MLB Network has an eye for talent
Fans will get best analysis, reporting from top-notch crew
When baseball fans tune in to the exciting first season of the MLB Network, they'll be watching six analysts with a combined 89 years of big league playing experience, three hosts with 18 years of Major League television play-by-play experience, two reporters with 10 years of experience hosting Major League shows in their local markets and one baseball insider whose been covering the game since 1980.Here's the formidable Opening Night talent roster: studio hosts Greg Amsinger, Victor Rojas and Matt Vasgersian, reporters Trenni Kusnierek and Hazel Mae, insider Jon Heyman and studio analysts Barry Larkin, Al Leiter, Joe Magrane, Dan Plesac, Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams. The six analysts alone made 20 All-Star Game appearances. These are the best and the brightest of baseball's on-air talent, as the MLB Network hits the airwaves on Thursday night to a potential record audience of 50 million basic cable homes. "MLB Network will launch with a diverse roster of on-air talent," said Tony Petitti, MLB Network's president and CEO. "We've got hosts, analysts and reporters who have been in this industry both playing and covering the game for many years. That combined level of experience makes for the type of analysis fans look for, and they'll get it through our live broadcasts and special programming." The talent, obviously, will grow with the Network. Reynolds has the most television experience in his own niche of anyone in the group, coming to the Network fresh off a nearly two-year stint as a baseball commentator for MLB.com. That followed a decade (1996-2006) as a studio analyst for ESPN's award-winning "Baseball Tonight." A second baseman, Reynolds played 12 seasons -- the first 10 for the Mariners where he was a mainstay of the infield. He was a two-time AL All-Star for Seattle in 1987-88. "We're all very versatile," Reynolds said about the crew. "Everybody has the ability to be a reporter or host or even do analysis. That's very important. It'll really give everyone a chance to showcase their abilities." At the other end of the spectrum, Larkin, a shortstop for the Reds from 1986-94 and a 12-time National League All-Star, has no broadcast experience, but he'll add insight culled from his playing days and the last few years working in the Nationals' front office. Leiter and Plesac are also relative broadcast newcomers, albeit with a wide array of dramatic pitching analysis to offer. Williams, the left-hander, then with the Phillies, who allowed the home run hit by Joe Carter that won the 1993 World Series for the Blue Jays, has shown his stuff as an analyst on the Phils' postgame cable show. Magrane, whose promising pitching career began with the Cardinals in 1987 and was shortened by an elbow injury, has been in the booth as an analyst for the defending American League champion Rays since the team's inception a decade ago. Mae and Kusnierek left coveted jobs, covering the Red Sox and Brewers, respectively, to work for the fledgling Network. "It took a special opportunity and a special network to get me to leave a passionate baseball region like New England," Mae said. Vasgersian and Rojas have oodles of Major League television play-by-play experience -- Vasgersian with the Brewers and most recently the Padres and Rojas with the Diamondbacks and Rangers -- but now will be sharing hosting duties in two-hour stints this spring on the Network's eight-hour-a-night signature show, "MLB Tonight."
"I never fashioned myself as a scores and highlights guy," said Vasgersian, who signed on as a studio host after seven years of television play-by-play for the Padres. "I kind of always enjoyed my role being at the ballpark. But I think it speaks to what we're doing at the MLB Network for somebody like me to be able to get out there as I'm leaving San Diego and relocating to the great state of New Jersey."Amsinger joins the Network by way of CBS College Sports, where he served as the primary host for Inside College Football and the network's NCAA basketball coverage. Heyman has been with Sports Illustrated and SI.com since 2006 after 16 years of covering baseball for New York's Newsday. "Greg is a great addition for our studio shows and will help us direct traffic," Petitti said. "And Jon brings a very credible voice as he's on the frontlines every day reporting on baseball." "MLB Tonight" will air every weeknight of the regular season, beginning at 6 p.m. ET and ending at 2 a.m. ET or at the conclusion of the last game played on the West Coast, with a shorter version on weekends. A one-hour "Hot Stove" version of the show will launch the Network on New Year's Day at 6 p.m. ET and then subsequently air on Monday through Friday throughout the offseason, beginning at 7 p.m. ET. All this talent will anchor both versions of the show, which will be shot in multifaceted Studio 3, with demonstrations of aspects of the game made possible in stadium-like Studio 42, with its movable mound and 45-foot bases. "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." These are thumbnail bios of the talent who will keep the MLB Network programming exciting and vibrant in 2009: Amsinger most recently worked at CBS, where, aside from his college football and basketball duties, he hosted the Tour de France and the World Series of Video Games. He broke into the business in baseball as a network producer for the Cardinals on the team's then-flagship radio station, KMOX AM. He joined CSTV in 2003 as its first on-air host and had since then maintained an interactive blog on the CSTV/CBS College Sports Web site. Prior to joining CSTV, Amsinger was the sports director at WTHI TV in Terre Haute, Ind. Heyman will maintain his position at Sports Illustrated and SI.com and use his reporting skills to augment the MLB Network's live shows. He regularly writes an "Inside Baseball" column and a baseball notes column called "The Daily Scoop" that appears most weekdays during the baseball season and twice a week during the offseason. Heyman, who developed a reputation for breaking major baseball stories while at Newsday, also appears as a baseball insider on WFAN radio and SNY in New York. Kusnierek brings her experience as a sports anchor on pregame Pirates broadcasts from 2003-07 and Brewers broadcasts this past season, working for Fox Sports Net in both areas. She's a graduate of Milwaukee's Marquette University with a degree in broadcast and electronic journalism. She spent two years at WDJT TV 58 in Milwaukee after breaking into the business at WQOW TV in Eau Claire, Wis. "It goes without saying that we're thrilled to be on the ground level of the MLB Network," Kusnierek said. "We have the cream of the crop from top to bottom. That's the way I feel. Everybody is the best. Everybody is hardworking. No one thinks there are a limited number of hours or dedication they could put into the new Network, which says a lot about how successful it will be." Larkin played shortstop for 19 seasons, all with the Reds. He won three Gold Gloves and was a 12-time National League All-Star and MVP of the league in 1995, when he hit .319 with 29 doubles, 15 homers, 66 RBIs and 98 runs scored in 131 games. Since his retirement, Larkin has worked with the Nationals as a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden, specializing in player development and scouting. "I'm excited to join my new team," Larkin said. "It's great to be part of something from the development stages, and I'm looking forward to working with the group to build a great program." Leiter pitched 19 years in the big leagues, beginning and ending his career with the Yankees. Along the way, the left-hander pitched seven years for the Mets (1998-2004) and was a member of the 1997 World Series-winning Marlins. Since his retirement, Leiter has worked as a color commentator on Yankees broadcasts for the YES Network and also was a postseason in-game analyst for FOX. "Inside MLB Network's Studio 42 -- the replica baseball infield studio -- I will be able to demonstrate all aspects of what a pitcher is doing on and around the mound during a game," Leiter said. "Dissecting a player's pitch as he delivers it in real time is only a piece of what this Network will be able to offer."
|"MLB Network will launch with a diverse roster of on-air talent. We've got hosts, analysts and reporters who have been in this industry both playing and covering the game for many years. That combined level of experience makes for the type of analysis fans look for, and they'll get it through our live broadcasts and special programming."|
|-- Tony Petitti, MLB Network's president and CEO|
Mae joins the Network following four years at the New England Sports Network, covering the Red Sox and the NHL's Bruins among other topics. She was the lead anchor of NESN's "SportsDesk" news program in 1994, the host of NESN's Red Sox week-in-review show and the Bruins' in-season show called "The Buzz." A graduate of New York University, who grew up in Toronto, she was previously host of "JZone," a weekly show dedicated to the Blue Jays."This is an absolute thrill and an honor to be part of the inaugural on-air team," she said. "I was lucky enough to cover both the 2004 and 2007 World Series [won by the Red Sox]. I can't tell you how much pride I feel being part of this team." Magrane pitched eight years in the Major Leagues for the Cardinals, Angels and White Sox from 1987-96, compiling a 57-67 record. Magrane missed the entire 1991 season and most of '92 after Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. On the air, Magrane has been part of the Rays' broadcast team as a color analyst since the birth of the franchise in 1998. He's also worked on FOX baseball telecasts and as a color analyst during NBC's coverage of the Olympic baseball tournament in 2000, '04 and '08. "MLB Network's Studio 3 offers state-of-the-art and HD capabilities," Magrane said, talking about the staging area for the live studio shows. "And with over six areas for live interviews and broadcasts, I'm ready to bring fans my perspective of the game from a variety of different angles." Plesac was a left-handed reliever who saved 158 games in his 18-year career that began with the Brewers in 1986 and ended with the Phillies in 2003. As such, he was the last Philadelphia pitcher to hurl off the mound at Veterans Stadium when it closed at the end of that season. He was a three-time AL All-Star with the Brewers from 1987-89. His broadcasting career, thus far, has been short and sweet. He acted as a studio analyst, making live pregame and postgame appearances for Cubs games on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago. He also made weekly appearances on "Chicago Tribune Live," covering the Cubs and White Sox. Reynolds comes to the MLB Network with tons of experience and accolades. At ESPN and ABC, he provided analysis for the Little League World Series and College World Series, winning a Sports Emmy for his overall work in 2003. "For me, I'm just excited," Reynolds said. "I think for any baseball fan or anybody in the media, the first thing is that we're all fans of the game, even the players. If you're a baseball junkie, like most of us, to be able to follow the game all day, every day, it doesn't get any better than this." Rojas joins the MLB Network as a studio host following five years with the Rangers' broadcast team. In Texas, Rojas did play-by-play and analysis. He also had a one-year stint in Phoenix (2003), doing the same for the Diamondbacks after two years on air with the independent Newark Bears, where he also served as general manager and assistant GM. His father is former Major Leaguer Cookie Rojas, and the two worked together broadcasting the Caribbean Series in 2006 and '07. "Being a part of the MLB Network launch will enable our team of on-air talent to bring fans baseball like never before," Rojas said. "Through our live studio shows -- 'MLB Tonight' and 'Hot Stove' -- we will offer up-to-the-minute look-ins and analysis of every aspect concerning Major League Baseball, its players and its fans." Vasgersian leaves the balmy west coast for New Jersey and takes over as one of the main studio hosts for the Network's signature show. Before his San Diego experience, Vasgersian worked in the Brewers' broadcast booth for five seasons and had six years gaining experience in the Minor Leagues. He has a national profile, working for NBC on its Olympic broadcast team, among other major network programs. "I'm really looking forward to this," he said. "I mean, obviously, we're all excited. But what we're not used to and what we don't know in terms of presentation is probably the most exciting part of this." Williams was known as "Wild Thing" during his 11-year career with six teams, including the Phillies from 1991-93. He made one NL All-Star appearance in 1989 as a member of the Cubs and saved 192 games overall. After allowing the famous Game 6 World Series homer to Carter in what was then called Toronto's Skydome, Williams never pitched for the Phillies again. But the famous at-bat established him as a personality, and he has long since made his peace, working as the postgame analyst on Comcast Sportsnet's "Phillies Post Game Live" and as a baseball expert on 610 WIP's Angelo Cataldi morning show in Philadelphia. "I don't think anybody who knows anything about baseball judges me by that one pitch," said Williams, who saved 43 games that season. "But it's the nature of the business. Naturally, everybody remembers I gave up a home run to Carter. Not as many mention that that was my best season."
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.