When the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees met for their final game of the season on Sunday night, the baseball gods decided Boston should suffer a little longer, and sent a massive rainstorm to the Bronx, sending the series finale into a lengthy delay.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. Both teams had to travel for their next series, but more importantly, it was Sunday Night Baseball and Aaron Judge was one home run away from the record books.
Throughout the four-game series, baseball fans had fixated on Judge, wondering if he’d hit his 61st home run to tie the all-time American League record set by fellow Yankee, Roger Maris, in 1961. Doing so in the season finale between the two great rivals would only add to the lore, not to mention making it one of the most historic SNB nights in ESPN history.
But did ESPN actually try to pressure Major League Baseball into prolonging the rain delay so that they’d have a chance of resuming play and being the network to air Judge’s record-tying home run?
One sportswriter says so.
Yankees writer reports that ESPN tried to pressure MLB during Sunday Night Baseball rain delay due to Aaron Judge’s home-run race
On Tuesday, Brendan Kuty, who covers the Yankees for NJ.com, alleged:
"“ESPN pressured MLB officials to wait out an already long and particularly nasty rain delay between the Yankees and Red Sox at Yankee Stadium because the network was desperate to air Judge getting at least one more at-bat in his chase of 61 home runs, a person with knowledge of the situation told NJ Advance Media. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.Throughout the delay, the Yankees and the Red Sox each lobbied the league to declare the game over as the forecast kept getting worse, the person said. But ESPN kept the pressure on.But when the delay stretched past the customary 90 minutes given on getaway days, Yankees manager Aaron Boone became increasingly worried that if the teams were forced to continue to wait and then play on the soaked field, players could get hurt, another person told NJAM.So, behind closed doors, Boone made it known that he was considering all options to keep his players safe — and that included the possibility of pulling Judge out of the game despite the fact he was the first batter to hit as the delay ended, the first person said.And when that particular possibility — the threat of sitting Judge — reached league and ESPN executives, they moved quickly to end the delay at 1 hour, 38 minutes and the Yankees were declared 2-0 winners, the person said.”"
Or it would be if it was true. But unfortunately for Kuty, several sources at ESPN have refuted his claim to myself and Forbes‘ Maury Brown, among others. Brown reported that both teams “reportedly lobbied officials” to call the game so they could mitigate injuries and hit the road.
A source with firsthand knowledge of the situation relayed to me that Kuty’s report is “100% inaccurate” and “completely untrue.” They also clarified that rain delays and resumptions or postponements are “an MLB decision only” and that they hope MLB will publicly confirm the story to be “nonsense” soon.
As for where Kuty got the intel, it’s anyone’s guess. Sources say the Yankees, though.
How much does ESPN pay to partner with MLB?
In 2021, ESPN renewed its MLB media rights to the tune of $3.85 billion, or $550M per year. At the time, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred raved about the relationship with the media empire, calling them “one of MLB’s longest and most important partners.”
The question is, does that pricy partnership give ESPN a seat at the table? Not likely, seeing as the current contract is actually significantly cheaper than the previous deal. ESPN used to pay $700M in their last contract, but the discount isn’t because the commissioner’s office suddenly found itself in a generous mood. MLB likely restructured the ESPN deal so as to allow for the additions of Apple TV and Peacock, two new streaming platforms they began partnering with this season. Even with a cheaper ESPN contract, MLB is more than recouping that loss; they now generate over $2 billion per year from tv deals alone. So, if anything, ESPN has less power than before.
Besides, anonymous sources have no reason to lie.