Editor’s note: On Sunday, ESPN will air a special 90-minute “Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown” at 6:30 p.m. ET live from Petco Park in San Diego with Karl Ravech, Baseball Hall of Famer and analyst Barry Larkin and analyst John Kruk. Below, Ravech shares with Front Row his thoughts on the evolution of ESPN’s Major League Baseball news and information show that he has been primary host of since 1995.
How has a show like Baseball Tonight endured this long?
The show’s endured because there’s a great appetite for baseball. The sophistication of the baseball audience with regards to the understanding of how the game is played, the Sabremetrics, the expert analysis – there’s a desire for more information than just your routine highlight.
Baseball Tonight has evolved in a way that the audience demanded. Fans say, “I want to hear from [ESPN MLB analysts] Aaron Boone, Curt Schilling, John Kruk and Barry Larkin to find out not only how something happened, but why something happened.”
There’s an appreciation for the level of talent that’s on that set and for what all those guys have accomplished.
Baseball certainly has had its ebb and flow over the last 20 years, but Baseball Tonight was extremely popular during the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race in the 1998 season. There were people who would tune in every night just to see if one of those two guys had hit a home run.
I’ve heard this from baseball executives: Given the strike in 1994, the McGwire-Sosa home run race along with Baseball Tonight – to whatever degree you want to give the show credit – contributed to making sure baseball stayed afloat.
Over the years, I’ve worked with many, many talented people in front of the camera and behind the scenes. But it would really difficult to pick just one analyst as a favorite, with the possible exception of Kruk, to whom I’ve been sort of “married” in a television life for 13 years or so. He’s provided as much entertainment and joy off the Baseball Tonight set as anybody.
I think that we, as a television program, have the greatest depth and highest quality of analysts as I’ve had in my 20 years on the show. That’s from Schilling, Boone, the Hall of Famer Larkin and Kruk, through our reporters Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian. It’s a thrill for people who sit in my seat and have a chance to bounce questions off of these guys and sometimes play the role of the fan.
With that said, we have a lot of fun on and off the set.
With Curt, I don’t think there’s another analyst, in my 20 years, who has embraced the Baseball Tonight culture – and the Green Room (which is where we sit and watch the games) culture, either – like Curt.
He fits in as well – if not better than – than any other analyst that we’ve ever had. He really loves sitting in that Green Room talking baseball, watching games, and other things.
Some of our best nights last year with him were like when we were debating which brands would be on “the Mount Rushmore of candies.” We would literally go to the chalkboard to write down the top 20 candies of all time. We’d have great debates about it; we’ve Tweeted about it; there was the whole Tootsie Roll debate about how valuable a Tootsie Roll was.
— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) October 22, 2013
We hear from fans who insist that commentators have helped “jinx” pitchers who are on the brink of no-hitters or perfect games.
I’ll admit, more often than not, that with two outs in the seventh inning of such a game, we’ll put our ties and jackets on and say, “Yup, he’s in line in for a perfect game or a no-hitter,” and start the walk down to the set.
That walk probably takes four minutes. I can’t count how many times we’ve gotten down there and the studio people have said, “He lost the no-hitter.”
That happens all the time.
We’d like to think that we did have the power to influence no-hit bids, because we’d root for them all the time. But we just don’t have that power – at least, no one is willing to acknowledge having it.
With Spring Training ending, so did another Bus Tour.
To me, there’s no doubt that the Bus Tour’s humor is really a result of just having Kurkjian with us. He’s in a lot of ways the butt of every single joke we share with each other, whether it’s the baseball stories that he tells, which are always very funny, or his remarks about his size.
The presence of Kurkjian – and the players who imitate him in some way – on any Bus Tour is what makes it hilarious. That could easily be a show on ESPN Ocho: The Bus Tour Outtakes Starring Tim Kurkjian.
The idea that the Baseball Tonight show is back on the road on Sunday nights is something we all look forward to.
The crowds are awesome. The crowds are different from the time they walk into the ballparkuntil the time they walk out. The postgame celebrations are generally a lot rowdier near our set.
To be there with the crowds, to be able to see the players again, to be on the road again, separates Baseball Tonight – especially on Sundays when it’s the national broadcast and we can help support the 11 p.m. SportsCenter.
It’s a big deal for us to be out there, it’s important to us as a network, and it helps the viewers to understand that we don’t just sit in a studio and talk about baseball, we’re out there with the fans and the players. That’s going to be the highlight for us this year.
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• ESPN’s Jodi Markley and Tricia Betron honored at “Wonder Woman” luncheon.
• Former Alabama star QB Greg McElroy joins SEC Network as a college football analyst.
1. It’s a great time to be a Dayton fan:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 28, 2014
2. From FiveThirtyEight: The Imperfect Pursuit of a Perfect Baseball Forecast
3. Chasing The Biggest Surf:
4. Enjoy an array of photos from the ESPN Images’ Images of the Week.