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Bernadette McDonald

Millions of Americans move repeatedly as
they change jobs again and again across
a lifetime. But Bernadette McDonald, Major
League Baseball’s VP for baseball operations,
has been in her current role since 2001—
amazingly, she had her career path figured
out by the end of high school and managed
to live it.

“I picked St. John’s for college because of
its internship program,” says the Westchester
County, N.Y., native, saying her plan also included
being in New York, home to all the sports
leagues and TV networks. “I wanted to work in
sports, hopefully for a team or a league office.”

In spring 1984, McDonald landed an internship
in Major League Baseball commissioner
Bowie Kuhn’s media relations department.
Kuhn was soon gone, but McDonald settled in.

In 1989, MLB signed its first cable television
deal with ESPN. “If there was a possible
door open to becoming a team general manager
I might have taken a baseball operations
path, but broadcast operations offered the
best opportunities,” McDonald recalls.

She seized those opportunities and now
oversees scheduling and production decisions
with all of MLB’s partners—a much more
complex job now that baseball plays nationally
on ESPN, TBS, Fox and MLB Network.

Beyond constantly juggling the schedules
as teams or players become more desirable
(like this year’s Washington Nationals),
McDonald also devotes time to her credo,
“bringing fans closer to the game.”

She is especially proud of overcoming
teams’ hesitation to allow managers to be interviewed
between innings. “We are bringing
viewers into the sanctity of the dugout and
getting them insights,” she says. For teams
or managers uncomfortable with it, the networks
settle for a coach or a player.

Sometimes it’s about managing technology:
When networks wanted to expand from 6 to
10 cameras to add new angles, it was “not an
easy sell,” McDonald says, negotiating with
teams who had to sacrifice seats or kiosks,
but they were eventually won over.

Lately, she has been studying the cable-cam
conundrum. Unlike other sports, baseball
has to worry about a camera above the field
being a distraction, or even hit by the ball.
“We started it in the 2010 postseason, and
the camera had to be off the field before the
pitch,” says McDonald, who is figuring out
how low cable-cams can go. “It’s an expensive
enhancement, but it has great value and we
must figure out its future in baseball.”

Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.