox Fan In NYC
I'm guessing you haven't watched Prime 9, which is a really entertaining show while we wait for the season to get started. I think to anticipate 24 HR original programming of baseball is expecting too much. As a baseball fan, watching the '89 world series is awesome. I could do without the Chris Berman HR derbies, but I'd rather them sort out the network when nothing is going on than winging it when pitchers & catchers report.

If the Hot Stove show is any indication, the network will be must-see TV for baseball fans.

2009-01-26 08:13:36
5.   Scott Long
The Harvey Wallbangers documentary was the best thing they have shown, even though it had really cheap production values and had practically no edge to it. (Considering the age of it I'm sure it was done by someone else).

Prime 9 is a big disappointment. It has about the same quality as a Best Damn Sports Show Top 10 clip show. Put America's Game or Sports Century (or even Fox Sports' Beyond the Glory) against Prime 9 and you end up really disappointed.

Sure I get the whole calendar year and warmup concept, but to come out the gate with such little quality original programming, especially considering how long they have had this thing in the pipeline is inexcusable.

2009-02-03 11:08:26
6.   a red sox fan from pinstripe territory
I have to admit, I'm very glad MLB Network isn't the fantasy and hot stove-heavy programming you wish it was. I love old baseball highlights and I've already seen the 1943, '44, and '46 original World Series films which as far as I know, have never been aired anywhere before.

And Ken Burns' Baseball--I saw it when it came out, but haven't seen it since, so of course I'm enjoying it all over again.

I'm normally very critical of MLB as a whole, and I expected crap from this network, but I've found it surprisingly entertaining.

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