Note: #3 on the list of "Key Off-Field Moments in Oakland A's History" series was originally going to be posted today, but the schedule was reshuffled. It'll run early next week, with #2 to come Thursday. In case you missed it, here are #5 and #4.
In all likelihood, 2014 will be the eighth consecutive year in which the Oakland Athletics don't make an appearance on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Major League Baseball released game times for the upcoming season today, and along with them came the preliminary list of games on ESPN's Sunday Night slate. The Red Sox, Cardinals and Dodgers each make three appearances, the Yankees make two, and the Giants will appear live from Dodger Stadium the evening of April 6.
An anomalous appearance on the network in 2013 (a Wednesday game against Pittsburgh) notwithstanding, A's games on ESPN are few and far between. For that matter, appearances on national television on Fox Saturday Baseball are somewhat rare, but nowhere near as unusual as ESPN broadcasting A's games.
There's still a reasonable chance that the A's could make an appearance, but don't hold your breath. ESPN decided to announce its decisions for all games in June and a pair of contests in July three weeks before those dates, and an announcement on the May 4 game is coming "within the next few weeks." Oakland's best bets for a home game on Sunday Night Baseball come in back-to-back weeks in June: the Yankees come to the Coliseum on the 15th, and the Red Sox visit Oakland on the 22nd.
The May 4 game is also intriguing. The A's are currently scheduled to take on the Red Sox at Fenway at 1:35pm Eastern, but that could change. There's competition for that game, though; other match-ups on that date include Rays-Yankees, Cubs-Cardinals, Rangers-Angels and Nationals-Phillies. ESPN seems to love "rivalries" — that's how the network justified picking an Angels-Rangers game in 2013, even though neither team made the playoffs the year before. And, as far as I know, Texas-Anaheim isn't no more of a rivalry than any other random pairing of teams in the same division. It isn't even mentioned in Wikipedia's list of MLB rivalries. And as we all know, Wikipedia is widely known as the most authoritative body on deciding whether or not random pairings of Major League franchises are rivalries.
The issue for me is less the practical implications — personally, I don't care all that much whether the A's are on Sunday Night Baseball — and more the repeatedly reinforced reality that Oakland and other small-market franchises play second fiddle to the big-name clubs. ESPN seems far more interested in generating impressive rankings than broadcasting compelling baseball of the highest possible quality. In today's world, I can't really say I blame them.
To that end, it's my experience that most sports fans in the East Bay have more or less given up on national media outlets to provide the level of coverage that East Bay teams, and perhaps even the West Coast in general, deserve. It's especially true for the A's — the Raiders are on Monday Night Football often enough, and I'm watching the Warriors play on ESPN as I type.
But what does ESPN need to feel that putting the A's on Sunday Night Baseball? A lack of true star power might have been a factor until last year's Home Run Derby, when Yoenis Cespedes made his name a familiar one in the home of every baseball fan in the country. It can't be a lack of exciting baseball, given the amount of walk-off wins the A's have enjoyed over the last few years and the nailbiting, at times nausea-inducing nature of the A's last two playoff series against the Detroit Tigers. On that note, it can't be a lack of high-quality baseball — if the A's had won 70 games and finished in fourth place last year, I wouldn't have bothered to write this. But Oakland has been among MLB's most successful franchises over the past two years any way you slice it.
The answer, as I said before, is simple dollars and cents. Nothing in the foreseeable future is going to change the fact that Oakland is a small market and that televising A's games won't ever generate ad revenue comparable to the figures from a game featuring a team like the Dodgers or Yankees. For now, it's just the reality that major instances of national exposure are far and few between. I would call it an unfortunate reality — I know that I, for one, would love for games at the Coliseum to be seen around the entire country a lot more often. And while I know many A's fans who agree with me, there are plenty who love being the out-of-nowhere underdog. For now, it seems like it isn't a choice.
If it were a choice, though, which way would you have it? Is it nice that the A's never have to deal with the hoopla surrounding an ESPN visit, or that you get to listen to Glen and Ray on CSN instead of John Kruk and Curt Schilling? Or does an ESPN banner hanging from the second deck make you more likely to tune in, or show up at the Coliseum?