Sunday, January 11, 2009

MLB Network's Belated Opening Day!

Sometime last week, That Nick Guy and I were having an email exchange over the new MLB Network. The gist of the dialogue was just how much we were enjoying it. As I mentioned to Nick, baseball has orchestrated some of the least fan-friendly events and innovations during Bud Selig's frumpy sovereignty, but THIS they get right?

Put it this way: while most of you reading this were probably watching the Chargers vs. Steelers tilt this afternoon, I was watching Game #4 of the 1989 American League Championship Series (Rickey's two home run game, Canseco's testosterone shot into the fifth deck at Skydome). OK, the football game was on screen with a picture-in-picture set-up, but it was relegated to the smaller "picture-in…" status.

The Network's not perfect, though. During a countdown of the game's greatest home runs on their Prime 9 show, there was nary a mention of that guy who broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. There's also been a comparable amount of Red Sox-related programming that one would expect from ESPNESN.

I quibble, I quibble… Anyways, I'd planned to throw this up earlier, but never got around to it. It's a running diary of the MLB Network's first airing of "Hot Stove" on January 1 – think ESPN's Baseball Tonight with a million more people onscreen.

0:01 - Commissioner Selig formally introduces MLB Network to a nation of hungover New Year's revelers who've flipped over from halftime of the Rose Bowl. Selig pimps the Network's access to 150,000 hours of archival footage. Mrs. Bootleg thinks I'm watching a DVD. I tell her what it really is. Her icy "what?" reaction might be the greatest moment of my marriage.

0:02 - Quite the stunning montage to kick things off: Jackie Robinson (natch); Barry Bonds is shown hitting #756 with the end of Hank Aaron's "…there's a new home run champion…" call dubbed over (pretty damn cool, actually); Rickey(!) stealing 939 fades to Sid Bream's famous dash in '92 which fades to Ken Griffey's winning run in the '95 ALDS. OK…remember that episode of The Simpsons where Krusty solemnly states, "Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience a television event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage"…? Yeah, this is that.

0:03 - Victor Rojas is our studio host (although I'm pretty sure he's just filling in for the awesomely outrageous Matt Vasgersian here), former ESPN personality and Mariners' offensive cipher/2B Harold Reynolds joins him, along with Al Leiter and Barry Larkin. Hazel Mae – looking more, umm…"manufactured" than in her NESN days – is our update bunny and Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins gets to introduce himself and ends with the line "don't miss it" while flashing the double guns/universal douche sign.

0:05 - With the introductions out of the way, the gang gets to the business of offseason analysis, including a recap of the awards, player movement… The half-Pravda, half-vanilla style here is like come to life. All that's missing is Leiter looking into the camera and reading "Barry Zito focused on 2009 turnaround" off the teleprompter.

0:08 - A discussion on Manny Ramirez establishes everyone's roles right away. Leiter – a criminally underrated color commentator for the past few years – will be the contrarian voice of reason. Reynolds will continue to mix salient analysis with bad comedy (his impression of Vin Scully here actually hurts my ears) and Larkin will be the ex-athlete whose pedigree will protect his unfounded, inexplicable claims ("Manny puts at least 5,000 butts in the seats for every game!") for only so long.

0:14 - Jimmy Rollins stands on the faux field at "Studio 42". He and Reynolds talk about the Cole Hamels "Mets/choke artists" non-story that'll be a story all season in New York. Reynolds follows up with a "two-fold question" (his words), then mispronounces J.J. Putz's surname. They conclude by discussing new Phillies OF Raul IbaƱez without once mentioning his awful defense. Seriously, Harold, he's worse than Pat Burrell. You'd know that if you stayed up for the late games.

0:18 - Bob Costas intros a spot for the Network's "Greatest Games" series. This one spotlight's Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956. Larsen and Yogi Berra – his catcher that day – stand with their arms folded in one of those dramatic television poses that should've really been retired with this guy.

0:21 - Rollins and all the analysts are in warm-up suits (Reynolds: "Obviously, we've changed clothes." Thanks, H.R.). They spend the next 10 minutes breaking down footage from Jackie Robinson stealing home in the 1955 World Series. I spend the next 10 seconds fast forwarding through it. Reynolds' ridiculous assertion ("For years, fans have argued whether Jackie was safe or out") only emboldens my thumb towards the remote's button.

0:30 - Hey, it's an interview with Rangers OF Josh Hamilton! Like most noteworthy Hamilton moments, it's soft-toss all the way. Neither Rojas nor Leiter ask if Hamilton ever plans to pay back the Tampa Bay Rays for the $3 million he stole from them during the smack addict first act of "The Josh Hamilton Story". Last time I'll mention this, I promise.

0:38 - We meet our MLB Network "insiders" - Sports Illustrated writers Tom Verducci and Jon Heyman. I am not a fan of either man. Both look uncomfortable on camera, while Heyman – in particular – comes across as arrogantly as he writes.

0:50 - Trenni Kusnierek narrates a piece on Roberto Clemente. Terrific stuff here, including video of Clemente's 3,000th hit (the announcer repeatedly refers to him as "Bobby", which is…well, 1972), his jersey retirement ceremony and Hall of Fame induction a year later.

= = =

So, it's going to be a 24-hour baseball network that ultimately ends my marriage?

Holy sh*t, I actually had that in the pool!

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