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ESPN opts for two-man booth for Sunday Night Baseball

ESPN has reset its announcer team for its flagship Major League Baseball broadcast property, Sunday Night Baseball, going with a two-man booth.

The 2020 announcer lineup with consist of existing talent Matt Vasgersian on play-by-play and former MLB star Alex Rodriguez on color commentary. Buster Olney will return as a sideline reporter.

The new broadcast talent lineup moves forward without Jessica Mendoza, who had served in a co-color announcing role with Rodriguez. Earlier this month, ESPN resigned to a multiyear contract extension, but shifted her role in which she will appear on other ESPN MLB television and radio broadcasts aside from the premier Sunday primetime vehicle, as well as a marked increase in ESPN studio programming work.

Mendoza was a sports broadcasting trailblazer, previously becoming as the first woman to serve as a solo television analyst for a national package of MLB games. But her performance week to week on the broadcast remained oft-debated in industry circles.

But even more so, her prior role also as a special advisor to the New York Mets while still appearing on Sunday Night Baseball created many questions as to whether her broadcast commentary was always strictly within in an ESPN context or as a Mets employee. She also last month created a further firestorm when during an ESPN Radio appearance, she said “it didn’t sit well with me” how former Houston Astros pitcher Mike Fiers went public with electronic sign-stealing activity by the club.

The Astros’ cheating scandal has since rocked the sport, with Fiers’ comments fueling a league investigation that ultimately prompted significant penalties against the club. Fiers has been lauded by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for doing “the industry a service” with his candor.

Mendoza no longer has a role with the Mets.

Ironically, the first regular season assignment for Rodriguez and Vasgersian will involve the Astros, who will play the Texas Rangers on ESPN on Opening Day on March 26.

ESPN’s shift, meanwhile, also places an even bigger spotlight on Rodriguez, who over the past half-decade has in part used his broadcasting career to help resurrect a public image badly tarnished by his use of performance-enhancing drugs while still a player.

Both Rodriguez and Vasgersian are in the final years of their ESPN contracts, so the upcoming season and streamlined booth for Sunday Night Baseball will carry sizable weight on their future career arcs.

The network’s Sunday Night Baseball decision for 2020, however, still represents something of a move of stability to keep the other incumbents given how much change this particular property has seen in recent years. Just in the last decade, seven other broadcasters have held featured roles in the program.