Olney: Baseball should go all-in on all-access

MLB

What happened in the exhibition game broadcasts last week on ESPN was the equivalent of dropping a shovel into the ground and touching off a fountain of oil. About a dozen players wore microphones for three dozen innings and generated viral moments that will last — and shape the game’s future.

We saw Anthony Rizzo at the Improv, expertly dropping a reference to the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. We got a portal into Freddie Freeman‘s baseball mind and humor on a pop-up. We listened to Pete Alonso‘s chatter at first base, on everything from salsa to the habits of a former college teammate.

The old refrain is that spring training results don’t matter, exhibition games don’t matter. But in this small handful of games in which players wore microphones, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association got to see the full potential in tearing down the walls of access and letting fans see and hear for themselves just how entertaining the players can be while being the best in the world at the game they play.

The next collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in December 2021, and while the union and MLB negotiate, the game is destined to undergo significant changes. An electronic strike zone. A universal designated hitter. An overhaul of the financial landscape, from service time to free agency. There will be some great ideas and some well-intended ideas that turn out to be bad. But the two sides should draw from the overwhelmingly positive response to All-Access Week and build on it, because it is a near-perfect antidote for a game in need of stronger connections with the public. Tony Clark, the head of the players’ association, was asked his thoughts on miked-up players.

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