Sports broadcaster Ernie Johnson has had many roles in his career, but currently the two most prominent ones are working MLB games on TBS and serving as the studio host for TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” Johnson will call the Twins/Yankees game Sunday on TBS, and in advance of that he chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand.
Q As you have prepped for Sunday’s game, what’s your take on what’s wrong with the Yankees?
A This week, I’ve seen Joe Girardi’s postgame press conference a couple of times, and even he seems at a loss to explain exactly what’s going on with his team. … But the thing is, while Toronto has played well, nobody has put a stamp on the [AL East]. It’s still pretty tight, with even Tampa Bay in striking distance. A team like the Yankees can feel fortunate to be where they are.
Q You haven’t been to Target Field since the 2010 postseason. Have you been surprised at how far the Twins fell since that season?
A I look back at that team from 2010 and there was Cuddyer, Kubel, Morneau and Mauer, Pavano had a great year. You just had things clicking. The biggest thing has been the starting pitching over the last few years. … You just can’t get there with that.
Q The process of prepping for one game on Sunday vs. working on a studio show like “Inside the NBA” — what are the similarities and differences?
A The biggest thing is I realize going in is that I’m not going to be interrupted by Charles Barkley [laughs]. Cal [Ripken] and Ron [Darling] are going to be a lot more respectful of what I’m going to say. … But really, it’s two different animals between a studio show and play-by-play. There is an element in there that is similar. What I’m trying to do on the basketball show is engage these guys in conversation. I’m trying to get Charles to a place where maybe Shaq might disagree with him. In a way, you’re doing that in the course of a baseball game. I’m trying to work things into a place where they’ll fit, and where the game dictates where you have a chance to talk about it. This week, for instance, I certainly want to talk to Cal about what Derek Jeter’s going through in his final season.
Q I was going to ask about Charles, and you covered some of that territory. What is it like working with him?
A On that show, we’re just four guys watching hoops and talking about it. Nobody is really asking for permission to talk. It’s just a free-for-all. [Barkley] has been tremendous. He’s come in every night he’s worked with us … and he says, “Let’s have some fun tonight, guys,” when he walks in the studio.
Q Last thing I have for you: I grew up watching Braves games on TBS in North Dakota during the 1980s and 1990s. Your dad, Ernie Sr., worked a lot of those games, and you had a chance to work with him eventually, too. What do you remember from that time?
A I remember there were a lot of times back then when that team was mathematically eliminated by the All-Star break. My goodness, I don’t know how my dad did it. … I learned a lot from him, just because he went through so many lean years as the voice of that team, but he never made the game about himself. The game was always the most important thing.