Sunday MLB on TBS set to debut
Blue Jays will host the Red Sox in first broadcast this week
ATLANTA -- The idea of the Major League Baseball Game of the Week isn't new. In fact, many people at Turner Sports have fond memories of watching it as kids.
Now, with the introduction of Sunday MLB on TBS, the network's package of 26 nationally televised games, they're getting to create memories for a new generation.
"I remember the NBC Game of the Week, watching Jack Morris pitch a no-hitter. I remember Tony Kubek and Bob Costas, Joe Garagiola, Vin Scully, coming into our living room. That was part of the fabric of my childhood," said Howard Zalkowitz, senior producer at Turner Sports. "We hope that Sunday afternoons in the summertime, a father will be watching with a son or a daughter so that son or daughter grows up loving baseball."
One such son who also grew up watching the NBC Game of the Week is Chip Caray, who will be the play-by-play voice for Sunday MLB, which debuts Sunday afternoon when the Toronto Blue Jays host the Boston Red Sox. Chip, the third generation of the legendary Caray broadcasting family (his grandfather is baseball Hall of Famer Harry, and his father is Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer Skip) who has joined his father as a broadcaster with the Braves, believes that Sunday MLB on TBS will have a perfect niche by taking the daytime draw of Saturday's MLB on FOX and putting it on Sunday.
"For us to be able to go and do a Sunday afternoon game instead of a Sunday night game is really kind of cool," said Caray, who boasts 19 years of experience as a broadcaster with the Chicago Cubs and now the Braves. "I think our small part in promoting what I think is the greatest sport in the world on a Sunday afternoon, when people are home and hungry for baseball, to be a part of that is a real thrill."
TBS scored big in its initial foray into national coverage last October, when its coverage of the National and American League Division Series boasted a 26-percent increase in total number of viewers over 2006's LDS coverage on all other baseball carriers and gave the network the best ratings week in its history.
While either the Red Sox or Yankees participate in five of the first eight games, Caray believes there is still enough variety to grab the attention of fans in all markets and in both leagues.
"It's a chance for us to showcase some teams that maybe people don't get to see," Caray said. "Everybody knows what the Yankees and Red Sox are all about, but I think the refreshing thing for us is to see new places, see new teams, see new players and hopefully bring a different perspective on how those teams are going."
TBS will bring out its heavy hitters for Sunday's debut. In the TBS studios, the pregame show will be hosted by 2001 Sports Emmy winner Ernie Johnson Jr., who will be joined by 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Cal Ripken Jr. E.J. will make scattered appearances throughout the year, with Marc Fein handling the studio for most of the games, providing cutaway highlights from around the league.
Joining Caray in the booth as analyst will be either Buck Martinez or Ron Darling.
Martinez is a 17-year Major League veteran and manager of the U.S. team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, who also brings a unique personality seasoned by 22 years in the broadcast booth, the last six with the Baltimore Orioles. Darling pitched in the Majors for 13 years and has been broadcasting since 2000. He won a New York Emmy Award in 2006 for his analysis of the New York Mets on SportsNet New York (SNY).
Like Johnson, longtime Turner Sports reporter Craig Sager will occasionally join the team, bringing his colorful on-field insights -- and wardrobe -- to broadcasts.
"We want to keep it moving," said Zalkowitz. "We want to show people everything that's going on around the league. The game for us at Turner Sports, whether it's our NBA on TNT or MLB on TBS, the game and a lot of things that you see around the game are so important. We want to be on the field or on the court as much as possible."
The centerpiece of the Sunday MLB on TBS package is the All-Star Selection Show, which will take place on July 6, following that week's game. The show will offer an exclusive first look at the National and American League All-Star teams.
"Last year, that was the first show of the new contract," Zalkowitz recalled. "It was following a Braves game, and I think it came out of nowhere for a lot of the viewership. Now it's going to be on July 6, in tandem with a featured game, where we'll have weeks of Sunday promotion to kind of bring awareness out."
Later in the season, as pennant races heat up, so will the coverage. TBS will have the flexibility in choosing its weekly game, with a 14- to 21-day window to select the game it considers of greatest impact on a pennant race.
"I think the fans are going to enjoy what I hope will be a fresh perspective and a different perspective -- perhaps from a national perspective -- on how their team is doing and how their team is going to fare," said Caray. "We don't have all the answers and we don't presume to have all the answers, but I think we're just going to bring a fresh and different approach to it. We're going to have a lot of fun."
Following Sunday's opener in Toronto, TBS has announced the following games:
April 13, Cubs at Phillies; April 20, Dodgers at Braves; April 27, Yankees at Indians; May 4, Mets at D-backs; May 11, Yankees at Tigers; May 18, Brewers at Red Sox; May 25, Mariners at Yankees.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.