Thursday Night Baseball
|Thursday Night Baseball|
|Also known as||The USA Thursday Game of the Week|
ESPN Thursday Night Baseball
MLB Network Showcase
Fox Thursday Night Baseball
|Developed by||USA Sports|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||180 minutes (or until game ends)|
|Original network||USA Network|
Fox Sports Net
|Original release||June 8 –|
July 27, 1989
|Related shows||USA Thursday Game of the Week|
Major League Baseball on ABC
Fox Major League Baseball
ESPN Major League Baseball
MLB Network Showcase
Thursday Night Baseball is the de facto branding used for live game telecasts of Major League Baseball on Thursday nights.
The USA Thursday Game of the Week (1979–1983)
The series began April 26, 1979 with a doubleheader: Cleveland at Kansas City (Jim Woods/Bud Harrelson) followed by Baltimore at California (Monte Moore/Maury Wills). The second game of the night was typically, based out of the West Coast. The games were usually blacked out of the competing teams' cities. Once in a while, when USA did a repeat of the telecast late at night, local cities were allowed to show the rerun.
From 1980–1981, Woods and Nelson Briles (replacing Harrelson) did the early games (except for a game at Montreal on October 2, 1980, which reunited Woods with onetime Boston Red Sox radio partner Ned Martin), while Moore and Wes Parker (replacing Wills) called the late game.
In 1982, doubleheaders did not start until June 17. Prior to the doubleheaders starting, Moore and Parker did the individual game until then. When the doubleheaders finally began, Moore and Parker moved over to the late game for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Eddie Doucette (replacing Jim Woods) and Nelson Briles were assigned to call the early game.
USA continued with the plan of not starting doubleheaders until June in the final year of the package in 1983. Steve Zabriskie and Al Albert filled in for Eddie Doucette in September 1982 (Steve Grad also occasionally substituted) while Albert replaced Doucette for a game or more in 1983.
ABC's Thursday Night Baseball (1989)
In 1989, the ABC network aired Thursday night Major League Baseball games after having broadcast Monday Night Baseball (and occasional Sunday afternoon games) since 1976. This was ABC's final year of consecutive baseball coverage (teaming with NBC, which had telecast Saturday afternoon games since 1966 and Major League Baseball in general since 1947) due to CBS signing a four-year contract (spanning from 1990–1993) to become the exclusive national broadcast network provider for Major League Baseball games.
Al Michaels was ABC's lead play-by-play commentator alongside color commentators Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver. Meanwhile, Gary Thorne was the backup play-by-play man alongside Joe Morgan (who had worked with Gary Bender the previous season) on color commentary.
Rumors of Thursday night games on CBS
In 1990, CBS replaced ABC and NBC as the broadcast network television home of Major League Baseball. But before the previous television contract (which ran from 1984 to 1989) with Major League Baseball was signed, CBS was at one point, interested in a pact which would have called for three interleague games airing only on Thursday nights during the season. The proposed deal with CBS involved respectively American League East teams playing the National League East, and the American League West playing the National League West.
In October 1995, when it was a known fact that ABC and NBC were going to end their television deal/joint venture with Major League Baseball, preliminary talks arose about CBS resuming its role as the league's national over-the-air broadcaster. It was rumored that CBS would show Thursday night games (more specifically, a package of West Coast inter-league games scheduled for the 11:30 p.m. Eastern/8:30 Pacific Time slot) while Fox would show Saturday afternoon games. CBS and Fox were also rumored to share rights to the postseason. In the end however, CBS' involvement did not come to pass and NBC became Fox's over-the-air national television partner. Whereas each team earned about $14 million in 1990 under CBS, the later television agreement with NBC and Fox beginning in 1996 earned each team about $6.8 million.
Fox Sports Net coverage (1997–2001)
In 1997, as part of the contract with Major League Baseball it had signed the year before, Fox gained an additional outlet for its coverage. Its recently launched cable sports network, Fox Sports Net, was given rights to two Thursday night games per week, one for the Eastern and Central time zones and one for the Mountain and Pacific time zones.
In 2000, as part of an exclusive contract Fox signed with MLB, that coverage passed to Fox Family Channel and was reduced to one game per week. After the 2000 season, Fox also gained rights to the entire postseason and moved a large portion of its Division Series coverage to Fox Family. This lasted for one season due to The Walt Disney Company making a bid for Fox Family. As part of the negotiations Fox Family was renamed ABC Family and ESPN gained the rights to Fox Family and FX's MLB coverage, although the 2002 Division Series aired on ABC Family due to contractual issues, but with ESPN production, a sign of things to come at ABC Sports. Control of the overall contract remained with Fox, meaning they could renegotiate following the 2006 season and not allow ESPN to retain its postseason coverage. For the 2007 season, Fox did exactly that, and TBS is now the cable home of the postseason as part of its new baseball contract.
Play-by-play announcers for the FSN/Fox Family coverage included Kenny Albert, Thom Brennaman, Chip Caray, Josh Lewin, and Steve Physioc. Color analysts included Bob Brenly, Kevin Kennedy, Steve Lyons, and Jeff Torborg. Occasionally FSN would simulcast a local-team feed of a game from one of its affiliated regional sports networks in lieu of a dedicated national production.
ESPN Thursday Night Baseball (2003–2006)
ESPN Thursday Night Baseball aired on either ESPN or ESPN2 from 2003 to 2006 and featured one game per week. It aired every Thursday at either 1 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. ET, 7:30 p.m. ET or 8:00 ET. Castrol served as the presenting sponsor for the telecasts.
ESPN Thursday Night Baseball was discontinued after the 2006 season because the broadcast rights to the package were lost to TBS. TBS shows the games on Sunday afternoons that ESPN previously aired on Thursday nights. The games were then moved to ESPN and ESPN2. Thursday Night Baseball was replaced with MLS Primetime Thursday.
MLB Network Showcase (2009-present)
On April 9, 2009, MLB Network aired its first ever self-produced live baseball telecast. The network typically produces 26 non-exclusive live games a year during the regular season. And dince one or both teams' local TV rights holders also carry the games, the MLB Network feed is subject to local blackouts. In that event, the cities in the blacked-out markets will instead see a simulcast of another scheduled game via one team's local TV rights holder.
MLB Network Showcase also airs on Tuesday or Friday nights.
Fox Thursday Night Baseball (2019-present)
For the 2019 season, Fox Sports announced that they would air two games on Thursday nights in September. With the 2020 season being abbreviated to just 60 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox announced that they would broadcast at least four games on Thursday nights beginning on July 30 and continuing through the month of August.
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