Tim Keefe, testament to the endurance of baseball as the national pastime. Born in 1857, pioneer of the changeup, ranks 10th all-time with 342 wins from 1880-93. As a rookie in 1880, he fashioned an ERA of 0.86 in 105 innings -- still the record to date for a single season. Hall of Famer.
MLB Network, testament to the endurance of baseball as the national pastime. Born this time last year with the largest launch in cable-television history in 50 million households. As a rookie in 2009, went on air with first public rebroadcast of Don Larsen's 1956 World Series perfect game and has not stopped talking baseball, except for commercials. A new fact of life for today's fan.
Happy birthday to the oldest and newest of institutions within Major League Baseball. Putting Keefe and MLB Network side-by-side in that way probably tells the story of the grand old game as well as any can. As a new decade now dawns, the game outlasts anyone who watches it, and just thinking about this past year with a 24/7 baseball network makes you appreciate that.
"I'm an MLB Network addict," said Josh Sternberg, a Yankees fan in Brooklyn. "I can't get enough of the old World Series games, and I loved the whole 'Baseball' documentary by Ken Burns that was broadcast. MLB Network means baseball is year-round."
That was the whole intention. Most everyone now knows that there is no such thing as an offseason in Major League Baseball. Whenever the World Series is finished, the topic simply switches to the Hot Stove banter that we have been enjoying each day for a while now.
In its first year, the Network filled one's TV screen with that kind of talk and more. It has been the place to watch "MLB Tonight" every night during the season for coast-to-coast, high-tech coverage featuring marquee studio personalities and dissecting all 30 clubs equally. It has been the place to watch Bob Costas sit down and chat at length with baseball figures from the past and present. It was a quantum leap for the First-Year Player Draft, conducted at the Secaucus, N.J., studios.
It was the live coverage of games, starting with the World Baseball Classic, Spring Training and then with Thursday Night Baseball games, including the first home game for the new Yankee Stadium. It was the Trade Deadline non-stop analysis and news. It was the vintage programming starting with the Larsen classic, combining the heritage and the hysteria of today. Whatever your favorite moments were on the Network in 2009, leave them in comments here.
"It was a great year. I'm proud of our start. It was a year of firsts," MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti said. "We had seven months to get ready and get on the air, and I felt we had really good quality right from the beginning. And from there, we just kept moving ahead through the entire season.
"What I'm really proud of is the 'MLB Tonight' show. To be able to do pretty much eight hours of live TV every night, capture all the games, bouncing from game to game, live look-ins ... I feel really good about our ability to create something that wasn't there before."
Sternberg summed up the sentiment of so many fans who followed as much of that programming as possible in 2009. Growing up in New York, he said, "I would listen to the radio while in bed and listen to Yankee games, much like my father did when he was growing up in the '50s, and now it's great that I can watch baseball whenever I want.
"Having a network devoted 24/7 to the American pastime is a fan's dream. I can keep one foot in the present with the great analysis of hot baseball topics and the current happenings of my favorite team and the rest of the league, while also having a foot in the past with great documentaries and games from previous decades. It's also a great way of learning about American history, as baseball is often on the forefront of societal change.
"The MLB Network is one of my default channels -- especially during times when there's nothing on regular network TV. I can always watch baseball."
"It was a great year. I'm proud of our start. It was a year of firsts. We had seven months to get ready and get on the air, and I felt we had really good quality right from the beginning. And from there, we just kept moving ahead through the entire season."|
|-- MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti|
Petitti said he was most surprised by a couple of things in the first year. One was the insatiable interest in history shows -- bucking a supposition that today's newer fans don't care much about the old-timers. The other was the intense interest in the Trade Deadline coverage. MLB Network and MLB.com went hand-in-hand, making it hard for you not to be tapped in.
"I think we did seven or eight hours of trade-day coverage this year," Petitti said. "We'll do more next year. People loved it."
Petitti also said to expect MLB's extensive video library to be used more frequently in the second year. For example, he said, "We're thinking about doing a series of shows with highlights of the last innings of every no-hitter ever thrown."
Of course, one of the biggest additions for Year 2 is going to be the familiar face of Peter Gammons. He left ESPN to join the Network and MLB.com as a regular. He will be immediately featured on the Network's nightly studio show "Hot Stove," and going forward will offer analysis and commentary on breaking news and special events like the Trade Deadline, First-Year Player Draft, Winter Meetings and postseason.
"It's hard to imagine a reporter who is more deeply associated with a sport than Peter is with Major League Baseball," Petitti said. "Having Peter associated with MLB Network is an incredible opportunity and another great step for MLB Network as we head into our second year.
"This is an important step for us. Part of Peter's responsibility will be to generate content for us and come up with programming ideas. We'll be developing programs for Peter. This will be a great outlet for all of his expertise."
The anticipation will be even greater in the second year, but now is also a time to think back to how it all began on that night of New Year's Day in 2009. Commissioner Bud Selig went on air from his office to introduce fans to a new way of baseball life. Then how purely fun it was to watch Larsen's perfect game in that unique way, through the lens of old, with those antiquated and innocent shaving-cream commercials in between.
It was not long after that when MLB Network was breaking down Mark Buehrle's perfect game -- the following July. So many things happened to help shape what the Network has become, and in so many ways, the Network itself has reshaped the way fans live the game.
"It was a combination of anxiety and nerves," Petitti said, recalling his feeling just before the launch a year ago. "Then, all of a sudden, we were powering up, we were on the air -- and it all came together really incredibly clean.
"So people who tuned in from the very beginning saw something that had the feel of something that had been on-air for a long time, something that already had a national feel to it. Which was great because, like with anything new, the people who find you first are also the roughest critics with the highest expectations."
Ryan Maloney, a Cubs fan in New York, said it changed his baseball world and he cannot wait to see what is next.
"Having MLB Network 24/7 has been an amazing resource, as it practically puts the viewer in the Commissioner's Office with their timeliness in breaking news and updates surrounding the game," Maloney said. "Having MLB Network on 24/7 has provided younger viewers with an opportunity to allow historic-game footage to serve as the face of the biggest names of baseball past.
"[It's] a great way to allow fans of all ages to truly appreciate what makes the game of baseball the great game it has developed into today and the people that have contributed to our country's favorite pastime along the way. The days of getting your baseball news from boutique sports news stations ended a year ago, the day MLB opened its specialty shop in the MLB Network."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.