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12/28/08 2:33 PM EST

'Hot Stove Live' kicks off Network debut

Thursday's schedule also includes airing of Larsen's perfect game

The MLB Network airs for the first time at 6 p.m. ET Thursday with a one-hour "Hot Stove Live" that will be broadcast each weekday evening until the regular season, when it will be replaced with "MLB Tonight," the eight-hour foray into game analysis that's the Network's signature show.

Thursday's "Hot Stove" show will be followed at 7 p.m. by a rare 90-minute recording of Don Larsen's perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Larsen and his Yankees catcher that day, Yogi Berra, will offer analysis, taped in studio before the broadcast. The two shows will loop all night into Friday morning, concluding at 7 a.m.

"We'll probably have some sort of a tease that talks about what the Network is, that will set the tone, and we'll have the studio show, then Larsen," Tony Petitti, the Network's president and chief executive, said about the launch programming.

"MLB Tonight" ultimately will anchor live programming for the new Network, which launches to a record prospective audience of 50 million basic cable homes.

The signature show will regularly begin at 6 p.m. ET and end at 2 a.m., or at the conclusion of the last game played on the West Coast. A shorter version will air on weekends. It is hosted by Matt Vasgersian and Victor Rojas, who will head teams of analysts that will rotate in two-hour shifts throughout the evening.

"What we'll do is have that consistency of being there that long, all night," Petitti said.

"We're planning to do eight hours a day," Vasgersian said. "That's a very aggressive, very ambitious thing that we're all really looking forward to taking a big bite out of."

While "MLB Tonight" will break down the games, its one-hour "Hot Stove Live" version will feature a panel of experts to give viewers a look at pending trades, free-agent signings, rumors and basic news flashes. During the opening week of January, they'll take on such issues as the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote for the Hall of Fame Class of 2009, to be released live via the Network on Jan. 12 at 2 p.m. ET.

Rickey Henderson seems like a first-time ballot shoo-in, but Jim Rice, in his 15th and final season, is on the bubble.

Aside from the New Year's Day debut, "Hot Stove Live" will air regularly throughout the offseason at 7 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The Network also will offer a 26-game Thursday night package of live Major League games announced close to the prospective air dates for relevance, plus 16 selected games of the second World Baseball Classic to be played from March 5-23 in seven venues located in four countries and territories.

Even though the offseason will be filled with World Series and Home Run Derby highlights and other vintage footage, Petitti said that fans shouldn't get ready for a steady diet of old footage, particularly when the regular season begins.

"We don't want to be Baseball Classic," he said. "This is today's players, but taking advantage of the history of the sport. That's what makes it the best game."

Here's the list of upcoming specials and regular nightly shows as January heads toward the opening of Spring Training on Feb. 17 and the regular season on April 5:

Hall of Fame Election Special on Jan. 12. The big announcement will be made by Hall president Jeff Idelson at 2 p.m. ET, with a prime-time special at 9 p.m. celebrating the careers of those players who made it. Former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon was elected by a Veterans Committee last month and will be inducted along with anyone selected from the writers' ballot on July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Pride and Perseverance: The Story of the Negro Leagues on Jan. 19, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at 9 p.m. This one-hour documentary narrated by Hall of Famer and current Padres vice president Dave Winfield will be making its debut. It describes and analyzes the only league where African-Americans were able to play professional baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

Prime 9 will follow "Hot Stove Live" at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Monday nights. Running 30 minutes, it will focus on the "Prime 9" players and events throughout Major League Baseball history in various categories: the top nine players at each position, the "Prime 9" comebacks or events, etc. The show will debut on Monday by focusing on the "Prime 9" all-time center fielders, followed at 8:30 p.m. by the nine top home runs.

Cathedrals of the Game will follow "Prime 9" at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Monday nights. The 30-minute show highlights ballparks around the big leagues and events that occurred in the cities that support them. The show will debut on Monday with a look at St. Louis and Busch Stadium III, which will host the All-Star Game on July 14. It will be followed by Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies won their second World Series in the 126-year history of the franchise this past October.

Baseball, a film by Ken Burns will follow "Hot Stove" at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. The award-winning nine-episode series that first aired on PBS, beginning in September 1994, is one of the most comprehensive documentaries ever produced about the game. Perhaps its most poignant pieces are Inning Five, called "Shadow Ball" about the Negro Leagues, and Inning Six, entitled "The National Pastime," which encompasses Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947.

Baseball Seasons will follow "Hot Stove" at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. The one-hour series of shows will tell the stories of the great seasons in baseball history set against the annals of the times. It will debut on Jan. 7 with a look at the 1995 season, which was shortened at the outset by a strike and ended with the Braves defeating the Indians in the World Series.

American League and National League Award shows will follow "Baseball Seasons" at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays. These hour-long shows will highlight Players of the Year, plus MVPs, Cy Young Award winners, Rookies of the Year and Managers of the Year as selected at the close of each season by the BBWAA.

Thursday nights from 8-10 p.m. are reserved for Home Run Derby highlights. Friday nights from 8-10 p.m. will feature World Series highlights. Weekends during the offseason will be filled with theme days, beginning in January with recent World Series games.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.