One of the most highly anticipated television channel launches in history occurred on Thursday, when the MLB Network went live at 6pm ET. The 24-hour dedicated channel long sought after by Major League Baseball arrived with Commissioner Bud Selig addressing fans, and then an introduction to MLBN’s studios were handled well by on-air hosts Victor Rojas, Harold Reynolds, Al Leiter, Barry Larkin, Trenni Kusnierek, and Hazel Mae.
Hot Stove, MLB Network’s off-season program, was handled well from an on-air talent perspective, as well as the technical side. The two main studios, built at MLB Network’s home at the former MSNBC studios in Secaucus, N.J. were top-notch, with Studio 42 being the highlight. Studio 42, named for Jackie Robinson’s jersey number, is a scaled down “ballpark” and allowed Reynolds, Leiter, Larkin, and guest host Jimmy Rollins to break down Robinson’s signature play, stealing home on Yogi Berra during the 1955 World Series.
As for the on-air talent, the chemistry between Reynolds, Larkin, and Leiter was lively and natural. The banter between the analysts seemed to take a play out of TNT’s NBA coverage playbook by adding a good dose of personality to the mix, something absent from TBS’ studio crew.
But, the highlight of Day One for MLB Network was the rebroadcast of Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game. Whether it was planned, or a lack of advertisers for the channel’s launch, MLBN offered fans the original commercials by Gillette and Baseball Encyclopedia that aired over 50 years ago every half inning, while showing an in-studio interview, hosted by Bob Costas with Yogi Berra and Larsen at the top of each inning, and current advertisers, such as Budweiser and Pepsi.
By not clouding the game with too much commentary, and limited ads, fans were treated something truly rare without it being overshadowed.
All told, MLB Network’s launch came off clean, and without hitches, a good sign for fans looking for a 24/7/365 option on television. The only issues that came about were not on the screen, but rather the hiccups of launching the largest cable channel in history (see Subscriber Confusion Surrounds MLB Network Launch), but overall, MLB Network could be headed for a home run.
What the future will be like for MLBN, will define them. If delicate subjects such as Clemens' and Bonds' legal cases, possible labor disputes, and some of baseball's missteps, such as collusion are avoided entirely, then MLBN could simply be viewed as a mouthpiece for the league. For now, the MLB Network offers a chance to enjoy baseball during a time when it is normally still a far off dream on television.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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