“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.
“After the tension and majesty of a World Cup playoff we send you to the 863rd installment of Yankees vs. Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball”
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) June 29, 2014
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…
since the beginning of 2005, nearly 13% of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball games have been Red Sox vs. Yankees
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) August 4, 2014
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.
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:
- 41-year-old Jamie Moyer got the start for the M’s
- Esteban Loaiza started for Chicago
- Bob Melvin was managing the Mariners
- Miguel Olivo started at catcher…for the White Sox. Three weeks later, he was traded to the Mariners with Michael Morse and Jeremy Reed for Ben Davis and Freddy Garcia
- Edgar Martinez pinch-hit in the 7th inning
- Three White Sox relievers — Damaso Marte, Shingo Takatsu, and someone named Michael Jackson (?!) — were credited with holds, before Billy Koch blew the save
- How did Billy Koch blow the save? Like this:
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:
- 23-year-old rookie Alex Rios went 4-4 with two doubles for Toronto
- 39-year-old Kenny Rogers made the start for Texas
- Buck Showalter was managing the Rangers
- Rangers outfielder Brad Fullmer hit the last home run of his major league career
- Michael Young started at shortstop
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…
- The Diamondbacks: last appearance was on August 31st, 2008 at home against the Dodgers
- The Twins: last appearance was on August 22nd, 2010 at home against the Angels
- The Rockies: last appearance was on August 14th, 2011 on the road against the Cardinals
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:
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.
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.
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.