Watching the first Sunday Night Baseball broadcast from Los Angeles last night, I was struck by two things.
First, Pablo Sandoval has one of the prettiest swings in the game. When he crushed that homerun off of Hiroki Kuroda in the second innings it looked about as smooth as peanut butter. With his weight loss and seemingly renewed energy, the 24-year-old Kung-Fu Panda looks primed to return to his pre-2010 form, and that’s a very, very good thing for the Giants.
Second, I was absolutely blown away by the new broadcast team of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser, and Bobby Valentine.
Having grown up watching Blue Jays’ games in the 1990s, I was already well aware of the incomparable talent of Shulman who was quite literally the voice of my childhood along with Buck Martinez, and it’s no surprise that he does an amazing job with ESPN’s flagship baseball program.
The real treat was listening to Hershiser and Valentine. After years of hearing Joe Morgan spout off truism about the game of baseball that were, at times, just plain stupid, it’s extremely refreshing to hear the new crew give traditional baseball thinking a kick in the junk on a nationally televised broadcast.
The way Hershiser breaks down pitching and the way Valentine breaks down hitting is not only unconventional, but debunks some of the myths of the science of the game. The notions of “staying back” or “keeping your hands inside the ball” are talked about as being useless drivel made up by the media who have no knowledge of how to actually hit or pitch.
Valentine even mentioned WAR on last night’s broadcast when talking about Giants’ centerfielder Andres Torres and several times the crew quoted a player’s OPS or his WHIP rather than things like batting average or wins and ERA.
The stats displayed on the screen by ESPN echoed this clear shift in thinking. It was phenomenal and I very much doubt I’ll miss a single Sunday night broadcast from here on in; something I couldn’t say last year as Morgan annoyed me so much that I ended up turning off the TV more often than not.
Thinking critically about the game of baseball is something that is just not done in the mainstream media and it’s truly refreshing to see ESPN take a leading role in doing just that.
It’s not about stats versus scouts (another concept I hate, why not both? Are the ideas inherently mutually exclusive? I would think not. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus clearly doesn’t think so) it’s about thinking about the game in an intelligent way that rejects the “you should always bunt players over or steal bases in every situation” bullshivism that permeates television broadcasts.
Good on you ESPN, you’ve got me hooked.