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ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Crew Talks About Changes, Upcoming Season

Mar 26, 2009 – 4:46 PM
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Andrew Johnson

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ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball broadcast will kick off its 20th season on the air in 10 days when it opens the regular season on the night of April 5 in Philadelphia with the world champion Phillies hosting the Atlanta Braves.

Play-by-play announcer Jon Miller and color commentator Joe Morgan have been fixtures in the booth for all 20 seasons, but the big change to the broadcast this season is that for the first time they will have company. Former Mets general manager Steve Phillips will join Miller and Morgan this season.

The crew talked to the media in a conference call Thursday afternoon, and FanHouse was listening in. The highlights are after the jump.

On the new broadcast team ...
Jed Drake (Executive Event Producer): I can not believe it's been 20 years since we began ... It's been a great run, and I'm exceptionally excited about where we are this season. It's a very significant change in the addition of Steve to SNB. Suffice to say, that was done with great care and attention and discussion. I took great comfort in Jon and Joe's welcoming of Steve as an integral part of this team.

We are the daily voice of Major League Baseball. We've got a 20-year track record of doing this sport right.

This year we added Steve Phillips to the booth and that is a huge enhancement in and of itself. As far as technical developments we are going to go with a lot of the elements we have in the past, including the Emmy Award-winning K-Zone system. We'll be looking at high speed cameras just as we have on Monday Night Football. The focus this year for us is absolutely on the talent.

Jon Miller: Joe comes to it as a great player, the thinking man's player, a Hall of Famer. So Joe is a battler, there's a lot of things he sees out there.

Steve comes from an entirely different perspective. He played the game for many years in the minor leagues, so he knows all about being an underdog, but he was also in the halls of power, making decisions for the club, making trades and signing free agents, so he knows the dynamic between the front office and ownership, the dynamic between the front office and a manager, the different strains that are inevitable in those relationships. ... I think this frees up Joe to focus on his strengths, the things he sees and we have Steve to fill out the rest. ... We might not have been as excited -- Joe and I -- if it was someone else joining us.

Steve Phillips: Obviously for me this is a huge honor. I've admired the work that Joe and Jon have done together. To be a part of their 20th year together and to be at the start of the next 20 years as myself and them as a team is exciting.

On the recently completed World Baseball Classic ...
Miller: It's a purists dream the way Japan and South Korea play the game, not just this year, but three years ago, and those teams have advanced from where they were last time. It almost sounds boring when you talk about those teams, you know they don't make fundamental mistakes, but to actually watch it in reality on the field is another thing entirely.

Phillips: The Asian teams learned the game from the United States, but I think it's time for the United States to learn something from the rest of the world. I think the teams like South Korea and Japan prepare better. ... We're not as prepared as the other teams have been. ...

For all the holes people want to punch in the concept of it, I think from 2006 to 2009 we've seen it work. We've seen the growth in China, we've seen how much better the Australians swung the bat this time around. ... When you look at the passion for the game in other countries ... clearly that's working as well. From the United States' perspective, I think we really need to look in the mirror at why we're doing this. Are we doing it to market the game or are we doing it to win? If we're doing it to win, some changes need to be made.

On the importance of defense:
Joe Morgan: Well there's no doubt that you need defense because good defense can help poor pitching and poor defense can hurt good pitching. I'm still looking at the Yankees and wondering about their defense.

I think over the last few years in baseball we waited for the three-run homer and neglected the other things like defense, we neglected base stealing, we neglected all the little things, sacrifices et cetera. I think we're going to have all those things back now and I've always believed defense was the most important thing other than pitching. You can't win without defense.

Phillips: Now I think we're seeing that transition back [from power hitting to defense]. ... You look at the Houston Astros last year, they had no business with the pitching staff they threw out there being over .500, but they had the best defense in baseball by far and that made a major difference because before a guy hits the ball out of the park, now it's staying in the park.

On Alex Rodriguez and the cloud of 'The List' ...
Phillips: It's gotten to the point with Alex Rodriguez where he's almost a sympathetic figure. I mean how much can one individual take and deal with, even if some of it is self-inflicted. I do to a certain degree worry about his ability to cope with everything. ... Even if Alex is affected by everything that's happened off the field, his numbers will still be very good.

For the other 103 names on the list, my view is those names should remain confidential. It was part of a collective bargain. I do not believe 103 other wrongs would make the leaking of Alex Rodriguez's name right.

Miller: If I'm a player who played at that time, I'd be going to the [union] and I would demand that those names [on the list] be put out there because I feel like I'm a suspect. Everybody's a suspect, so if I'm clean I want to be cleared. ... I'm of the mind to forgive A-Rod ... but he betrayed a lot of people, maybe betrayed isn't the right word, maybe extreme disappointment.
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