A recent announcement got me to thinking about Sunday Night Baseball again. Well, again is an overstatement, I don’t often find myself thinking of ESPN’s weekly Sunday night broadcast of a Major League Baseball game. The last time it was in my mind’s eye was when Jessica Mendoza decided to leave the broadcast booth. At the time I did not give Mendoza’s departure the thought it deserved. The aforementioned announcement got me to thinking of what her departure really means for the announce booth on ESPN’s flagship baseball broadcast.
To say that Mendoza was a polarizing figure during her time in the booth would be an understatement. However, it is important to parse out why she was such a polarizing figure. Of course the reason Mendoza was so polarizing is precisely that she is not a man. For many baseball fans this created a problem, one from which they were never able to truly move past. They could not stomach a woman announcing a baseball game and telling them about the game that they knew so much better than she did.
Mendoza was not the first woman in a baseball broadcast booth nor will she be the last. To anyone who hated her work on the basis that she is a woman I have a simple message. You can stop watching baseball at any time, you will not be missed. Baseball will not miss you, the rest of the fans will not miss you, and the rather large number of baseball fans who happen to be women definitely will not miss you. Rather than allow Mendoza to succeed or fail on her own merit you never gave her a chance because of her chromosomal makeup and I don’t have much, if any, time for that way of thinking.
From the onset, it was clear that Mendoza was a flawed broadcaster, but a capable one. The latter matters a lot more than the former. Every broadcaster, even your favorite, is flawed in some way. What matters most of all is that they are capable. Next to an onerous Matt Vasgersian and hard to stomach Alex Rodrigues it mattered even more that Mendoza was highly capable of doing her job. She brought a strong wealth of knowledge and understanding of the game to the table.
The former softball star was a calming presence between two men who choose to exist on the hyper extreme poles of reaction. Vasgersian is busy hunting for his next awful catchphrase while A-Rod spends most of his time thinking of the next controversial take he can put forth to keep his name relevant in the papers. Amid such broadcasting luminaries, Mendoza managed to keep things grounded and bring about a mixture of game breakdown and relatability that her partners were never able to achieve.
The flaws were present in Mendoza’s willingness to tow the company line at the drop of a hat. She was always too willing to go along with whatever edict ESPN had put forth to boost the goals of Vasgersian and A-Rod. More than in the booth, her greatest flaw was outside the booth. It was there that she put forth anti-labor views and ownership leaning stances that often hurt her credibility as a broadcaster. Eventually this line became too hard for her to navigate and she did really suffer as a broadcaster as her pro-ownership stance seeped more and more into her Sunday night work.
Ultimately if there is MLB in 2020 the Sunday night booth will be a two-person show. Mendoza’s calming presence will be gone and the hawking and extreme takes of Vasgersian and A-Rod are all that will remain. People should miss Mendoza from the very start, but if they don’t I can only imagine it will take a few innings of the Matty and A-Rod show before fans realize how much she actually brought to the broadcast. Her time on Sunday Night Baseball didn’t last all that long, but one thing is certain, Jessica Mendoza’s presence will be sorely missed in 2020 and beyond.