Draft finally moves into video age
by Alan Schwarz
NEW YORK--"For all you Yovani Gallardo fans out there, Yovani Gallardo is now off the board."
With these self-snickering words, the baseball draft entered a new era. An era too many of us have clamored for since puberty. An era some said would never arrive. The era of television.
Well, not television, exactly, but Internet video, which slowly but suggestively is edging its way into mainstream entertainment. Whether a live draft qualifies as entertainment in the first place has been a baseball bugaboo for years. Now we have an inkling.
For the first time in draft history, fans--at least those who could navigate through MLB.com's disastrously labyrinthine site--could watch baseball's talent auction live. The Webcast featured ringleader Jonathan Mayo, a bald, goateed and vaguely satanic studio host, two expert analysts (former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire and ex-player Darryl Hamilton), live player interviews and prospect highlight reels.
So what if this wasn't the NBA draft, with already famous players who amble up to the podium to dwarf David Stern? It couldnąt be the NFL draft, either, as Mayo, Hamilton and Claire combined have neither the hair nor ego of Mel Kiper.
No, this was the baseball draft, nothing for the masses.
Almost 1 million people watched.
And They're Off . . .
Most people don't know that last year MLB.com attempted a similar video Webcast live, and watched it come off about as well as the Hindenburg's last Jersey visit. Nothing went out live, and fans were left with audio only. MLB.com has been doing audio of the draft for four years, the first three of which featured Baseball America experts.
This year's effort, complete with UHF set, began slowly, with a primer on the draft rules, Hamilton recalling his own draft-day experience and Claire explaining the value of Minnesota's and Oakland's multiple picks. This went on for 17 enthusiastic minutes, the last of which found the crew missing the Padres' selection of Matt Bush No. 1 overall. D'oh!
Mayo, a writer for MLB.com and host on MLB Radio, opened ghastily scripted but improved as he loosened up. While explaining how the draft included players from all U.S. territories, he said, "So any hot prospects from Guam, they could go today." Later, noticing how he was describing yet another lefthander as "polished" with "pitchability," Mayo cracked, "If you guys could help me out with adjectives to describe these guys, I would appreciate it."
The crew's analysis, particularly live with picks coming less than a minute apart, was surprisingly good. Mayo noted how several teams' picks compared to selections from the past and top prospects already in the system. When the Angels took Jered Weaver at No. 12, Claire pointed out how Anaheim's scouting director, Eddie Bane, knows about rushing pitchers--he went straight from college to the big leagues himself. After the top 10 picks, Hamilton noted that eight had been pitchers, and the other two high school shortstops.
There were shaky moments, too. When Mayo was prompted that the Reds had picked David Bailey seventh overall, he stumbled, "David Bailey, a righthanded pitcher who . . . obviously I don't know a heck of a lot about . . . Oh, Homer Bailey!" The group briefly lost track of picks a few times, and a taped retrospective on the 1994 draft pointed out that Mike Hampton was drafted in the fourth round by the Reds. Wrong Mike Hampton, guys.
But overall, this was an encouraging effort. After the first round, fans got to listen in as both No. 2 pick Justin Verlander and Bailey did live interviews over the phone. When Hamilton asked Bailey about any disappointment over not going to his home-state Rangers, Bailey said, "This is the draft, and you can't pick favorites."
A First Step
Nor can you pick the perfect draft show, certainly not the first time around. Of course, baseball doesn't allow for much drama, what with the picks being made over a closed conference call, with almost no time or intrigue between selections, and no trade machinations. (Poor Mayo had to squint at picks getting insta-messaged to his laptop before announcing them.)
And watching the Webcast on a 3-by-2-inch rectangle--the full-screen view was still horribly grainy--and hoping the audio remained in sync proved that broadband still goes only so far.
Yet this remained a smart, speedy show that offered good analysis for the average fan, and a unique experience for the rest of us crazies. Scouting reports were nicely researched--most of it cobbled from Baseball America, Mayo acknowledged afterward--and delivered over video clips for each of the first 48 picks, a remarkable production accomplishment. Here at BA we pride ourselves on having the best draft knowledge around, but putting together a live video show around it is another matter altogether.
By the fifth round, the show's last, Mayo had finally been tapped of analysis and was basically running on fumes. "You pronounce the names," he said, "and hope for the best."
We can keep hoping for the best as far as the draft on TV. But for now, for the average fan, this was a heck of a fun start.