Monday, March 19, 2018

A new combination for ESPN's Sunday night baseball

tom jones' two cents

ESPN's Sunday night baseball games will have a new crew this season thanks, in sorts, to an offseason trade. Last season, it was play-by-play man Dan Shulman with analysts Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine. Then in the offseason, Terry Francona was fired as manager by the Red Sox and replaced by Valentine. ESPN quickly scooped up Francona to take Valentine's seat in the booth. Earlier this spring, the three were in Clearwater, where each spent a few minutes with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Tom Jones.

Dan Shulman

What are your thoughts on Terry Francona joining the broadcast?

I think he's going to be fantastic. I think he's really going to be terrific at it. He's just such a regular guy. Obviously, he has spent a lifetime in baseball, and he has great stories and experiences. He's just natural. He says what he sees. There's no pretense about him. He's extremely likeable and extremely knowledgeable.

And Orel Hershiser?

From a pitcher's perspective, who knows more about it? Who can break it down better than Orel Hershiser? I've got a guy who accomplished everything you can as a pitcher and a guy who accomplished everything you can accomplish as a manager.

What advice have you given Terry about becoming a broadcaster?

I told him, "Just be yourself.'' It's a big company, and we have lots of meetings and conference calls and emails. But I said, "It's okay. Once we start the game, it's just a baseball game. Just pretend it's three guys sitting in somebody's basement watching on a big-screen TV.''

Orel Hershiser

Your thoughts on Terry Francona joining the broadcast?

He has a great baseball mind. He has very current experiences, which the audience is going to love. I've got to make sure that when I'm talking about something, I've got to find a way to draw him into the conversation.

He seemed like a natural when he filled in for two games on Fox during last year's American League Championship Series, didn't he?

That's no surprise. He was very comfortable in his interviews as a manager. He was comfortable as a player. He's a great people person. He has great connections throughout the game, so it's going to be very fresh. And that's what I love about it. I have to continue every year to stay current because I retired in 2000 as a player. And then I was a pitching coach, and then I did some other things. But you still have to work at being on the edge. He's not going to have to because he was in the game last season.

How long does it take for a three-man booth to find that camaraderie?

Well, last year, it didn't take very long with Dan, Bobby and I because I played for Bobby (with the Mets) and we're friends. And it's going to be the same with Terry. I coached with Terry in Texas. I was the pitching coach, and he was the bench coach. I think it's going to be natural. When you get along in normal life, you're going to get along on the air.

You've done different things in baseball since retiring pitching coach, front office. What is it you love about broadcasting?

It keeps you a part of your fraternity without having the pressure of wins and losses. Our win and loss is a lot more tied to how are the ratings. Don't make a lot of people mad on the air. Be entertaining. And the win and a loss for a ballplayer is every single day. They carry more pressure. But we still get to experience the lifestyle, and we get to be a part of it.

Terry Francona

You filled in for Tim McCarver for two games in the American League Championship Series on Fox in the fall. How was that?

I thought (Fox announcer) Joe Buck was crazy when he called me and said, "Hey, I want you to come and do these two games." And I said, "Are you nuts?'' He talked me into it, and it was probably the luckiest thing I've ever done. I mean, it opened up this.

How weird is it not managing this spring?

This is the first time I haven't been in a uniform in 32 years. It's different. But it's amazing. Sometimes, I just feel like I'm always lucky. I run into good people. And this is no different. It's going to be a great experience. I don't know where it's going to lead, but it's going to be a great experience.

You know, when Jon Gruden took a job with ESPN as an NFL announcer, everyone assumed he would be there for a year and then return to coaching. Four years later, he's still in the booth.

Funny you mention Jon because I spoke to him before I took this job.

What did he say?

He just told me how much he liked it and how much I was going to enjoy it. We're kind of in the same situation where we were a little beat up at the end. And he said it was good for him. He spent about 20 minutes talking to me, which I appreciated.

How much confidence did you gain from doing those two games last fall?

A lot because if I told you I was confident going into those two games, I'd be lying to you. I was scared to death. And Joe babysat me as Dan will, too. They convinced me that I don't have to be a broadcaster. I just have to talk baseball. That's what I like doing. That's all I ever do anyway.

Do you think you'll be able to be critical?

I think there's a way to do it without taking shots at people. I don't particularly enjoy making fun of people. I just think I'll say what I see. Look, if someone doesn't catch the ball, they didn't catch the ball. It doesn't mean they're a bad person. My job is to try to articulate what I see. That's all.

Are you more nervous or excited?

I'm looking forward to it. These guys have been great. I've gotten a lot of help. I'm okay. Again, what it boils down to is I have to talk about baseball. It's all I know. I've probably been accused of not knowing that. (Laughs) But if I can talk about baseball, I'll be okay.

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