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ESPN going, going ... all out for Derby

ESPN going, going ... all out for Derby

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Joe Morgan put it simply.

"Yankee Stadium is to baseball players like a cathedral of the game," the Hall of Fame second baseman said.

That was on a conference call to promote ESPN's All-Star Game programming that will be highlighted by the State Farm Home Run Derby at 8 p.m. ET on Monday and followed by the Taco Bell Legends and Celebrity Softball Game.

ESPN will also carry the 2008 XM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday and the radio broadcast of the 79th All-Star Game on Tuesday from Yankee Stadium in the ballpark's final season.

FOX will have the national live television broadcast of the All-Star Game with Rogers Sportsnet carrying the game in Canada and Sportsnet HD handling the worldwide broadcast by Major League Baseball International.

But for ESPN, the Derby is the cornerstone of their All-Star Game coverage.

"Prior to the start of our NFL season, this is the biggest event we do as far as terms of ratings every year," said Jed Drake, senior vice president and executive producer, event production for ESPN. "It comes right on the heels of some really remarkable events."

The Derby also provides a lead-in for broadcast partner ABC and its final two rounds of coverage of the British Open from Royal Birkdale, July 19-20.

"It is a big event, we treat it as such," Drake said of the Home Run Derby. "When you look at the complement of announcers that we bring to it, we have assembled a great cast for it. With the event at Yankee Stadium in its final year, it brings an even greater significance to the event."

Six of the eight contestants are set for the Home Run Derby with Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley, Dan Uggla of the Marlins and Houston's Lance Berkman representing the National League. Grady Sizemore of the Indians and Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton are in for the American League with the final two slots expected to be filled by the weekend.

Defending champion Vladimir Guerrero, who was not selected to play in this year's All-Star Game, has opted out of the Derby to spend time with his family.

"It really is baseball's own version of a fireworks show, and everyone comes to see the grand finale," said Tim Scanlan, ESPN vice president, event production. "Sometimes it is not only the big sluggers that make the event. You never know who the star is going to be."

Chris Berman will host the Derby -- which will also be available in high definition -- and will be joined on the field by analyst Steve Phillips and Morgan. "Baseball Tonight" host Karl Ravech will be joined by analysts Peter Gammons, John Kruk and Rick Reilly in-studio for further commentary. Erin Andrews will report and provide interviews on the field.

ESPN will use 20 cameras in its Derby coverage, which will include 1,000-frames-per-second replay technology called "Ultra Mo."

Drake said the program should move more quickly than it has in past years.

"You're going to see a faster-paced derby," Drake said. "I think we all have sensed that the event was getting too long just in terms of how it was being run and how we were covering it."

The 79th Midsummer Classic will be the fourth held at Yankee Stadium and the eighth in New York City. The Yankees previously hosted the All-Star Game in 1939, 1960 and 1977; the Polo Grounds held the game in 1934 and 1942; Ebbets Field was the site in 1949; and Shea Stadium hosted the 1964 game.

"The Yankee franchise is the richest in history and tradition in the game. More memories have been made at Yankee Stadium than any other stadium there is," Phillips said. "For the players to be part of the final memories or having a chance to make the final memories at that stadium is something special."

Morgan started for the National League at second base in the 1977 All-Star Game and helped his squad to a 7-5 victory over the American League. Morgan led off the game with a homer off Jim Palmer as the NL jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

The second baseman was also part of the Big Red Machine that swept the Yankees in the 1976 World Series with the third and fourth games at Yankee Stadium. Morgan went 5-for-15 in the series with a double, triple and homer.

Morgan said he didn't visit Monument Park in 1976 but made his pilgrimage before the '77 All-Star Game.

"I thought of it as how great this was. I'm going to get a chance to play in Yankee Stadium, where Babe Ruth and all those guys played, as an All-Star. I'm representing my league," said Morgan, who was a 10-time All-Star and made seven appearances as a starter.

"I hit a home run my first time up. It wasn't the home run, but when I was trotting around the bases my thoughts were that this was the route that Babe Ruth took, and I think that you'll have players thinking those things when they're in that ballpark. You can't help it."

Morgan said his first thoughts have always been about Ruth when he entered Yankee Stadium as a player and now when he works there as a broadcaster. He added that having the 2008 All-Star Game there was the right call.

"It is the feeling of walking in there and walking around that stadium. All the flags and the championship banners. The ghosts are there; they're there for you as a player," Morgan said. "You think about Lou Gehrig, you think about Babe Ruth. You think about Babe Ruth all the way up to Derek Jeter and A-Rod now. That is the way I think every time I walk into Yankee Stadium."

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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