The label “alternative broadcasts” implies regular broadcasts serve as more straight-laced affairs where the conversation is focused 100 percent on the field of play. It’s largely (and unfortunately) true, but experiences like MLB Network’s Clubhouse Edition (which returns on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET with the Phillies taking on the Braves) really are rooted in a tradition of storytelling, off-topic asides, and the good time that can come from putting a mic in front of a former ballplayers and just letting them talk — think about greats like Phil Rizzuto, Bob Uecker, and Keith Hernandez for evidence of that.
So, really, when C.C. Sabathia (who spearheaded the creation of this series), Cliff Floyd, and Mike Lowell gather at MLB Network’s studios in Secaucus, New Jersey with Stephen Nelson and some special guests, like Ryan Howard, Tom Glavine, and Mo’ne Davis, it’ll be less an experiment and more a return and expansion of one of sports broadcasting’s bedrock charms.
Uproxx Sports spoke with Sabathia about the origination of the concept, the evolution of these kinds of “altcasts,” his ambition for the format, the NL East picture, and what it’s going to take for one of baseball’s many young superstars to become an icon like his former teammate Derek Jeter.
You’ve got the R2C2 podcast going on, you’re driving this Clubhouse experience with MLB Network. Was there a plan going into retirement of, you want to be around the game, but you don’t want to be stuck in a booth, you want to do your own thing? Or has it just organically evolved for you?
It just worked out that way. It’s just organically working out like that. I knew I wanted to be around the game, but jokingly, I always said I would never wear a suit to be in the game, or call the game. And two years ago, I was on vacation with Ron Berkowitz, and the idea came about of sitting around, and just talking about the game while the game was on. I got that idea while watching the Super Bowl with Tiki Barber one year. And it was just super insightful, and I thought it was a lot of fun to be able to watch a game with somebody that knew what was going on. So, that’s how the Clubhouse came about, and luckily enough, MLB Network was on board to try it, and I feel like they’ve been getting better and better.
What’s the ambition for it, how do you want to see this grow?
Honestly, I would love to see it get bigger and bigger, and start doing them live. If we did some live ones from the World Series, or the All-Star Game, and we had a little live crowd out there, we can do some live from location, I think it would be a lot of fun. But it’s just to grow the game, give fans a different experience, and I feel like we’ve been doing that.
You guys have been foundational in terms of this movement of alt broadcasts, but there was the Statcast that MLB Network did before, and obviously, the ManningCast stuff [with the NFL], and what Michael Kay and A-Rod are doing. Is this movement toward alt broadcasts moving fast enough?
I think you have what we’re doing, I think you have a few other ones out there, and I think it’s moving in the right direction. I think 10 years ago, baseball would’ve been opposed to even thinking about doing something like this.
Things like the mic’d up players, is that something the players themselves embrace, or does that feel like an intrusion sometimes?
I think players embrace it. I think if you look at the All-Star game, guys were excited to be mic’d up, especially the pitchers. I think the guys in the game today understand how important it is for fans to have a different experience. So, they have no problem wearing it.
It’s good for their brand too, it’s good to grow their profile, right?
Yeah, the funnier you are, the better you are on camera, it’s definitely 1,000 percent better for your brand.
I just watched The Captain. Obviously, there are few athletes that can reach that level of iconic superstardom that Derek Jeter attained. What do you think it takes now to get to that level? To go beyond on-field greatness to hit that level of global superstardom that I think baseball needs from its stars.
I think, to be honest, I think it’s going to take winning. I think Jeter is this big global icon because of all the winning he did. I feel like Ohtani’s obviously, to me, probably the best baseball player to ever play, but he’s going to have to win, he’s going to have to do it in October. I think winning helps your legacy. So, I feel like if the Angels get into the playoffs, and Ohtani has a big month in October, it helps you grow your legacy. Trout’s the same thing, getting into the playoffs, and having a huge October is just going to help grow their brand and the sport. I feel like Jeter’s such a huge icon because he won so much.
Pivoting to tonight’s Clubhouse game with the Phillies and the Braves: We just saw J-Rod just blow up during the Home Run Derby and there’s so much attention on Juan Soto right now. When you’re talking about the Braves, when you’re an Acuña, and you’re seeing all these guys get all this spotlight, does that create a chip on your shoulder? He’s started to get back to his way of playing following the injury, but does he look to use games like this as a showcase or other games in the midst of this pennant race to say, “Don’t forget me. I’m still one of the best young bright lights of the game”?
Yeah, you would hope so. You would hope that’s what he’s thinking. So, many talented young players in the game right now, and even in the minor leagues, just watching the Futures Game, there are always guys coming. So if you don’t have that hunger to be the best, if you don’t have that hunger to make the All-Star team, or to be on top, or to be considered one of the best in your position, then you’re probably in the wrong sport, especially at a time right now when there are so many great talented young players in the game.
Obviously, this series can have implications on the NL East race, specifically, with the Braves trying to catch the Mets. Hard to gauge before the trade deadline, but how do you see the NL East picture right now? Do you think the Braves have what it takes to catch the Mets?
I don’t know, man. I think with the Mets getting Scherzer and deGrom back healthy, I feel like that separates them from, not even everybody in the National League East, I think everybody in the league. If you get those two back healthy, with that lineup, I think they’re going to be tough to beat. So, we just have to wait and see if deGrom can come back and get healthy, and be the pitcher that he was.
MLB Network’s Clubhouse Edition returns tonight at 7 p.m. ET with the Phillies taking on the Braves.