Editor’s note: ESPN’s 25th Sunday Night Baseball season continues this weekend with the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). In addition, Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown (7 p.m.) will hit the road for an on-site pre-game show leading into the exclusive, national game of the week.
As ESPN’s 25th Major League Baseball season begins, Executive Producer & Senior Vice President Jed Drake spent a few minutes discussing his memories of the network’s baseball coverage; the early days in 1990 when ESPN first acquired the MLB property; and the current and future state of Sunday Night Baseball. Drake was at the forefront of ESPN’s MLB production in 1990 and still oversees the property today.
What are some early Sunday Night Baseball memories?
Even back in those days, Sunday Night Baseball was the big show and we set out to make it the game of the week. We had hired Jon Miller to be the [play-by-play] voice of Sunday Night Baseball. [ESPN Executive Vice President & Executive Editor] John Walsh had a good amount of input there because he knew of Jon from way back. Walsh pushed us towards making that hire and it was a great one. Jon was tremendous. He brought great credibility, great insight and great storytelling. And then Joe [Morgan], who had left baseball relatively recently, was sitting with me at Grill 23 in Boston when we told him we wanted him to be our number one guy [as an analyst]. Needless to say, he said yes, and we went off to the races with Miller and Morgan for a great 20-plus year run.
Talk about the 2011 transition to [play-by-play commentator] Dan Shulman.
We knew about Dan forever. He had done television with Buck Martinez and, fascinatingly, he has many of the same attributes of Jon: incredibly intelligent, great storyteller and needless to say, a great voice. He knows the game cold and he is passionate about doing an exceptional job every day. Jon had a great run and he’s in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. I don’t think there’s anybody involved in baseball who thought for a second about anyone but Dan to be the next guy. He’s done a spectacular job.
Tell us about the 2014 Sunday Night Baseball booth.
Candidly, we’ve had a lot of changes with analysts since Dan has been in this position. This has the potential to be the best Sunday Night Baseball booth ever. You have [analysts] John Kruk’s insight and wit and Curt Schilling’s ability to say and everything, but in a way that comes from a lifetime of knowing the game and being a three-time World Series champion. And, from being incredibly passionate about the game. Again, it is a terribly unfortunate situation with Curt. I’m ever-optimistic that he will prevail in his treatment and we look forward to having him in the booth on Sunday Night Baseball as soon as he can be there. We’re keeping the seat warm for him and when he is ready to return, we will roll out the red carpet for him. In the meantime, we’re in good shape with Dan and John and certainly with [analyst] Buster [Olney] providing more than just reporting excellence, but providing a great element of storytelling.
What are some of your expectations for ESPN’s 25th MLB season?
Along the way we’ve had an incredibly good run at televising baseball and the common thread is that everybody who has worked here has shared a great passion for the game. We all love the game and, as we say at Fenway, the only bad thing about the baseball season is that it ends. We all wish it would last a lot longer than 162 games. I’d go to as many as I could. I think right now, as we enter the 25th season, I don’t think we’ve ever been in better shape and I say that about all of the people working on baseball here, particularly [Vice President, Production] Mike McQuade, who has great sensibilities and has brought great thought and insight into the telecasts. I think this will be a tremendous year, not only because it’s our 25th season which certainly adds to it, but I firmly believe this will be the best that our coverage has ever been.