Actor Jon Hamm, left, joins Barry Larkin and Karl Ravech on the “ESPN Baseball Tonight” set during the Hollywood premier of “Million Dollar Arm” earlier this month (from hollywoodreporter.com)
On a typical Dodgers’ regular-season home game, a healthy Vin Scully is one sitting by himself in the TV booth named after him, describing the action below quite sufficiently.
On Sunday’s Dodgers-Pittsburgh game from Dodger Stadium, ESPN has a more mind-blowing concept — it’s going seven strong in trying to accomplish the same thing, taking the “Sunday Night Baseball” crew on an enterprising voyage that likely no broadcast team has tried before.
It starts with Karl Ravech and Barry Larkin, the usual hosts for the “Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown” on-site pregame show, sitting in the booth for Dan Shulman and John Kruk for the call of the game (5 p.m., ESPN2). Shulman and Kruk have the night off. But five other analysts don’t.
Eric Wedge will be wedged in the Dodger Stadium crowd sitting behind home plate. Mark Mulder and Aaron Boone are in the dugout wells. Doug Glanville is out in the right-field pavilion. And Buster Olney, usually down on the field somewhere providing news tidbits, will be in the press box instead.
“The booth, in my opinion, is somewhat antiquated but a safe haven to do a game from,” said ESPN vice president of production Mike McQuade. “We need to look at ways we can give more to the viewer by being in different locations, and if we can do that, how do we work on doing that. And this is a great venue to try all this out.”
Wedge, most recently the Seattle Mariners manager who joined the ESPN “Baseball Tonight” team this season, will be focused on talking about “big picture” strategy. Mulder, the 36-year-old former All-Star left-hander who tried a spring-training comeback with the Angels only to have it derailed by a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, will focus on the pitching aspect of the game. Boone, the former big-league infielder out of USC, will analyze the offensive strategies. Glanville, who spent nine seasons as an outfielder with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers, has the duty of watching how the defense aligns from his perspective.
“Recently, we’ve had Doug positioned for a game in the outfield for a Mets broadcast, and it’s a completely different way to watch,” said McQuade.
Watching differently is what ESPN has been trying to experiment with as the 25th season of Sunday Night Baseball has come together this year. Last month, for example, Shulman and Kruk did a Cubs-Cardinals game from the right-field bleachers at Wrigley Field. Actor Charlie Sheen was a guest on “Baseball Tonight” last week from Cincinnati, while actor Jon Hamm, in the recently released film “Million Dollar Arm,” came into the remote studio site at Pittsburgh three weeks ago.
The celebrity factor that often accompanies a Dodgers game could be exploited as well for this ESPN telecast, too, but McQuade seems content on seven being enough.
“I’m not as concerned as others may be about this becoming a big talk-fest,” McQuade said. “I’m just hopeful we get enough out of all the analysts there because they are so respectful of each other’s opinions that they don’t want to talk over each other, because they’re so respectful of the process. We’ve already tried something like this on smaller scales and it’s surprising that not once have the guys talked over each other in a three-hour window even if they’re in different parts of the park, not together.
“As long as each of them have a very specific thing to focus on, it’ll just be up to Karl and the producer to bring all those voices in. I think we’ve done our due diligence to make sure all their areas of expertise aren’t the same.”
Glanville may be in the most interesting position in casting a light on what it’s like to be in right field during the twilight hour at Dodger Stadium, describing what Yasiel Puig will have to contend with as he fights the sun to follow the flight of the ball.
All the while, the right-field pavilion continues to provide the all-you-can-eat service throughout the game.
“It’s probably good that Kruk has the weekend off,” said McQuade.