It began with White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez, battling an ankle injury, promptly ripping a ball to the gap in left-center. Laureano sprinted to the wall, corralled the ball and, as he went to throw to second, exclaimed: “Damn! He can f---ing run.”
“He’s hurt,” Laureano explained after the play. “That’s why I wanted to throw it.”
In response to the expletive, commentator Dave Flemming offered, “Well, that’s part of doing live television.”
After Jiménez was visited by the White Sox trainer and left the game, apparently having aggravated his ankle injury, Laureano said, “He’s too young!”
It was just the beginning for Laureano, though. After he caught a flyball, Chicago’s Luis Robert singled to center. Laureano gasped, “Oh yeah,” as he charged the ball and then unleashed a throw to the plate with an audible grunt.
Though pinch runner James McCann scored easily, Flemming and broadcast partner Jessica Mendoza got an immediate reaction from Laureano.
“Did you think you had a chance to get him?” Laureano was asked.
“It was too slow,” Laureano said in reference to the speed of the hit. “It’s okay.”
He added, “That Robert guy is on fire now.”
In-game interviews have become ubiquitous on national baseball telecasts; they traditionally consist of managers offering milquetoast observations about topics such as their pitchers’ command early in the game. But broadcasters in recent years have experimented with chatting with players in the field: Fox has interviewed players during the All-Star Game, and ESPN has done the same during spring training. Mookie Betts, then with the Boston Red Sox, delivered a memorable moment in March 2019. Talking about his infant daughter’s dirty diapers, he said: “Man, she’s nasty. Nobody ever explained that. ... You don’t really know about what goes into these diapers. So public service announcement: Brace yourself. It is not fun.”
But in a do-or-die playoff game, Laureano’s commentary offered a new dynamic. It was a remarkable window for viewers into a player’s thoughts with the season on the line. And it quickly drew criticism.
Before the Los Angeles Dodgers played the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 2 of their series Thursday night, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts told reporters he would no longer allow his players to participate in live in-game interviews after third baseman Justin Turner was mic’d up during Game 1. Roberts said he found out Turner would be wearing the microphone an hour before the game and signaled that there may be friction between players who want exposure and teams that may frown upon it.
Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice president of production, said the network met with MLB officials during the offseason and requested more access to players. The network began experimenting in spring training, when two players wore a microphone simultaneously during a game and were able to talk to each other and the announcers.
During the regular season, players were interviewed live from the field during ESPN’s Sunday night telecasts. Gross said ESPN got MLB’s approval to continue making requests of players for the playoffs. Sometimes the answer comes back yes, he said, and sometimes it’s no.
Asked about Roberts’s criticism, Gross said: “That’s fair. We don’t want to intrude or get in the way. Almost all of the players have said, ‘No problem; just talk to me.’ But we certainly respect the fact they’re working.”
Ultimately, Gross said, the interviews are a good way to showcase players in a sport that has trouble marketing its stars. “People walk away with a better feel for the A’s and being in center field,” he said. “I give Major League Baseball credit for being more aggressive.”
ESPN does not have broadcast rights beyond the first round of the playoffs, so it’s unclear whether viewers will get more on-field interviews. TBS and Fox said they were still finalizing their broadcast plans for the division series, championship series and World Series.