We talk a lot about the troubles MLB is dealing with when it comes to disseminating baseball games to larger audiences. Cable packages are expensive, streaming blackouts crowd out markets that want to consume the game, commentary teams often openly disparage modern styles of play and the nature of baseball itself doesn’t always lead itself to easy viewing. The league has a number of opportunities to grow the game, and we saw one of those opportunities this week, and have seen it in Yankees’ camp already.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were mic’d up for their spring training contest on Monday, and if you haven’t seen the results by now, it was a blast:
The rest of the broadcast gave us insights into how players feel about the Astros’ sign stealing scandal, and a story about Rizzo’s own baseball childhood. Spring training games are often a drag, but Bryzzo brought life to what would have otherwise been a forgettable spring afternoon.
Of course the Yankees have stuck mics on some of their more vocal players throughout spring, and the results have been just as wonderful:
And now the moment you've all been waiting for ...— New York Yankees (@Yankees) February 21, 2020
'Mic'd Up with Tommy Kahnle.' pic.twitter.com/ABXUcmXRXc
Now, we can only do pretty rudimentary analytics for how this content carries — I don’t have access to the Yankees’ own media metrics. But comparing the two video “specials” to some of the other big moments from spring shows just how much reach this kind of fun idea can have:
For what it’s worth, that first video of Bryzzo above, where they’re mic’d up in game, has more views and more retweets than any of the events in that chart. Again, we’re dealing in pretty rudimentary analytics, but it’s clear that consumers want to see this side of ballplayers.
So here’s the proposal — keep this going into the regular season too. Despite their reputation for being a tight-lipped, buttoned up organization, one of the most endearing things about the Yankees over the last decade or so has been how much looser they’ve got with regards to social media. Brett Gardner is well-known to be a clubhouse clown, and the team makes some of the best spring training commercials you’ll ever see.
As we say so often when it comes to improving broadcasts, lean into these strengths. Wearing a mic won’t be for every player, and you probably couldn’t have guys on the field wearing them in games that count. Fortunately for the Yankees, they have a number of players with shining personalities, who won’t be playing every day.
Obviously this starts with Tommy Kahnle, the most outspoken and energetic member of the Yankee bullpen. Can we get him to comment while he’s actually on the mound? Of course not. Can we get him mic’d up in the bullpen for the entire third inning? Why not?
Clint Frazier and Gardner are both guys with well-developed senses of humor who won’t be expected to play 162 games, and would make great candidates for this too. If you want a more serious side of the game, give Gerrit Cole a mic. We love David Cone for bringing a deep level of analysis to broadcasts, and Cole might do that even better than Coney:
Gerrit Cole discussing catcher set-up to visualize the strike zone and where to miss with his pitches.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 13, 2020
[Good stuff the detailed thought process that goes into high level pitching.] pic.twitter.com/rnqzc4SvAu
Now imagine Cole explaining this, in real time, while Masahiro Tanaka pitches. It brings so much more to the standard YES Network broadcast, and would be a perfect shareable moment, the exact kind of content baseball needs to be more vibrant on social media.
This kind of move wouldn’t be for everyone, and obviously YES would have to take care to make sure that some of the more adult vernacular present in bullpens and dugouts doesn’t shine through. But the Bryzzo moments, the Kahnle and Wade videos, and even the Savages in the Box and “asses in the jackpot” moment show how popular and entertaining baseball can be when we raise up the voices of the players on the field, especially when things actually matter.