The time: I don’t remember, exactly, but call it Eastern.
On MLB Network’s MLB Now, host Brian Kenny sat with David Duchovny and discussed the actor-turned-author’s novel, Bucky F*cking Dent.
“It speaks our New York language,” the host declared.
I thought, “Our New York language?”
I kept watching as the men discussed fiction based on fact: Yankee Bucky Dent’s unlikely home run in the 1978 American League East tie-breaker against the Red Sox, a three-run blast over Fenway’s Green Monster that provided Dent an enduring middle name in Boston.
“You speak the language of ’70s and ’80s New York so perfectly,” Kenny continued. “Because all our people here”–he waved a hand across the studio–“all our producers and everything…The Scooter and Bill White. This a great entertainment vehicle, right? For our Yankee baseball.”
I’ve been around enough to know that East Coast Bias–say it with capital letters, folks–isn’t fiction. It’s something the rest of us just live with, like noise from leaf blowers. I also realize the Yankees are baseball’s flagship franchise, an organization so powerful they buy free agents in bulk, lead the league in farewell tours and boast their own TV network.
I wondered: Even if the bias is entrenched, do the Yankees really need another network?
I decided to perform an experiment. To determine if MLB Network really does serve as the Yankees’ second mouthpiece, or if, perhaps, the bias extends to other teams, I would watch MLB Now or MLB Central each day of one randomly selected week per month of the season.
The experiment had begun.
Following a network ad that featured actor Kevin James, of King of Queens; actor Ed Burns, from Queens; and actor Hank Azaria, from Queens, the show welcomed analysts Ken Rosenthal and Dave Valle. I glanced at the internet. Sure enough, both are from New York, as are Kenny and Duchovny.
Much as I often do, I began using italics to ponder the state of affairs.
Good gravy! Imagine a network inviting four Georgia guys to discuss baseball!
The men welcomed former Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry, by phone, for an interview. They discussed the 1978 pennant race and showed clips of Guidry pitching with the Green Monster in the background. Later, Valle looked into the camera to pose a question to Guidry.
“Growing up in Queens, a Yankee fan my entire life,” the former big league catcher said in reference to himself, “what was the best part”–he paused–“of being a New York Yankee.”
Cast in an expectant glow, Valle gazed into the camera as if the question itself, separate of the answer it anticipated, had been enough to honor the Yankee exaltedness. And truly, it had been.
MLB Now, Tuesday, April 19 and Thursday, April 21
The Gut Reaction segment had arrived. The analysts–Kenny, Valle, Rosenthal and writer Joe Lemire, a Massachusetts native–were posed a question: Is Cubs-Cardinals the top rivalry in MLB?
Rosenthal chuckled. “Hey, I’m not going to get sucked into this regional madness,” he replied, perhaps presaging a colossal irony. “They’re all good.”
“It’s not the top rivalry,” Lemire said. “Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, for my money, are still a little ahead.”
Valle agreed. “I do like this budding rivalry,” he said of a Cubs-Cards rivalry that had entered its 124th year. “I don’t think it matches up…with the Yankees-Red Sox because of just the long history that [New York and Boston] have had.”
On Thursday, following a Wednesday when an afternoon game had preempted MLB Now, the show featured host Kenny; former Yankees beat writer Joel Sherman, from Brooklyn; former Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, from New Jersey; and SABR president Vince Gennaro, who, per the Wall Street Journal, is a New Jerseyan “who grew up rooting for the Yankees.”
I had identified a potential problem. Not only did MLB Now’s subject matter appear to lean toward the coast, and, moreso, to New York, the voices bore a distinct regional tone. Lively discourse has its basis in a variety of inflections, but everybody here had Big Apple breath.
MLB Now, Friday, April 22
Friday featured a replacement for Vince Gennaro. His name: Sparky Lyle. Kenny introduced him as “two-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees.” The words “New York” had seemed unnecessary, but I could’ve been wrong. Talk turned to the Astros’ slow start. It remained there only briefly.
Kenny: “Another team that is struggling, the Yankees have lost seven of eight. So let’s play the media-overreaction game. Nothing new to you, Sparky Lyle…the Yankees feel different.”
Lyle nodded. “You’re so expected to win there…I actually believe in my heart that putting those pinstripes on made me a better player.”
Kenny: “There ya go!”
In Digging Into The Data, Kenny and Lyle discussed relievers’ roles. Accompanying the conversation were video clips of just two relievers: Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage, each in a Yankees uniform despite the fact that Lyle pitched for four other teams and Gossage eight.
Next, the men discussed Lyle’s 1979 memoir, The Bronx Zoo. Complementing the discussion were clips of Lyle pitching in a Yankees uniform, the Yankees celebrating their 1977 World Series victory, and Lyle in a vintage interview: “To win one as a Yankee in New York, it was absolutely unbelievable.”
Lyle then told an anecdote: During spring training one year, Boston’s Ted Williams gave him advice about his slider.
Cue footage of Williams in a Red Sox uniform.
Said Kenny, “Now to get to the Yankees.”
On Friday evening I turned on the TV. I had recorded a couple other MLB Network shows in hopes of coverage that didn’t bend toward the Bronx. After all, following a Lyle interview that centered on the Yankees, MLB Now had continued with the Gut Reaction segment.
Kenny: “We’ll start with Aroldis Chapman coming back for the New York Yankees.”
It had continued with Now Or Never.
Kenny: “Let’s go back in time: Yankees-Royals”
It had ended with the ninth set of Yankees clips.
Now on MLB Central, host Matt Vasgersian interviewed writer/director Garry Marshall.
Vasgersian: “Your hometown Yankees…were playing the Dodgers [in the 1978 World Series], your adopted home. Where were your partisanships?”
Had I just glimpsed the network blueprint? Was it to start in New York, to celebrate New York, then to fly over flyover country to the West Coast?
“Well, I rooted for the Yankees my whole life,” Marshall replied. “So I go way back with the Yankees. And now I’ve been in Los Angeles so long, I like the Dodgers.”
“And it is about the Mets,” Marshall said.
Onscreen was an image of the show’s stars in Mets uniforms.
Following the interview, Vasgersian turned to the camera. “When we come back, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry renews again tonight at Fenway.”
I confess. Without realizing it, I had begun the exercise on a week that would end with Yankees-Red Sox. Maybe–just maybe?–the ensuing weeks would be less Yankee-centric.
After three more sets of Yankees clips, the Golden Ticket segment began.
Question: If you could go to one game this weekend, what would it be?
Former big leaguer Mark DeRosa, a New Jersey native, said, “I’m gonna stay here and go to Citi Field to see the Gigantes play the Mets.”
Former big leaguer Eric Byrnes, a California native, said, “I’m going back to the Bay, the East Bay.”
Vasgersian, a California native, said, “I’d go to L.A. for Padres-Dodgers. Not that I care about the matchup. I don’t. Sorry. It’s nothing personal. I just want to go to Southern California.”
Lauren Shehadi, a metro D.C. native, said, “I want to go to Target Field to watch the Twins and Tigers.”
The others stared in silence.
“I know that’s surprising,” she added.
They proceeded to laugh at “ice fishing and ice hockey.”
In the lead-up to the Yankees-Red Sox telecast, MLB Tonight host Fran Charles asked announcer Bob Costas, “Is the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry still one of the top in the game?”
“Well, it is,” said Costas, “because of the history and because of the regional passion. But as a matter of fact, the teams have not each won 90 games in a season in the last five years.”
To the screen came footage of Boston’s “Spaceman” Bill Lee screaming at the ’76 Yankees, punches, beanballs, Don Zimmer, Pedro Martinez, the whole thing. “You have to say it’s lost some of its luster,” Costas went on, “but Yankees-Red Sox always has more appeal than most matchups.”
He shrugged. “Otherwise, why would we be here all the time?”
MLB Central, Monday, May 16
The hosts–Vasgersian, DeRosa, Byrnes–welcomed actor Gary Valentine.
Onscreen: Played Role Of Danny Heffernan On “The King of Queens.”
The men began by discussing Valentine’s hometown Mets.
Vasgersian: “Mets-Dodgers is always fun…We’ve seen that out in L.A. last week. You make your home out in Los Angeles.”
Valentine: “Yeah, I do.”
Vasgersian: “So describe for the lay fan”–repeat: the lay fan–“the difference in atmosphere. They’re both great fan bases. Dodgers fans love their team, Mets fans love their team.”
Know who else loves their teams? FANS OF ALL THE OTHER TEAMS.
Vasgersian: “But they’re completely different animals on the two coasts.”
There are three coasts, actually. The Gulf Coast physically exists. It is 1,631 miles in length and features many seafood restaurants. You can look it up!
Valentine: “They [Dodgers fans] get up for their team, but it’s not like being at Citi Field. There’s just something electric about New York. I mean, you guys know. You played all over. You know, St. Louis is a great fan base. But different. Cincinnati, same thing. But different. It’s not –”
He paused, searching for just the right words.
“– New York.”
Later they welcomed a second interviewee.
Vasgersian: “We were introduced to our next guest as Ryan Atwood on The O.C. He’s now Jim Gordon on Gotham.”
Appearing “live from New York” was Ben McKenzie.
Appearing next was a photo of McKenzie in a Dodgers jersey.
MLB Central, Tuesday, May 17
“Which game do we have on the network?” asked Vasgersian as the show began.
“Oh!” replied Vasgersian. “It’s almost as if we rehearsed that!”
Later came an interview with singer Cassadee Pope. I turned to the internet and learned Pope is a Florida native. As such, she was the first non-New Yorker/Angeleno to appear on an MLB Network show during the experiment.
I waited for Vasgersian to ask about her favorite team.
He did not.
Following the Oppo-Taco Tuesday segment, whose screen graphic features former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, the hosts began a 20-minute conversation about the Dodgers. After a break, they welcomed actor Paul Reiser to the program.
For the uninitiated, Reiser spent seven seasons in a sitcom about two people sitting around a New York City apartment in comfortable pajamas.
They began by discussing Diner, the 1982 film in which Reiser appeared.
Vasgersian: “So you’re a New Yorker.”
Aaaaaaaand we’re off.
Vasgersian: “And Diner [is] about a bunch of guys who grew up loving the Baltimore Colts, and I would imagine that as a New Yorker you had some baseball skin in the game.”
Reiser: “Yeah, I was a Yankee fan.”
Analyst Sean Casey joined the discussion. “What about when you went out to L.A.?…Did you become a Dodger fan when you went out there?”
Reiser: “I became a Dodger fan. My loyalty is kind of fluid. Five summers ago my son and I did every stadium, and I realized…I would just be loudly supporting whoever’s stadium we were visiting. Like, ‘Let’s go, Twins!’”
Casey let out a bellowing laugh.
MLB Central, Wednesday, May 18
The morning moved to Syndergaard’s postgame interview.
“Great to come home and pitch in front of…the best fans in baseball.”
The analysts discussed Mets-Nationals for the next seven minutes. Meanwhile, a graphic had appeared onscreen–Afternoon Baseball On MLB Network: Boston at Kansas City.
I had noticed a not-shocking trend. If the featured game included a small-market, non-coastal team, it typically included a large-market, coastal team–in this case, Boston.
Yeah. News at 11.
Talk turned to the Giants.
Vasgersian: “The Giants have gotten hot, and we’re not talking about them perhaps as much as we should be here because we’re always focused on the Northeast corridor.”
I nearly tumbled from my chair. Here, for the first time, the network had said what it had consistently shown.
Vasgersian looked into the camera. “And for that I apologize, Western U.S.”
It’s worthing noting, I suppose, that Vasgersian apologized–ironically, mind you–only to the Western U.S. and not to, y’know, the Middle U.S.
“Sometimes,” he added, “we should just talk about how great [the Giants] are.”
They began by praising Madison Bumgarner for being “a genuine person” after his staredown of Wil Myers a night earlier. Later, they discussed Rougned Odor’s right jab to Jose Bautista’s left cheek two days prior.
Byrnes: “Here’s a guy”–Bautista–“plays hard on an everyday basis”
DeRosa: “There’s been articles written about people celebrating what Rougned Odor did!”
“Pffffttt,” Vasgersian intoned. “It’s that close to being a cheap shot, in my mind.”
Odor hadn’t been properly genuine, I assumed, or else properly coastal.
Your fault, Rougie. You should’ve played for the ’76 Yankees.
Following a Gam Cam segment on which Boston’s Peter Gammons talked about the Dodgers and Ted Williams, the third hour began with Vasgersian discussing former Mets infielder Daniel Murphy.
Vasgersian: “Last night, Daniel Murphy returned to New York.”
Onscreen were images of Mets fans giving Murphy a standing ovation.
Vasgersian: “It was a nice moment at Citi Field.”
Byrnes: “It really was. I was there at Citi Field.”
Byrnes continued. “And then the next at-bat…[Murphy] comes up and you wonder, ‘What’s the next reaction going to be?’ And it was, ‘Boooooooooooo! Booooooooooooooooo!’
“I’m like, ‘This. Is. Why. I. Love — ’
Three New York bagels if you guess what’s next.
“‘– New York City.’”
Want cream cheese with that?
The message: New York exceptionalism holds sway. Do it in some other city…well, you’re being gauche. Do it in New York…hey, you’re being a New Yorker! You’re being electric.
The festival continued with footage of Mike Piazza returning to Shea Stadium as a member of the Padres, and handmade signs that read, “We Love You Mike Piazza.”
It didn’t end there.
Shehadi: “The Mets did something pretty classy for Murphy. Check this out.”
Did we have a choice?
Later, Vasgersian interviewed former big league catcher and current Brewers broadcaster Bill Schroeder. I marked it as a win. After Cassadee Pope, Schroeder was the first non-coastal interviewee.
His first anecdote: “The Carnegie Deli,” he said of the Gotham restaurant.
The conversation ended with Schroeder recounting the time he caught both ends of a doubleheader in Arlington “in 100-degree heat.” With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say this: It would become a theme.
MLB Central, Thursday, May 19
Fran Charles, who, according to a bio, holds degrees from Stanford (in greater San Francisco) and Columbia (in New York), had stepped in as guest host. “Let’s go out west, shall we?” he said.
The show opened with highlights of the Giants’ defeat of San Diego and continued with a report featuring Instagram photos of starter Johnny Cueto.
Charles: “It looks like Cueto, with the Instagram, he fits in that clubhouse.”
As it often had on MLB Network, the term “that clubhouse,” in reference to San Francisco’s, had just been uttered with a reverence typically reserved for the 5th Marine Regiment.
DeRosa: “He’s locked into that clubhouse.”
Later, more Yankees highlights gave way to an interview with Lindsay Berra, granddaughter of Yogi Berra. They discussed his relationship with recently deceased Joe Garagiola. They discussed former Yankee and current musician Bernie Williams. They talked about Williams’ performance in the Rainbow Room, “where Sinatra played.” They talked about his graduation from the Manhattan School of Music. To the screen came a photo of retired baseball player Derek Jeter. It wouldn’t be the last I’d see of Jeter.
MLB Central, Friday, May 20
Talk turned from NY to SF.
Byrnes: “There’s something about that place.”
He continued. “I don’t know if it’s the water, Alcatraz Island, maybe the seals, the Bay Bridge, the beautiful rolling hills…”
Charles: “It’s gorgeous, brother, the Bay Area.”
Byrnes wasn’t finished. “…the cable cars, the way the fans have gotten behind the team.”
What’s that you say? A team has won three titles in five years and the fans are BEHIND it?
DeRosa: “He’s onto something there. The weather there keeps the guys fresh…It’s not like playing in Texas, where you’re taking batting practice in a furnace for four months.”
Charles took the baton. “The [San Francisco] park is unbelievable. The fans are great as well. And here’s the interesting thing. If this were the Yankees –”
There it was.
As if sensing a Gotham-shaped gap in the love-in, Charles had brought it back to New York.
“– and they had an opportunity to win four World Series in seven years…this would be all over sports media right now.”
So there you have it: The host had just talked about the Yankees by saying that if the Giants were the Yankees, they’d talk more about the Yankees. I needed a stiff drink.
Charles wasn’t done. He ascribed the Giants’ lack of exposure to Buster Posey’s “humility.”
Said he, “Buster Posey might be the most non-talked-about superstar in all of sports.”
Byrnes nodded. “The guy I think I would compare him to is Derek Jeter.”
Charles: “Both guys play the game the right way.”
“They’re in it for the right reasons.”
“They’re not looking for the congratulatory adulation.”
Make it stop.
“They just go out there and do their thing.”
A commercial break came to the rescue. It failed.
Network voice: “He’s a Red Sox legend tearing it up on his farewell tour. Now on MLB’s Friday Night Baseball, the ageless wonder, David ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz and his Red Sox host a showdown at Fenway with Kipnis and the Indians.”
It was nice of them to mention the Indians.
In the second hour came a segment connected to Play Ball, MLB’s effort to bring more children into the sport. On screen were three children sitting in chairs, a boy in the middle and two girls at his sides. The boy wore a Yankees cap. One girl wore a Dodgers cap, the other a Rangers cap.
Analyst Harold Reynolds faced them.
“I’ve got something I gotta do for Matt,” he said, pointing at the boy. “I understand Alex Rodriguez is your favorite player, right? Wanna talk to him?”
Reynolds connected A-Rod via Facetime, and he and Matt chatted.
The girls were excited for Matt.
“You are so stoked” said one.
“Sweet!” said the other.
Indoctrinated into New York dominion, even the Dodgers girl didn’t get to meet her hero.
I had to wonder: Am I just picking the wrong weeks? Like a scientist trying to disprove his own theory, I would attack my premise with an additional five days.
MLB Central, Monday, May 23
Interview with actor Mark Feuerstein.
DeRosa: “Who was your team as a kid?”
Feuerstein: “You know, I grew up with the Yankees.”
Cue Yankees footage. It really was as if they knew.
MLB Central, Tuesday, May 24
Short episode due to day game–no guests.
MLB Central, Wednesday, May 25
Shehadi: “Comedian and diehard Mets fan Jim Breuer, live in studio!”
Kill me now.
More talk of the Mets. More signs from Citi Field.
First nine minutes, it’s all Matt Harvey.
Next nine minutes, it’s all Jackie Bradley Jr.
Next four minutes, it’s San Fran’s Jeff Samardzija.
Next four minutes, it’s L.A.’s Yasiel Puig.
Now to the Gam Cam, with Peter Gammons.
Shehadi: “With all the Boston talk about Jackie Bradley Jr.’s hitting streak and Big Papi and what he’s doing at the plate, a few guys get overlooked. Who’s at the top of that list, Peter?”
Finally! Coverage of someone other than…
“I don’t think there’s any question: Xander Bogaerts.”
Deliver me, O Death.
After three minutes of Bogaerts, it’s L.A.’s Trayce Thompson.
Later: “Some of the discussion here around the Cardinals may have been muted –”
May have been?
“–because of Matt Harvey’s struggles.”
Later, Mets “superfan” Breuer arrives.
Vasgersian: “You’ll do a club gig and Mets fans will be there!”
Breuer: “In San Diego there was about 300 Mets fans there. And I walked out and they started chanting, ‘Let’s go, Mets! Let’s go, Mets!’”
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Next: musical duo Saint Ansonia.
Vasgersian suggests they write a song about JBJ’s hit streak.
MLB Central, Thursday, May 26
Talk returns to Matt Harvey.
Research confirms that other good pitchers are struggling, too
Wily Peralta, 6.99 ERA, but no word on him. Sonny Gray, 6.19 ERA. Anibal Sanchez, 6.04. Dallas Keuchel, 5.92. Adam Wainwright, 5.77. Michael Wacha, 5.04. And Shelby Miller? He can’t stop dragging his knuckles on the mound. Still, no word on him or the others.
Turns out, Harvey refused to speak to the press.
Rosenthal: “There has to be at some point an understanding that it’s your job to be there, win or lose. Jeter got it.”
MLB Central, Friday, May 27
“It’s a holiday weekend in major league baseball,” says Vasgersian to open.
He holds up a Mets jersey.
“So teams are rolling out the big-time giveaways. Tonight, Mets-Dodgers.”
Next it’s the Wake-Up Call, featuring highlights of the Boston ceremony retiring Wade Boggs’ number, four minutes on the end of JBJ’s streak, two more minutes about Boston, then another minute on JBJ’s streak. Next, it’s The Inside Corner: L.A.’s Julio Urias, Boston’s Clay Buchholz, Boston’s JBJ and, oh yeah, we almost forgot, Mike Moustakas of the defending world champion Royals tearing his ACL and being lost for the rest of the season.
Should’ve torn your ACL in a Mets uniform, Moose. Bad planning, bro.
June and July
A note to skeptics: Lest I be accused of cherry-picking, I’m holding 68 pages of notes that say otherwise. In fact, for the sake of readability, I’ve omitted information that supports the developing thesis. Example: At the end of the May 23-27 week, Rangers ace Yu Darvish returned to the mound for the first time since August 9, 2014. Did MLB Central mention it?
I’ll let you guess.
In the meantime…Matt Harvey, everyone!
On MLB Central and MLB Now, the days came as the days went — from far beyond the Heartland.
Celebrity interview No. 1: actor Eric Dane, Giants fan.
Celebrity interview No. 2: actor Jack Griffo, Dodgers fan.
Celebrity interview No. 3: actor Donald Faison, Yankees fan.
Sample sentence: “It would be dope if New York still had three baseball teams.”
It really would be dope.
Celebrity interview No. 4: “Mets superfan” Jim Breuer.
Sample sentence: “The All-Star Game is ruined for me. It’s been ruined for me for years…I gotta worry about Bill in Wisconsin, whose team is out by April, picking his favorite player.”
Celebrity interview No. 5: pro softball player Monica Abbott.
Sample sentence: “My family is die-hard San Francisco Giants fans.”
DeRosa reaction: “Yyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh.”
Analyst discussion No. 1: All agree that Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is deserving of the All-Star nod because–quote–“he practices relay throws.”
Gammons: “That defines the Giants.”
Apparently, in the Central divisions, shortstops merely hope for good relays.
Quality Take Of The Night: Boston’s Bogaerts.
DraftKings Stat Spotlight: L.A.’s Trayce Thompson.
Brian Kenny: “We begin Tonight’s Ticket in San Francisco, with the Red Sox and Giants.”
I’m so tired.
“And finally, it’s the MLB Showcase Game as the Yankees face the Angels.”
Arrival Board: Madbum Mania!
Vasgersian: “Boy, the folks at the national TV networks are salivating at the thought of maybe a David Price-Madison Bumgarner meeting–say, in the fall.”
DeRosa: “Because of the legend of MadBum…Look at him!”
Cue footage of MadBum shouting at Puig and staring down Myers and umpire Joe West.
Vasgersian, later: “Speaking of Baltimore’s Chris Tillman, this guy might not get the kind of national play he deserves.”
It’s a common tactic. After talking up the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers, they find a nexus to a player on another team and talk about the fact that he isn’t talked about–as if, you know, it’s the stupid media’s fault.
But listen, fellas: You are the stupid media.
Later, it’s Storytime with DeRosa: “I love telling this story about MadBum.”
Indeed. It’s the second time we’ve heard it.
Vasgersian, later: “When we come back, she sang the anthem for the Yankees.”
Cue footage of eight-year-old Christina Skleros singing at Yankee Stadium in 1996.
Vasgersian, to Skleros: “I would imagine that you were a Yankee fan at the time.”
Skleros: “Right. My dad grew up in New York City in Hell’s Kitchen, and my granddad was a New York City cop. Everyone was huge Yankees fans.”
To the screen comes a photo of Skleros with Derek Jeter.
Later: After performing live in-studio, members of the musical duo Jeffrey Perez and Anointed S shake hands with Vasgersian.
Vasgersian: “You guys are both Yankees fans.”
Later: Following three more mentions of Derek Jeter, the show cuts to Ballpark Cam from Globe Life Park in Arlington on Wildlife Day. Onscreen are children and players gathered around animals.
Hey, favorable coverage!
Vasgersian: “How a penguin can live in that sweltering summer heat is beyond me.”
First on the Friday agenda: Astros vs. Rangers. I privately celebrate.
Introducing the segment are graphics of longhorns, boots, cowboy hats, your typical Old West imagery. Next come the highlights–set to hillbilly music.
Following discussions of the Yankees and Mets–discussions unaccompanied by images of mob bodies floating down the East River or whatever–the conversation turns to Cincinnati’s Adam Duvall.
Vasgersian: “This is a kid we haven’t talk about at all. Obviously, one of the reasons is that–”
He doesn’t play in New York?
“–Cincinnati hasn’t been good.”
Well, you got me there.
After a break, they return for the “new hour.”
Vasgersian: “For the purposes of our discussion, let’s focus on the teams that are five-and-a-half and six-and-a-half games back, respectively.”
By coincidence, that latter team is the Yankees.
Says Vasgersian, “Good luck tonight against the Yankees.”
Later comes a discussion about ballpark food.
Shehadi: “We enlisted the help of superchef and”– wait for it– “Yankee fan Scott Conant.”
Following a segment featuring Conant discussing the Yankees, Yankees catcher Brian McCann arrives in case we forgot about the Yankees.
DeRosa: “Tell us a story of when you went up there as a free agent.”
McCann speaks of a fateful phone call. “The minute I put on the pinstripes,” he goes on, “it was on a whole other level for me…There’s no other place I want to play. This is where I need to be. It ended up being the best decision I ever made.”
We interrupt this propaganda to bring you a timely question: What’s McCann think now that he’s in Houston?
After airing a Yankees in-house ad, the show continues with a taped Kevin Millar interview of McCann. Sample question: “What’s the vibe in the Yankees clubhouse?”
It isn’t the first time Millar has softballed McCann. He did so back in April.
Millar: “Here you are, a free agent, you sign with the Pinstripes.”
Cue Yankees footage.
McCann: “It’s just next-level. It’s the best decision I ever made. This place, I wouldn’t want to be playing anywhere else.”
Millar: “Mmm-hmm. They always say that.”
Aaaaaaaaaaaand cut! Another Yankees PSA is complete!
Number of times they said “Yankee” or “Yankees” on today’s show: 66, plus three “Pinstripes” and one “Bombers.” Number of times they said “New York:” 12. Number of times they said “Derek Jeter:” Three. Number of times they mentioned the league’s other .500 team, the White Sox: two.
Prior to show’s end, Vasgersian and DeRosa revisit the food discussion.
Vasgersian: “I still can’t get over the ringing endorsement you gave to sushi in a landlocked state.”
It had been the lone mention of the World Series-champion city.
Exhausted? Coastal Bias got ya down?
On the July 25 MLB Central, the three analysts–Vasgersian, DeRosa and Casey–explore a question: Which free-falling team, the Giants or Rangers, are you more worried about?
“We know about the guys who are hurt in San Francisco,” says Vasgersian, without mentioning the guys who are hurt in Texas. “As a matter of fact, pop that up there, because this is a legit list.”
Up goes the list of injured Giants.
“And Brandon Belt is two for his last 33,” he adds. “Brandon Crawford is six for his last 33.”
Apparently, in San Francisco, slumps are “injuries.”
The consensus: Texas will crater.
The reason: “That clubhouse,” says DeRosa of San Francisco’s.
A day later, after DeRosa has reminded us once more that “it’s a furnace in Arlington,” the crew welcomes actor Scott Wolf.
Vasgersian: “We know you were born in Boston, you grew up in New Jersey. So I’m just wondering where your partisanship lies in regard to our game. Are you a Red Sox guy? Yankees? Mets?”
Next: a David Ortiz tribute.
Sample phrase: “What he’s done for that city…”
On Wednesday, DeRosa proposes a trade that brings Mike Trout to Boston.
“Big Papi’s retiring. We need a DH!”
Thursday: an interview with an author who wrote a book about the 1960s Dodgers.
Vasgersian: “Fortunately, so many of these guys are still around the Dodgers family.”
Most teams are just…teams, one supposes.
Friday: After creating various scenarios by which the Dodgers and/or Red Sox acquire baseball’s best players, the crew welcomes guest Adam Richman of The Food Network.
Analyst Al Leiter: “Who’s your favorite baseball team?”
Richman: “I’m a Yankees fan.”
Stop the presses.
In hopes of a fresh start–perhaps a bias-free week?–I recommenced the experiment on the first day of the month. Joining the show, however, was High Heat host Christopher Russo, the man for whom I named my mute button. Before I could reach the remote control, I heard him say a Cubs-Indians matchup would make for an excellent World Series.
“So watch, we’ll get a lousy one!” he shrieked. “Texas and somebody!”
In the uproar, Fran Charles said something about “lousy cities.”
To which Russo replied, “Oh, well, it’ll be Houston and Texas, then!”
Again they laughed–at which point Russo remembered he’s a baseball expert.
“Oh, wait! They’re in the same division! So that can’t happen!”
MLB Central, Tuesday, August 2
Celebrity interview No. 1: actor Troy Garity, a fan of…
Place your bets, America!
Garity: “Let me preface this: I’m married to a Yankees fan. So every morning, I wake up in hell.”
Welcome to hell, Garity.
Later, the analysts agreed that the Yankees received excellent prospects in deadline deals.
Carlos Pena: “For Yankees fans, let’s just say this is not going to take long…And there’s a big-time free-agent class coming up in 2018. So, you know–”
“–the Yankees are gonna be on that.”
Up went a list of 2018 free agents.
It wasn’t the first time MLB Network–majority-owned by Major League Baseball–had placed future free agents in pinstripes. When Bryce Harper stepped to the plate during the May 19 Thursday Night Showcase, Bob Costas had said, “You think about Bryce Harper at Yankee Stadium with that short right-field porch. My gosh!…So many different things can happen, but you look at it from, let’s say, one team’s perspective–the Yankees.”
The strategy is clear: Lay groundwork for the Empire to land free-agent superstars by making it seem a fait accompli. No need to imagine Machado in a Twins uniform, or Harper in the colors of the White Sox. And if not the Yankees, well, okay–how about the Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers or Giants?
Talk turned to the Giants.
DeRosa: “I never doubt. Being in that organization, there’s so many smart men in that front office…And then you come to that atmosphere.”
Charles: “And it’s an even year, too, so if you’re a Giants fan…”
But here’s the thing, Fran. I’m not.
This had become A Clockwork Orange, only they weren’t forcing me to watch violent imagery. They were forcing me to watch the opposite: fawning imagery–of just five teams. Following the Tuesday edition, I decided to take three days off. I could bear it no longer. I would make up the difference–and then some–the following week.
MLB Central, Monday, August 8: Today came a reward, albeit marginal, for my deferral. Appearing were members of Texas band Whiskey Myers. Yup, hats off to MLB Central, though it must be said that the singer, Cody Cannon, conformed conveniently to the network’s caricaturized image of Lone Star folk. He was so country, he made Jethro Bodine look like Pierce Brosnan.
MLB Now, Tuesday, August 9: Mentions of still-retired Derek Jeter: 3.
MLB Central, Wednesday, August 10: Mentions of “the most amazing fanbase, New York City:” 1.
MLB Central, Thursday, August 11: Mentions of Derek Jeter: 2.
MLB Central, Friday, August 12: Mentions of Derek Jeter: 7.
Mentions of Arlington heat: 1.
Charles: “And it’s a thousand degrees down there in Texas, as well. I mean, no doubt.”
Actual facts: Gametime temperature in Arlington that night: 80 degrees.
Gametime temperature in New York that night: 77 degrees.
Gametime temperature in Arlington on Sunday, August 14: 80 degrees.
Gametime temperature in New York on Sunday, August 14: 95 degrees.
It was the final week of September, and though Texas had clinched the AL West over the weekend, MLB Central waited until the 92-minute mark of the Tuesday edition to first make mention of the Rangers winning the division. The report began with a highlight of Jose Bautista’s infamous ALDS bat flip and concluded with DeRosa saying that Rangers deadline acquisition Jonathan Lucroy had decided “to go down to Arlington and sweat a little bit.”
After showing the bat flip for the second time in four minutes, the program continued with #HashTaggingUp, which showcased David Ortiz’s open letter to Yankees fans.
Sample sentence: “Let’s show the world how much we love our cities and teams…”
Wednesday welcomed reliever Brad Ziegler, who’d gone to Boston in a trade.
Rosenthal: “Brad, you said you immediately noticed the fanbase was crazy”–the word had been used in a complimentary context. “How have you noticed that? Is it on the streets? Just seeing the people?”
Ziegler: “Honestly, on Twitter a lot.”
Rosenthal seemed eager to support a narrative, but Ziegler had thrown a curveball.
Ziegler: “Basically, if you give up a run, you hear about it. If you don’t give up a run, you’re well-loved in this city. David Price…he had won eight games in a row and had been tremendous for us down the stretch but had a little bit of a rough one last night, and they’re just crushing him.”
Rosenthal, it appeared, had expected first-hand acknowledgment of the Boston mystique. Instead he was getting this.
Ziegler: “It’s just, you know, ‘What have you done for me lately?’”
Later, as if to salvage the script, DeRosa said to Ziegler, “Just coming into Boston, like, what’s the one thing about your teammates that’s blown you away?”
You could see the thought bubble above DeRosa’s head: “Papi!”
Ziegler: “The guy that surprised me a little bit was Hanley Ramirez.”
Brad Ziegler: American hero.
The final MLB Central began the way I reckoned it might: with a segment on David Ortiz and his impending farewell. Two days earlier, MLB Central had made 15 mentions of Ortiz. A day earlier, the show had used his name seven times. Now a ticker was running: “Ortiz Taken Of (sic) Game In 4th Inning After Walk In His Final At-Bat At Yankee Stadium.”
Following talk of the Boston bullpen, Vasgersian said, “Another Boston story…”
Airing for the third time in three days was a segment on Ortiz disguised as a Lyft driver.
Vasgersian, afterward: “Speaking of David Ortiz…”
To the screen came Papi’s likeness mowed into Fenway grass.
Following another mention of “that clubhouse,” the show resumed with another Ortiz segment. The tribute lasted seven minutes and 20 seconds.
Later came an interview with former big leaguer Kurt Bevacqua, live from San Diego.
Vasgersian: “Hey, let me ask you about David Ortiz making his farewell tour.”
Next came Sean Casey’s interview of David Ortiz.
Casey: “Talk about the city of Boston and what they’ve meant to you.”
Where’s Brad Ziegler when you need him?
Mentions of David Ortiz/Big Papi on today’s MLB Central: 70.
Mentions of the Rangers, owners of the AL’s best record: zero.
Mentions of Derek Jeter: Hey, just one.
I had at last reached the conclusion.
My conclusion? All times are Eastern, and the sun goes down in the West.
MLB Central, Monday, April 3, 2017
Vasgersian: “To celebrate Opening Day, Yankee Stadium organist Ed Alstrom is with us today.”
On set, in a glittering NY cap, Alstrum played Take Me Out to the Ballgame.