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MLB Network Gives Former Players Platform To Shine During For World Series

“Having these players come right off the field and contribute when the stakes are this high makes our content that much more appointment viewing.”

Derek Futterman

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After spring training, 162 regular season games, and a mad dash through the playoffs, Major League Baseball crowns a champion after the World Series. At the conclusion of the journey, the winning team usually has a ticker-tape parade in their home city and celebrates the championship with the fans before moving on to try to do it all over again… and MLB Network is there every step of the way.

Since its launch in 2009, MLB Network has provided fans with year-round coverage from all levels of the game. MLB Tonight is the outlet’s signature program, winning seven national Sports Emmy awards for “Outstanding Daily Studio Show” through its commitment to delivering fans game highlights and analysis in unique and unparalleled ways. This includes the use of ballpark cams, live baseball demonstrations and the effective deployment of technology and implementation of presentation elements.

Along with other studio programming such as MLB Central, High Heat, MLB Now and Intentional Talk, MLB Network brings its viewers “our national pastime all the time,” and there is arguably no bigger moment for it to deliver on that commitment than during the “Fall Classic.”

MLB Network first covered the World Series in 2009 when the New York Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. While the Yankees have not made it past the American League Championship Series since that year, the Phillies are in the midst of an improbable postseason run as a wild card team that has, thus far, resulted in winning a National League pennant.

As a result, they are playing the Houston Astros in the 2022 World Series and 14 years later, coverage of baseball’s final games of the year have expanded and evolved with the game itself and media at large.

The network has a deep roster of personalities with varying experience playing and/or following baseball, including National Baseball Hall of Fame members Pedro Martínez and Jim Thome, along with Harold Reynolds, Bill Ripken, Dan Plesac, Mark DeRosa, Kevin Millar, and Sean Casey.

Moreover, the network has added analysts closely removed from their playing careers, including Hunter Pence, Alex Avila, Anthony Recker, Yonder Alonso, and Xavier Scruggs to contribute across its programming MLB Network has offered them the platform to do so whether they be an active player or recently retired from the game.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve made a conscious effort to bring in new faces that are opinionated and passionate to keep our shows fresh,” said Marc Caiafa, senior vice president of production at MLB Network. “Having these players come right off the field and contribute when the stakes are this high makes our content that much more appointment viewing.”

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Former MLB Outfielder Chris Young began at MLB Network as a guest analyst before joining the network in 2021. (Photo: MLB Network)

In 2021, former Major League Baseball all-star outfielder Chris Young joined MLB Network as a studio analyst, just three years removed from playing the game professionally. Young spent the majority of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks where he became the first rookie to have 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a season. Since joining the network, he has appeared across its programming and is currently in Philadelphia, working on MLB Tonight broadcasts live from Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Starting in sports media was something that always intrigued Young and later in his career, he began working as a guest analyst on MLB Network to see if he would be a fit in the future. This aligns with a trend of current major league players appearing as guest analysts – which includes New York Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader and Miami Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. stepping in the roles this postseason.

“After I retired, I ended up talking to some of the guys over at the network on getting the opportunity to kind of test the waters and see how they felt about me and see how I felt about the network and to see if it would be something that I really wanted to dig into,” Young said. “After jumping in, I’ve fallen in love with it and I love being a part of the network.”

At the conclusion of last season – Young’s first on the network – another major league outfielder retired and immediately found his way to working in sports media. Cameron Maybin finished his big league career playing for the New York Mets in the number one media market in the world.

Maybin had played in “The Big Apple” once before during a stint with the New York Yankees in 2019 where he posted an .858 OPS and brought a championship pedigree, as he had won the World Series in 2017 as a member of the Houston Astros. It was in the Bronx, when Maybin had his first thought of potentially working in sports media at the end of his career thanks to a conversation with YES Network and ESPN play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco.

Less than a decade later, he is back in Houston – this time covering the World Series with MLB Network from Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astros.

“He came [up] to me after a game and he just said, ‘Hey man – after you’re done, I think you should really look into getting into some broadcasting or some type of media realm. When you’re done, I think you’d be great,’” Maybin recalled Ruocco telling him. “….At the time when he told me I said, ‘Hey, I’m good; I’m going to play for six more years. I’m good.’ And then you look up and that time flies by.

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After 15 years in the big leagues, Cameron Maybin joined MLB Network earlier this year. (Photo: MLB Network)

Young and Maybin played in markets large and small throughout their careers in the major leagues, but despite that still played the game well; they covered vast amounts of ground in the outfield, were intelligent hitters and caused havoc on the basepaths.

Off the diamond, they claim they had a positive relationship with media members, understanding journalists came to the ballpark with a job to do and bosses to whom they had to report.

As a result, they saw media members as people trying to help promote and spread the game of baseball, roles they themselves transitioned to when their time on the field concluded.

“Once I finished playing, I had created such good relationships with different members of the media that I was able to call them, speak directly, talk about the experience, talk about what to expect and really gain appreciation for what the media is trying to do,” Young said. “They’re trying to put the players on a pedestal and let the world hear their stories.”

“I always kind of took the mindset of being open, being transparent with them [and] trying to develop a good relationship,” Maybin added. “I also thought [that] if you develop a good relationship with the media, if you do something they might not kill you as much as they could.”

Playing professional sports has helped Young, Maybin and other athletes who have made the transition to being an analyst more relatable to the audience. When discussing sports that they have worked to perfect over a majority of their lives, they seek to share their esoteric knowledge and expertise with those interested in the game while surrounded by like-minded people.

“It’s a lot of baseball heads which is great because everybody speaks the language pretty much to where you can feel like you can be your authentic self and everybody can understand the lingo and what you’re talking about,” Young said. “….I think we put a really good product out there and give the fans something from the perspective of writers and broadcasters and players all collectively to really break the game down and show it from a lot of different lenses.”

Similar to aspiring professionals who look to work in sports media, those who undertake building a career playing sports professionally often look to others who have done it successfully for inspiration and motivation.

In baseball, many young players modeled their games based on the play of former Seattle Mariners outfielder and National Baseball Hall of Fame member Ken Griffey Jr. – nicknamed “The Kid” – who was known for his speed, power and versatility combined with his proclivity to flip his cap backwards. Griffey Jr. was also outgoing and friendly towards fans, influencing a countless number of people for more than his skills on the diamond.

Maybin affirms that he had an understanding of the responsibility of athletes that extends beyond the field both as a player and media member, which includes using their platforms to disseminate content beneficial to the team. This includes critiquing athletes – some of whom he recently called teammates and/or opponents – especially in larger markets with large amounts of attention devoted towards sports.

Working with Marquee Sports Network in Chicago as a studio analyst and with YES Network in the Bronx as a color commentator for New York Yankees live game broadcasts in addition to his role on MLB Network this past season, Maybin knew he would have to divulge genuinity in the opinions he expressed to viewers on the air.

“One thing I learned in this new broadcast realm is you have to be subjective if you want to gain credibility,” Maybin said. “….It’s just not being afraid to say what you have to say and also [showing] up where those guys can see you. My relationships outweigh any critique that I’ve had to make thus far.”

In remembering what it was like to be a professional baseball player, Young and Maybin are able to reminisce about both the good times and the bad times, recognizing the inherent volatility embedded in sports.

Becoming oblivious to the fact that making it as a professional and consistently succeeding is highly unlikely for most people threatens to diminish others’ willingness to listen to what they have to say and to consider their analyses tenable. Similarly, it contrives the possibility of media platforms to lose credibility, especially newer ones such as Apple TV+ where Young served as a color commentator on its presentation of Friday Night Baseball this past season.

“As a former player, the first thing you can never do is make the mistake of forgetting how hard the game is,” Young expressed, “and I feel like I make a valiant effort to never forget how difficult the game is.

“With that being said, yes, if there’s a play that happens or something that was done wrong and you have to be critical of it, we have to do that…. I try to stay away from placing judgment on a person’s character or something like that without fully knowing that person, which I think is the mistake that some people make at times.”

Both of the former major league outfielders have appeared in postseason action as players, but neither had covered postseason games on-site for MLB Network until this season. Being behind the desk for studio coverage on the best-of-seven series is a heralded opportunity and a chance for them to enhance the platform’s coverage by sharing modern perspectives and ideas.

“There’s only one game going on in baseball [and] that’s a huge deal for us because all the attention is on that one game,” Young said. “You just kind of enjoy the ride and react to the punches. We have no idea what’s going to happen in this World Series but…. being able to cover that is a really exciting opportunity for me.”

“You talk about what you see; you talk about your experience; you talk about what you’ve been through when you see different moments and you try to explain that and try to convey that to the crowd and the fans watching,” Maybin added. “That’s really it – it’s not too difficult; not really too in-depth. It’s about doing your homework and trying to be as prepared as possible.”

Amid a dynamic media environment where the emphasis on studio coverage is being threatened due to consumers’ desire to have complete control over their experience – made possible by over-the-top and video on demand content distribution platforms – companies have had to adapt to survive.

Yet some studio shows such as MLB Tonight have actively made adjustments from the very beginning to ensure it stays at the forefront of innovation and continues to provide viewers a stellar, appealing product. That comes not only with knowledgeable people and supportive management, but also through constant communication with all team members.

“Year after year nothing really stays the same,” Maybin said. “They’re trying to add more [and] trying to become better and I think that’s what separates the network from so many others… They’re constantly reaching out to people who work there and asking opinions [on] what they see [and] what they think we could do to make this thing be as dominant and prominent as it is.”

Young says the program reminds him of whiparound shows such as NFL RedZone and NBA CrunchTime where fans go to see the latest action around the league and get caught up on the action. In essence, it is a way for people to keep a pulse on the entirety of Major League Baseball through both live look-ins and analysis among other segments.

“I think MLB Tonight is a great show,” Young said. “I think they make adjustments on the fly just as well as anybody out there, and I feel like that’s a show that’s always going to be needed no matter where the rest of broadcasting goes or anything.”

In a 2019 study by Social Media Today, it was found that nine out of every 10 consumers value authenticity in their decision whether or not to support a brand, an ostensible reason BeReal has seen a 2245% jump in active monthly users from 921,000 to 21.6 million.

The social media platform, which has been installed over 53 million times globally, sends a notification once per day at a random time that opens a two-minute window for users to take and post live, in-the-moment photos from their front and back phone cameras.

Any posts made outside the timed window are considered to be late and subsequently time-stamped.

Surely, evolution is the matrix of sports media but even as the industry becomes more nuanced, the foundation of sports broadcasting and mission to serve the fan remains imbued in new platforms and innovations.

Today, media personalities are active on social media and engage with their audience beyond their set air time while athletes seek to shape their own narratives acting as “new media.” Through it all, authenticity represents a factor of differentiation suggesting a positive correlation between ethos and media consumption – all derived through an understanding of the audience.

“You’re getting a lot of new fans, and you want to find a way to appeal to everybody,” Young said. “I think that’s what’s happening right now…. You see different services trying to find a way to appeal to the masses while still keeping the integrity of what a broadcast booth should be and how you still want to respect the game and still call what’s going on in the game.”

“You see a lot of younger faces; a lot of guys who just recently got out of the game who bring a different perspective than some of the older guys,” added Maybin. “We’re still learning so much from those guys but I think when you look at the game you’re trying to get different viewers. I think baseball’s done a really good job of going a little bit younger right now and getting guys to give their perspectives that just got off the field.”

Chris Young and Cameron Maybin look to continue to grow working in sports media and have set goals for themselves in the future. Young recently completed his business administration degree at Arizona State University, a goal he had set when he was drafted, and will take advantage of opportunities to boost his skills as a broadcaster.

While Maybin will look to continue to work in sports media, he is not afraid to branch out to host different types of shows outside of his comfort zone similar to Nick Burleson and Michael Strahan.

As an athlete, it can be a perplexing time once the reality of retirement begins to set in and some believe working in sports media is quite tantalizing. By quickly getting started though, Young and Maybin garner fresh perspectives and relevant insight that accurately depict the mindset of players, fostering a strong connection to “our national pastime, all the time.”

“Throw yourself in it and see how you feel about it because [there’s] so much knowledge out there from players in my opinion from their experiences on the field,” Young advised. “Once they get themselves around the environment, they’ll figure out very quickly if they love it or hate it.”

“I think it’s extremely important to pass on the knowledge,” Maybin added. “You play for so many years and you develop a rapport; you learn a lot of things. You gain a lot of knowledge and I think it’s almost a disservice not to give that back.”

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