Sports television executives rarely consider so-called on-field character issues (such as PED use) in hiring unless their league partners strenuously object, so it should come as little surprise that Fox Sports hired Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez to be a studio analyst for the duration of the playoffs. (Nor should it have surprised you that the network brought in Pete Rose at the beginning of the baseball season for the same role.)
Bringing Rodriguez on for a short-term play is an interesting move by Fox, and potentially a solid one. The expectations are low and Fox will get some curiosity-seeking viewers given Rodriguez’s name recognition. As I wrote on Sunday, MLB beat reporters will tell you that Rodriguez’s baseball knowledge is excellent. He has a habit of seeing everything on the field and a number of them emailed me Sunday to say that he’s particularly good at diagnosing pitching issues, which is counter to what you might think given he’s a hitter. From what I watched on Monday night prior to Game 3 of the ALCS, I liked what I heard from Rodriguez. He had some interesting thoughts on how to approach Royals starter Johnny Cueto and appeared throughout the hour-long pregame show. Over the weekend I emailed Fox Sports president of production John Entz a couple of quick questions for some more background on Fox’s thinking.
SI.com: Why did Fox Sports add A-Rod to the postseason coverage?
Entz: Alex is one of the most compelling figures in Major League Baseball and has a great feel for the nuances of the game. We’ve always felt he would be an incredibly insightful analyst if he ever wanted to give it a try.
What specifically will he be doing for you from now until the end of the postseason?
He’ll be doing pre- and post[game] studio work, first for the ALCS in Los Angeles [at Fox’s studios] and then on the road for the World Series.
How did this assignment come about as specifically as you can describe?
We have gotten to know Alex over the last few years. Once the Yankees concluded their season, we reached out to his representative, Ron Berkowitz, to make him the official offer.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the most notable media stories of the week
1. Sports media industry people will tell you, especially those working for the CBS Sports and Fox Sports PR departments, that the Sunday late-afternoon NFL window is the best real estate to own on television. That proved to be the case this Sunday. The NFL on CBS late-afternoon window featuring Green Bay’s victory over San Diego and San Francisco’s win over Baltimore drew a 15.5 overnight rating. That topped the Patriots’ win over the Colts (14.6) on NBC, and crushed Game 2 of the Mets-Cubs National League Championship Series on TBS (4.8 overnight). NBC said the 14.6 rating for the for Patriots-Colts was the best for an NFL primetime game vs. the MLB LCS since 1997 (Dallas-Washington, 16.4 on ABC). The Patriots-Colts game drew a 44.6 local market rating in Boston, the best on record for New England on Sunday Night Football.
2. On Monday ESPN announced its most significant microsite hire in some time with the addition of Kevin Merida, the former managing editor of news and features at The Washington Post who has been named editor-in-chief for The Undefeated, ESPN’s still-yet-to-launch site on the nexus of race and culture through the lens of sports. Merida will be a senior vice president and responsible for the editorial direction, tone and policies of the site. More than two years have passed since word first came out that ESPN was planning The Undefeated.
Those who follow sports media know how much of a tumultuous 12 months it’s been for ESPN’s microsites, from spectacularly poor hires to significant talent defections. As of this writing, Grantland’s top editors have not conducted interviews since the departure of Bill Simmons. The lack of transparency, at least based on my heavy Grantland-reading Twitter feed, has alienated some readers from a site they love.
Merida has a very difficult job ahead of him, but he will be aided by a number of things:
a. ESPN president John Skipper has repeatedly put into the public marketplace that he is behind The Undefeated. He does not want the public embarrassment of the site never launching.
b. Staffers who did not want to work for previous management are likely to reach out to Merida. On Monday you saw a ton of ESPN-ers offers congratulations, including high-profile African-American staffers such as Jemele Hill.
c. Money. ESPN has a lot of it and good money can overcome bad money when it comes to hires.
d. Plenty of people in the business want The Undefeated to succeed (including yours truly) because the sports media needs outlets where young writers, and particularly young writers of color, are given opportunity and resources to pursue important stories.
e. Talent. Merida will have many talented people, especially in positions that are not front-facing, reaching out to him.
f. Himself. His resume as a newsroom leader is impressive and the people who publicly proclaimed their respect for him on Monday was equally impressive.
1a. The team of host Sage Steele and analysts Doug Collins and Jalen Rose will return as the main NBA Countdown studio group for ESPN this season. Countdown will be part of ESPN/ABC’s expanded NBA coverage that includes eight Saturday night games as well as six regular-season Sunday afternoon telecasts, beginning in January. Chauncey Billups has been added to Wednesday's Countdown show with host Doris Burke and Rose. He replaces Avery Johnson who left after last season.
2a. I’ll have a podcast coming out Tuesday that examines the current state of Grantland.com featuring guest James Andrew Miller, the author of the best-selling book, Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, and someone I consider the most plugged-in reporter on ESPN issues. Miller has written two pieces for Vanity Fair in the last week on what appears to be an uncertain future for the ESPN site given staff departures. Those pieces are here and here.
3. Episode No. 24 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features FS1 anchor Jay Onrait, who co-hosts Fox Sports Live with Dan O’Toole. The two also co-host the Jay and Dan podcast.
In the episode, Onrait, who grew up Athabasca, Alberta and was a popular anchor for TSN, discusses the differences between Canadian sports television and U.S. sports television, how he was frustrated by the initial direction of Fox Sports Live, the most underrated on-air talents at FS1, why the World Cup of Hockey is a terrible idea, and why TSN was like ESPN when it came to salary philosophy.
On the podcast, Onrait confirmed that he and O’Toole have had their options picked up by Fox Sports for 2016 and 2017. “We had our options picked up for those two years so you are stuck with us for a couple of years,” Onrait said. “We want to stay with the company for a long time.”
4. Highly recommend this Jon Wertheim story on SI.com examining the still unsolved murder of former NBA player Lorenzen Wright.
4a. The terrific Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay has a book out, Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living, that’s recommended. It’s a series of fun essays on everyday life.
4b. SI’s Melissa Jacobs had a Q&A with ESPN MNF analyst Jon Gruden.
5. Fox Sports, including FS1, will air 300 men’s and women’s college basketball games this season, including the Big East, Pac-12, Conference USA, Big 12 and Ivy League. That schedule includes championship games for the Big East (men and women), Pac-12, Conference, Ivy League men and Big 12 women. The network said the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament will air on broadcast television for the first time since 1995. FS1’s basketball schedule tips off Nov. 13, with Chris’s Mullin’s first game as St. John’s head coach (hosting Wagner at 6 p.m. ET).
5a. Real Sports has an interview with Isiah Thomas as part of its show on Tues. night at 10 p.m. ET/PT