The Analysis: This is certainly the most important to me. Listening to Eric Young's jibberish and Steve Phillips' nonsense annoys the living hell out of me. MLB Network's hired a grade-A staff of analysts: Harold Reynolds, Barry Larkin, Joe Magrane, Al Leiter, Mitch Williams, and Dan Plesac(haven't seen him on there yet, but he's outstanding and might be the best analyst of the bunch). Some of you have probably seen a few of them before on other networks, such as Reynolds of course on ESPN. I hadn't seen Magrane as a studio analyst before and he's been particularly impressive. All of them played baseball, played it well, and understand the game. Even their host of the show, Victor Rojas, knows his baseball. He played in the Minors, and his dad is Cookie Rojas, former Major League player and manager. Furthermore, they've had players such as Kevin Millar be analysts for a few shows, since they're of course in the offseason and maybe practicing for a career after baseball. Anyway, I've yet to see a single person talk on here that was annoying or didn't really know their baseball.
ESPN has outstanding "insiders" such as the Hall of Famer Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian, and Jayson Stark. MLB Network just has two it seems, but they're both outstanding in Sports Illustrated writers Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci. I've always enjoyed reading their stuff, and they've proven to be just as good on camera. They're on the show daily, and talk about the latest happenings around the league with some terrific inside information.
The Topics: Agree with the "east coast bias" notion with ESPN or not, there's no doubting they certainly talk about a few teams much more than others. The MLB Network so far hasn't really done that. "Hot Stove" might leadoff with a Manny update, but they don't spend half the show talking about only the Yankees and Red Sox. They seem to treat every team and division equally, at least so far. We'll see if that keeps up on the network in a couple months, but I love what I'm seeing.
Whatever is going on in the world of Major League Baseball, they're talking about it. For example, since the launch of the network on January 1st, here's how a typical show goes: latest signings and trades, rumors of moves that could come from Heyman and Verducci, previews of individual teams and divisions, discussion of the Hall of Fame candidates or now inductees with Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice getting in yesterday, interviews, physical demonstrations(I'll talk about that below), etc.
The Highlights: Access to really any videos of baseball from any time allows them to have some awesome highlights. At the beginning of the offseason, ESPN kept showing the same few CC Sabathia highlights, over and over. If you paid close attention, you noticed that the highlights would be only from games that were broadcasted on ESPN. Understandably they show highlights from their own network rather than putting up highlights from a rival network such as Fox Sports, but it limits the material they can show. MLB Network doesn't have these limits to worry about because this is the league's channel! They can show whatever they want.
The Guests: Every show, they've had terrific in-studio guests. These people all appeared in-studio since the January 1st launch: Tim Raines(former player and should be in the Hall of Fame), Tim Lincecum, Jimmy Rollins, Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Millar, Bob Melvin(Arizona Diamondbacks manager), Omar Minaya(New York Mets general manager), Ruben Amaro(Philadelphia Phillies general manager), and Scott Boras(agent). I may have missed a couple too, just going by the MLB Network video archives.
The Demonstrations: If you've got a young ballplayer in your life, you should have them watch this show. They'll learn more watching a month of this than that $300 Community College 2-day camp you take them to. They're able to do plenty of demonstrations because they an an extra studio known as "Studio 42" that's spectacular:
- Named to honor Jackie Robinson, Studio 42 measures 9,600 square feet, and will be used as a demonstration center by MLB Network's on-air talent.
- Studio 42 is designed to be a replica baseball field, featuring a half-scale infield made of field turf measuring 45 feet from base to base and a pitcher's mound 30 feet from home plate that can be moved back for more realistic demonstrations.
- The studio also features a replica outfield wall, complete with padding, brick designs, three different seating areas that can hold up to 173 people, and an out-of-town scoreboard modeled after the scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which will be updated in real-time.
Whenever there's been a current player on the show, they do demonstrations. Harold Reynolds will do some soft toss with wiffle balls for the hitters, and they might explain why they have the stance the way they do or how they generate their power for example. They might give some fielding and baserunning tips.
2008 NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum appeared on the show and gave us some pitching tips. He described drills he's done growing up, and we were able to see him breakdown the wind-up he uses that gets him to throw 97 mph with a 5'11", 170 pound frame.
Harold Reynolds is always a part of this show, and these demonstrations are his specialty. He even made some instructional videos a few years back, and he was outstanding with ESPN working as an analyst for the Little League World Series. Really, get the kids to watch this, or watch it for them and take some notes!
The Thighs: This is secondary, but it's nice having some eye candy on there. Hazel Mae and Trenni Kusnierek might not be "Thigh of the Week" material, but they're very attractive. When was the last time we saw a woman at all on "Baseball Tonight"? I can't remember one. Hazel and Trenni have smarts and are terrific at their jobs unlike some of these hot women networks throw in front of the camera.
Lastly, "Hot Stove" is on on weeknights through the offseason, whereas "Baseball Tonight" hasn't been on aside from the winter meetings. "Hot Stove" will apparently be replaced by "MLB Tonight" during the season, and I assume the show will be pretty much the same, except with plenty more highlights of course.
So, that's why I think "Hot Stove" is by far the show to watch for your daily baseball analysis and highlights. Check it out yourself and I'd love to hear your opinion.