A Decade of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball: Is It Really Always Red Sox/Yankees?

“In this world nothing can said to be certain, except death, taxes, and Red Sox vs. Yankees on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball” – Benjamin Franklin

It’s a familiar refrain. Every Sunday night during the baseball season, fans of small-market and medium-market teams alike take to the Internet to express their continued frustration that Sunday Night Baseball is ALWAYS THE SAME TWO TEAMS UGH I’M SICK OF WATCHING JUNICHI TAZAWA PITCH TO MARK TEIXEIRA and so on. I’m certainly guilty of complaining about this apparent lopsidedness as well, and if you follow us on Twitter, you’ve probably seen us tweet about it once or twice.

Eventually, I decided that instead of complaining, I would actually go back and see if there’s any truth to the general assumption that Boston and New York dominate Sunday Night Baseball. IMDB, of all places, turned out to be the fastest way to find a log of all the Sunday Night Baseball games over the years. A few Excel spreadsheets later…

Recently, I decided to delve into this ten-year sample of Sunday Night Baseball to see what other patterns emerged. Surely, the Red Sox and Yankees weren’t the only large market teams to be grossly over-represented, and I wanted to see just how rare it is for a small-market team to appear on what is supposed to be the premier “Game of the Week”.

Each season, there are somewhere between 23 and 26 ESPN Sunday Night Baseball games. Since the beginning of 2005, there have been 248 SNB games. Throughout these 248 games, all but two teams have been represented at least once.

Total Appearances by Team

Most Represented Teams

Let’s take a look at the bottom of this nationally televised barrel. Two teams, Seattle and Toronto, have not appeared once on Sunday Night in the last decade. Seattle’s drought is about a month longer than Toronto’s, with the Mariners’ last Sunday night appearance coming on June 6th, 2004 at home against the Chicago White Sox. Some fun facts about that game:

snb mariners walkoff

Yeah. That’s Jolbert Cabrera, by the way.

Toronto’s last ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Game came on July 18th, 2004 on the road against the Texas Rangers. Some fun facts from that showdown:

The Marlins’ only SNB appearance over the last decade was on September 18th, 2005 at home against the Philadelphia Philles, a game in which 38-year-old Kenny Lofton batted 2nd for the Phillies and 38-year-old Jeff Conine went 3-3 with three walks for the Fish (note: this was the only time in Conine’s 17-year career that he reached base six times in one game). Other notable SNB droughts include…

Pittsburgh made two SNB appearances in 2014 after their exciting 2013 campaign, but before that, they hadn’t been on since May of 2002. You get the point. It’s been a pretty long time for some of these teams!

Here’s a breakdown of total appearances that includes home/road splits:

Home vs Away

While the Yankees lead in total appearances, Boston leads in hosting the ESPN crew with an astonishing 24 Sunday Night home games, most likely because Fenway Is Old And Has So Much History Wow Look At That Giant Irrational Green Wall In Left Field. The Rockies haven’t hosted a Sunday Night game since April of 2000, when they beat the Cardinals 14-13.

This delicious-looking pie chart shows the match-ups that have occurred most often on Sunday Night Baseball.

Most Common Matchups

About a quarter of the time, you can expect to see one of these five match-ups. It’s not always Yankees vs. Red Sox, but it’s often something similar! RIVALRIES N’ STUFF.

A few weeks ago, ESPN announced its early season schedule for the 2015 edition of Sunday Night Baseball. Hold on to your seats, folks. They’re really mixing it up this year.

…or nah.

I know that ESPN often televises games on Mondays and Wednesdays that are more likely to showcase smaller market teams. Additionally, as Craig Calcaterra points out, the bigger problem with Sunday Night Baseball isn’t the teams that are being shown, but rather the lackluster broadcast crew that accompanies the game.

However, I do believe the Sunday Night game means a little more than the average regular season game. Unlike the nationally televised Monday and Wednesday night games, there are no other games being played on Sunday nights. The baseball world is forced to turn their attention to one game, at ESPN’s disposal. I understand that ESPN is in the business of getting ratings, and thus are always going to favor the large-market clubs for their nationally televised games. It’s not really ESPN’s job to expose the national audience to some of the game’s biggest superstars that happen to play for smaller-market teams. It’s just frustrating seeing Dustin Pedroia in the spotlight for the 5th time of the season when superstars like Felix Hernandez, Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Paul Goldschmidt have no chance at their fifteen seconds of Sunday Night fame. Fans are keenly aware of their teams’ consistent absences from this weekly national showcase, let alone ESPN’s general tendency to ignore smaller-market teams in their everyday MLB coverage.

Looking ahead, it doesn’t look like anything is going to change anytime soon. I’m holding out hope that we see Seattle or Toronto — two teams that are geared up to compete for a division title — at least once this year on a Sunday night. For now, the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball machine rolls on, live from Yankee Stadium or historic Fenway Park. “And Brett Gardner steps in…”

Special thanks to Bailey Bowers for helping compile the data. 

21 Responses

  1. Brian Klein

    As a Yankees fan I’m not going to lie…I’d much, much rather any other team play Sunday nights. Sunday night games are annoying and inconvenient. It’s bad enough Fox screws up day baseball on Saturdays, then Sundays before a travel day it’s a game that starts around 8:09. Are the Mariners and Jays really missing out on much? Let’s face it, are there any casual baseball fans tuning in each Sunday regardless of who is playing? It’s gotta be 98% fans of the team, 2% hardcore baseball fans, and 0% casual fans who the “national broadcast” is aimed at.

    • Bob thebuilder

      That is some truly convincing empirical evidence. Thanks for clearing it all up.

    • raiders751

      If that’s the case, why don’t the Los Angeles Dodgers have more games than the Yankees?
      They have a better team and there’s only a 2 million population gap and closing. They’re record is better, better team close second in population. Almost 19 million. New York 21 million. The Dodgers have them beat in everything but the slim population edge.

  2. VivaJackMurphy

    Interesting stuff – any insight into how the games are selected? Or why Seattle hasn’t been featured in so long?

    Another interesting way to look at this would be what percentage of Sunday Yankees/Red Sox games are featured on Sunday night, because obviously there are some Sundays when they are not playing. I’d imagine it’s pretty high.

    • Mark S

      MLB clubs play on Sunday probably more than any other day of the week. The Indians, for example, are scheduled to play on every single Sunday for the upcoming season. Same goes for Saturday.

      • dudeman

        the sox/yankees can play a mon-wed series there mark….
        also every team plays every fri/sat/sun

      • VivaJackMurphy

        There are Sundays when they are not playing each other, is what I mean. Thanks.

    • Rich Aubuchon

      I’d say the most obvious reason Seattle hasn’t been featured in the last decade is that they’ve mostly been terrible over that period of time.

      • JML510

        Seattle did better than teams like NYY and BOS last year, yet they still weren’t featured at all while those 2 teams still got some national airtime. It’s probably another reason besides how good they are.

      • raiders751

        If you go by that, the yankees have SUCKED for awhile now! They don’t deserve any sunday night games either!

  3. Eric

    Any idea on the percentage of Sunday Yankees/Red Sox games aired on Sunday Night Baseball? It can’t be too often they play on Sunday without it being SNB.

  4. Tim Bliss

    I remember reading that when ESPN got the contract they did way back in 1990 to show a SNB game every week one of the stipulations was every team had to be represented at least once a year. Somewhere along the way in one of the contract renewals that stipulation went out the window and it opened the door for ESPN to show the same teams over and over and over again every week and here we are.

  5. Jonathan

    Is the reason that Boston has hosted more SNB games than anyone else “Fenway Is Old And Has So Much History Wow Look At That Giant Irrational Green Wall In Left Field,” or is it simple geography? EaStsPiN is headquartered in Connecticut. That’s Sox territory.

  6. Dalia

    cant blame them for not wanting to show the Mariners. when was the last time they made the playoffs

  7. Jos. Sage

    I’m sick and tired of the Boston Yankees games too. Another example of
    East Coast bias in baseball. If baseball wants to become more popular
    the young stars need to be exposed and many of them are on teams that
    are ignored. If the game involves the Yankees or Boston I tune out as
    they both play boring games. I don’t understand if there is a plan or
    not. Baseball claims to want faster games and pro
    pose a pitching
    clock… but then they want to make the strike zone smaller so that
    there are more walks, and much more offense, both of which will
    significantly increase the time of games.

    • raiders751

      I agree. East coast bias and I don’t think the yankees have as many fans as everyone thinks. I just watched the Dodgers/Yankees series on xtra innings. About half were Dodgers fans and a lot of empty seats at Yankee Stadium. Dodger Stadium sells out most games!

  8. Bruce Reichert

    I’m a Yankee fan and I still like 1:00 pm Yankee games I hate any Yankee game on at 8:00 on Sunday Night. Especially on ESPN!!!!

  9. Gary Whobrey

    So sick of the Yankees dominating Sunday night baseball. What about showing some different teams in different areas?

  10. Raiders776

    Maybe the MLB shouldn’t be so arrogant in thinking they can deprive fans and pricing themselves out of business. Maybe Television-wise they should do what the NFL does and air more games on antenna on the weekends and maybe they’ll get they’re fans back! You don’t get anywhere depriving people of something. Cable and satellite is getting too expensive and so is online subscriptions. Maybe they should go back to networks making money off advertising and the networks paying the league. The NFL is successful doing that, maybe the MLB should get they’re heads out of they’re you know what’s and stop being so greedy!


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