ESPN: A Baseball Fan's Lament

James HarperContributor IApril 6, 2009

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 31:  Announcer Peter Gammons on the field during the Civil Rights Game between the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals on March 31, 2007 at AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tennessee. The Cardinals won 5-1. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

What about ESPN makes you angry?

Every sports fan has a complaint. The network spends too much time on one sport, not enough on another. The anchors are smug, cocky, or imbecilic. The ads are downright insulting.

Whatever your complaint is about ESPN, none are more valid than those of the baseball fan. For all the sports ESPN covers, it seems that our nation’s pastime seems to get the short shift. Time and again, when it comes to finding the score of your favorite team’s game or that highlight you read about on a blog, ESPN seems to be preoccupied with The World’s Strongest Man competition, or worse, bowling.

And waiting for your team’s score along the bottom line is maddening. It never fails that the score you happen to be looking for comes after the others; the NBA, the NFL, the NCAA, or the hockey scores. And it only gets worse during college football in the fall when every collegiate team gets to shine at the bottom of the ESPN screen, while baseball waits last in line.

ESPN does, however, get it mostly right with Baseball Tonight, seemingly the only show on the network the baseball fan can look forward to without cringing. Karl Ravech has the maturity and grace to admit when he doesn’t know something, turning to one of the analysts for answers. Try finding that kind of humility from Jim Rome.

Their slate of analysts goes deep beyond the baseball stars of yesteryear.  Peter Gammons, the godfather of baseball columnists, renders his well-informed opinions with the research and insight only he can give.

Buster Olney and Tim Kurchin add their analyses to the program with thoughtful, wise, seasoned in-clubhouse reporting.  They help the show blend its wide-ranging reporting with opinions that, while not hard-hitting, are at least intelligent.

This is not to say that the journalists are matched by their athletic counterparts. It seems that the requirements to broadcast color for ESPN are simply appearing on field as professional player.

No wit, personality, or even sense of humor are required. It’s as if during the interview, the only question ESPN asks is: “Have you ever put on a professional uniform?”

The worst offender is Steve Philips, whose reputation as a jerk in the front office preceded his continued ineptitude behind the analyst desk. Phillips gets it wrong more often than he gets it right, but that never stops him from putting it out there anyway.

The sole exception to the lack of insight among player analysts is John Kruk. The West Virginia warthog knows his sports, has seen it all (including Randy Johnson chin music), and is not afraid to tell it like he sees it.

The rest struggle to make it sound good, which is something, it seems, they will continue to do for a long time before they get it right on Baseball Tonight. Or until the MLB Network makes it superfluous.