SBD/Issue 131/MLB Season Preview

Catching Up With ESPN "Baseball Tonight" Host Karl Ravech

ESPN's Karl Ravech
Just six years after graduating from Ithaca College in New York, Karl Ravech landed what some consider the ultimate dream job -- ESPN anchor. Ravech, a Massachusetts native who says he “doesn’t mind it” when the Red Sox win, has been with the Worldwide Leader since ’93 and now serves as the primary analyst on the net's award-winning "Baseball Tonight" show. Ravech recently took time to talk with Staff Writer Beth Thrower.

Current Town: Avon, Connecticut
First Job: Cable NewsCenter 7 in Ithaca, New York. I was working there while I was attending college my senior year.
Most Influential Person In Your Career: Probably the first news director that I had at a commercial TV station because he would not promote me from the weekend sports anchor job to the weekday sports anchor job. I think that led to a great deal of motivation which has led me to where I am today.
Last Book Read: I just finished a book called “The Faithful Spy” by Alex Berenson.
Athlete You Most Enjoy(ed) Watching: Larry Bird
World Series Prediction: Tigers-Cubs
NCAA Champion Prediction: I picked Kansas in my bracket, so I will say Kansas. 

Q: What are you doing to prepare for the start of the MLB season?

Ravech: I would say the things I do are watch as many games as I can, speak to people who are involved with each organization, speak to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball (Bud Selig), which I’m fortunate enough to do on occasion, as well as reading all the magazines that are out there and checking various Web sites. My preparation, thankfully, has been going on since I started the show in 1995. Baseball is not a sport in which the names change dramatically every year. So if you’ve been immersed in it for 14, 15 years now, that really is your constant preparation.

Q: What teams should we have our eyes on this year?

Ravech: I think last year a couple of teams sort of began to surprise some people. I wouldn’t call them sleepers, but I think if you break down each league, most of the teams that people talk about are the ones that are going to end up doing really well. I think the National League West, which has the Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks and the Padres -- any one of those four teams could win the division. I don’t know if there’s a dark horse among them. They’re all even. There are probably two teams in the Central Division that can compete with the Cubs and the Brewers. Maybe the Brewers are a dark horse. In the National League East, it’s Atlanta, Philadelphia and the Mets and really the bottom teams in that division don’t have much of a chance. There’s not somebody that’s going to come out and surprise you. Cincinnati will be better than they were because they have a new manager and are going in the right direction, but they won’t compete with the Cubs or the Brewers in that division.

Ravech Has No Problem In MLB
Opening Season Overseas
Q: How do you feel about MLB’s decision to start the season with games in Japan?

Ravech: I’m in favor of it. I don’t have a big problem with it. To me, what’s most important to baseball fans, at least in my opinion, is the home opener. If you’re a fan of the Chicago White Sox, the home opener is the most important. The Red Sox will have played a handful of games, but what fans in Boston are most concerned about -- those who have tickets -- is opening day in Fenway Park. The most important game to me is the home opener, because you’re doing that on your own field in front of your own fans. Whether you open in Japan, China, Russia, or Madagascar, the fact is when you come home to play that first game, that’s what’s most important. And you’ll see fans in cities that won’t support the team the rest of the season come out in mass for the home opener. Oakland A’s fans will be there in mass for the first game in Oakland. They won’t be there for Game 2.

Q: Where do you see the sport in 10 years in terms of new franchises, both domestically and internationally?

Ravech: I’m not sure. I think they’d like to play more games worldwide. I don’t know that they’re going to locate a team in Puerto Rico, or a team in one of the Latin American countries or a team in Japan. I don’t know that they’re there yet. I do think that the World Baseball Classic is really the ultimate World Series, if you will. It’s a bit shortsighted to call the World Series the “World Series” when you don’t necessarily have the best players from around the world playing. And the World Baseball Classic in a lot of ways satisfies that. I think ultimately if you were to literally put the best players from every team from every country on their respective teams like they’re trying to do, I think that serves a great purpose. I think that’s where you’ll see more of the globalization of the game and the international flavor. I think that was really evident the first time they had that event. I don’t think, though, that they’re going to have a team in another country for a while unless it’s Puerto Rico or Mexico, and it’s a shorter flight from the west or east coast. I don’t see a team competing 162 games, playing 81 in Japan and 81 here in the United States.

Q: What is your favorite sport to cover, other than baseball, and why?

Ravech: Golf. Selfishly. Because I play it and it’s really neat to see just how far away those of us who are regular golfers are from the actual professionals. I enjoy seeing people who do what they do well do it exceptionally well. The top of the food chain in golf -- whether it be Tiger Woods or Vijay Singh or Jim Furyk or Phil Mickelson -- what they do relative to the average person to me is about as far removed as any sport can be. People can go out and shoot baskets and people can go out and throw a baseball. But to compete if you were an average golfer against a top-in-the-world golfer, you would have zero chance to do anything. I get a kick out of watching them do what they do. 

Ravech Enjoys Working With Kruk (c)
And Phillips On "Baseball Tonight"
Q: Favorite co-analyst?

Ravech: I enjoy working with John Kruk and Steve Phillips. They have the ability to sort of laugh at themselves. Be serious at times, but understand that we’re talking about baseball. We’re not talking about heart disease or cancer. I think it’s important to keep a proper perspective of what we’re doing, and those two guys do a great job of it and do a great job with each other on the show, interacting. And it makes the show much more comfortable for the viewer.

Q: Biggest rivalry in sports?

Ravech: I think the Yankees-Red Sox. I think that’s bigger than the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, I think it’s bigger than any NFL rivalry. Rivalries to me are as much about the teams that are on the field as it is about the people who root for the teams. And both those fan bases are as passionate as in any sport. You know Red Sox and Yankees fans are die-hard when it comes to their teams. I don’t get that impression from many other teams around the country, let alone outside the Northeast. The Northeast is sort of unique in that way. Philadelphia’s got some real passionate fans and so do the Mets, but the rivalry between the Yankees-Red Sox sort of brings that all to a head.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing MLB right now?

Ravech: To continue to find ways to connect with the younger audience. I think having all playoff games once you get to the League Championship Series and World Series on at night is a terrible injustice to the next generation. Here at ESPN the goal is to try to connect with the next generation, whether through the X Games, there’s always that appeal to try to make sure your audience stays consistent for as long as you can see into the future. I think Major League Baseball needs to address that with the kids who are between the ages of 8-15 who don’t stay up and can’t be up until midnight east coast time watching a World Series game. I think it’s unfortunate that they don’t play World Series games, at least weekend games, during the day. I understand about ratings. I understand about money, but sometimes you have to do things so that the long-range financial picture is as solid as the short range.

Q: Favorite “SportsCenter” or “Baseball Tonight” memory?

Ravech: I think my favorite "Baseball Tonight" was the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. I thought the tribute to Ted Williams that they did on the field beforehand was incredible. I thought the home run derby that year was as good as any home run derby I’ve ever seen. Mark McGwire before any news of his andro use had come out. Pedro Martinez started the game, and he was a Red Sox pitcher then, and struck out five of the first six batters he faced, so I think that in itself, plus I was able to actually spend some time with my parents and family who got into the stadium.

Q: As a fan, do you have a favorite team?

Ravech: Yes. And I think that anyone who tells you they’re completely objective is telling a fib. I grew up in Massachusetts so I enjoy it when the Red Sox succeed, but I don’t have that venom that I once had for teams like the Yankees or others. I have a much better appreciation for the people that are involved, how difficult it is to play the game. If the Yankees are in the World Series I don’t feel that much differently than I would if the Red Sox were in it. I think the key to that was watching them win in 2004, because it’d been 86 years. Now, I actually root for teams that are in warm-weather climates, because October in New York or Cleveland or Detroit is a lot different than it is in Los Angeles or any place west of the Mississippi. It’s a lot warmer and it’s easier hours, so that’s who I root for now.

 Q: Are you a fantasy baseball player?

Ravech: Not really, no. I mean I live in it every day, so I’m exposed to it every day. I know when guys are struggling and when they’re doing well. I’ve been asked many times to get into that stuff, but I'd just assume to focus on the real stuff.

Q: What is the one sports business story you will be following most closely in 2008?

Ravech: I think Sirius-XM Satellite Radio going under one umbrella affects a lot of sports fans because one of them has Major League Baseball while the other has the NFL and others, so I think that combination if it leads to one entity will benefit sports fans greatly. I’m sort of fascinated to see where that goes.

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