[[switching to first person]] I used to love ESPN. I really did. It was fresh and fun and for the first time ever (when they first came out) you could see highlights of all the games. Sports Center used to be the bomb. They had first class talent that made you laugh. Advertisements are still using, "Booyah," in their ads (does Stu get royalties?). Then Baseball Tonight came along and it was perfect. ESPN made a big splash with baseball. I'm not sure it's ever been worth the money they paid for those rights, but they went in big. Their signature event was Sunday Night Baseball which has been broadcast by Jon Miller and Joe Morgan for twenty years. Now ESPN has pulled the plug on the team and this Fan...I...don't like it.
Why don't I like it? The answer isn't rational. I don't like change when it comes to broadcasters. I'm still trying to get used to Don Orsillo (sp?) on NESN. I adopt broadcasters in some sort of emotional way. No, I can't explain that. I just do. Announcers become like uncles you enjoy seeing on a regular basis. Phil Rizzuto was my first and greatest uncle. Joe Garagiola was my second when he did those Saturday broadcasts. Jon Miller became my third.
The reason I adopted Jon Miller was because I'm not a fan of the Red Sox. I probably shouldn't admit that as a "general" blogger. But I'm sure the Red Sox will get over the admission. I do like Jerry Remy who has become almost an uncle of sorts. So since I don't have a home network to watch on a regular basis, I looked forward to the Sunday night games. Thus Jon Miller as my uncle.
Why Jon Miller? He was like the silly uncle that always made you smile. He wore those funky shirts and ties and had the goofiest hair ever seen on national television. But it was his voice and good nature that drew me in. Jon Miller is a broadcaster of the old school. His voice is an instrument and he knows how to use it. He knows when to build the drama and he knows how to carry a game when the broadcast becomes a laugher. But he did it all with such an honest integrity for the game that you could tell he was a fan too. I love that about him.
Now Joe Morgan was another animal. Joe Morgan would never become my uncle. He was like that rich, imperious relative that always felt above your particular station. He was prickly and cold to a degree. But there was respect. He knew the game and though his opinions were strong, at least they were honest. I also felt that Jon Miller made the most of his pairing with Morgan. Many say that he kissed Morgan's feet. He did just enough of that to satisfy Morgan's craving for respect. But he also knew how to poke holes with Morgan and the two adopted a grudging and sometimes humorous relationship.
That relationship was a tightrope. You could just tell it was. Recently, ESPN added a third guy to the booth and that didn't work at all. It felt like an intrusion. It was an intrusion. You could tell Morgan was uncomfortable and it gave Miller too much juggling to do.
Recently, Miller won the Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding work in the broadcasting world. It was well deserved. Which is why I don't get what ESPN is doing. They guy was just honored as one of the best broadcasters ever and his own network responds by canning the guy? Then the network falls all over itself thanking the two stalwarts of Sunday Night Baseball and stating how wonderful they were and how much they created the brand and blah, blah, blah. Then why did they fire them? Don't give us platitudes. You are a news organization. Tell us why.
We deserve an explanation. After all, it is we who pay for the network. Our cable or satellite subscriptions pay for the network and some of us are even stupid enough to pay to be an "Insider" on their website. Don't we customers deserve some sort of explanation?
Don't you just get the feeling that there are some analysts feeling smug because their research showed that the ratings were suffering with the right kind of viewers--namely those in the 18-30 group who we are told make the advertisers the most money? Those same researchers are probably responsible for the abominable David Wells and Kevin Millar that other networks think are so cool. The problem with those guys are that they have no souls. There is no depth in their character that we can relate to. Or they are just bad at getting that across to their viewers.
So ESPN will replace tradition with something younger. Orel Hershiser is okay as a replacement for Morgan. He did make some stupid mistakes early on the way he tried to bait Morgan. He looked like a punk trying to get more face time. But he is likable enough. But who is going to replace Miller? Nobody. You can't replace that voice and that likability. You can't replace an uncle with someone new that your aunt just married because of a divorce. Miller had gravitas. You need a lifetime of experience to earn that.
But this situation has precedent. The same thing happened in New York to Mel Allen years ago. The same thing happened to Carey in Atlanta. And now it has happened to ESPN. Yeah, I fully understand and am aware that I sound like on old creep that is apposed to any change. I get that. I also get that ESPN is probably upset about its ratings. But ESPN is like Microsoft or General Motors. Sooner or later upstarts like MLB.TV and the like eat into those formerly unassailable market shares. It happens. But the one way not to fix it is to discard everything that is likable about what you do.
It was bad enough that they ruined Baseball Tonight so that it became a show about analysis instead of about the highlights. Now they have ruined Sunday Night Baseball. Good luck with that. Thanks for all the memories, Uncle Jon.