MLB Network Provides Required Viewing, Hopefully Not Required Trashing, For Fans

Mark HandelmanContributor IJanuary 7, 2009

The timing for the debut of the MLB Network could not have been any stranger. With no meaningful baseball to be played for a few more months, coupled with a struggling economy where people and businesses are scaling back, the debut of the "official network of Major League Baseball" sure is curious.

At the same time, a dedicated showcase to the sport that has acted as a distraction from real-world troubles (The Great Depression and the events of 9/11, to name a few) may be just what we need right now.

Launching on New Year's Day, MLB Network pulled out all the stops in grabbing for the attention of baseball fans nationwide. With one highly-digital studio for discussion and analysis, and a larger set with a baseball stadium theme for demonstrations and studio audiences, and a group of experienced broadcasters, insiders, and former players, this was no local access cable show. With a multitude of displays and cameras in every ballpark, just imagine the amount of information being presented at any given time.

And no, there will be no break for basketball scores or the latest scandal to hit women's synchronized swimming.

One other area that gives the MLB Network instant credibility is their programming. The depth of programs and documentaries produced by MLB Productions, on top of the footage that MLB already owns, could provide viewers with new programming year-round. Along with productions such as the Ken Burns documentary Baseball, features on past World Series, the history of the Negro Leagues, and memorable seasons over the years, all areas and eras of the game are represented.

Until the start of play, it will be hard to actually see how the MLB Network will come together. By looking at the mistakes (buzzwords and catchphrases, Scooter, and Joe Buck, to name a few) and innovations (viewer interaction, detailed strike zones) made by other networks, the new-kid-on-the-block should have a clear idea of where they should go and what to avoid.

And other than former players like Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter, and Mitch Williams, the cast of anchors are fairly unknown to national baseball viewers. Do they have what it takes to shine under the larger microscope of national television?

Along with the full weight of financial backing from Major League Baseball and cable partners and a starting subscriber base of over 50 million households, the high-profile launch of MLB Network has started off on the right foot. Time will tell—namely, the start of the baseball season, whether it will be a trend-setter or a follower.