|ESPN Major League Baseball|
|Starring||Various personalities (see below)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||3 hours|
|Original release||April 9, 1990 –|
ESPN Major League Baseball (also referred to as MLB on ESPN) is an American presentation of live Major League Baseball (MLB) games on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN+. ESPN's MLB coverage debuted on April 9, 1990 with three Opening Day telecasts. ESPN Major League Baseball is guaranteed to remain on air until 2028. In 2014, ESPN returned to broadcasting the Major League Baseball postseason. ESPN has exclusive rights to the Wild Card Series starting in 2022.
ESPN holds exclusive national broadcast rights to Sunday Night Baseball since 1990. The network also airs the defending world champions game on Opening Day.
In addition to regular-season games, ESPN also airs several spring training games per year, the All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game (until 2021) and Home Run Derby played the week of the All-Star Game, and (since 2022) the entire Wild Card Series each postseason. ESPN also airs a weekly highlight show called Baseball Tonight at 6 p.m. ET on Sundays as a lead-in to Sunday Night Baseball; previously it was a daily program until 2017, when layoffs cut back the show's airing to Sundays.
ESPN Radio has also been airing Major League Baseball since 1998 (succeeding CBS Radio), broadcasting Sunday Night Baseball as well as select other regular-season games, the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, and the entire postseason including the Wild Card Game, Division Series, League Championship Series, and World Series.
Since ESPN first received MLB telecast rights, it has become traditional for the network to make an effort to cover live historic moments in the sport. For example, in 2007, ESPN and ESPN2 added several telecasts when Barry Bonds chased Hank Aaron's record for most home runs in an MLB career. ESPN had the national telecasts on August 4 when Bonds tied Aaron with number 755 and on August 7, 2007 when he hit number 756. ESPN was also the broadcaster of the final game at the original Yankee Stadium as a part of Sunday Night Baseball with Jon Miller and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. It also showed Chris Burke's 18th-inning walk-off homer to end the 2005 NLDS series in favor of the Houston Astros against the Atlanta Braves. The St. Louis Cardinals swept the San Diego Padres in the other NLDS Series.
Also, the network has been given permission to interrupt regular programming, when allowed, to show attempts at new records or significant milestones live. Examples include three cut-ins from its coverage of the first X Games in 1995 until Eddie Murray recorded his 3000th hit, live coverage of Sammy Sosa's 600th home run in 2007, and a number of no-hitters, including the Buchholz feat mentioned earlier. Although it cannot show any historic attempts live during the Fox or TBS exclusive windows, it was allowed to show an in-progress highlight of Alex Rodriguez's 500th career home run in August 2007, as this was on a Saturday afternoon before Fox went on the air with its game coverage.
On January 5, 1989, Major League Baseball signed a $400 million deal with ESPN, who would show over 175 games beginning in 1990. For the next four years, ESPN would televise six games a week (Sunday Night Baseball, Wednesday Night Baseball and doubleheaders on Tuesdays and Fridays), as well as multiple games on Opening Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.
On April 15, 1990, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball debuted with the experienced play-by-play announcer Jon Miller joining retired Hall of Fame player Joe Morgan in the broadcast booth. In its first year, Sunday Night Baseball averaged a 3.0 rating. That was double the number that ESPN as a whole was averaging at the time (1.5). By 1998, ESPN enjoyed its largest baseball audience ever (a 9.5 Nielsen rating) as Mark McGwire hit his 61st home run of the season. When ESPN first broadcast Sunday Night Baseball, they would show at least one game from every ballpark. Also, every team was guaranteed an appearance. It was essentially, the television equivalent to a cross country stadium tour.
In 1994, ESPN renewed its baseball contract for six years (through the 1999 season). The new deal was worth $42.5 million per year and $255 million overall. The deal was ultimately voided after the 1995 season and ESPN was pretty much forced to restructure their contract. In 1995, ESPN broadcast the American League West tie-breaker game between the Seattle Mariners and California Angels with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan making the call.
In 1996, ESPN began a five-year contract with Major League Baseball worth $440 million and about $80 million per year. ESPN paid for the rights to a Wednesday night doubleheader and Sunday Night Baseball, as well as Opening Day and holiday telecasts and all postseason games not aired on Fox or NBC. Major League Baseball staggered the times of first-round games to provide a full-day feast for viewers: ESPN could air games at 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 11 p.m. EDT, with the broadcast networks telecasting the prime time game.
In 1998, ESPN broadcast the National League Wild Card tie-breaker game between the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. Like the American League West tie-breaker game in 1995, Jon Miller and Joe Morgan were on the call for ESPN.
In 1999, NBC's Bob Costas teamed with Joe Morgan to call two weekday night telecasts for ESPN. The first was on Wednesday, August 25 with Detroit Tigers playing against the Seattle Mariners. The second was on Tuesday, September 21 with the Atlanta Braves playing against the New York Mets. Later that year, ESPN broadcast the National League Wild Card tie-breaker game (this time between the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds) with Miller and Morgan once again on the call.
ESPN and ESPN2 had contracts (which were signed in 2000 and ran through 2005) to show selected weeknight and Sunday Night Baseball games, along with Opening Day and holiday games and selected Division Series playoff games. The contracts with ESPN were worth $141.8 million per year and $851 million overall.
In 2002, Disney bought Fox Family, which had aired Thursday night games and some Division Series games in 2000 and 2001 as part of the Fox Sports television contract. ESPN added those games to its package, shifting the Thursday night games to weekday afternoon DayGame broadcasts. The play-by-play commentators for ESPN DayGame were Gary Thorne or Jon Sciambi along with Steve Phillips, and Steve Stone as color analysts. However, because of existing contractual obligations, the 2002 Division Series games were required to be broadcast on the renamed ABC Family. Those broadcasts used ESPN announcers, graphics, and music. The following season they aired on ESPN.
On September 14, 2005, ESPN signed an eight-year contract with Major League Baseball that began with the 2006 season, renewing their rights to Sunday Night Baseball and Wednesday Night Baseball, with the late (10 p.m. ET) Wednesday night game replaced by a regular weekly Monday Night Baseball telecast instead. The network also dropped special coverage of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day games, though Memorial Day and Labor Day were still included in the Monday night coverage.
While Sunday Night Baseball remained exclusive, ESPN's Monday and Wednesday telecasts were mostly nonexclusive, meaning the games were also televised by each club's local broadcasters, while ESPN's broadcasts were blacked out in the participating teams' local markets. Previously, ESPN would carry an alternate telecast (usually a simulcast of another game's local broadcast) for home-team markets which were blacked out, but those were phased out, with ESPNEWS replacing the feed.
On July 25, 2006, Harold Reynolds was fired from ESPN. The ESPN spokeswoman confirmed that Reynolds "is no longer with the network" but did not give a reason for the departure. Reynolds confirmed that an accusation of sexual harassment was the reason for his departure but called it "a total misunderstanding" and that "I gave a woman a hug and I felt like it was misinterpreted." In February 2008, ESPN and Reynolds reached an out-of-court settlement.
Weeks later, Peter Gammons was sidelined with a brain aneurysm. Gammons returned to ESPN in early September.
The weekday afternoon DayGame telecasts continued through the 2006 season as they were still covered under the separate contract inherited from Fox Family. With that contract expiring at the end of the season, the last DayGame broadcast was on September 30, 2006. The expiration of that contract also ended ESPN's involvement in broadcasting the postseason for the time being, as Fox had actually retained right-of-first-refusal of the postseason part of the contract in the sale, and chose to exercise that right to add more Division Series games. ESPN's last postseason broadcast under the contract was one of the 2006 American League Division Series.
ESPN telecasts in 2006, posted an average of 1,115,000 household impressions, up 27% when compared to 2005's 875,000. The corresponding 1.2 rating this year marks a 20% increase over the 1.0 average in 2005. ESPN2's baseball telecasts have averaged 704,000 households, an increase of 34% over 2005's 525,000. Ratings on ESPN2 went up 33% (0.8 vs. 0.6).
Because of the reduction of ESPN's weekly schedule to three games, ESPN released numerous commentators from the network, including Jeff Brantley, Tino Martinez, Steve Stone and Eric Karros.
On April 1, for the season-opening game between the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals, ESPN changed its on-screen graphics to the version that debuted with Monday Night Football in 2006 and was later adopted by its NBA coverage at the start of the 2006-07 season. The previous graphics dated back to the advent of ESPN HD in 2004.
During the week of the All-Star Game, Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter did not travel to the game site as it previously had; the 2007 site was AT&T Park in San Francisco. The reason was that MLB stripped ESPN of its on-site credentials for its studio crew as punishment for leaking the rosters of the All-Star teams before TBS did. TBS' announcement, which was billed as exclusive, was scheduled for 4 p.m. Eastern time but was delayed for nearly two hours, by which point ESPN, in apparent violation of its contract with MLB, went ahead and revealed the rosters anyway. ESPN later agreed to promote playoff coverage on TBS and Fox (alongside its own radio coverage) in return for Baseball Tonight going on the air shortly after each night's games concluded.
ESPN pre-empted part of the Kansas State–Auburn college football game on September 1 to show the end of the no-hitter thrown by Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz.
ESPN2 showed the season-opening games in Tokyo between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics. Unfortunately, due to a transponder failure, viewers on DirecTV reliant on the standard-definition feed missed the first of the two games. (ESPNHD was unaffected.)
On March 30, ESPN showed the first-ever game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The Washington Nationals defeated the Atlanta Braves on a walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman.
On May 4, ESPN introduced enhanced updates targeting viewers who play fantasy baseball. It shows season batting statistics for the current batter on each potential count and updates batting average and other selected stats after the at-bat concludes.
Starting with the April 3 season opener between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, ESPN began using the same graphics package which debuted with Monday Night Football in 2009. The score banner was converted to a score box in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. And instead of numbers to represent the balls, strikes and outs, dots were represented for each: three green dots for balls, two yellow dots for strikes, and two red dots for outs. The pitch count was also introduced, adopted from the New York Yankees' broadcasts on the YES Network, as well as NESN for the Boston Red Sox. College baseball and softball broadcasts, however, continued to use the previous (2007) graphics for the 2010 College World Series telecasts. ESPN's coverage of the Little League World Series also retained the 2007 graphics until midway through, and then adopted the current (2010) graphics package.
Baseball Tonight, a daily highlight show aired on ESPN during the baseball season, likewise introduced new graphics adopted from SportsCenter in June 2010.
The ESPN Major League Baseball score box was slightly modified beginning with the opening day game between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. Numbers indicating the ball, strike and out counts replace the dots used last year; the out dots were adopted by Fox Sports Net on their local broadcasts as well as Major League Baseball on Fox. The pitch speed and count are now fixed below the bases graphic. Also, the area around the bases graphic and ball, strike, and out counter is slightly translucent.
Beginning with the Sunday Night Baseball interleague game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs on June 19, the graphics were slightly adjusted to fit in with the 16:9 aspect ratio for HD broadcasts, similar to what Fox Saturday Baseball, Root Sports and Fox Sports Net have done for their baseball coverage. TBS would follow suit in adjusting their graphics to the 16:9 aspect ratio.
The score box and other graphics were carried over from 2011, but a new logo for all ESPN MLB presentations was unveiled at the start of the season. The ESPN logo was fixed on a CGI baseball, with the words 'Major League Baseball' (or Baseball Tonight and Sunday, Monday or Wednesday Night Baseball) in a stylized neon light surrounding it. A 2-D version is also used on print ads or on secondary program IDs. The graphics would stay virtually the same for the next three seasons.
On August 28, Major League Baseball and ESPN agreed to an eight-year, $5.6 billion contract extension, the largest broadcasting deal in Major League Baseball history. It gave ESPN up to 90 regular-season games, one of the two Wild Card games which will rotate between American League and National League teams each year, and the rights to all regular-season tiebreaker games.
For the 2015 season, ESPN introduced a new on-air appearance for baseball. Among its changes were a new, persistent K-Zone Live graphic, consisting of a faded white rectangle that is overlaid live atop the strike zone on the home plate camera angle at all times. A new K-Zone 3D graphic, with ball trails and a three-dimensional box representing the strike zone, can also be used during replays. The new live K-Zone graphic was criticized by viewers and the media for being potentially distracting, drawing comparisons to baseball video games and Fox's "glowing puck" from its NHL coverage.
In the 2017 season, ESPN introduced a new camera angle known as "Front Row Cam"; it is designed to provide a "low-home" camera angle, and utilizes a cylindrical camera pointed vertically at a mirror inside an enclosure positioned along the wall behind home plate. During the American League Wild Card Game, ESPN also introduced a new "immersive" K-Zone 3D component, which allows the data to be rendered into a virtual stadium environment to be viewed at different perspectives.
The 2018 season saw a revamp of ESPN's lead commentary team, with Matt Vasgersian succeeding Dan Shulman, and Alex Rodriguez joining as analyst. ESPN also anticipated increased use of the Front Row Cam on Sunday Night Baseball, and the immersive K-Zone 3D feature being employed on all games (a move enabled by ESPN's full adoption of on-site graphics and replay systems operated remotely from its main studios in Bristol). ESPN also unveiled a major on-air rebranding for its MLB coverage.
The 2020 regular season was delayed by four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez would broadcast all of ESPN's Sunday night games from a studio at their Bristol, Connecticut headquarters. Also in July 2020, Major League Baseball announced that they would be expanding the playoffs,
The 2020 postseason introduced an additional "Wild Card Series" round, featuring eight best-of-three series preceding the Division Series. ESPN acquired the rights to seven of the series, with one replacing the Wild Card Game it already carried (the last series was allocated to TBS to replace the Wild Card Game it held the rights to). On September 28, 2020, it was announced that ABC would carry at least four Wild Card Series games, marking ABC's first national MLB broadcast since 1995.
In 2021, ESPN renewed its rights through the 2028 season. ESPN dropped most of its non-exclusive weeknight broadcasts, focusing primarily on Sunday Night Baseball instead. The network continues to hold rights to at least 30 exclusive regular season games per season, including Sunday Night Baseball and Opening Day games, along with some weeknight games in the second half of the season. ESPN also received the rights to produce alternate telecasts on its sister networks, as well as simulcasts and expanded content on ESPN+, and the ability to air selected games on ABC. The contract also gives ESPN full rights to all postseason Wild Card Series, which were made a permanent part of the postseason that year. In 2022, ESPN aired exclusive Thursday games on Opening Day and the Thursday following the all-star break, as well as two exclusive Wednesday games and one exclusive Monday game during the summer.
See also: Baseball telecasts technology
Through the years, ESPN has enhanced its Major League Baseball coverage with the introduction and implementation of innovative technology. Which include:
Main article: ESPN Major League Baseball broadcasters