Draft makes it on television
ESPN2 helps bring First-Year Player Draft to the masses
It was about time.
The First-Year Player Draft reached the pinnacle of American cultural activity on Thursday. It was on television.
OK, it was just the first round. But while you could still catch all the coverage online, the first round was also on ESPN2, live from Disney World. Everybody in baseball, everybody who understands baseball, knows how important, how essential the Draft is. But for the purposes of the population at large, the bridge to big-event status had been crossed.
"We are thrilled that our Draft is airing on ESPN," said Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, who was on hand to announce the selections in the time-honored role of commissioners on Draft telecasts. And he wasn't kidding. The Draft annually is a crucial process for Major League Baseball. Selig referred to the Draft as "the lifeblood of our game," and that is no overstatement. Now, the critical process, the lifeblood of the game, is on television. This should have happened some time ago, but at least it is happening now.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the commissioner announced, were "on the clock," and with that, the four hours of televised drafting were on. The Devil Rays, with the first pick of the 2007 Draft, took David Price, left-handed pitcher from Vanderbilt. And we were reminded that some things don't change. The closest thing to a sure thing in the Draft is the selection of a highly regarded college pitcher. This is no lock, either, but it's a lower-risk proposition than most.
The ESPN "Baseball Tonight" crew provided informed commentary on the picks and the process. There was a voluminous amount of homework to be done, and obviously this group had done it. Viewers of the event were provided with insight into the clubs' needs and thinking, and the eternal issue of "signability." It was a professional, thoughtful production.
There is going to be criticism of this event on television because there are critics who specialize in exactly this sort of thing. Some people will say this was not great television. Look, even the National Football League draft, the epitome of this type of programming, is not exactly "The Sopranos," either.
This is a static, sit-down event. You have the commentary on the variables of the selection process and the value of the selections. And then you have the reactions of the young athletes who are chosen. Unless you have Bob Dylan in concert between picks, there isn't much new to be added to the format.
There also will be people who will say that this Draft lacked viewer appeal because the general public would have relatively little familiarity with the players involved. This criticism would be true on a technical level, but it also completely would miss the point of MLB's Draft.
|1. TB||LHP||David Price||Vanderbilt U|
|2. KC||SS||Michael Moustakas||Chatsworth HS (Calif.)|
|3. CHC||3B||Josh Vitters||Cypress HS (Calif.)|
|4. PIT||LHP||Daniel Moskos||Clemson U|
|5. BAL||C||Matthew Wieters||Georgia Tech|
|6. WSH||LHP||Ross Detwiler||Missouri St U|
|7. MIL||LF||Matthew LaPorta||U Florida|
|8. COL||RHP||Casey Weathers||Vanderbilt U|
|9. ARI||RHP||Jarrod Parker||Norwell HS|
|10. SF||LHP||Madison Bumgarner||South Caldwell HS|
Yes, the early-round NFL draftees are household names well before they are drafted. But that draft is an exercise in human micromanagement, in which you know everything about a potential draftee, from his intelligence quotient to his parents' body types to whether or not his hips have the proper swivel potential. The whole football world knows these things going in, and a public debate about which massive young fellow must go to which team is a natural outgrowth of the process.
The baseball Draft is at the other end of the spectrum of human events. So a kid hits .600 in high school and he has tremendous power and sprinter's speed and a cannon for an arm. You still don't know whether he will be able to hit the big-league breaking ball. And without this central piece of knowledge, the whole thing becomes an exercise in guesswork; highly informed guesswork, but still essentially conjecture.
And that is the beauty of baseball's Draft. The difference between success and failure can be contained in these decisions, and these decisions often are based on truly distant projections. The players who were drafted in the first round on Thursday were familiar to those fans who diligently follow these matters. The issue is not whether these players were household names throughout North America. The issue is which of them eventually will become household names throughout much of the world.
For people who closely follow the game, the First-Year Player Draft never had to be on television to be a huge deal. But for the rest of the world, the Draft's presence on TV is a validation. And for everybody, this broadcast offered considerable insight into the process.
That insight was available in previous drafts, too. But this time, it was televised insight. This was, measured by conventional American standards, absolute progress.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.