Sunday Night Baseball Is At a Crossroads and All Eyes Are on Alex Rodriguez

ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball
ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball / Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

ESPN has opted not to fill Jessica Mendoza's analyst chair in the Sunday Night Baseball booth, The New York Post's Andrew Marchand reports. The network had little choice but to shuffle things up after she brought her message of no-snitching to a car wash and failed to clean up the conflict of interest on the undercoating.

Matt Vasgersian and Alex Rodriguez remain, with Buster Olney prowling the dugouts.

There are two ways this could go. The first scenario involves the broadcast becoming even more Rodriguez-centric. A celebration of his eccentricity. This is something he'd presumably enjoy more than the public. The risk here is that personal brand-building completely subverts the original purpose of the telecast, which is to present visuals and audio of a baseball game.

An optimist could view this slimmed-down booth as an opening for addition by subtraction. That's not to say anything negative about Mendoza, who was above-average in the role and provided fresh perspective. But the presentation of Sunday Night Baseball has been far too busy in recent years. At times the bells and whistles have obscured the main theme.

Things have felt rushed. Shoehorned. Overproduced.

And look, trying to do too much is understandable. Selling a regional sport to a national audience is tough. Attracting fans of the 28 teams not involved in the game is difficult. Bringing in the splashy, sexy A-Rod reflects that. Trying to give a little something to everyone at disorienting speed reflects that, too.

This year, there's a new producer in town. Perhaps there can be a slightly different Rodriguez as well. Perhaps by sticking closer to the script, by sticking purely to the here and now of the game, he can help establish a new vibe on the broadcast.

He has the pure baseball acumen to do it. He seems to also have the passion as well. A slight tweak would go a long way.

A more down-the-fairway, focused Rodriguez would be a better experience for fans of the teams playing. Fewer birthday cakes and Jennifer Lopez cameos would be less distracting.

I'm of the belief that there's some similarities between how SNB has tried to attract fans reflects how Major League Baseball as a whole has endeavored recently. The focus is to grab the casually uninterested new eyeballs instead of valuing those who already like and identify with the product.

Bigger brains than my own will shape the direction of sleeker booth. But with new direction, there's definitely hope. It feels as though a win-win-win situation is possible.

Rodriguez can get more of the spotlight with fewer microphones. ESPN can get a less cluttered product. Fans of baseball can get a more concentrated presentation that embraces the on-field action and leaves some of the trappings on the cutting-room floor.

There's an opportunity here. Time will soon tell if it's seized.