Through a quirk of fate, last night if you were a passionate baseball fan desiring to see potential history, you were forced to find your way to a screen that could receive Apple TV+, which happened to have exclusive rights to two games where each featured a prominent slugger looking to make a permanent stamp on the game.
The Yankees-Red Sox game where Aaron Judge was attempting for the third time to tie Roger Maris’ all-time American League record of 61 home runs got massive attention from hand-wringing fans who loudly complained on talk shows and social media how horrible it was that the game wasn’t on the YES network, let alone broadcast TV, where longtime announcer Michael Kay would be unable to potentially call the historic shot. The hue and cry got so loud that New York State Attorney General Letitia James threw her hat into the ring as she took a break from her indicting of the Trump family business to all but demand that Apple find a way to make the game available beyond its walled garden.
Well, Tish, like any other rights holder with a valid contract, they were far more entitled to protect their interest in a game that provided needed opportunity to get people to discover their fledgling service even exists than you did to insist they waive those rights for some perceived “freedom of information” enforcement. They made the game available free globally to anyone with an internet connection or cellular phone service, so long as you logged in to an Apple site or app with a free password. Were the game on YES, as you demanded it would be, it would have only been available to those who subscribed to cable or satellite or its app, and only in the U.S.
Meanwhile, St. Louis fans were equally as unhappy about the prospect of the Cardinals-Dodgers game being the second game of Apple’s Friday Night doubleheader, particularly as Albert Pujols continued his miraculous second-half surge that has the Redbirds on the brink of the postseason and last night had The Machine returning to Dodger Stadium, where he resurrected his career last year after his unceremonious release from the Angels to become a productive part of a 106-win team that missed out on sending Pujols to another World Series by two games. Sitting on 698 home runs, Pujols’ Cardinals were seeking to make a statement against a team that has already clinched the National League West and could very likely be their opponent in this year’s playoffs if they could wrap up the Central Division. With their magic number down to 5, last night’s game loomed large.
But somehow there was no such grandstanding on the part of anyone in a similar position to James in St. Louis or Jefferson City publicly bitching and moaning about the fact that last night’s game was on Apple. Indeed, with Pujols needing two home runs to reach the 700 mark reached only by three other men in baseball history, the odds were against him doing so last night. But with the Dodgers throwing the mediocre Andrew Heaney out last night with their division title already wrapped up and their first-run bye all but assured, there was motivation and opportunity for Pujols to rise to the occasion.
And boy, did he. In his second at-bat of the game off Heaney, he powered a two-run homer into the bleachers for number 699. And two innngs later, with the Dodgers already down 5-0 and Heaney replaced by Phil Bickford, Pujols did the same thing, this time for immortality. With Dodger Stadium in delirium, populated by a full house of partisans who came to love Pujols themselves last summer almost as much as the numerous Cardinals fans who were in attendance, Pujols indeed created baseball history on an Apple TV telecast for the first time for that platform.
I hadn’t had the desire nor motivation to check out Apple’s coverage since they started it in the spring, when a Mets telecast that was supposed to feature Max Scherzer was to air exclusively on Apple, and had Mets fans complaining as loudly as the Yankee fans were. Aside from the lamenting about the firewall, Apple has also come under fire for its choice of announcers and the production of its telecasts. Much of the ire has been aimed at its A team of announcers, which features the puckish Katie Nolan as one of its analysts. Nolan, a fun-loving attractive young woman with experience primarily on podcasts and studio shows where she’d provide snarky comments on how attractive she found some players, has come under particular fire for her lack of knowledge and overall aloofness.
Well, I actually did watch and listen to her and the balance of her team, which includes ex-MLB outfielder Hunter Pence and play-by-play man Stephen Nelson. And guess what? While Nolan was arguably as bubbleheaded as ever, throwing out lame suggestions for Nelson’s signature call of Judge’s possible record-breaking home run like “it’s A.A. outta here!”, Nelson and Pence were much improved from their earlier season work. Yes, all three of them are under age 40, much like the audience that Apple is hoping to attract with their stat-centric, slickly produced production. Personally, I liked Nelson’s energy and Pence’s refreshing candor, one he honed as a San Francisco Giant and Texas Ranger with his own podcast experience, including an arc where he detailed how he proposed to his wife. Neither had done this on a national level before this season, but both are on their way to better things, having clearly made strides as the season unfolded.
And as for the other game, it likely was perceived as additional trolling by Yankee fans that a last-minute change to Apple’s announced B team had Mets radio announcer Wayne Randazzo calling Pujols’ historic shows, making a quick trip down from Oakland where the Mets began a weekend series with the A’s. Randazzo’s a far more experienced, and well-liked, personality than Nelson, and it probably would have served the moment at Yankee Stadium well, and would have been likely seen as knife-twistingly ironic, had a Mets voice called Judge’s 61st. Indeed, his call of Pujols’ 700th will likely endear him to even the most overprotective Cardinals fans.
For so many who brought their preconceived prejudice and get-off-my-lawn attitudes into the Apple ecosystem–and yes, I was one of them–when all was said and done the games were well-produced and history was made in one of them. Judge came close in one of his at bats, but ultimately did not hit #61 last night. He’ll try again later today in an afternoon game that will be exclusively on YES, and Kay will be at the microphone, just as he was on a Saturday afternoon in 2011 when Derek Jeter powered a home run for his 3000th hit as part of a memorable 5-for-5 day.
And should Judge not deliver today, he’ll try again tomorrow night, and ESPN will have exclusive rights to that telecast, along with a secondary “Kay-Rod” feed on ESPN2 that will potentially allow Kay to still call the historic tying homer, or perhaps the record-breaking 62nd. Kay works two jobs, including a high-rated daily show for ESPN Radio, so that network has tried to capitalize on his popularity by trying to make him and Alex Rodriguez the baseball equivalents of the Mannings, so far with far less success. But as luck would have it, they have the exclusive rights to this Yankee game, and had them long before Judge’s assault on history began. So Kay will get his chance to call the shots this weekend, and after that in Toronto if necessary.
That’s luck of the draw, and fortituous for the rights holder, much like Apple had by airing last night’s game. Believe me, I’m anything but a believer in the integrity and honesty of the Trump organization. But I’m practically in sympatico with the consternation of those that do support Orange Jesus and his apostles when they call James out for partisan and opportunistic grandstanding. Particularly since fate intervened again and Judge didn’t wind up hitting his record-breaker on a streaming service after all. Whatcha gotta say now, Tish?
One would suspect Ms. James is as likely to be an Android user as she is an unabashed Democratic advocate. But I’ll bet she subscribes to cable or satellite.