By Daniel R. Epstein
Every once in a while, someone on Twitter comes up with a solid gold, pure genius idea out of nowhere that doesn’t get enough attention. For example, here’s what Catherine Tinker dreamt up for the MLB All-Star Game:
MuppetCast would be an absolutely delightful diversion from the staid overprofessionalism of a typical baseball broadcast. Put Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo in the booth next to Jason Benetti. Let Fozzie conduct on-field interviews with a rubber chicken and a squirting flower on his lapel. Whenever someone challenges a call, cut to Statler and Waldorf for their expert takes on safe vs. out. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker can explain baseball analytics concepts and the Swedish Chef could tour the ballpark cuisine. No, it’s not for everyone, which would make it an ideal simulcast.
Even though the Statcast broadcast appears to have been nonrenewed (sadly), simulcasting is the next big trend in sports broadcasting. The Statcast show wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it didn’t have to be. For those interested in analytics or anyone looking for an alternative to the main broadcast, it was outstanding. Football followed suit with the ManningCast and NFL on Nickelodeon this season.
Unfortunately, ESPN will replace Statcast with Álex Rodríguez and Michael Kay. To paraphrase Carl Wilson, this is a bunt instead of a grand slam. Rodríguez’s knowledge of hitting and baseball acumen are beyond reproach, but he rarely uses these assets. Instead, nearly every sentence he utters is a cry for attention, desperate to go viral. His ceaseless pleas for more bunts and decrying of “launch angle swings” show how out of touch he is with modern baseball. He uses the word “analytics” like a Boo Radley to win arguments against no one. With his own special show paired with Kay, a longtime Yankee play-by-play man and no stranger to hot takes of his own, A-Rod will undoubtedly become even more insufferable.
The purpose of a simulcast is to do something unique and original, not a worse version of the same thing. ESPN and MLB should take this opportunity to go completely outside the box. Have popular baseball YouTubers call the game. Let celebrities each take a turn broadcasting an inning alongside an experienced play-by-play announcer. Bring in compelling former players to have a conversation with each other about the game, similar to the ManningCast, such as CC Sabathia and Adrián Beltré. Don’t like it? No problem; go watch the main broadcast instead.
Rather than exploring new frontiers in broadcasting, doubling down on A-Rod is an unoriginal backstep destined to fail. The main Sunday Night Baseball crew of Karl Ravech, David Cone, and Eduardo Perez is a fantastic lineup, especially compared to last year’s tandem of Matt Vasgersian and A-Rod, so there’s no reason whatsoever to tune into the simulcast. MuppetCast might not be as insightful, but it wouldn’t have to be. Instead of listening to A-Rod rant about bunts yet again, wouldn’t you rather watch Animal demonstrate baserunning technique?
Daniel R. Epstein writes for Baseball Prospectus, Off the Bench Baseball, and Bronx Pinstripes. He serves as the co-director of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @depstein1983.