Last week, the ESPN Baseball Today podcast turned itself into the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast. The difference was far more substantial than a few hours time difference. (Actually, the Baseball Tonight podcast is posted earlier than the Baseball Today podcast, which'll blow your mind if you start to think about it.)
ESPN's Baseball Today was hosted by ESPN fantasy expert Eric Karabell and featured, primarily, senior baseball writer for ESPN Insider Keith Law and ESPN Stats & Information's Baseball Research Specialist Mark Simon. The podcast has gone through several incarnations hosted by Karabell, from fun co-hosts like Peter Pascarelli -- who reportedly lost his gig because he insulted Bud Selig -- to less-than-fun ones like Seth Everett, but with those three, they'd finally found the right formula. Basically, Baseball Today featured three smart baseball fans talking about baseball in an accessible, intelligent and entertaining way. (Law, in particular, was a standout; I'm a huge fan of pretty much everything Law does.) It was sabermetrically friendly, it was logical and straightforward and it was 100 percent John Kruk-free. If you hadn't known any better, you wouldn't have thought it an ESPN production at all.
It was, of course, too beautiful to live. Karbell announced last week that the show would be ending, to be replaced by "ESPN Baseball Tonight," a riff on the ESPN program that once featured Tim Kurkjian and Jayson Stark having a nightly celebration of our greatest game but now features Aaron Boone, Nomar Garciaparra, Curt Schilling and other former athletes snapping towels at each other. The new show is hosted by Buster Olney, a veteran reporter who nevertheless spends more of his time telling us what Stephen Strasburg had for dinner before Jordan Zimmermann's wedding or asking "Krukie" to tell his favorite spring training stories, ho ho, than talking much baseball. The show has its positives -- Olney runs through the biggest stories of the day in the same breezy fashion as his daily must-read Web column, and the first ever-show briefly featured Olney, Krukjian and Stark all talking shop, like the old days -- but it's not the same as the old Baseball Today podcast. It doesn't feel like a podcast at all: It feels like a television program, only without video.
This is not for nothing. I know not everyone is into podcasts, but I listen to them constantly, mostly because I live in New York City and because I'm a runner. This allows me to spend most of my time in public with smart people whispering things I didn't know into my ears. And through all my podcast listening, I've started to realize that the best podcasts are nothing like television at all. Podcasts are for the avid, the diehards, the ones who care so much about a topic that they will actively seek it out in every possible medium: The people who want their obsessions to, literally, follow them around.
Television is a passive medium: You watch television, most of the time, while doing something else. I find it difficult to do anything else -- other than run or be carted along on the subway -- while listening to a great podcast, the same way I can't do anything else while reading a book, or engrossed in a terrific movie. It's a medium for people to simply sit and talk; when one is done well, and smartly, it's like being privy to, eavesdropping on, a conversation between super intelligent people about a topics you care deeply about. The old Baseball Today was like that: Karabell, Law and Simon all loved baseball and, just as important, loved talking about baseball. Their podcast was so good because it took its time: It knew it was simply for people who would seek out great baseball talk, and never needed to pander to any sports tourists just dropping by. The new show, because it's so connected to the TV program, is a podcast for your uncle who just sort of kinda watches baseball. But no one just casually listens to podcasts. You pick podcasts that line up exactly with your interests. Otherwise, shoot, you'd just listen to music. Thinking about podcasts like a television programmer is misunderstanding what podcasts are all about.
I'm not sure how the new Baseball Tonight podcast is going to do, and I'm obviously not an expert in programming, because I thought the other podcast was perfect, and they got rid of it. But I am an expert in listening to podcasts, because I'm pretty much doing just that four hours a day. (I am not, however, an expert in TALKING on podcasts.) So I thought I'd just spend the rest of the column telling you which sports podcasts I listen to regularly, in case you're not a podcast listener but want to try one out. If you're a diehard, you won't be disappointed.
I'll break them down by sport and include links to the iTunes page, in case you want to subscribe. (Sorry, I only listen to baseball, football and basketball podcasts. I'm sure there are others who can give you great podcasts from soccer, hockey, MMA, so on.)
ESPN Baseball Tonight
Yeah, it's not as good as the last one, but I'll still listen to it. If I could survive the Seth Everett era, I can wait for them to get this one figured out.
The Baseball Show with Rany and Joe
My personal favorite baseball podcast, hosted by Joe Sheehan and Rany Jazayerli, loses points only because they haven't done one in four months. I'm told they're returning soon though.
Effectively Wild: The Daily Baseball Prospectus Podcast
They meander quite a bit, but it's Baseball Prospectus: They know what they're talking about.
Baseball HQ Radio
Fantasy baseball centric, just once a week, from Ron Shandler's company.
ESPNU College Football
This was most well known for weekly appearances by the late Beano Cook, but Ivan Maisel is a charming, extremely knowledgeable host.
The Audible Fantasyfootballguys.com
The most stripped-down, info-only-please fantasy football podcast you'll find. A little too bro-dawg for my tastes sometimes, but during the season, I never miss a word.
Arizona Cardinals podcast
All right, so I'm a fan of the team. Sue me. I wish all my other favorite teams had as well-done and constantly updated podcasts as this one.
The Basketball Jones
I feel comfortable saying this is the best sports podcast on earth. J.E. Skeets and Tas Melas (along with Taco Trey, Jason Doyle, Matt Osten and Leigh "Girrrrrrls!" Ellis) are so huge now they can get NBA players to play around with their wacky Canadian antics. Get the whole TBJ story.
Eye on College Basketball Podcast
Matt Norlander is the host of this lively, playful, hoops-obsessed podcasts. Occasionally even gets Nate Silver to pop by.
ESPNU College Basketball
Of all the ESPN television personalities, Andy Katz seems to understand the medium of podcasting best, probably because his love for college basketball is so infectious (and his ability to get big-time coaching guests so reliable) that he could probably talk about it for days. Former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg is a fun, game sidekick.
This Indiana University-focused podcasts is the best Bracketology podcast I've found. These guys actually watch every Lehigh game, it's sort of amazing.
I'm sure I'm missing a bunch of them; I just never miss a single episode of any of these. Please let me know any I missed at email@example.com or in the comments. And go ahead, give 'em a try, if you haven't. It's the best way I know to become a smarter sports fan, without sometimes even realizing it.
I don't ONLY listen to sports podcasts -- I listen to Filmspotting SVU and the Slate Political Podcast with equal loyalty -- but this is, after all, a sports column. Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you're yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you're pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I'll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.