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Addition of Steve Phillips to Sunday Night Baseball a baffling one

Big League Stew

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At this point, I'm just going to assume that ESPN enjoys messing with us. I'm going to believe that any time they look to change their baseball programming, they'll take the path that aggravates us the most. Oh, what fun it must be to wield that kind of power. What a trip it must be to hear that people don't want more of something and then give it to them anyway.

Of course, I'm talking about Steve Phillips joining Jon Miller and Joe Morgan in ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball booth this season, news that was first reported on Tuesday by Neil Best's Watchdog and confirmed in an announcement by the network today. The addition of Phillips is the first major booth-change in the SNB's history since Morgan and Miller first paired up 19 years ago.

First, the good news: The move will free Peter Gammons from his Sunday night duties and allow him to spend more time in Baseball Tonight studio where he'll bring some actual knowledge and expertise to the cliched ramblings of John Kruk and the rest of the mediocre stable of ex-players that the show has built.

The bad news is that they're adding Phillips to the Miller-Morgan mix, just months after we were teased with the possible news that Miller and Morgan might be parting ways. When it comes to ESPN's baseball personalities and controversy, Morgan and Phillips are perhaps the biggest lightning rods. And not in a good "they'll keep listening to Howard Stern" way, either. No, most people simply don't like listening to either and have long since stopped.

Now, I'll admit that I'm not one of the most vocal complainers about the Miller-Morgan pairing. I generally like the style that Miller brings to the game and it's very apparent that he's just as passionate about the game as the rest of us. He's one of the best around, even if I think if he sometimes sounds like an overeager Cancun tourist ordering chimichangas when trying to accurately pronounce the name of Hispanic players.

As for Morgan, I can usually treat his anti-stats and anti- Ryne Sandberg views like I do the cab driver who won't shut up about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Which is, to say, I tune out immediately and refuse to make eye contact. Impervious, I have become.

But while I can tolerate the duo once a week and wouldn't have batted an eye if they'd have come back by themselves for a 20th season, I remain puzzled why ESPN made this latest move. Surely they know there's an anti-Morgan sentiment out there, just as they must know that people aren't too high on Phillips either. Why send out a press announcement that you know isn't going to be greeted well? Why not take a chance on stirring up things by bringing in fresh blood to work with Miller and letting Morgan go do hs thing in a lesser-viewed game during the week?

This leads me to a bigger picture because I believe this is indicative of MLB's refusal to exercise a more receptive control over the people who are calling their games. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver are somehow even more disliked than Morgan, yet they're apparently bolted to the floor when it comes to World Series broadcasts.

It's sad: Even while the customers express displeasure over the product, MLB and the networks keep serving it up, even though the ratings show that the numbers keep decreasing. If they were to just listen to their viewers — and we're saying we'd like younger, more dynamic and more interested broadcasters — they'd already be halfway to a solution of turning those ratings around.

But when you see Phillips being added to the SNB booth and realize that our opinions are being completely ignored, it makes perfect sense why things are the way they are.

What do you think? Is adding Phillips to the SNB mix a good move for ESPN?

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