I don’t like it when the Cubs are the national game on ESPN. A recent change at the Four-Letter, however, has made watching their baseball coverage infinitely more bearable. By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the bit of idiocy that cost uber-conservative broadcaster Curt Schilling his job on a temporary basis. I honestly don’t care about an announcer’s politics, but when he decides to spread hateful messages in a public forum, it’s kind of hard to avoid.
Truth be told, I was somewhat pleased to see Schilling’s misstep because it hastened the end to what I thought was an overstayed welcome in the booth. I’ve seen quite a bit of discourse out there related to a given individual’s credibility when it comes to talking baseball and it’s pretty disconcerting. ESPN seemed content to throw some former players out there with the hopes that their experience would provide all the necessary credibility to snow the casual viewers at home.
But it’s not just casual viewers out there. There are even a few of us who aren’t big on the general misogyny that permeates professional sports. That’s why it was so great to see Jess Mendoza take Schilling’s place in the booth, becoming the first female analyst to call a Sunday Night Baseball game. The former Stanford and Team USA softball star had already been a part of Baseball Tonight and College World Series broadcasts, and had broken the gender barrier earlier this month when she called a Cardinals/Diamondbacks game on August 24th.
I don’t care a bit about her experience or her sex though, I just think Mendoza flat knows her stuff and is a great change of pace from the talking heads they’ve been propping up there over the last few years. You can throw Bobby Valentine and Joe Morgan in the mix of guys I never really cared for. What I want in a broadcaster is someone who understands the game and can make their knowledge applicable to a wide audience. Don’t talk over anyone’s head and don’t dumb it down either. Mendoza was right in that sweet spot in terms of accessibility and smarts.
She was neither a meatball nor a clinician and she didn’t sound rehearsed or rushed. I think the greatest testament to Mendoza’s performance is that I quickly stopped caring that she was a woman at all. It wasn’t about having a good female broadcaster, but just a great broadcaster, period. Someone had finally tossed a rock through the Worldwide Leader’s glass ceiling, but I was too busy admiring the throw to worry about any shards lying on the floor.
The one thing I question in terms of ESPN’s decision to put Mendoza in the Sunday Night Baseball booth is pairing her with Kruk. It’s not the odd juxtaposition of styles that concerns me though. Given the former Philly star’s love of barbecue and his propensity for fiery hot takes — “we’re talking valuable, not numbers” — and the fact that woman was created from the rib of man, I’m worried for Mendoza’s safety. You know, because Kruk likes ribs and might mistake his colleague for a meal. Get it? Yeah, I’ll see myself out now.
Seriously though, what I really question is ESPN’s decision to go with three people in the booth at all. I do actually enjoy Dan Schulman, the main play-by-play man for the SNB broadcasts, but having a trio in there — no matter how good the individuals may be — just results in people tripping over one another. And with Schulman and Mendoza’s professionalism and clean delivery, Kruk’s anachronistic ramblings just seemed that much more incoherent and unnecessary.
Having the Cubs win the game behind a Kris Bryant home run and Jake Arrieta no-hitter would have made it enjoyable no matter who was calling it, but Jess Mendoza was such a breath of fresh air in an industry that has been stale for far too long. The experience got even better for me when my daughter came downstairs after being unable to fall asleep in her room. She crashed out pretty quickly, but I’ll never tire of having her having watch the Cubs with me, nor of carrying her to bed and tucking her in.
Two more people I’ll never tire of are Len Kasper and Pat Hughes, though as long as Jess Mendoza is doing the games for ESPN, I won’t be as upset about having to miss out on my tried-and-true local coverage.