When the Chicago Cubs' Sunday night ball games are televised on ESPN, my husband and I have two choices:
1. Watch the game on mute and turn on WGN radio, hearing every play happen five seconds before it's actually shown on TV or --
2. Suffer through three or more hours of irrelevant drivel and unabashed self-love by ESPN "Sunday Night Baseball" commentators Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.
During Cubs Sunday night games on ESPN, Cub fans are used to enduring hour upon hour of Miller and Morgan discussing every other major league team but the Chicago Cubs and whomever they might be playing. In a Sunday night Cubs/St. Louis Cardinals game earlier this season, I specifically recall an entire inning spent discussing -- ad nauseum -- A-Rod's injury. No, sports fans, you didn't miss a trade. Neither the Cubs nor the Cards have acquired a new third baseman. Miller and Morgan just happen to believe that news on the Yankees' superstar's health is of greater interest to viewers than one of the most heated rivalries in the National League.
Tonight, another headline grabber stole more than an inning's worth of the commentators' attention. True, this time the player was at least somewhat relevant to the game at hand (the Cubs were playing the Dodgers, and the tabloid fodder was Dodger Manny Ramirez). Ramirez recently received a 50-game suspension for violating the MLB's Performance Enhancing Drug policy. In the late innings of tonight's dismal Cubs loss, Miller and Morgan more or less ignored the game being played on the field in favor of dissecting the league's policy on allowing suspended players to play in the minor leagues prior to returning to major league action.
I'm sure this debate between the commentators was of more interest to Dodger fans than to us lowly Cub fans. But I'd also be willing to wager that Dodger fans prefer this kind of analysis to come from their well-informed, homegrown local analysts, much as I prefer Pat Hughes and Ron Santo discussing Carlos Zambrano's ejection and subsequent suspension for attempting to toss an ump and demolishing a Gatorade machine last week.
The truth of the matter is, real baseball fans aren't tuning into ESPN on Sunday nights to hear Jon Miller talk about every other team in the league or Joe Morgan talk about his own career in the game (or, lately, to hear Morgan fight with Steve Phillips about the Mets or Carlos Beltran). Much like the way true political junkies choose C-SPAN and NPR over FOX News and Rush Limbaugh, we're trying to follow the game, broadcast by experts who are actually attentive to the subject matter they're being paid to cover. It's like tuning into a talk show to catch the news: instead of the details and facts you seek, you're bombarded by noise. Sometimes, a silent moment and a poignant image are all fans need to appreciate a big event in a ball game. There aren't many -- if any -- silent moments on ESPN's Sunday Night coverage.
I think it'd be a refreshing change for ESPN to swap in real color analysts, one from each team, to cover the game. Pair Phillies' analyst Chris Wheeler with Pat Hughes when the Cubs go to Philly. Pair White Sox commentator Steve Stone with Minnesota Twins analyst Bert Blyleven when the Twins come to the South Side. Not only will it draw more viewers; it'll allow the rest of us the privilege of watching the game in real time and giving our mute buttons a much needed rest.