ESPN is a weird place. On the one hand they employ people who think some of the worst ideas are the best to share with the world. On the other hand, they have allowed no shortage of people to blaze trails and do cool things. Let’s focus less on the bad idea parts of that empire right now and focus on a good part, shall we?
Jessica Mendoza made history last night as she became the first female in-game analyst for an MLB game on ESPN. She did so as she joined ESPN’s Dave O’Brien and Dallas Braden for ESPN2’s broadcast of the Cardinals-D-backs game. I didn’t see the game — didn’t even realize it was going down until this morning — but if anyone did and has some thoughts about it, I’d love to hear them. The opinion on Twitter that I saw was positive. A moment of “oh, a woman” followed by “she did a good job.”
Which is exactly how it should be in that case, and with later cases involving that minus the “oh a woman” part. Which will happen if ESPN makes this a regular thing and not just a gimmick for a late game on their secondary network. Indeed, the most encouraging thing about this was not her mere appearance on a baseball broadcast but that, for once, a major network approached expanding its diversity in a way other than making a special show “just for women” or some such nonsense. Those sorts of initiatives tend to ghettoize unconventional programming or unconventional staffing. The real way to diversify is to simply put people with unconventional backgrounds or demographic profiles in the slots normally held by the conventional. This goes for women and minorities and for non-conventional approaches to the job such as SABR-oriented broadcasts and the like. Mainstream that stuff, folks. You’ll improve your broadcasts thanks to new voices and approaches AND you’ll make the weirdness of it all disappear more quickly.
Back to Mendoza. She has worked the booth before, of course, covering the College World Series and softball in the past. Her background bonafides are without question as well, as she was a member of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic softball team. She has done several turns on Baseball Tonight as well, so it’s not like someone green was thrown in. She’s qualified and, based on what others tell me, was good.
So, any reason, then, why ESPN insists on putting often-distracted buffoons on their flagship baseball broadcast? Or is that some super complicated subject that only true broadcast professionals can understand?