ESPN is adding a “Big Piece” to its baseball lineup.
Ryan Howard, the former Phillies slugger who officially retired in September, has been hired by ESPN as a baseball analyst. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it’s a multiyear agreement that will position Howard as one of the network’s analysts across many different shows and platforms, including Baseball Tonight, SportsCenter, Get Up!, First Take, and ESPN Radio.
“I’ll be kind of that utility player wherever they need me,” said Howard, 39. “I’m just so excited for the opportunity.”
Howard had been talking to ESPN about a role since last year, and has done a handful of television spots on the network over the last few weeks. He also did two days of guest appearances on the MLB Network in January.
Veteran ESPN producer Phil Orlins, who oversees the network’s baseball coverage and its Sunday Night Baseball telecasts, said the three-time All Star already possesses poise and charisma, in addition to knowledge of the game.
“He had a terrific playing career and we know he is a smart, insightful individual who loves the game of baseball,” Orlins said. “He will help strengthen our MLB coverage across platforms."
Unlike many athletes who turn to television once they retire, Howard had his sights set on becoming a broadcaster long before he became a professional player. He majored in mass media and communication at Missouri State University, and interviewed his basketball and baseball teammates after high school games.
“I’d always do little mock interviews and fake interviews. Just having fun,” Howard said. “Then when guys actually got interviewed by TV stations, they were already prepared. So we kind of had our own little media training.”
Growing up in St. Louis, Howard said he would watch Cardinals games called by Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck, the late father of Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck. He also remembers enjoying the team’s rivalry with the Chicago Cubs, and getting to hear legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. But once he became a professional and joined the Phillies, he quickly grew fond of the voice of the team’s legendary announcer.
“I was blessed to have my name mentioned by the late, great Harry Kalas,” Howard said.
Considering his ties to the Phillies, Howard knows the topic of the day involves the endless rumors involving Bryce Harper. From Howard’s perspective, the Phillies have done just about all they can to woo Harper, including signaling their willingness to spend “stupid” money on the prized free agent. But in the end, Howard thinks all anyone can do is wait and see what Harper decides.
“I think the Phillies have made moves to make it more attractive for him to come to Philly. With Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and the signing of J.T. Realmuto, they’ve added some pieces to make the team more competitive,” Howard said. “I think it’s really just about what [Harper] wants. Obviously, he’s going to get paid, but is Philly really a place he wants to be?”
Beyond Howard, ESPN has made a lot of moves lately on the baseball front, most notably poaching Yahoo’s Jeff Passan to act as the baseball equivalent of football analyst Adam Schefter. The network also recently announced contract extensions for Jessica Mendoza, Rick Sutcliffe, Mark Teixeira, and David Ross.
ESPN also recently fired Baseball Tonight anchor Adnan Virk following an investigation into the leaking of confidential information about the network’s baseball plans. In response, Virk denied leaking anything confidential or proprietary, and said he and his lawyers were attempting to “resolve our differences” with ESPN.
The Phillies will lead off ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball schedule on March 31 against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies appeared twice last season on Sunday Night Baseball, including the annual Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., in August, when they lost, 8-2, to the New York Mets.