ESPN has recently made a habit of interviewing players during live MLB broadcasts. The in-game interviews certainly bring fans closer to the action, but asking players to multitask can also be quite disruptive. A practice initially reserved for the All-Star Game and spring training exhibitions has suddenly seeped into October with Justin Turner of the Dodgers and Athletics outfielder Mark Canha both donning ESPN mics during Wednesday’s playoff games.
Shooting the breeze with a manager in the dugout or a starting pitcher on their off day is one thing, but pestering Canha while he mans the outfield during an elimination game is a bridge too far for some. While Dan Gartland commends ESPN for its creative approach, the Sports Illustrated writer thinks the network needs to do a better job of picking its spots.
“An in-game interview, even in a playoff game, isn’t a terrible idea, but there were issues with how ESPN deployed it in both of these cases,” remarked Gartland in Thursday’s column. “Interviewing a player whose team is facing elimination is sure to rub some fans the wrong way. The same goes for giving the earpiece to a third baseman, who has to deal with some of the quickest reaction times in baseball.”
Many are in the same camp as Gartland with Brodie Brazil of NBC Sports California and Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation both sharing similar concerns.
Luckily for ESPN, neither Canha or Turner saw any action during their interviews. However, as noted by Gartland, things could have been different if Canha’s segment took place an inning earlier, when the left-fielder robbed Chicago’s Yoan Moncada of extra bases with a leaping catch. Canha’s wife, for one, was extremely relieved no one hit the ball in her husband's direction during his chat with Dave Flemming and Jessica Mendoza.
Canha didn’t see the interview as a distraction, insisting his focus was still on the game. “I’m still focused and when a pitch was coming I would like tune out for a second and walk into the game and if I missed a question or something I wasn’t too worried about it,” said Canha, who went hitless in Oakland’s 5-3 victory over the White Sox. “They did a good job and I think, if the fans like stuff like that then I’m willing to do it because we play this game for the fans.”
Gartland later reasoned that being mic’d up probably isn’t all that different than handling hecklers, something that, until the pandemic, players had to endure on a daily basis. Still, Gartland thinks ESPN would be well-served exercising a certain modicum of discretion, suggesting interviews be limited to the early innings and not putting a mic on players facing elimination.