Major League Baseball has done something exceptionally correct with the creation of its newly launched MLB Network. Unlike the NFL’s own highly imperfect network, the MLB has formatted a lineup comprised of “classic” footage presentations, current analysis, and live baseball that — even before its first official Major League season of existence — has already proven highly engrossing, especially for the hardcore baseball fan starving in a winter of discontent with an ESPN dominated by hockey and basketball.
The obvious area in which the MLB Network trumps the NFL is historical content. While the NFL Network is afforded a limited amount of historical footage, mostly comprised of highlight reels and retrospective videos, the MLB has a vast library of regular season, All-Star, and World Series games dating back over 80+ years. The sheer volume of contests played in an MLB season, compared to that of the NFL, gives a basic indicator as to the differential in the amount historical material each network is capable of continuously presenting. Combine the aforementioned game footage with the array of quality documentaries and compilations that have been created about baseball over the years — easily more volumous and of higher quality than those of the NFL — and it is obvious that the MLB Network has an inherent advantage on this point.
Another natural advantage the MLB Network possesses is the fact that baseball is played, in various places on the planet, all year round, resulting in a constant flow of live programming. A topical example of this is the network’s current airing of the Caribbean Series, the championship series concluding the season known in the states as “winter ball.” Showcasing a mixture of major league and domestic talent on teams representing — this season — Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela — the games have been highly entertaining, featuring a solid talent level and an exciting international atmosphere, especially for off-season, non-MLB baseball.
Looking forward to the network’s future and/or potential of broadcasting the World Baseball Classic, spring training games, minor league games, and possibly, some day, various foreign league baseball games from places like the Dominican Republic, the Mexican Leagues and Japan, one can see that the MLB Network also possesses a clear advantage concerning this form of content. The internationalism of baseball, unlike the mainly domestic appeal of football, provides the MLB Network the capacity for a continual expansion that will only serve to enrich the sport from an international perspective, and the network from one of programming.
Finally, when considering analytical content, the MLB’s Hot Stove Report and MLB Tonight — the first pundit based news shows launched by the network — are far superior than any of the analytically based programming on the NFL Network, and highly comparable to Baseball Tonight on ESPN. Featuring former MLB players Barry Larkin, Al Leiter, Joe Magrane, Dan Plesac, Harold Reynolds, Mitch Williams, and most recently added Sean Casey, as analysts along with Greg Amsinger, Victor Rojas, and Matt Vasgersian, as hosts — all appearing on both shows at various times — the analysis and perspectives are insightful and probing, possessing the feel of an in-depth, inside perspective of the game unlike anything yet provided to the public.
Add to this talented roster Bob Costas as the main play-by-play announcer of broadcasted games and host of both All Time Games and MLB Network Studio 42 with Bob Costas (upon which Costas interviewed Joe Torre about his new book on the show’s debut), and MLB Network has achieves a level of quality that far exceeds the expectations for a league-owned network, set admittedly low by the NFL.
When I first learned that the MLB planned to launch its own network I was skeptical, to say the least. Envisioning a cheap, patch work display of old This Week in Baseball episodes and 1980s blooper videos — similar to that of the NFL Network — I was sure that there was no possibility MLB would get this venture correct. I am enthusiastically thrilled to admit that I was completely wrong. Combining programing that illustrates the best aspects of the game’s past, present, and future, with a quality presentation and delivery that far exceeds that of the NFL Network, the MLB has created what may eventually grant every baseball fan’s greatest fantasy; a truly endless summer.