MLB playoffs: ESPN interviews Justin Turner, Mark Canha during game - Sports Illustrated

ESPN Interviewed Justin Turner and Mark Canha Live on Air While They Played Defense

In Thursday’s Hot Clicks: ESPN takes us perhaps too close to the game, and we also discuss the Lightning’s unsafe Stanley Cup parade.
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Maybe their full attention should be on the game

During 2017 MLB All-Star Game, somebody at Fox had a great idea to give players a wireless earpiece so they could be interviewed while actually playing in the game. It gave us funny moments like Bryce Harper discussing the Cowboys and heartwarming moments like George Springer using the opportunity to inspire kids who stutter. It was such a great idea that ESPN copied it for spring training broadcasts the following year and has been doing it ever since, even on Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts this year. 

On Wednesday, ESPN gave earpieces to A’s outfielder Mark Canha and Dodgers infielder Justin Turner during their playoff games and interviewed them while they played defense. Talking to a player during a meaningless spring training game is fun. During a playoff game, though? That’s different. It seems like the players should have their full attention on the field. Even more baffling, it was an elimination game for the A’s.

One inning before his chat with the broadcasters, Canha made a catch that made elimination a lot less likely for Oakland. With runners on first and second, he made a leaping catch at the wall in the left-centerfield gap to deny the White Sox one or perhaps two runs. 

The timing of Canha’s chat with the booth meant he could be asked about the play. 

“That was executed to perfection on my part,” he said. 

Turner’s chat began in the top of the second inning and lasted until he walked to the plate in the bottom of the inning. 

Neither Canha nor Turner saw any action in the field while they were on the air, but the potential for distraction still left many viewers scratching their heads over ESPN’s decision. Even Canha’s wife chimed in. 

Canha was asked about the unusual interview and said he didn’t have trouble sorting out what his priorities were. 

“It was a pretty easy setup,” he told reporters. “They actually had a wireless headpiece.

“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, but 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.”

If Canha says he wasn’t distracted, then great. I suppose it’s not much different than tuning out a heckler in the bleachers. He and Turner were both clearly comfortable with wearing the microphone. 

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. Doing the interview in the early innings is a smart approach, but 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. 

Canha is right that it brings fans closer to the game, which is important when broadcasts feel so alien, so I don’t think ESPN should scrap it entirely. If I were in charge of the broadcast, I’d give the earpiece to an outfielder in the first three or four innings of a game where his team is already leading the series. That seems like a safe bet. 

Not great! 

The Lightning held two events in Tampa on Wednesday to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship. The second was a celebration at Raymond James Stadium that required reserved tickets in socially distant “pods.” The first was a boat parade where fans were kindly reminded to adhere to proper social distancing protocols. How well was this enforced? Not very! 

Look at the crowd gathered along the shore in this video. 

Yikes. (It’s not the same, but there was a parade in Philadelphia during the 1918 influenza pandemic that was blamed for an incredible surge in infections.)

Even more incredibly, Bolts players allowed fans to drink out of the Cup. 

In any other year, that’s an amazing experience. In 2020, it’s just a great way to share your germs with strangers. 

Similarly...

MLB announced Wednesday that it’s going to allow 11,500 fans into the Rangers’ ballpark for the NLCS and World Series. That’s about 28% of the building’s capacity. 

It’s a far smaller number than the roughly 22,000 fans who attended the Cowboys’ home opener, but there’s one thing that sticks out to me about MLB’s plan. This isn’t the same as Cowboys fans from North Texas converging on JerryWorld. In this case, you’re probably going to have fans from all over the country coming to Arlington, waiting together in the security line, using the same bathrooms and so on—and then traveling back home. 

I’ll watch from my couch, thanks.

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