The Cubs and the future of broadcasting

Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant's performance on ESPN showed that Major League Baseball has an ace up it sleeve — if it chooses to play it

Hello, frents.

I owe everyone a big apology. I was sick on Sunday night and had to wake up extra early on Monday to write yesterday’s newsletter. In my haste to send the Minute out in a timely manner, I forgot to wish everyone a happy Casimir Pulaski Day.

So …  a happy belated Casimir Pulaski Day 🇵🇱 to you and yours.

Hope it was a good one.

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How baseball can become must-see TV

The Cubs were on ESPN Monday afternoon, a fact that would have been headline-worthy in itself since so many of us still aren’t getting Marquee Network.

The game, however, ended up grabbing everyone’s attention not because of its availability, but because of the way it was presented. The Cubs-Angels game had Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant miked up on field and was the first of four “All Access” spring training games that ESPN will broadcast this week.

I’m sorry if you were at work and missed it, because it was awesome. From Rizzo making fun of the Astros while he was in the box to Bryant divulging his road alias, the two Cubs stars filled in all of the parts of the baseball broadcast that are usually boring.

In doing so, the Cubs and the network showed just what might be possible if Major League Baseball ever decided to pursue broadcasting games like this during the regular season. If the sport was able to rack up a big win on the first Monday in March for a meaningless exhibition game that didn’t do a big ratings point, imagine what could it do for a nationally-televised game that actually counts?

Of course, it would be folly to assume that regular season broadcasts would look and sound like Monday’s spring training game. Anthony Rizzo isn’t going to play Mr. Saturday Night 162 games a year, especially when he’s slumping and the Cubs just got back late from a three-city swing out west.

Also, it’s not lost on me that many baseball players do not have the personality of Anthony Rizzo. (Just kidding on that last one … I think.)

But the success of this plan doesn’t hinge on the players doing a standup comedy routine while they’re manning first base. The real value comes in their communication with each other — I loved the Bryzzo interactions on the field and in the dugout more than anything that happened with Boog Sciambi or Jessica Mendoza — and the thrill of seeing it happen in real time. At one point, an inning ended with a routine force-out and Rizzo being thrown out by 10 feet. Instead of immediately turning my attention elsewhere, I leaned in closer to hear what Rizzo was saying to former teammate Tommy La Stella as he slid late into second.

The other big selling point: ESPN’s presentation was such that Rizzo and Bryant were always on the screen. In a sport where you can go an hour without seeing the biggest stars, this isn’t a small thing. Even if MLB doesn’t go all the way with mikes, I’m in favor of using split screens like this as much as possible. There’s nothing in the rule book that says a baseball broadcast has to only be shot from behind the pitcher and interspersed with the normal cutaways.

There are a lot of obvious hurdles to this plan. Production costs are obviously an issue for the local broadcasts. The language barrier for Spanish-speaking players is another. Would producers have access to both team’s players or just one? How would the Astros use the mikes to steal another World Series?

(I’m just kidding about that last one … I think.)

The biggest obstacle, though, is that players have repeatedly said they don’t want to be miked up once the games count.

It might not be hard to see why. Last fall, Sam Darnold and the Jets were mad about a miked-up comment on NFL Films that put him in a bad light. If baseball does a full plunge into the fish bowl, it offers up so many team dynamics that we don’t usually see. All it would take is a routine squabble over a missed cutoff man turning into a days-long controversy for players to sour on the idea.

(Let’s also not mention what might happen if two players started talking about the, uh, “friends,” they met on their previous night out.)

But there still has to be a way to make this all work, at least on some incremental level. Baseball’s growth has always risen with technology. Radio helped spread the game early, newsreels brought Babe Ruth into America’s movie theaters and television helped the game grow even farther. The sport’s latest round of riches is built upon the fact that they got into streaming 10-15 years before literally anybody else did.

We now live in an age of content, a time where there’s no such thing as too much. And with 162 games a season plus the playoffs, baseball has a clear advantage over any other sport or form of entertainment. For 3-4 hours a day across 15 ballparks/studios, the sport has an opportunity to create the material that ends up being the most talked about thing in sports that day. Highlights of home runs and bloopers haven’t allowed the sport to even make a dent in the NBA’s iron grip on social, but deeper looks into a wonderful game just might.

Making such a big change might not be easy and it might take the routine-orientated players out of their comfort zone, but it’s clear baseball is sitting on a treasure chest it hasn’t yet fully opened. If it really wants to regain the ground it has lost to football and basketball, the road back couldn’t be any more obvious.

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Monday’s results

Bulls 109, Mavericks 107
So who had the Bulls beating a team above .500 for only the second time this season without the services of Zach LaVine? Otto Porter scored 18 points across 17 minutes in his return to the lineup and the Bulls overcame another Jim Boylen timeout mishap that left Luka Doncic laughing.

Spring training
Padres 3, Sox 1
Dallas Keuchel was solid in his first spring training start for the Sox: 4 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 1K,  0 BB and nine groundouts.

Cubs (SS) 9, Angels 4
Kyle Hendricks pitched a clean three innings with three strikeouts, Ian Happ homered and Kyle Schwarber hit a bases-clearing double.

A’s 5, Cubs 2

Today’s schedule
Ducks (+140) at Blackhawks (-160) (7:30 pm, NBC Sports Chicago, O/U 6)

Spring training
A’s at Sox (2:05,
Cubs at Rockies (2:10, Marquee)

The Sox announced that Lucas Giolito will make his first start of the spring in Friday’s game against the Cubs. Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, told reporters that he’s working his way back from shoulder soreness, but there is no timetable for a return yet.

Hub Arkush thinks there’s at least one thing the Bears can do to make their quarterback situation worse. (Bears Insider)

Can the 2020 White Sox win 90 games? (From The 108)

The White Sox Playoff Road is Parallel To The Louis Robert Expressway. (FanGraphs)

• The Montrose dog beach is a special place in Chicago. Here’s hoping something can be done to save it. (Block Club Chicago)

With the Illini heading to the NCAA tournament, Illinois has extended Brad Underwood’s contract another three years. He’s set until 2026. (Writing Illini)

• Finally, a #frentofthenewsletter (OK, it was my brother) ponied up $50 to get Ozzie Guillen to wish me well with the success of Midway Minute. Thank you, Dave.

That’s it for today. Thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter. Have yourself a Tuesday.

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